We did the Inca trail in Jan 09. After consulting with members from this forum and other research we eventually went with Inca Trails. We paid USD$420 each. We thought this was all up however, on the last evening they place you in this terrible position where you are told by your guides that there will be a ceremony to thank the porters and the cook and to tip them. It was suggested that each person tip USD$50 (soles 150). As this evening is the common camp for all groups on the trail, I saw other groups holding the same discussions as our group, namely how much to tip? We could not stand being placed in this position, we were all uneasy and uncomfortable.
The companies need to pay their porters a proper wage, (the porters do a grand job and I thank them for all the hard work), and not push it on to the trekkers.
Also be warned, they (guide) pulled the old we will meet in a restaurant in Aguas Calientes (rail head for the Inca Trail) and hand out your rail tickets there. This turned out to be the most expensive restaurant we ate at in Peru.
We have emailed the company about these underhanded ways of getting more money out of the trekkers. I understand we have more money than the Peruvians etc, but the money is not the issue, it is the method, it is underhanded.
The better companies all have email contacts, I suggest you check about tipping and the last 'meal' before you book.
PS The Trail is a great walk, highly recommended.
You give a fine description of the down side to mass tourism. This is a problem that you cannot really avoid: all the companies try to pull the same stunts on you, so don't expect a straightforward answer if you were to email them about these things in advance.
The really sad thing is that even this extra money that is taken off your hands does not always go to the people who need it and worked hard to earn it. Did you actually see the money change into their hands, or did you just see the guide collecting it?
It was handed to the cook, and now that I think about it, we were advised that the cook should get more than the porters.
I would tend to agree with you that it is a little bit frustrating when you have probably budgeted a certain amount for the trail, and then you are hit with this unseen expense at the end.
I have to say though I felt that it actually added to the experience with the particular group I was with. We were a little put out to begin with, but I think everyone gave what they felt they could. Our guide collected the money from us, but then there was a sort of bestowing ceremony where a gift was handed to each of the porters at the end of the meal, and everyone clapped for each one as they came up to receive it. The cook did get a bigger cut I remember To me, it felt like a nice way to end the experience. I know that everyone in our group wanted to show their appreciation to the porters more than the guide even because they do incredibly hard work to facilitate our enjoyment of the Inca Trail. This was a way in which everyone could loudly and generously show their appreciation for them.
Maybe it was just the euphoria of doing the Inca Trail itself , but in my opinion it added a whole extra feel good factor to the end of the trek.
My experience was similar to samsara2. As one of the only people in our tour group who spoke Spanish (I chatted with the guide and porters for four days, getting to know them) our group asked me to present our tip to the cook and porters at the "ceremony." I was in a particularly good position to feel gratitude for their efforts by saying something on behalf of the group and actually handing over the tip to, not our guide, but a representative of the porters and cook. Incidentally, we had group discussions about this, and several of us tipped the guide as well, because we wanted to, not out of obligation.
Regarding the awkwardness of being placed in this position, I'm sorry that happened to you. We were told in advance to expect tipping the porters and cook, which I appreciated. We were also given an idea of what to give, which three years ago was no where near USD50, I think it was 20. Regardless, it occurs to me that just about any service industry expects tips (cruise lines, hotel staff, bell hops) so why would this be any different?
Just wanted to share my experience of this part of the Inca Trail.
Another tour company to watch out for: YURE CHAVEZ. Last year my sister and I went to Peru and booked a tour on the Inca Trail with Yure Chavez. Our guide (Simon) was AWFUL and repeatedly hit on my sister, saying really inappropriate and offensive things to her, touching her, grabbing her, and even licking her ear!! It made us feel so scared and vulnerable to be out in the Andes alone with him. I slept every night clutching my knife and flashlight. On top of that, the food was very bad, and the porters were clearly underpaid, severely overworked, and unclean. I GOT BOTH SALMONELLA AND GIARDIA WHILE ON THIS TOUR. Our guide had absolutely no medical knowledge and denied that I was sick at all. I was rushed from Machu Picchu to Cusco in an ambulance. I didn't even get to enjoy the amazing wonder that we had hiked so far to see. Sick, dehydrated, and scared pretty much sum up this trip for me. The hospital confirmed that I did indeed contract the parasites on the tour, given the number of days out, what I had eaten, etc. After several days in the hospital, I contacted Yure to see if we could get some of our insanely exorbitant $1200 back. No way.
NEVER EVER BOOK A TRIP WITH YURE CHAVEZ. You might end up in the hospital. I did.
to tulip 44
well done you for outing them, it is so hard when booking these things whether the tour company are any good. Our porters also smelt to high heaven, no doubt due to being underpaid and overworked.
Hope you maade a full recovery.
Doing the Inca Trail and booking with an advance payment abroad is just so unecessary. Just get the glossy mag. for the pictures and nothing else. It's the same for an African safari, a camel trip out to the pyramids, an excursion to the Grand Canyon, a day trip round London as an 'extra' etc. etc. They all cost ridiculously much more than the genuine article bought locally.
The best way to do these sort of trips is to get to your airport of destination and find a cheap hotel close by with a cab driver. Then chat to the locals and there will be a deal out there that will keep your pocket happy any you'll see straight away with a big smail on your face how much you've saved on the magazine price.. A fortune, basically, and not a rip-off in sight.
As an example, without mentioning the specific company (but everyone here will have heard of it), booking the four day Inca Trail will cost around £300 each. 3 people.. £900.. Ouch. Get to Lima city centre (a few pence on the bus from the airport), go to the tourist booth by the central bus station and already you'll realise what a rip-off these brochures are. The whole trail can be done for a fraction of the overseas cost and you will be probably be offered a better room for the night at much less than 1/2 the cost of what the mag. has on offer.
[ Edit: Edited on 12-Oct-2009, at 08:11 by BedouinLeo ]
I agree with you BedouinLeo that it is best to book locally, however what if you get to Lima or Cusco and all permits are taken for the time you are there?
Doing the Inca Trail and booking with an advance payment abroad is just so unecessary.
Except for the most popular months of the year, May through September, when you must book at least 2-3 months in advance in order to be able to walk the (classic) inca trail at all, on account of the extremely limited number of permits (500) available each day, which get taken up that much in advance. (These 500 include permits for both gringos and porters/guides, so no more than ~200 gringos get to walk the trail each day.)
As an example, without mentioning the specific company (but everyone here will have heard of it), booking the four day Inca Trail will cost around £300 each. 3 people.. £900.. Ouch. Get to Lima city centre (a few pence on the bus from the airport), go to the tourist booth by the central bus station and already you'll realise what a rip-off these brochures are. The whole trail can be done for a fraction of the overseas cost
Although there is indeed a lot of variety in the costs of the inca trail, anything which costs "a fraction" of £300 can simply not be the real inca trail, given the set costs of tickets to the trail, to machu picchu, and four days of payment for guide, porters and cook. The average range of prices for the best companies (those treating their porters well and having a good reputation) ranges from (USD) $450 to $550. Those charging less than $450 (or make it $400 if you're feeling lenient) are probably paying their porters far too little, those charging more than $550 are making massive profits (or reselling tours they don't run themselves). Regardless of the veracity of the other accusations by tulip44, this last probably was the case with this Yure Chavez company, as it isn't listed as having the necessary permit to run inca trail tours on this andeantravelweb page, nor was for 2008. (In general, if you're hiking the inca trail, always do so with a company listed there, and preferably with one having a smiley, or ideally both a smiley and a checkmark.)