If you’re thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro, one of the first things you need to consider is which Kilimanjaro Outfitter you are going to climb with. No, I’m not talking about your friends and family here, I’m talking about your tour operator. Researching and choosing a tour operator is the most important part of any preparation for your climb.
Before you go out and start buying your gear and booking your flights, you’ll need to choose a tour operator.
You can’t climb Kilimanjaro without a licensed, Kilimanjaro National Parks Authority (KINAPA) approved guide, that’s the rules. So if you had visions of tackling Kili with just yourself and your backpack, sorry folks.
The good news is, there are lots of options. The bad news is, that every year inexperienced operators spring up in Moshi and Arusha, with cheap, poorly-maintained equipment, guides with only the most basic training – and more importantly, no medial training, putting their own lives and the lives of their clients at risk. These outfitters often treat their porters shockingly badly,
If it’s too cheap, it’s not worth it.
Now we’ve got you worried. It’s easy to avoid falling into the trap of choosing the wrong operator, by doing a bit of research beforehand.
Think about it, you’re heading to a foreign country, to climb a pretty big mountain, and you’ll want to know, as much as possible, what to expect when you get there. We’ll equip you with some crucial questions to ask before you part with your money.
Every tour operator, it goes without saying, needs to have a current KINAPA license. In addition to this, it’s a good idea to ask whether they are a member of the Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project (KPAP). This not-for-profit organization is involved in advocacy for porters, and promoting socially responsible climbing, supporting the fair and ethical treatment of porters.
For most people, a major consideration is how much you are able to spend on your trek. But before you hunt around for the cheapest price possible, keep in mind what it actually costs to run a Kilimanjaro tour:
Then consider where the ‘cheap’ operators are making savings. You guessed it: staff salaries, second-hand or poorly maintained gear, and food.
After that, keep in mind that the best guides on Kilimanjaro, with top-notch high-altitude medical training, are in high demand. Do you think they’ll be working for the cheap outfitters, with sub-standard equipment and low staff morale?
No, you’re right, they’re not.
On the other end of the scale, are the high-end, so-called “luxury” operators. These climbs are often very expensive, employing many more porters to carry the extra kit required by those clients who want their wilderness experience to feel more ‘upgraded’.
The fact is, you don’t need to pay upwards of $8,000 to climb Kilimanjaro unless you really want to. You’ve still got to hike long hours, possibly suffer the effects of altitude, and sleep in a tent.
Between the cheap and the super-expensive, is everyone else. Now how do you go about choosing an operator that’s right for you?
Figure out your budget, keeping in mind what we’ve said above.
What route are you thinking about taking? Read up on the different routes, their pros, and cons, and think about which one is right for you. You can read detailed day-to-day itineraries on each one of these to get an idea of what would suit you, in terms of how busy the route is, how scenic it is, and how long it is.
The most important of all considerations is your safety. While getting to the summit is important, getting down safely is even more important!
The basic training required by Kilimanjaro National Park is wholly inadequate, and all guides will need to have undertaken further training, and ongoing professional development training as new research comes out about the effects of altitude. Such as:
Always ask about the evacuation protocol. When and how is it deployed, what emergency medical kit are they carrying and are all guides fully trained in how to use everything in the emergency kit?
Helicopter rescue is available on the mountain, but you need to know that your operator has a robust protocol for any emergency, from injury, altitude sickness or other health issues.
Check that they are equipped with oxygen supplies (for emergency use only) and a proper first aid kit suitable for a wilderness environment. Don’t be afraid to ask about their safety record!
Daily health checks are a must on any Kilimanjaro climb. Check that your operator has a system in place for checking each climber once or twice a day for any symptoms of altitude sickness.
Read more about what you should expect from a daily medical check.
This one’s pretty important. In order for your guide to be able to monitor your progress, your acclimatization and to be able to see early signs of altitude illness or altitude-related complications, you really want no more than one guide for two or three climbers. If you’re a group of four people, you should expect two guides to accompany you.
Check what information your operator requires from you before you climb. Do they give you a comprehensive medical questionnaire, to ensure your guide knows your current state of health? Do they ask you about your fitness? Or do you just sign a disclaimer and off you go?
It’s important for your guides to have an overall picture of your current state of health, including any pre-existing conditions.
You’ll want to know exactly what’s included in the price and what you can expect to pay extra for.
Make sure you know exactly what you are paying for, and what’s not included. In terms of rescue fees, please note that helicopter rescue fees will not be included, this will be a matter for your travel insurance to take care of, or for you to pay for privately, should it be required.
We touched on this earlier, but you want to be sure that your operator is using good-quality, rugged equipment suitable for the mountain environment. Leaking tents just won’t cut it. Do they maintain their gear and replace it regularly?
And what gear do they provide? Check whether you’ll be getting a private toilet tent (the public ones at the campsites are pretty unpleasant), a mess tent with proper table and chairs for mealtimes, and if they are providing sleeping bags, make sure these are cleaned after every climb. Trust me, you don’t want to sleep in a dirty old sleeping bag.
Read more about camping on Kili and what to expect.
Are you going to be provided with hot, healthy, nutritious food to fuel your body on this trek? You’ll want your operator to be familiar with and able to cater for any dietary restrictions or preferences you have. Make sure that you won’t be having ‘picnic’ meals three times a day.
You’ll want a fully trained cook who practices excellent food hygiene and a variety of tasty meals.
Take a look at a sample menu of what you should be eating on Kilimanjaro!
Water is very important. You’ll need to be drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated, so you need to know that this is filtered and purified. Disposable plastic bottles are not permitted on the mountain, so your operator will need to take steps to make fresh, clean water available at all times.
We mentioned this earlier, but it’s so important. You’ll have a team of porters carrying all your kit, their kit and the kit for the campsite. You want to know that these guys, sometimes called the “unsung heroes” of Kilimanjaro are being well taken care of. Check that the porters and guides are provided with proper equipment, that they have proper meals, and that their health is checked, too!
Knowing that your operator is a member of KPAP is a good starting point.
When you enquire about a climb, you want to make sure you’re able to speak to and get answers from someone who is experienced on Kilimanjaro, knows full well what it entails. You don’t just want to speak to an agent who sells multiple different trips to different destinations.
Now you know what you need to consider when choosing a tour operator, you can get started planning your trip of a lifetime to climb Kilimanjaro.
If you want all these questions answered, and more, get in touch with us today. If you want advice on what route to take, or training tips, we’re here for you. Or Book Now, and we’ll get started planning your trip from start to finish.
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