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 deserve.
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 longer!
your trek with a responsible trekking company.
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.
2. Hire 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.
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.
porters that you appreciated them. Thank them verbally and leave a tip.
instances of porter neglect.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.