The currency in Mexico is called pesos. The exchange rate used to fluctuate like mad, but it has been quite steady for years now. The current exchange rate is around 12.75 pesos to the US Dollar (as of June 2010). The sign for pesos is the same as for US dollars ($), which can be a little confusing sometimes. Prices are usually in pesos, but many hotels, dive shops, etc. put their prices in dollars. Don't worry about changing money before you get here, just bring your debit card or dollars and get pesos when you get here. Travelers' checks have become less popular in the last few years. The exchange rate at the airport usually has a fair, but somewhat lower rate. The best rates are given by using your ATM card to withdraw (converted) pesos from your account back home. Most hotels, shops and restaurants in this part of Mexico also accept dollars, however usually at a lower rate.
Many smaller establishments do not accept credit cards, so check before you order. The easiest way to get money is to use your bank card at one of the many cash machines in town, all of which dispense pesos (max 3000 pesos per day for most machines, some allow up to 5000). Do remember your pin code as there is no bank in Playa that will give you a cash advance on your card. For that you would have to go to Cancun or Cozumel. There's no fee involved on the Mexican side, but your own bank probably charges a fee for each withdrawal. Your day will be easier if you have small denominations, as many smaller establishments don't have a supply of change. Sometimes even the banks run out of smaller notes.
Playa has many banks, on Juarez and elsewhere. Hours are usually 9am to 5pm, but this can vary, as can their available hours for currency exchange. Exchange houses are usually open till 9 or 10pm. Avenida Juarez is also where you find the Post office and the main Police Station. There are banks in other places in town too, for example, on the corner of Avenida 10 and Calle 12.
The are two bus terminals in town, one on the corner of Avenida Juarez and 5th Avenue and one on Avenida 20, between Calle 12 and 14. Both have direct bus service to Cancun, Tulum, Merida and a lot of other places in the area and the country. The Colectivos are white vans running up and down the highway. They stop anywhere you want, and you can flag them down by the side of the road. They operate from Calle 2 between Avenida 15 and 20, next to the basketball court.
Tipping is not a town in China, the saying goes. In Spanish, it's called the propina, but sometimes you will see it as servicio on a restaurant bill. The bill is called a cuenta, by the way. Most Americans have the custom of tipping down pretty well. They even tend to tip a little on the heavy side. Ten to fifteen percent is considered the standard range in Mexico for a restaurant check. Many Europeans tend to think that since they do not tip at home, they can pretend it's the same when they travel. TIPPING IS PART OF MEXICAN LIFE! Many restaurants in Playa have begun to include a 10% service on all checks to make this very clear. You should consider tipping your maid, any tour guide you find particularly talented (like your dive guide, for example), the kid who 'watches' your car, or sometimes, our friend the pesky police officer. And toss a peso or two to the child who packs your bags at the grocery store.
The electricity in Mexico is 110 volts, just like in the States. If you come from Europe and want to bring an electrical gadget, don't forget an adapter. Luckily, many popular electronics use universal 'smart' power supplies nowadays, covering 110-230V / 50-60Hz, so it's likely that your camera battery charger and notebook computer's 'black box' will work just fine, just be sure to check the print on the AC/DC converter if you are bringing stuff from abroad. Most people leave irons and hair dryers at home; remember this is a very laid back place.
Quintana Roo is on -6 hours Greenwich time, which is the same as Central Standard Time in the US.
There are plenty of public phones on the streets of Playa. Phone cards, ask for a LADA, are sold in varying denominations at pharmacies and other little shops (20 pesos is the least expensive card available). The one card is good for all national and international calls. If you want to make a collect call, dial 090 to speak with an English speaking (usually) operator. There are some pay phones that work on credit cards and claim low prices but steer clear of them. You might get robbed. There are plenty of Internet cafés and phone/fax/mail shops all over town. Your cellular phone from Europe might work here, cellphones from other parts of North America usually do - check with your service provider. You might have to authorize its use. For the most up-to-date testimonials on which phones work down here, check out our forum and the search function.
If you are trying to call a local cellphone, you'll see that the number is quite long and starts with 044. Don't worry, just dial the whole number. Cellphones here have a different dialing system called "el que llama paga," which means he who calls, pays. This system has enabled LOTS of people to afford a cellphone to receive calls. Unfortunately, with the high rates Telmex charges, calling cellphones (most people don't have a landline) all day will really drive your bills up by the end of the month. Of course if you don't run a local business, this isn't anything to be concerned about.
A Cancun issue of the Miami Herald is sold in pharmacies and shops along 5th Avenue. You can also find copies of many different newspapers, especially in the tobacco shops. Postal service in Mexico is horribly inefficient. A post card home will probably take many weeks, or even months. A package will most probably not make it. So, don't send anything valuable with the Mexican Mail. If you do want to send some post cards, stamps can be found at the Post office and at the pharmacy or the mini super. Stamps are called estampillas.