What to Bring with You
#1 Dollar Bills: If you’re coming from the US, bring along some small denomination dollars — $1’s and $5’s. These are great for tipping porters, van drivers etc. Everyone in the tourist industry here accept US dollars and, although we don’t recommend using them in most instances (more on this later) they’re great to have for tipping taxi drivers, porters and the like if you haven’t yet had a chance to exchange for pesos. You can also use dollars at the two big grocery stores, the Mega and the Chedraui. You may receive change in pesos, however.
#2 An ATM Debit Card: Using a Mexican ATM machine to access your accounts back home is usually the best way to get a good exchange rate. Just be sure to inform your hometown bank before you leave that you’ll be making withdrawals in Mexico so they don’t cut you off. Also plan to pay a fee for each transaction. It is usually per transaction and not by the amount so better to take out larger amounts in fewer batches.
We live here and used ATM machines to finance the building of our home. We like machines that swipe the card rather than suck it in. The Banamex machine in the Mega Grocery store is one of these. Another is at the Banamex bank itself which is just south of the intersection of Benito Juarez and Avenida 30 next to a Burger King.
#3 A credit card: If you happen to have a credit card like the Chase Sapphire that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, bring this along to use at the grocery stores. But be sure to let your card company know about your vacation before you leave. Fancier restaurants on the island typically also accept credit cards but there is a fee to Mexicans for doing this so don’t be surprised to see that 4-5% surcharge shifted over to your bill.
This will certainly be the case if you attempt to use a credit card to pay for a car rental or a tour. Remember the adage Cash is King.
Miscellaneous Money Tips for Your Cozumel Vacation
SHOPPING: Aside from the big grocery stores mentioned above, you will lose money if you attempt to pay for an item that is priced in pesos with dollars. Ditto for items that you may see in stores along the waterfront tourist areas that are priced in dollars. You are probably gong to lose on the exchange rate if you force this kind of transaction. So when shopping, carry along pesos and dollars. And do not use credit cards even if they are accepted which it’s unlikely they will be.
If you want to bargain, try the perpendicular to the waterfront side streets and streets 1-5 blocks back from the waterfront. Here the rule of thumb is to offer 1/2 the asking price and compromise somewhere in between. For best bargaining, go near the close of the day–from 6:30 to 8:30 when the cruise passengers are back on the ships and shop owners are looking a little harder for sales. (You may want to check our Tips on Bargaining page.)
RESTAURANTS: Most restaurants in the tourist areas have menus in Spanish and English with pesos or dollars quoted depending on the version you ask for. The menus are only printed occasionally and the peso to dollar exchange rate may have changed considerably since the last version. Therefore it never hurts to ask to see both menus and compare which would be the better deal for payment. For restaurants in the non-tourist areas like small tacquerias and loncherias frequented by locals you should use pesos.
CAR RENTALS: Car rental places typically want a credit card as backup guarantee on your vehicle. But you will meet great resistance and raised prices if you attempt to pay with the card at the end of your stay. This applies to the big brand names like Avis and Hertz as much as to small indie companies. So be forewarned and have cash on hand for this. Here again, ask for the price ahead of time in pesos as well as dollars so you will know what to expect and, like the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared.
TOURS: Most tours — sailing, snorkeling, submarine, fishing — are quoted in dollars if English is your native language. However, if you wish to pay in pesos, they are required by law to accept these and you may get a good rate on the exchange. Or not. Depending.
TIPS: Dollars are universally and happily accepted by service providers as are pesos. Remember that this is a cash economy and that Mexicans make incredibly low base salaries. They live for the tips so if you receive good service, please consider tipping. You will receive a grateful smile if you tip your airport van driver or the maids that clean your hotel room. Tour guides and dive ops definitely expect a tip if you enjoyed yourself. The tip is split between the captain, the dive master and any other helpers on board. Restaurant tipping should be in line with what you pay elsewhere — typically 15% of your bill. Tours and dive operators will be happy to suggest an appropriate tip for their workers if you ask ahead of time for a price range. Needless to say, if you are dissatisfied with service, show it in your tip!
TAXIS: The one exception to regular tipping is the taxi drivers. Their fares are built in. However, if they offer extra service — like helping you load heavy luggage or groceries, a tip is a nice thing to do. By the way, taxi fares are regulated and drivers are supposed to carry a published rate sheet with them. But to keep everyone honest, it’s always a good idea to ask what the fare will be before you get into the cab. What you say: cuanto cuesta a (how much to..) KWAN-toh QUES-tah AH–and then your destination. You can also ask to see the rates card — la tarjeta (lah tar-HAY-tah.)
Other Cozumel My Cozumel pages to visit