Show Me the Money: Currency in Dominican Republic, Peru, Costa Rica and Ecuador
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Show Me the Money: Currency in Dominican Republic, Peru, Costa Rica and Ecuador

Imagine arriving in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, eager to explore the local markets and stores with your trusty ‘no foreign transaction fee’ credit card in hand. You then find out that except for your hotel and only the most touristic spots, not only do they not accept credit cards, but they only accept cash in Dominican pesos.

When planning a trip to the Dominican Republic, Peru, Costa Rica or Ecuador, the intricacies of currency exchange and whether to pay by cash or card can make or break your vacation experience. The last thing you want to worry about when you’re relaxing on the beaches in the Dominican Republic is if you have the cash to pay for a fresh coconut.

Before you begrudgingly pay a $10 bank fee to withdraw money and pay for your coffee, here are some details on the currency you may want for upcoming travels in the following countries:

Name of Country Name of Currency Currency Symbol Exchange Rate
Dominican Republic Flag Dominican Republic Peso DOP (RD$) 1 USD = 59 DOP
Peru Flag Peru Sol PEN (S/) 1 USD = 3.74 PEN
Costa Rica Flag Costa Rica Colón CRC (₡) 1 USD = 512 CRC
Ecuador Flag Ecuador U.S. Dollar USD ($) 1 USD = 1 USD

Note: The exchange rates are as of May 22, 2024. It’s best to check the most up-to-date exchange rates before your trip.

Dominican Peso

The currency of the Dominican Republic is the Dominican peso (DOP), which is issued and overseen by the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic. Its symbol is “$” or “RD$.”

Dominican Republic currency 20 pesos, featuring historical figures

The Dominican peso was introduced when the nation became independent from Haiti in the 1800s. $59 DOP is equal to about one US dollar, though it may be easier to think of $100 DOP as being equal to almost $2 USD. Like the US dollar, one Dominican peso is divided into 100 centavos.

Peso Bills:

  • 50 pesos
  • 100 pesos
  • 200 pesos
  • 500 pesos
  • 1,000 pesos
  • 2,000 pesos

Peso Coins:

  • 1 pesos
  • 5 pesos
  • 10 pesos
  • 25 pesos

This is one currency that you generally need to get while in the country. When you withdraw cash, check to see which foreign exchange ATM in your city has the best exchange rate and whether there is a daily withdrawal limit.

With many purchases in the Dominican Republic, haggling is common. Exceptions include supermarkets. To haggle at various souvenir shops, it’s best to be ready with cash and to be friendly while negotiating the price.

Peruvian Sol

The currency of Peru is the Sol (PEN). It’s symbol is “S/”. Like the Dominican peso, one sol is divided into 100 céntimos.

 Ten Peruvian soles bill with a portrait of a woman and intricate design

One US dollar will get you about 3.74 Peruvian soles. With that exchange rate, you may benefit from using an exchange calculator for quick cost calculations.

Sol Bills:

  • 10 soles
  • 20 soles
  • 50 soles
  • 100 soles
  • 200 soles

Sol Coins:

  • 1 soles
  • 2 soles
  • 5 soles

Céntimos Coins:

  • 10 céntimos
  • 20 céntimos
  • 50 céntimos

The American dollar is also accepted in a large number of restaurants, large hotels, and gas stations. It is also possible to exchange money at banks, supermarkets, or casas de cambio, which are exchange houses.

Another option is exchanging your money with Cambistas, or street money changers. Cambistas are officially registered with the municipality and carry proper identification and colored vests with QR codes to help verify their registration. They can be found in tourist-dense locations and typically offer good exchange rates.

When making purchases, using larger bills may not work since the vendors may not have enough change. Therefore, it’s better to carry small bills.

Counterfeiting is also a large problem in Peru. Therefore, you may need to study the bills so you could possibly spot fake money in tourist areas. There are also scams such as short changing. These problems are all the more reasons why you want to use small bills or check if vendors accept credit cards.

Haggling is also common in Peru. Prices for tourists can be inflated, so that is when negotiating the price can come into play. However, it’s also good not to take it too far and to respect artisans by giving them a fair price.

So should you carry cash or credit? The answer is both. But if you want to choose only one, “Cash is King.”

Costa Rican Colón

The currency of Costa Rica is the colón (CRC). It’s symbol is “₡” and one colón is divided into one hundred céntimos. It’s named after Christopher Columbus, who is Cristóbal Colón in Spanish.

