What should I bring with me to Cozumel?
American dollars in small denominations for tips, taxi fares and the small occasional cash purchase.
An ATM card (a debit card, one that takes money from your checking account) to get Mexican pesos for cash purchases from ATM machines -- don't forget your PIN. (For one day on the island you can actually get by just fine paying dollars for everything -- taxis, rental cars, restaurants and shops. However, if you shop the back streets of town, you may get a better exchange rate if you convert a bit of money into pesos. If you decide to exchange some money, don't do it at the cruiseship pier if you can help it. There are banks all over downtown with ATM machines and there is also a machine in the large, waterfront grocery store called the Chedraui. (Can't miss it.)
A credit card for emergencies. However, we wouldn't recommend using it for anything except guaranteeing a car reservation. Then pay in cash when you return the car. There is a 5-6% surcharge for running credit cards on Cozumel and the charge will be passed on to you.
Some American dollars in larger denominiations to cover the balance on any tours you may have booked over the internet with a reservation deposit.
ATM's give the best rate on the island. We would advise using an ATM machine in one of the downtown banks and during business hours. That way if something goes wrong, you can immediately pop into the bank and get them to open up the machine and take care of it. There is a Banamex, a Bancomer and a HSBC bank with ATM machine within a quarter block of the clock tower at the downtown plaza. There is also a Serfin machine in their bank two blocks south of the plaza on Avenida 10.
Tips on Buying
First, you will lose money every time you exchange money. Close to the waterfront, where things are usually quoted in U.S. dollars, you can ask what the peso price would be but it will generally be to your disadvantage to pay that way.
On the other hand, away from the waterfront where things are priced in pesos, you will lose money if you pay in dollars. That is the reason to have some of each. Pay the way the item is quoted.
Dollar-denominated items: Stores and restaurants near the water or at the cruiseship pier. Diving, fishing, snokeling, and other tourist-only services. Peso-denominated items: Stores and restaurants away from the water. Supermarkets. Taxis. The ferry to Playa del Carmen.
Miscellaneous Money Matters
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: Cuanta cuesta a (how much to..) KWAN-tah QUES-tah AH--and then your destination.
Tipping: We tip the same as in the US and it's much appreciated in a country where 3000 pesos/month (around $300 US) is considered a good wage. 15% in restaurants--20 if service is exceptional. Tip luggage handlers $1-$1.50 US per bag.
Bargaining--forget trying on the waterfront or in the cruiseship pier stores. They know more buyers will soon be along so why should they try harder. Plus most of these places aren't family-owned so there's usually no one on the premise authorized to make deals. See our Shopping page for more info on out of the way places to get better buys. Rule of thumb: the so-called "duty-free" shops at the cruiseship pier are good deals on liquor, cigarettes and that's about it..
If you want to bargain, try the perpendicular to the waterfront side streets and streets back a block or more 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.)
Don't bring any American checks- you won't be able to use them. Travelers checks are OK as an alternative to cash dollars, but they aren't as universally accepted as they are in the U.S and you may have to go out of your way to get one cashed especially if you try to use it in a small store or back-in-town restaurant.