Basic facts on Perú

Basic facts on Perú

This section focuses on money: on the currency, on how to move and change money, on what it will cost you to operate in Perú. We also discuss tipping.

Money matters

After a protracted period of hyperinflation, Perú has established a new currency, the Nuevo Sol, abbreviated to S/. (On occasions you way see this abbreviated instead to PEN, particularly when dealing with foreign exchange. It means the same thing, however.)

The Nuevo Sol is issued in bills of S/. 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200; and in S/. 1, 2 and 5 coins. A Nuevo Sol is worth around US$ 0.35 at the time of writing. The smaller denomination coins are extremely useful for tips, and it is worth remembering that one Sol will buy you a trip in a three wheel Moto taxi in the provinces, and will buy a poor person a meal at a state-sponsored Popular restaurant.

You can change your money in hotels, and pay the normal premium for this. Banks offer better rates of exchange. The US Dollar is the preferred foreign currency. Travellers cheques are expensive to change and you will lose 2-5% of the face value. You may, however, find it difficult to change these at all outside of the centre of Lima and Cuzco. Be extremely careful of street money changers, for whom honesty is far from the best policy. Also beware of pickpockets at all times and particularly when leaving a bank or money changer.

Money transfers are extremely easy to make in Perú. There is an organised system which uses the internet to transfer funds to regional banks. This is less easy to do from foreign sources, and it is advisable to establish a deposit with your travel agent or other point of contact in Lima before you set out. You can then telephone them, they make the transfer, and by presenting your passport or other proof of identity, you can get the money within minutes. Alternatively, you can open a bank account in a few minutes, and your account card and passport will suffice to draw money all over the country. Use Banco de Credito which has branches in virtually all towns of any size. This strategy is advisable for lengthy trips, as it avoids the need for bulging wallets and the concomitant risk of getting marooned without funds after you have been robbed.

Credit cards have gained wide acceptance, although small stores and virtually all shops, gas stations and hotels in the rural areas will be unable to take them. The most widely used of these are American Express, Visa, Diners and Master Card. There are automatic teller machines which conform to international standards in the capital, but only in the major cities elsewhere.

Much the same applies to travellers cheques. These are accepted in the tourist and commercial centres, but are essentially useless elsewhere. Everyone in the country knows what a US dollar is worth, but few will have heard of Euros, Yen or similar currencies beyond the centres of tourism.

Estimating expenses

How much will it cost you to operate in Perú? Plainly, the answer to this depends on your tastes and ambitions, as it does anywhere else. World class hotels in Lima cost much what they do anywhere else. However, you can live very comfortably in a modest hotel in the capital for US$40 a night, and feed yourself and get around for a further US$20. Backpackers can get by on much less than this, but security in the capital is inversely related to he amount which you are able to spend, and very cheap lodgings come at the price of insecurity, and worse. [More here]

Life beyond the capital is very much cheaper than this. Major centres such as Cuzco are perhaps two thirds of these standards, and the rest of the country well below half. Typical sums using the "best hotel in town" might be:

Two could live comfortably on less, on a shared-room basis. There is usually limited choice of lodging in the small towns and none in the villages, but the larger towns offer a range which goes beyond the sums quoted in both directions. A very cheap hotel in a larger town will be be much worse than its equivalent in the villages, however. Bear in mind that village water supplies are often turned off at night, and that hot water is an occasional luxury.

Vehicle hire can be expensive. Mismanaging a vehicle that you have hired - letting it be stripped of its wheels or headlights, for example - can be more so. However, a basic vehicle will cost around US$200 per week, and rough country vehicle much more - perhaps $500 per week on a short-hire basis. Fuel is expensive in Perú when compared to the US, and cheap when compared to Europe. You should, if you are driving in rough country, allow yourself an emergency reserve of $250 to cover new tyres, shock absorbers and so forth.

Treks and similar trips vary enormously in cost, depending on how they are done. This issue is reviewed elsewhere.

Tipping

A tip is called a propina. A one-off service is easily covered by one or two soles. You are expected to tip at restaurants, for services such as hair cuts and to give significant gifts to anyone who offers you particular help.One has to use common sense: imagine that you may be driving and stop to ask directions. You would not at all be expected to tip for an answer, but it would of course be sensible to do so if the person offers to guide you to your destination. The tip should then at least cover their trip back in a Moto plus a couple of soles for their trouble. You would expect to tip a guide proportionately more, and substantially more if he - or rarely, she - has made your trip particularly enjoyable by special efforts on your behalf. Rounding up fees anyway due - making S/.75 into S/.100 - is a polite way of doing this. One can also decline the change due on a legitimate expense, for which on has advanced cash. Style is very important in these things, and a grudging tip delivered with a frown is much less appreciated (and effective) than something handled more tactfully.

You can gain respect and better service by pre-tipping, and by coming to lasting arrangements. People who buy you a newspaper every morning, or who wash your car or put flowers on your breakfast table will do so for small sums, agreed and regularly presented. They become your clients, an important Latin relationship. You gain respect and esteem, and they receive a tip in a more graceful manner than finding change under a plate.

Relationships of this sort are particularly important when the connection is relatively long-lasting. That is, an initial small gift to a guide "to cover your family's expenses when you are away" will generate respect, and can be expected to generate results in a way which a terminal tip obviously cannot. Regular 'rounding up' of fees due or expenses incurred - see above - is one graceful way to lubricate a relationship. If you work closely with someone, then you should expect that the end of the period of service will be the time when a myriad of personal and family needs become mentioned. You will be expected to pick up the tab for some part of this - naturally, it is understood, as a gesture of pure friendliness - and this generates real warmth in a way in which a patronizing tip cannot.

Begging is widespread, but much less significant than was the case a decade ago, or in other countries. Much of it is rather pleasing - the current fashion in Lima is for youths to engage in acrobatic dance movements in front of red traffic lights, and then to collect small change from the drivers. One may, however, see old people begging by churches in the coastal cities and sometimes in the highlands. The Sendero guerilla movement displaced many people from their villages to places where they lack survival skills,and the elderly in particular receive scant support. However, to calibrate the scale of appropriate donation, one sol will buy a meal at the Government-sponsored Populares. Small boys who offer to shine your shoes or guard your car can expect 50 centavos for something minor - guiding you to a particular shop - and up to two soles for rehabilitating a really battered pair of boots. If you want shiny shoes, pick one from the mob and make it clear to the rest that he is to do the job. Shoeshine professionals, who operate from fixed sites, who offer a newspaper to read and a range of specialist care for worn footware expect S/.4-8 in Lima, and less in the provinces.