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Pesos are easy

The Beaches south of Cancun, MexicoPeso bills come in 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 denominations. The bills are different colors and easy to tell apart.

1,2, and 5 peso coins are round - silver with a golden center. 10 and 20 peso coins are also round, but golden on the outside. Each smaller denomination round peso coin is physically smaller than higher denomination coins.

A peso is worth 100 centavos - just like a dollar is worth 100 pennies. The centavo pieces are one color and octagonal shaped and come in 10, 20 and 50 denominations. These are actually rare to see, but becoming more common, so keep your cute little silver 10 centavos for souvenirs.

Watch that $ sign

Mexicans use the $ symbol for the peso, just like Americans use the $ sign for the dollar. Sometimes price lists in Mexico will have MN beside it for Moneda Nacional (national currency), but not always. If you aren't sure if the prices are in pesos or dollars, just ask.

The exchange rate changes slightly every day, and you can convert currency online. Lately the rate has been between 8 and 10 pesos to the US dollar.

Tip everyone

Most people working in the tourist industry make shockingly low wages, especially since they live and work in expensive beach towns. Example - bartenders make 40 pesos a day and the cheapest restaurant lunch costs 25 pesos. Your small tips could make their day and their dinner. Most workers appreciate tips - gas station attendants, maids, tour guides, taxi drivers, waiters and bartenders.

Why can't I get change?

Small change is in short supply. If something costs 11.65 pesos, the store will usually round up to 12 pesos, same for 8.15 rounded down to 8. Sometimes if a store clerk doesn't have change they will offer you gum or candy instead. Just take the gum - it isn't their fault that centavo coins are hard to find.

It seems annoying that you can walk into a mini-super to buy a coke for 10 pesos, hand them a 50 peso note, and they can't make change and have to send someone down the street to get change. Here is one way to think about it, if you are an American. To an American, that 50 peso bill is worth a little less than $5 US. Change for $5 seems easy to come by. Around here, a decent wage for a local worker is 40 pesos or less. Even though the exchange rate says the 50 pesos is worth $5, in the local economy it is actually worth more like $50 to people. When you have your wallet out and flip through the 200 peso notes fresh from the bank, in an American's mind it is like flipping through $20 bills, but to the construction worker behind him in line at the grocery store, it looks more like flipping through $200 bills. You should try to be understanding to the small store or street vendor when they can't make change. Break your large bills at big stores like San Francisco Grocery, and try not to flaunt your money. It may feel like play money to you, but it is truly valuable to your average person here.

Old Pesos and New Pesos

Mexico's currency is the Mexican Peso (sometimes referred to as the New Peso (Nuevo Peso), since Mexico re-valued its currency in 1994.   There are one hundred Mexican cents (Centavos) to every peso.

Some travelers to Mexico have old pesos lying around and wan to know what they are worth. Well, basically, not much...

1 new peso = 1000 old pesos

So 5000 in old pesos is worth 5 new pesos, about $0.50 US. Not exactly worth exchanging. The old peso is very common, so it there is no cash value for collectors that I know of. When we moved to Mexico - a friend gave us 10,0000 old pesos and we thought we were rich!

The Edge of Time : Photographs of Mexico
Black and white photos of ordinary Mexicans from around the country and their customs

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