Ten thousand Costa Rican colones bill with a sloth and rainforest scene

The currency’s bills are colorful, featuring deer, sharks, monkeys, sloths, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Different denominations of the bills come in different sizes to help those with visual impairments. One American dollar is approximately 510 colones, though exchange rates always vary.

Colón Bills:

  • 1,000 colones
  • 2,000 colones
  • 5,000 colones
  • 10,000 colones
  • 20,000 colones
  • 50,000 colones

Colón Coins:

  • 5 colones
  • 10 colones
  • 25 colones
  • 50 colones
  • 100 colones
  • 500 colones

US dollars also are accepted in many parts of the country, as are credit and debit cards. It’s always a good idea to check if vendors accept cards and to bring cash with smaller denominations in case you want to get a discount.

When you purchase items at places like a gift shop, keep in mind that haggling is not the norm in Costa Rica. Therefore, note that prices listed on items are usually the actual prices.

Ecuador – U.S. Dollar

Many people are surprised to learn that Ecuador uses American dollars (USD) as its currency. In 2000, the country adopted the US dollar as the official currency, after the sucre tumbled in value during a financial crisis.

Sucre notes were no longer considered legal tender but could be exchanged at Ecuador’s national bank, the Central Bank of Ecuador until March 30, 2001. The exchange rate back then was 25,000 sucres per US dollar.

Like other countries, Ecuadorian merchants accept cash but may lack change, so smaller denominations are again helpful in most restaurants and bars.

In Ecuador, haggling occurs in some scenarios but not others. It may be considered rude to haggle in some stores and restaurants. Negotiations are more common with other services and street vendors. When haggling, you can compare prices between merchants to see if the price listed is reasonable.

In general, you should always plan to have cash as your first method of payment. Although cards are widely accepted in larger cities, such as Guayaquil, Esmeraldas and Manta, a lot of other places don’t have card payment options.

Bills:

  • 1 dollar
  • 5 dollars
  • 10 dollars
  • 20 dollars
  • 50 dollars
  • 100 dollars

Coins:

  • 1 cent
  • 5 cents
  • 10 cents
  • 25 cents
  • 50 cents
  • 1 dollar

Where to Exchange Money Before You Travel

Exchanging money before you travel can help you avoid high fees and unfavorable exchange rates. Here are some of the best ways to exchange money before you travel.

1. Use Your Bank

  • Order Foreign Currency: Many banks offer the service of ordering foreign currency for their customers. This often comes with lower fees and better exchange rates than airport or hotel exchanges.
  • Check for Partnerships: Some banks have partnerships with foreign banks, which might provide better rates for currency exchange.

2. Online Currency Exchange Services

  • Online Platforms: Websites like Travelex, XE, and Wise allow you to order foreign currency online and have it delivered to your home or a local branch for pickup.
  • Rate Comparison: These services often allow you to compare rates and choose the best deal.

3. Currency Exchange at Airports

  • Quick and Reliable Alternative: Although generally not recommended due to higher fees and less favorable rates, in most cases, airport currency exchanges can be convenient if you need some local currency immediately upon arrival.

4. Travel Cards and Prepaid Currency Cards

  • Preloaded Cards: These cards can be loaded with a set amount of foreign currency before you travel. They offer security and convenience, and often come with competitive exchange rates.
  • Multi-Currency Cards: Some cards allow you to load and hold multiple currencies, which can be useful for multi-destination trips.

5. Credit and Debit Cards

  • Low-Fee Cards: Look for credit or debit cards that offer low or no foreign transaction fees for purchases. Some cards are specifically designed for travelers and provide competitive exchange rates.
  • Notify Your Bank: Always inform your bank of your travel plans to avoid any issues with card usage abroad.

6. Foreign Exchange Kiosks

  • Local Options: Visit foreign exchange kiosks in your city. While they might offer better rates than airport kiosks, it’s still wise to compare their rates with other options.

7. Currency Exchange Apps

  • Mobile Solutions: Apps like Revolut, Wise, and PayPal can provide competitive exchange rates and allow you to manage currency exchange from your smartphone.
About the Author

Scott Ingram

Scott is the Director of Admissions at Rustic Pathways. He has spent the last 15 years in the student travel and experiential education world. Before helping families find the perfect Rustic Pathways program, he led gap year programs that took students around the world and spent three years teaching English in Japan.