One thing you learn fairly rapidly after touching down in a South American country is that the concept of “extranjero pricing” (‘foreigner pricing’) is everywhere.
You’re probably already familiar with this from Europe…the few extra euros non-citizens have to spend to get into a famous museum, for example. But here in South America, this is a plague, and I’m not talking about the taxi driver in Lima who doubles the price for the “gueros”. That little issue is easily taken care of with a little Spanish and a well placed, “…muy caro!?”
No…what I’m talking about is the outright soaking that I’ve experienced in both Ecuador and Peru at the hands of the local tourist boards. This is particularly prevalent in the popular tourist destinations like Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). Consider that, to get into the 4 most popular Incan archaeological sites around Cusco, you have to buy a $45.00 pass that, for the Peruvians, costs half as much. The pass does not include Machu Picchu (a separate very expensive ticket that is also double the cost for the foreigners). It does not include the two best museums in Cusco (just a bunch of crummy ones). It does not allow you multiple entry to any site—so if you’re on a tour and get rushed through…say…Sacseyhuaman, you’re out of luck. And, you cannot visit any of these sites/museums individually. Such tickets don’t exist.
Likewise, the airlines: LAN, Aerogal, and Tame all charge ‘extranjero prices’ that can range anywhere from 125% to 300% of the price for the locals. And don’t try to purchase a ‘boleto nacional’ just cause you’re flying intra-Ecuador or intra-Peru. If they catch you, they have the option of simply stranding you with no refund or charging you a penalty equal to 2X the cost of your ticket.
One of the reasons we (especially us Americans) travel to South America is the value, but when everything from food, to flights, to sights are subject to a sliding price scale that is designed to soak the Norte Americanos, the temptation to just stay home is great. If it weren’t for the fact that Ecuador (that also has 2X extranjero pricing) is so inexpensive to start with, I’d have just stayed back in the States. I mean, sure the entrance to that church in Quito is double, but when double is $2, I can handle it.