Paying for Principles: Ethical Trekking along the Inca Trail

Ever wondered why most Inca Trail treks are so expensive?

A standard trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the biggest expenses to fork out for a lot of travellers to South America, but what most people don’t know is where their money goes.

Andean Travel Web has provided a helpful breakdown of the estimated costs for a four-day trek to Machu Picchu with a responsible tourism company. This includes entrance fees, transport, porters and cooks’ wages and entrance fees, meals, equipment, admin costs, tax, guides’ wages and more.

Most standard tours cost between US$450-500. If you pay less than this, chances are that the company you’re going with does not provide ethical treatment and wages to its porters.

 Porter welfare along the trail is one of the most polemic ethical tourism issues in the Sacred Valley. Porters’ equipment and luggage are now weighed at the checkpoint to the Inca Trail in Wayllabamba to make sure they are carrying to the maximum 25kg weight.

In 2002, thankfully the Government introduced a minimum wage for porters (approx. U$15 per day) to ensure that these workers were not being exploited by tourism agencies. Unfortunately though, not all agencies pay their porters according to national regulations.

Before these regulations were introduced however, porters had no limit on the amount of cargo they should carry and they were paid a pittance for the work they do. There are even stories about porters enduring terrible injuries and even dying along the trail for the lack of regulations on their work.

Although it was one of the most expensive agencies, we chose to trek with Peru Treks (based in Cusco) for their excellent reputation for porter welfare and responsible sustainable trekking. Porters with Peru Treks get paid by regulations, have appropriate meals and sleeping arrangements and are not charged with more than the maximum weight per person.

 Clicke here to see the BBC reportage.

Protecting natural and world heritage

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are two of the world’s most endangered tourism and heritage sites. Before regulations were introduced in the area, people were allowed to visit without guides. This resulted in degradation of the trail by irresponsible practices, pollution and even fires.

The sheer number of people that make the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu each year is staggering. It is estimated that by the end of 2011, the site would have 1 million visitors for this year alone.

Even though there are restrictions on the number of people allowed to take the trail each day, there is currently no limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit the World Heritage Site, and daily numbers can reach up into the thousands. As of 2012 however, the Government will place much-needed restrictions on the number of entry passes to Machu Picchu site and the time visitors will be allowed to stay there for.

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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