Tipping culture varies enormously between countries. In the USA, anything less than 20% could cause offense while in Japan leaving a tip of any amount is considered an insult. There are no hard and fast rules for how much you should be tipping in South America but there are guidelines you can follow to make sure you don’t accidentally short change someone who has given you great service. Take a look at our tips on tipping etiquette and you’ll breeze through your vacation to South America, and receive a lot of grateful smiles as you go.
This is the most common place you will be leaving a tip, which makes it a good place to start. Generally, South Americans are not big tippers. This particularly applies to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. As a general rule of thumb your server will expect a tip from a foreigner and not from a local. This is because Americans are so used to tipping that they do it everywhere in the world.
The first thing you should know is that everyone in South America appreciates a tip. There are no unspoken rules that tipping is disrespectful or insulting like there are in parts of Asia. If you are willing to give a little extra money, your server will happily take it. However, a tip is not compulsory. If you didn’t get the service you expected then don’t feel obliged to tip. But, take into account that things move more slowly in South America than they do back home. You might not get your food within ten minutes of ordering and you might need to remind your server to bring you cutlery. Instead, base your tip on whether your server was friendly and made you feel welcome.
If you decide the service was satisfactory then 10% of your total bill is a good tip to leave at the end. The lower income countries in South America tend to be cash based so be sure to leave your tip in change rather than trying to add it on to a card transaction. This way you can be sure the tip will go to the server.
The rule for tipping tour guides is that land based tours deserve around $10 per full day and cruise tours should get around $20. This isn’t enshrined in law but it is a good guideline to follow. The tour guides work hard to make sure you have a good time and a few extra dollars to show your appreciation will be received with a smile by your guide. If you have a driver as well as a guide, they should get around $5 per day.
Taxis in South America do not expect tips. But, if you decide your taxi driver was great and deserves a few extra dollars then rounding up the fare is a nice way to show your appreciation. Taxi drivers are not usually the wealthiest citizens so a couple of dollars can go a long way for some.
Tipping aboard boats works a bit differently, and varies between ships and destinations. For the vast majority of cruises in the Amazon, a general guideline would be in roughly $20 x person, per day for the crew and the same again for the guides. This is often left in separate envelopes at the end of the cruise. A cruise in the Galapagos would follow more or less the same format, although it may be slightly higher if you are aboard a smaller, more luxurious vessel.
If you are staying in hotels then you might want to tip the bell boy $1 per bag he takes to your room for you. $1 for the guy who hails you a cab at the front of the lobby is also a nice gesture. As for cleaning staff, $1 per day and the end of each day is a generous way to say thank you for their hard work. Of course, all of these amounts are optional but will be well received should you choose to offer them.
Tipping in South America is far from a minefield and you never need to worry about offending anyone. The main rule is that a little extra never hurts so if the service was reasonable and you aren’t going to miss that dollar in your hand, leave it for them. For more information about tipping in South America during your tour please contact us or call us at 1-888-215-3555.
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