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Is it necessary to get local currency for Antigua?

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We will be going to Antigua and spending time on our own in the city. Does anyone have any experience in using US dollars in Antigua rather than local currency?  We plan to have small bills in dollars.  

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Hi, I live in Antigua currently, so have a lot of experience with this.

 

Local currency will almost certainly get you better prices on items. Not just because of the conversion rate, but because the banks here limit locals from depositing certain USD amounts each month unless they can provide solid proof of where it came from (money laundering and such concerns). That means if you are shopping in the typical artisan markets or main mercado with just USD, you not only mark yourself as a short-time tourist (gringo pricing, cha-ching!), but you also have less bartering strength because the vendor has to deal with how to convert the dollars later.

 

Some of the vendors will take MasterCard or Visa (very few accept other credit cards, like AMEX). But again, you'll usually pay more for the privilege.

 

Sometimes you will pay more because they will flat out add a 10% cc fee to your purchase amount (common here, even in many restaurants). If you have cash ("effectivo") you can almost always negotiate a better price than with credit cards.

 

Most tourist restaurants do take MC and Visa. If you go into more local-style places (like the wonderful Rincon Tipico) you will need cash.

 

In order to take a tuc-tuc for short jaunts around town, you'll need Q's as well. (BTW, don't pay more than Q25 or so total for a tuc-tuc ride within Antigua... the drivers often can tell you are not an experienced resident and will try to charge you "by the person" or at ridiculous rates like Q80). Check the price before getting in, and don't even haggle if they try to say the ride is more than Q25. Just say no gracias, wave them on and wait for the next one. Only exception is if it is nighttime and raining, then you may need to pay more just due to higher demand.

 

Uber is available here and then you can use the credit card on your account, however, it's spotty. Not a huge number of drivers and because Antigua is small (less than 1. 75 miles end to end for the main historic center) you will get a lot of cancellations after a driver accepts your ride. Uber in Antigua can be frustrating. Don't count on it for time-sensitive rides or leave plenty of extra time.

So all in all, even for a short visit, it's best to use a debit card that allows you to take out money without a foreign transaction fee (highly recommend Schwab for international travel, you get all ATM fees back each month). You can take out a small amount to spend and then "top off" with a few USD after you've negotiated a price in the markets if you are a tiny bit short on Q's.

 

ATM tip - always use ATM machines that are located inside of pharmacies, banks or hotels, where they are guarded 24/7/365. DON'T use ones next to the central park area or ones that sit outside, even if you see a guard standing there. The network "5B" for us has been the most reliable.

Credit cards work much of the time and in many places, but cash is still king here in Guatemala.

Edited by DebInAntigua
fixed typo - meant to say 1.75 MILES end to end, not minutes

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Thank you Deb.  We are going to be there on Oct. 5 on Coral Princess.  We are doing the Antigua on our own and they just provide the transportation.  We will get some Q to bring with us.  The info on the tuc-tucs is helpful.  Will they take you up to the Mirador de la Cruz?  We definitely want to help the locals to not have to convert our dollars.  We have a list of places to see, so we plan on doing a lot of walking around.  Thanks.

Cheryl & Hank

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