Peru uses the Peruvian Nuevo Sol (PEN) currency which is most commonly known as the ‘sol’. The sol symbol is S/. and it trades at approximately 2.7 soles to 1 US$ or 3.6 soles to the euro. These rates fluctuate so check with your bank or foreign exchange provider before you travel.
The sol comes in bills of S10, S20, S50, S100 and (rarely) S200. It is divided into 100 cents, with copper-colored coins of S0.05, S0.10 and S0.20, and silver-colored S0.50 and S1 coins. In addition, there are bimetallic S2 and S5 coins with a copper-colored center inside a silver-colored ring.
Fake money is a problem in Peru, so familiarize yourself with the sol and dollar and always check you are getting the real thing when exchanging currency.
Check out this excerpt from the Central Reserve Bank of Peru to help you pick out those fakes:
- Touch – Get familiar with how the cotton based paper feels in a real sol note which has a distinctive texture to fakes. Real notes use relief printing so should not be totally smooth. The ‘Banco Central del Peru’ print should feel slightly raised to the touch.
- Look – Check for the watermark that should be multi-toned and 3 dimensional. The watermark should be the same figure as the main character on the note.
- Turn – Raise the note to eye-level and turn it paying attention to the security features mentioned above.
The US dollar and euro is widely accepted in most 3 star plus hotels and more upmarket restaurants although rates might be slightly higher than those found in a casa de cambio or foreign exchange outlet. The dollar is more widely accepted than the euro. Out on the street you will need to have soles in your pocket, so ask for small notes of 50 or 100 soles or less when you change your money.
Avenida (Avenue) Del Sol in Cusco has a whole lot of foreign exchange shops where you can change your currency. These shops also sell hiking gear, tours, coffee and items like sunscreen. Like in any destination, it’s best to exchange your money in official banks to ensure you get authentic notes and the right amount of money back. All the major banks including BBVA and Scotia Bank are located on Avenida Del Sol.
We definitely advise against changing your money with money exchangers on the street and be careful if you are using the foreign exchange shops. A current common scam is the teller counting the correct amount of money out in front of you and then in the blink of an eye they remove a note or two from the pile just before handing it to you. It’s not until later that you realise there is a note or two missing!
Automatic Teller Machines (ATM’s)
Cusco and all the main towns in the Sacred Valley have ATM’s so it is easy to withdraw money once you get to Cusco. There is usually a charge of between 10 – 12 soles for withdrawing money from ATM’s plus whatever amount your own bank charges back home. This can add up quickly so be prepared.
Travellers cheques are still one of the safest ways to travel with large amounts of cash. You can use traveller’s cheques at banks and some hotels in Cusco. However, if you will be travelling outside Cusco to smaller towns make sure to bring enough cash with you as not everyone will accept them and if they do, the exchange rate for changing travellers cheques can be much lower.
Visa is the most widely accepted credit card in Cusco and the Sacred Valley but Mastercard, AMEX and Diners Club cards are also accepted. It’s a good idea to let your bank know that you are travelling to Peru so that they will continue to authorize any purchases you make while abroad. (We have had our cards frozen in the past because the bank didn’t know we were in South America and thought fraud was at play!)