Photo: James Wagstaff/Shutterstock

A New Film Raises Awareness for Inca Trail Porter's Rights

Peru Backpacking Activism
by Tim Wenger May 1, 2023

A new documentary film looks at the global trekking industry’s impact on porters, and uncovers exploitation in porters’ working conditions and pay. “Km 82″ features interviews with several porters and representatives of the Inca Trail Porter Federation, a porter’s advocacy group, in an attempt to raise awareness of these issues.

Trekking the 26-mile classic Inca Trail route is a dream adventure for many hikers. Reaching altitudes of 13,800 feet and taking four days to complete, the journey is not only an intense physical endeavor but a right of passage of sorts for serious trekkers. The trek requires ample gear and food, carried by porters, employees of the tour operators whose role is to not only lug visitors’ gear along the grueling route but to set up and maintain camp each day.

The porters employed by the tour operators each complete this journey many times per year while carrying loads often topping 50 pounds. The industry is rife with abuse. Porters regularly carry more than the legal weight limit, sleep in unsanitary conditions, and aren’t entitled to full meals – ironic, given that they participate in the preparation of the hearty feasts that await the guests when they arrive to camp at the end of each day.

According to the film, the current regulation is 20 kilos, or about 44 pounds. However, what the porters carry often ends up closer to 25, 30, or even 40 kilos, as the regulations are loosely enforced overall and once out on the trail, there is often no one around to enforce them. The work day, which includes not only carrying the trekkers’ gear but also preparing meals along with setting up and breaking down camp, often stretches to 14 hours – even longer in certain cases.

Porters who spoke for the film have reported permanent physical ailments including kidney failure and permanent fatigue in the shoulders and waist. Also, porters have no insurance, so when illness or injury happens, payment can fall on their shoulders.

porter speaks at event in peru

Alberto HuamanhuillcaCredit: Porter’s Voice Collective

Alberto Huamanhuillca, president of the Porter Federation which advocates for the rights of porters on the Inca Trail and the Quechua community of which many belong, there is still much work to be done. The federation has worked tirelessly to have amendments to Peru’s Porter Laws enacted. One demand is a medical post along the trail to address injuries to porters. Another is clean water. Still other needs include tents and sleeping bags for the porters, who often sleep in the dining tent and sometimes in the restroom.

The Federation has seen some success. Last year two huts were raised in Pacaymayo Camp for the porters to sleep in. Huamanhiillca met with Peruvian President Pedro Castillo for a signing of the amendments to the existing Porter’s Rights law, amplifying the enforcement of the maximum weight policy and other initiatives to improve the welfare of the porters. The Federation views this as the first step in a long journey, however. The biggest hiccup is the tour operators themselves, who are not keen to enact increased regulations (and the costs necessary to enforce them).

An advance screening of the film “Km 82” will take place from May 25 through June 4, 2023, via YouTube. Matador has embedded the film below.

You can support the Porters Federation and the movement behind it by signing up for updates from the The Porter Voice Collective, an NGO run by lawyer and activist Marinel de Jesus. The organization advocates for the rights of porters on major trekking routes both in Peru and in Nepal. The group set up a Km 82 film web page to answer questions about the film and the organization’s mission.

Discover Matador