What is a porter?
A porter is the most important person on the route to the Inca Trail and perhaps the most misunderstood both by tourists as well as Inca Trail tour operators.
We say it’s the most important because they are the ones taking all the necessary implements to make your tour as pleasant as possible.
Sadly, many tour operators don’t give them the importance they deserve, NOT providing them with adequate clothing for their jobs, overloading them, not providing special gear for carrying things, paying them very low salaries and especially, giving them very poor nutrition. Because of this, you will see thirsty, hungry porters with a low morale along the Inca Trail.
Our government has created the Law of the Porter, in which tour agencies are required to give porters appropriate conditions, though sadly many of these regulations are not met.
Please make sure that the agency you are hiring really respects the Porter Law and ask for proof of this. Otherwise you will be part of this ill-treatment.
Normally low prices imply ill-treatment and/or exploitation of Inca Trail porters.
Watch and see how our porters work
– Our Company, InfoCusco treats its porters well.
– Our porters and cooks work With Us on a regular basis.
– Our porters Have Life Insurance
– The families of the porters directly obtain the benefits of working with us.
– There is a house in Cusco where all the porters can rest before and after the journey
Thousands of people experience the Inca Trail every year. They usually complete the 43-km mountain route in about 4 days. For many people the experience is the journey of their lives and the accomplishment of a personal ambition. The satisfaction for having completed the journey and reaching the spectacular Inca ruins of Machu Picchu is hard to match. However, the feeling is even better knowing all the porters have been well cared for and treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Now that most Inca Trail visitors need to take a trek organized by a local tour operator, the camping gear (tents, eating tent, cooking tent, tables, chairs, kitchen, gas depository and food) is taken on the back of human carriers. Pack animals such as horses, mules and llamas are prohibited on this route. Prices that tour operators may charge for this 4-day trip can vary considerably as well as remuneration fees for porters and conditions established by each company. However, finding out whether or not a company takes care of their porters can be pretty difficult.
Often, tour operators are not completely honest about the salaries they say they pay their porters and the real facts are difficult to verify. If you ask a porter how much he is paid, very rarely will you get a straight answer. If a porter is well paid, it’s likely he will say he is badly paid so that you may give him a better tip! If he’s not well paid, it’s likely the company has instructed him to lie, telling you he receives more than what he actually does. If he complains about his salary to the tourists on the journey, then he will probably not continue working for the company!
How can you help?
1. Book your trip with a responsible company / tour operator.
Currently, none of the trekking companies are perfect and there is still a lot of room for improvement. However, if you pay less than USD 450 for the Inca Trail, porter well-being is probably not a priority in the concerns of the company.
When booking with a company, you should ask how porters are treated saying this is important to you. Legal salary, decent meals and warm and dry environment.
2. Hiring a porter
Hiring a porter will make your trip more enjoyable, giving you time to enjoy the scenery instead of looking for your boots! People are also being given a job they really love and need to work.
3. Interacting with your porters
Talk to your porters, learning about their traditions and peoples. Share coca leaves with them. Even encourage them to sing some of their local songs. Most porters suffer from low self-esteem and shyness, so the first step is not to expect them to talk to you first.
4. Thank your porter.
Show your porters that you appreciate them. Thank them verbally and give them a tip, though tips are optional
. Report cases of abuse / exploitation / abandonment of porters
If you are not satisfied with how your porters are treated, you should complain to the guide. If he/she cannot solve the problem, make a big fuss at the agency office back in Cusco.
Porter Salaries (USD $ 1 = 2,75 soles)
The Peruvian government can be praised for introducing a new law in 2002 indicating that a porter must receive a minimum salary of 42 soles per day (about US$ 15). It can be said that only a few companies actually pay this salary; unfortunately, most companies have chosen to disregard this law and 30 soles seems to be the average salary companies pay their porters while some companies continue to pay salaries as low as 20 soles per day.
The maximum weight a porter can carry on the Inca Trail is limited to 25 kg. This includes his personal 5 kg. Each porter is weighed at the beginning of the route and then again at Wayllabamba at the start of the second day. This regulation was introduced in 2002 and has been strictly applied. Companies infringing this law receive penalties and risk losing their licenses. However, as with most regulations, many companies go to great efforts not to meet them.
Meals and sleeping conditions
The biggest difference between a responsible and an irresponsible society is how they care for their porters along the journey. Many porters are given very little to eat on the way. They have to wait and see how much the tourists have eaten so they can divide the leftovers among them accordingly. This leaves a lot of porters hungry and tired. In general, porters sleep together in the group diner and cooking tents.
The Quechua race has a history of being oppressed, first by the Incas, then by the Spaniards and then by the land owners. Only in relatively recent reforms have the Quechua people started to own their own land. Due to their long history of being dominated by others, many of them have low self-esteem. It’s important that you try to get involved with the porters in your group along the Inca Trail. Take some coca leaves to share with them and try to learn a couple of basic words in Quechua (the guide will be pleased to help you). Many of the porters have amazing stories to tell about the traditions and life in their villages. At the end of the journey don’t forget to show you appreciate their work and value their contribution to the trek, by thanking them verbally and giving them a tip.
How much should I tip?
Tips for the guide and the cook depend on the quality of the service you received and they are your decision. However, even when you think the food was horrible and the guide did not speak or explain well (which we hope was not the case), porters were probably the ones who worked the hardest carrying the camp equipment and shelter tents, so please don’t forget to tip them. The amount depends on you, but it is recommended that each porter in your group takes home an extra 40 to 55 soles. Try to bring a lot of small change so you can tip the porters directly. This is much better than giving the cook or the guide the money to be split up later among the porters because many times the money is distributed badly.
I have heard many stories in which the tourists have wanted to show their appreciation to the porters by giving them hundreds of dollars! Unfortunately, if the porters receive big tips they will often end up drinking at Aguas Calientes or Urubamba for several days after the trek spending all that money that didn’t go to their families where it is needed. Try to give a reasonable amount and if you want to help porters, you can contribute to one of the porter wellness projects in Cusco.