This is one of the most often asked questions on my Cancun forum and is still very much a personal choice. My advice is to use Pesos.
Although there are always exceptions, generally speaking, in Cancun all small value items such as a packet of cigarettes, the bus fare, a bottle of water etc will be priced in Pesos. Higher value items such as tour prices, nightclub entrance prices and souvenir clothing will be priced in both Pesos and US Dollars.
For those who don’t use US dollars regularly then why complicate matters by dealing with two unfamiliar currencies when you could just use Pesos? For those from the US who are used to Dollars you’ll open yourself up to all sorts off scams and shortchanging if you insist on sticking with dollars for every purchase.
While dollars are accepted almost anywhere you’ll often receive change in pesos, and sometimes at very unfavorable rates. For example, the bus fare in Cancun is 12 pesos.
If you pay with a dollar note (worth over 18 pesos) don’t expect any change. Whenever a price is listed in Pesos and you pay in US Dollars then it will always be rounded up at your loss not theirs. That’s why, unless you are from the US and don’t want to use Pesos due to their unfamiliarity, I would always recommend that you use Pesos. The number of British and Canadian visitors I see using US Dollars always surprises me. Why juggle a third unfamiliar currency in your head, when you could just use Pesos and forget about US Dollars altogether, and be better off for it?
Some travel agencies (particularly those in the UK) continue to tell their clients that Dollars are no longer accepted in Cancun. This is totally wrong! While it is true that banking restrictions mean that it is now harder to pay Dollars into a Mexican bank account, Dollars are still in widespread use throughout the tourist areas of Cancun and no one will refuse them…… except the travel operator who told you this in the first place.
Why would my UK travel operator tell me this if it isn’t true?
Profit of course! As mentioned above, companies now have a hard time banking large amounts of Dollars in Mexico. By telling you Dollars aren’t accepted they ensure that you bring a currency that they themselves can accept and bank easily with the least amount of inconvenience to them when you buy their overpriced tours. Last thing they want is for you to arrive in Mexico with only Dollars and they wind up not being able to sell you anything. So, they lie.
There are even cash machines in the hotel zone that dispense notes in Dollars and do you think US travel operators tell their clients they cant pay for tours in Dollars? Of course not!
I would strongly recommend all UK tourists to complain to their operators about this blatant misinformation, and to buy their tours and excursions from local operators or online. After all, you’ll often end up on the very same bus as someone else who paid half the price you did and in whatever currency they chose to!
Beware $100 bills
When using US dollars be aware that many places will not accept a $100 USD bill, including the large supermarkets such as Walmart downtown. Don’t fill your shopping trolley and then be disappointed at the checkout if all you have are 100’s and no one will change them for you. For most purchases you will nearly always receive change in Pesos, regardless of if you pay in USD.
In addition various shops have varying rules but many require you to spend 80% or 90% of the value of the bills you wish to pay with. So you cant buy a $4 bottle of water offer a $50 bill and expect $46 worth of Pesos change, but you’d be fine offering a $5 bill.
Winning the exchange rate
Undoubtedly, however, the real benefit in using Pesos is that you will avoid losing out on the varying exchange rates offered at the places where you spend your money. The exchange rate is not regulated in Quintana Roo and that means retail outlets can set their own rate. And of course they will always set it to suit their pocket, not yours! This happens almost everywhere, hotel gift shops, bars, restaurants and the absolute worst are taxi drivers.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point:
You buy 5 beers in a bar advertised at 30 pesos each. This bar offers an exchange rate of 15 pesos to the dollar. So, you could either pay 150 Pesos or $10.00 USD, fair enough you may think. However, let’s say the true bank rate of exchange is 18 pesos to the dollar your $10 USD is actually worth 180 pesos but the bar is making an extra 3 pesos per beer by offering a poor exchange rate.
If you’d used a reputable exchange place and converted your $10 USD to Pesos and then used those Pesos to pay your bill, you’d actually still have 30 Pesos left over and could stay for an extra beer!
Pesos, being the national currency of Mexico, will be accepted absolutely anywhere. US dollars will be accepted throughout the Cancun Hotel Zone, but the further you venture into ‘real Mexico’ the more problems you may find in using them for everyday purchases.
The exchange rate obviously fluctuates, but as a general rule of thumb you can usually use the following easy calculations and not be far out.
- $1US = 18 pesos (take the number of Pesos, divide by 2, divide that by 10 and add 10%)
- £1 = 24 pesos (take the number of Pesos, divide by 2, divide that by 10 and take off 10%)
Remember though the larger the amount the wider the error using the above quick calculations, so for large purchases you should calculate a little more accurately. Our currency convertor always converts at the daily rate in real time.
Check out our Mexican currency page to see photos of the bank notes currently in circulation and familiarize yourself before you go.