A Guide to Porter Welfare on the Inca Trail

Your Porters – Your Friends on the Inca Trail

We were keen to support a local Peruvian company that took great care of it’s porters. For us the satisfaction of having completed the trek and arriving at the spectacular Inca ruins of Machu Picchu was hard to beat.

However one of the things we could not have done without is the porters and the feeling was even better knowing the porters have been well looked after and treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

You are no longer allowed to walk independently and so local operators organise trips and porters to carry the camping equipment (tents, dining tent, kitchen tent, tables, chairs, stove, gas bottle and food).

The cost of these trips is often related to the amount of money paid to the porters, so if you take a cheaper trip you can find you porters not well cared for by their employers. 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!

How you can help with Porter Welfare

Book your trek with a responsible trekking company.

If you pay under US$480 for a 4 day group Inca Trail it is very unlikely that porter welfare is high on the company’s concerns. Porters need fair 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.  I am sure glad we did!

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Interact and Share with your Porters

Talk to your porters, learn about their traditions and villages. Share some coca leaves. Most porters suffer from low self-esteem so make the first move, don’t wait for them to talk to you first, even if you don’t speak the language, a smile is international!

We shared some of our food that we had brought with us and that caused a great load of fun with the chef and his staff.

Thank your Porter

Show your porters that you appreciated them. Thank them – “Gracias”  is Spanish for Thank you!  We loved clapping our team on  when they passed us on the trail.

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Report 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 service. Our Llama Path Porters were all pretty happy guys.

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Porters’ Wages

The Peruvian government can be praised for introducing the Porters Law which states that a porter should receive a minimum wage of 43 Soles per day (about US$15). Sadly not all trekking companies are paying their porters this wage.

Weight Limit

The maximum weight that a porter can carry on the Inca Trail has been limited to 20kg. This includes a 4kg 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 20kg limit and receive a fine which the company will then deduct from their wages. Obviously responsible companies do not practice such activities.

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Meals & Sleeping Conditions

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.

Porter Culture

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 tip?

I have a hard time with this tipping thing, we don’t tip here in New Zealand.  However as it is customary I oblige, however I still object to being guided from the head person as to what and how much I should tip. One couple in our group was tipping $300USD on top of their 990USD they paid for the trip and I felt this was excessive.

Tipping the guide and cook should be dependent on the quality of the service that you received. The amount you pay depends on you but I have read that each porter in your group should take home an extra 30-35 soles ($15.00) (a combined tip from everyone in the group). Next time I think I would take separate tips for the porters, rather that giving it to the guide and cook to distribute.

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.

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