Awkward? Yes, it can be.
Inca Trail Tipping Etiquette for Porters, Guides and Cooks
First of all, as an Inca Trail tour operator’s FAQ page will often tell you, tipping is not mandatory on the Inca Trail. But while it’s not mandatory, tipping has become such a tradition that it would be strange not to tip. If the service is really bad — if you feel robbed or ill-treated — then consider withholding the tip. In all other situations, tipping is a widely accepted — and largely expected — part of Inca Trail etiquette.
Tips are not included in the overall cost of your Inca Trail trek, so you need to take enough cash, in Peruvian soles or US dollars, to cover this additional expense. Who exactly you are tipping can depend on the size of your trekking group, but you’ll generally need to tip the lead guide, porters and cook (and sometimes a driver). A larger trekking group might also include an assistant guide and assistant cook.
Tipping Advice from Inca Trail Tour Operators
The tipping scenario can be complicated. To make things clearer, let’s have a look at what some of the best Inca Trail tour operators have to say:
SAS Travel Peru
On its website, SAS Travel recommends that each person in the group contributes between S/ 80 and S/ 110 ($30 to $40) to a pot which is then distributed among the cook, assistant cook, general assistant and porters. This is given to the staff after dinner on Day 3 (a standard tipping schedule for many Inca Trail tour operators).
They also suggest that each person contributes S/ 18 to S/ 28 for the lead guide, and S/ 15 to S/ 20 for the assistant guide. This works out as between S/ 113 to S/ 158 per trekker in total.
I contacted Alpaca Expeditions and they told me what they normally tell their clients about tipping on the Inca Trail:
“As for the tipping, this is something that many people ask about. It is customary in Peru to tip your crew at the end of the trek. Please know that Alpaca makes sure to give our entire team a good salary and they do not survive off only their tips. We do want to share some advice on how to do this, since different cultures have different preferences about tipping. Porters and chefs do prefer tips in soles. Often the entire team of trekkers will pool money together for the Green Machine [the name given to Alpaca Expedition’s trekking staff] and each porter will receive between 60 – 80 soles and the chef usually receives double. For your guide, this is often a personal decision and done by each separate group.”
I asked John Dzurka, owner of Guiding Peru, for his opinion regarding tipping on the Inca Trail, including the general process and the amounts:
“Tipping is always a difficult topic on the Inca Trail. All guests realize they should tip, but they are typically confused on the appropriate amounts and process. Most trekking companies, including Guiding Peru, allow for the guests to thank the entire team after the last dinner on Night 3 of the classic 4 Day/3 Night Inca Trail trek. The lead porter will accept the porter tips and distribute these as he sees appropriate, in privacy; the chef and assistant chef will accept their tip following the gift to the porters. Guiding Peru provides our guests with a celebratory lunch in Aguas Calientes following the private guided tour of Machu Picchu on Day 4. After the meal the group will present their tip to the assistant guide and lead guide. All tips are provided as a group tip and not individually. Most trekking companies suggest strongly against tipping individual workers as it typically leads to problems within the team.”
John and Guiding Peru recommend the following tips for the classic 4 Day/3 Night Inca Trail trek. These amounts are to be given by the trekking group as a whole, not per person (and the cook and porters prefer to receive their tips in Peruvian soles rather than US dollars):
- Lead guide: S/ 400 total (about $120)
- Assistant guide(s) (if required based upon group size): S/ 300 (about $90)
- Chef: S/ 200 (about $60)
- Assistant chef(s) (if required based upon groups size): S/ 120 soles (about $36)
- Porters: S/ 80 per porter (about $24)
- Driver (if applicable): S/ 120 (about $36) per day/drive
Bringing that all together, Guiding Peru recommends — based on the level of service received and the size of the trekking team — that each member of a group should prepare for a tip of about S/ 250 to S/ 335 ($75 to $100) for the classic 4 Day/3 Night Inca Trail trek.
Valencia Travel Cusco
Valencia Travel Cusco recommends that “each porter in your group take home an extra 30 to 35 soles (a combined tip from everyone in the group).” In contrast to Guiding Peru, Valencia believes that it’s better to give the tips individually to each porter, as giving all the money to the guide or cook to distribute later can lead to the money being “unfairly distributed.”
How Much to Tip on the Inca Trail: The Bottom Line
So… there’s some agreement among this small selection of popular Inca Trail tour operators. Generally speaking, you should probably take at least S/ 100 to use for tips on the classic Inca Trail. But if you want to leave a more generous tip for four days of good service, then you’d be better off taking between S/ 200 and S/ 300 (about $60 to $90). And when you see how hard the porters work, you’ll probably want to tip them more than you initially expected.
It’s a good idea to take the cash for tips in smaller denominations so it can be more easily divided up between the porters, cooks, guides etc.
And whether you pool all the money and hand it to one person (normally the guide or head cook), or hand it out individually to each staff member, seems to differ between companies. Your guide will be able to tell you what is standard for your particular tour operator, so just follow his or her advice.
Finally, don’t forget that the guides, porters and cooks will have seen all kinds of tips offered — or not — so don’t worry too much about under tipping or over tipping — although excessive over tipping can cause problems, so it’s best avoided. Give what you feel is correct, and be happy with it. And if you want to show some extra appreciation in a different way, you can ask your guide if your tour operator supports any local initiatives (many do), and maybe donate some extra money to a worthy local cause.