How you can make a difference to your Inca Trail porter’s welfare

Flickr: Amelia Wells
Flickr: Amelia Wells

The Inca Trail. Arguably the world’s greatest trek. Walking an ancient network of paths through Andean countryside and past the crumbling ruins of ancient civilizations to Machu Picchu, the famous citadel that teeters shrouded in mist.

For adventurers and hikers, this is the holy grail, the Hajj pilgrimage – to be done at least once in one’s lifetime. There are other treks in the region, some even more visually spectacularly, but nothing quite evokes feelings of a bygone era of exploration than the Inca Trail.

This is a challenging trek. To complete it you will need a good level of fitness and the support network of guides, fellow hikers and porters.

While you hike with a small backpack armed with camera and waterbottle, by the end you will have a new found respect for the hardy porters who walk the same route with 20kgs on their back, reaching the camping sites each day long before you.

But for many years the porters who make the dreams of many achievable have had a raw deal. Abused, underpaid and forced to carry enormous loads in crippling conditions. And unfortunately although the porter system has got better, these practices still exist.
Porters should be paid a minimum wage of 43 soles per day. The maximum weight a porter can carry is 20kgs which includes a minimum of 5kgs for personal allowance. Although the weight limit is now fairly well enforced (porters are weighed at checkpoints), unscrupulous operators are restricting their personal allowance meaning they can’t carry the blankets and warm clothes they need.

Porters are doing a strenuous job and need to be fed and watered properly. Unfortunately, some are given little to eat or just the leftovers after the tourists have finished eating. Their little personal allowance mean porters often don’t have the necessary gear to enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep.

So what can be done. Although the fault of these bad practices sit squarely on the tour operators who employ them, as the customer you can make a huge difference in helping stamp it out.

Book with a reputable tour operator

The very first thing is to ensure that the tour operator you book your Inca Trail through has a porter policy. Ask them directly about their treatment of porters. There are a huge number of operators who run treks along the Inca Trail, some at rock bottom prices. Although this can be tempting, remember that if you pay such small prices, the porters welfare will most likely be at risk.

Treat porters with respect

During the trek, treat porters with the respect they deserve. They are humans and they are doing a great service, helping many hike the trail in a way which would otherwise be impossible. Interact with them, find out about their way of life, take the time to share a coca tea with them. The local insight and knowledge they have about the region is invaluable. When you’ve completed the trek, don’t just tip, thank them verbally for their time and efforts.

Report the abuse

If you see any porter abuse or are unhappy about the way porters have been treated, don’t just sit back and forget it. Report it. Talk to your guide in the first instance. If the issues aren’t resolved complain to the tour operator when you return. If you bought the trek through a company in your home country, complain in writing. If these complaints aren’t enough to change their policy or porter welfare, the bad PR certainly will be. You can also make a complaint to Tourism Concern.

To book your Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, get in touch with us today.

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