The soul of Inca Trail treks

 

When you are trekking the Inca Trail at an average altitude of 3700m, it’s very comforting to know that you have a crew keeping you safe, preparing your meals, pitching your tent and carrying the bulk of your load!

Of the 500 trekkers a day on the classic Inca Trail trek and on the alternative routes, more than half the trekkers are the guides, cooks and porters, who help travellers have an enjoyable trek up to the magnificent and sacred site of Machu Picchu.

The majority of the porters we employ in Peru are from the countryside – simple farmers who supplement their income by working on the trails during the busy months. Most of these people are still pure-blooded Quechua, the people who were governed by the Incas almost 500 years ago. Their first language is Quechua, but many now also speak basic Spanish. Many of their traditions and superstitions have remained unchanged since well before the Spanish arrived.

The responsibilities of porters include carrying all the food and camping equipment, plus they make sure that all tents are set up when the trekkers reach camp. They don’t hike the trail, they run it!

Intrepid believes porters are the living soul of the logistics on the treks and they are one of the most important factors in a traveller’s satisfaction while on trail.

We’re committed to ensuring respectful and fair working conditions for all porters. That includes checking:
- the selection process. We give priority to locals whose main incomes are generated by agricultural activities and who are looking for an extra income in the farming off season.
- training in areas such as packing and safely handling their loads, setting up tents and gear maintenance.
- their annual porters’ registration. This is regulated by the local government and includes requiring them to provide a medical certificate.
- medical insurance and a first-aid kit.
- age range from a minimum of 18 years to the maximum of 55 years.
- wages in compliance with the governments’ legal requirement, as well as additional allowances for meals and transport, which many other companies do not provide.
- they’re provided with a warm jacket, a rain poncho and back padding to carry their load during the trek.
- provision of tents, sleeping bags, mats, cooking equipment and food.
- by law, a maximum load of 25kg, including a 5kg personal allowance for items such as sleeping bag and clothes.
- the guide is responsible for the safety of all travellers and porters.

Intrepid staff care a great deal about the porters who make such a huge contribution to the trekker experience. During the trek we encourage various interaction activities with the porters like playing football, playing cards, Quechua lessons, singing songs and on the third day Intrepid travellers prepare tea and serve the porters.

Each February, when the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance, training is provided for all of our 100+ porters. Topics include safety, first aid and hygiene. Plus for all our cooks we bring in chefs who teach them new creative dishes, vegetarian recipes and desserts. You can imagine how well this is received by trekkers and it helps to make the food one of the highlights of the trek.

Each year the Intrepid team fund-raises and prepares Christmas hampers with a selection of non perishable food item products. They hold a celebration with hot chocolate and paneton (fruit cake) and give a hamper to each porter as a Christmas gift. This is a very special experience, because everybody gets to participate and there is a great response from Intrepid leaders, office staff and travellers.

For more information on Intrepid Travel’s Peru Porter Policy, please click here.

Photo: Inca Trail porter by Yvonne Lin.

 

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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2 comments

I was made aware of the porter situation on my Inca Trail trip a few years ago. Speaking to the guiides and to the porters, I heard some shocking stories about how some companies treat their porters. It was shameful! These are the hardest working people on that trail and deserve the sort of treatment that I saw from Llama Path group, who I was trekking with. Food, uniforms, shoes, equipment – all provided. It was great seeing them arrive in an airconditioned bus! The great thing about Llama Path is that they’re localy owned and run so all the money stays local as well. It was great to see Intrepid working with such groups.

I couldn’t agree more about taking care of the porters. Without them very few people would be going on the Inca Trail. They deserve all they get – and more. Porters are absolutely amazing but I just wish I could converse with them because westerners have so much to learn from them. And maybe we could discover how to carry a heavy pack over Dead Woman’s Pass and make it look easy!

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