The very popular Inca Trail carries up to 500 trekkers a day, or over 160,000 trekkers a year. We also use two alternative trek routes, with lesser numbers. Many of the trekkers are the guides, cooks and porters that help travellers have an enjoyable and comfortable trek up to the magnificent and sacred site of Machu Picchu.
The majority of the porters on these trails are from the countryside - simple farmers who supplement their income by working on the trails during the busy months. Their first language is Quechua, the official language of the Incas, although many now speak basic Spanish. In fact most of these people are still pure blooded Quechua, the people who were governed by the Incas almost 500 years ago. Many of their traditions and superstitions have remained unchanged since well before the Spanish arrived. Most would agree that these people have remained a quiet and humble folk and have been easily manipulated by both governments and tour operators who have been quick to exploit this hardworking source of workers.
Their responsibilities include carrying all the food and camping equipment. A group of 16 trekkers on the Inca Trail would require 20 porters, 2 cooks, 2 guides - a total of 40 people to look after for 4 days and 3 nights along 43 km of trail, at an altitude average of 3700 meters – reaching 4200 m on day 2. They make sure that all tents are set up when the trekkers reach the camp and they don’t hike the trail, they run it!
Geckos believes porters are the living soul of the logistics on the trails and are one of the most important factors in a passenger’s satisfaction while on the trail. We believe in responsible travel and are committed to respectful and fair working conditions for all porters.
Selection of Porters
Our porters come from the many communities located along the Sacred Valley. During 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 agricultural off season.
Currently our porters come from:
- Chumpe community (Lamay) ….2hrs bus to Ollantaytambo
- Umasbamba community (Chinchero)…..1:30hrs bus to Ollantaytambo
- Sacaca community (Pisaq)…..2:45hrs bus to Ollantaytambo
- Chinchaypujyo community (Anta)…….4hrs walk + 2:40hrs bus to Cusco (overnight at Geckos warehouse and take Geckos’s bus to Ollantaytambo next morning).
Once selected, porters are trained in the many duties they will carry out on the trails, such as packing and safely handling their loads, setting up tents, and gear maintenance. Finally, all porters need to apply for an annual porters’ registration which is regulated by the local government. Among other conditions, this process requires them to provide a medical certificate. The minimum age to become a porter is 18 years through to maximum of 55 years.
The Peruvian government regulates porters’ minimum wages and working conditions. Geckos pays porters, cooks and guides wages in compliance with the legal requirement. In addition to this, Geckos pays porter allowances for meals, transport and insurance which is beyond the government regulations. Unfortunately, the cost of wages for porters, cooks and guides is one of the largest costs of operating the Inca Trail, and in order to offer cheaper prices to customers, many companies reduce their costs by paying porters, cooks and guides below legal requirements, or by subtracting the cost of equipment and transportation provided to the porters, cooks and guides from their pay. This is neither fair or ethical. A happy, cared for crew will offer travellers’ a superior experience.
If you are happy with the services provided, a tip, though not compulsory, is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, it is of great significance to them.
While on the Inca Trail, we suggest PEN 80-120 per day for all porters, assistants and cooks.
Please note we recommend that any tips are given directly to the intended recipient by a member of your group, as our group leaders are prohibited from collecting cash for tips.
If you wish to further help the porters, you may wish to contribute to one of the existing porter welfare projects in Cusco.
Caring for passenger and porter safety is top priority at Geckos. During the hike the trek guide is responsible for all travellers’ and porters’ safety.
At the end of the trek, guides, head of porters and the cook are requested to submit a trip report outlining any issues that may have occurred during the trip.
Operational changes often result from these reports, which always aim at improving the wellbeing and working conditions of our porters on the trek.
Accommodation and food
Our porters are given access to tents, sleeping bags, mats and cooking equipment.
Food and a first aid kit are provided to porters while on the trails. Unlike some other operators, Geckos NEVER counts on leftovers as porters’ meals.
By law, the maximum weight that a porter can carry on the Inca Trail is 25kg. This includes a 5kg personal allowance for items such as sleeping bag and clothes. Each porter and his load are weighed at the start of the trail and then again at Wayllabamba (on Inca Trail), at the start of the second day. Fortunately this regulation is strictly enforced.
Geckos provides medical insurance to porters for the duration of the trek.
If porters need to make a medical insurance claim, Geckos’s staff assists porters with all the required paperwork.
Traditionally, Geckos covers the medical expenses upfront and receive a refund from the insurance company once the claim is settled.
All porters are provided with a warm jacket, a rain poncho and back padding to carry their load during the trek. In adherence with the current law, Geckos also provides porters trekking boots for the trek. This law is, however, currently being debated as porters have expressed their preference to hike in their traditional sandals, rather than in hiking boots.
Traveller awareness and behaviour
On day one of the trip, travellers are provided a ‘code of conduct’ for hiking the trails. This information aims to make travellers aware of current environmental issues in the region, as well as to offer tips on ways to interact with porters, cooks and assistants, making the trek a richer and worthier experience for all involved.
Additional Geckos initiatives
Geckos staff care a great deal about the porters who make such a huge contribution to the trekker experience. To greater enrich the experience for all concerned, we take the following initiatives:
- During the trek we encourage various interaction activities with the porters like playing soccer, playing cards, Quechua lessons, singing songs and on the third day having the travellers prepare tea and serve the porters.
- Each February, training is provided for all of Geckos’s more than 100 porters, covering topics like, safety, first aid and hygiene. This training is provided by health professional. Additionally, with the assistance of local chefs, all Geckos’s cooks, are trained on preparing new creative dishes, vegetarian dishes and desserts - this helps make food one of the highlights of the trek.
- Each year Geckos 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 present. This is a very nice experience, because everybody gets to participate and there is a great response from leaders, office staff and travellers.
- Geckos’s local management in Cuzco, the cooks and the head of porters meet quarterly to discuss any issues or improvements we could make to our trail operations.
Andean Travel Web Community Projects
This is a project raising awareness of porter welfare issues. Visitors to Cuzco can donate warm clothes or school equipment (books, paper, pens etc) at their office. The project is aimed mainly at helping the children from the porters’ communities. It is run by volunteers and only clothing and equipment donations (no cash) are accepted.
Office address: Calle Garcilaso 265, office 13, 2nd floor, Cuzco.