Inca Trail - Porter
Thousands of people make the Inca Trail trek each year. They
typically complete the 43km mountainous trail in 4 days. For
many the experience is an trip of a lifetime and the fulfillment
of a personal ambition. The satisfaction of having completed the
trek and arriving at the spectacular Inca ruins of Machu Picchu
is hard to beat. However the feeling is even better if you know
that all the porters helping you along the way have been well
looked after and treated with the respect and dignity that they
Now that most trekkers on the Inca Trail take a trek organized
by a local tour operator, the camping equipment (tents, dining
tent, kitchen tent, tables, chairs, stove, gas bottle and food)
is carried on the backs of human porters. Pack animals such as
horses, mules and llamas are now banned from the trail. The
prices that tour operators charge for this 4 day trek can vary
considerably as can the rates of porter pay and conditions
provided by each company. However trying to find out if a
company looks after its porters can be quite difficult. Often
tour companies are not completely honest about the wages that
they say that they pay their porters and real facts are
difficult to verify. If you ask a porter how much he gets paid
then very rarely you will get a straight answer. If a porter is
well paid he is likely to tell you that he is poorly paid so
that you give him a better tip! If he is badly paid it is likely
that the company has instructed him to lie and tell you that he
receives more than he actually does. If he complains about his
pay to tourists on the trek then he is unlikely to work much
Book your trek with
a responsible trekking company.
At the moment none of the trekking agencies are perfect and
there is still plenty of room for improvement. However if you
pay under US$350 for a 4 day group Inca Trail trek it is very
unlikely that porter welfare is high on the company's concerns.
When you book with a company let them know that the treatment
the porters receive is important to you. Porters need fare
wages, decent meals and warm and dry accommodation.
Hire a porter.
Hiring a porter will make your trek more enjoyable, giving you
time to enjoy the scenery rather than looking at your boots!
You'll also be giving employment to people who really want and
need to work.
Interact with your porters.
Talk to your porters, learn about their traditions and villages.
Share some coca leaves. Even ask them to sing some of their
local songs. Most porters suffer from low self-esteem so make
the first move, don't wait for them to talk to you first.
Thank your porter.
Show your porters that you appreciated them. Thank them verbally
and leave a tip.
Report instances of
If you are unhappy about how your porters are treated then
complain to the guide. If he/she can't resolve the problem then
make a big fuss back at the office when you return to Cusco.
Make sure the office is full of other potential clients. If you
bought your trek in another country then make a complaint in
writing when you return home.
If you are a member of South America Explorers let them know
that you were unhappy with the service.
The Peruvian government can be praised for introducing the
Porters Law which states that a porter should receive a minimum
wage of 41 Soles per day (about US$14). Sadly not all trekking
companies are paying their porters this wage.
The maximum weight that a porter can carry on the Inca Trail has
been limited to 25kg. This includes a 5kg personal allowance for
items such as blankets and clothes. Each porter is weighed at
the start of the trail and then again at Wayllabamba at the
start of the second day. This regulation was introduced in 2002
and has been strictly enforced. Companies that are caught
overloading their porters receive fines and the risk of losing
their licenses. However, as with most regulations, many
companies make great efforts to get around them. Tourists who
have hired a personal porter are often asked to carry their own
bags through the check points and guides and assistants
temporarily take some of the load. If you hire a personal porter
to carry your equipment do not accept this practice and ensure
that you porter is fully loaded when he is weighed at the check
points. Some of the worst companies also restrict the amount of
personal items that a porter can take with him, imposing upon
his personal allowance of 5kg. Many porters are scared that if
their blankets are too heavy or they have packed too many warm
clothes then they will exceed the 25kg limit and receive a fine
which the company will then deduct from their wages. Obviously
responsible companies do not practice such activities.
The biggest difference between a responsible company and an
irresponsible one is how they look after their porters on the
trek. Many porters are given very little to eat on the trail.
They have to wait to see how much the tourists have eaten before
the left-overs are divided up amongst them. Many porters end the
trail tired and hungry. In general porters sleep together in the
group dining and kitchen tents. This is fine since there is
warmth in numbers. However, when you are on the Inca Trail
remember not end up talking all night in the dining tent as
there may be tired and cold porters outside waiting to go to
bed. You may also notice that very few dining tents have
integral floors to keep out the cold and damp. When it rains the
floor can become like a river running through the tent. Very few
porters have sleeping mats or even warm sleeping bags. They
usually put one blanket on the ground and cover themselves with
another one. There is still plenty of room for improvement for
even the most expensive and professional trekking companies when
it comes to providing warm, comfortable and dry accommodation
for their porters.
The Quechua race has a history of being down-trodden, first by
the Incas, then by the Spanish and then by the landowners. Only
in fairly recent reforms have the Quechua people started to own
their own land. Because of their long history of being dominated
by others many have a low self-esteem. It is important on the
Inca Trail to try to involve the porters in your group. Take
some coca leaves to share with them and try to learn a couple of
basic words in Quechua (your guide will be pleased to help you).
Many of the porters have amazing stories to tell about
traditions and life in their villages. At the end of the trek
don't forget to show them that you appreciated their work and
valued their contribution towards the trek by thanking them
verbally and giving them a tip.
How much to
Tipping the guide and cook should be dependent on the quality of
the service that you received. If their tips are consistantly
poor then they will soon get the message that they need to
improve. However, even if the food was terrible and the guide
spoke no English (which we hope will not be the case), the
porters were probably still working away hard carrying the
camping equipment and tents so don't forget to leave a tip. The
amount you pay depends on you but as a guideline we recommend
that each porter in your group takes home an extra 25-30 soles
(a combined tip from everyone in the group). Try to take plenty
of small change so that you can give the tips directly to the
porters. This is much better than giving the money to the cook
or the guide to be divided up later amongst the porters as often
the money is unfairly distributed.
I have heard many stories where trekkers have wanted to show
their appreciation of the porters by tipping hundreds of dollars
! Over-tipping can often be as bad as leaving no tip at all.
Unfortunately it is a fact that if they receive large tips they
often end up drinking in Aguas Calientes or Urubamba for several
days after the trek after and little of the intended benefits
reach their families who often need it most. Try to keep your
tip to a sensible amount and if you want to help the porters
more then contribute to one of the existing porter welfare
projects in Cusco.
Inca Trail Tips