One of the challenges associated with climbing Kilimanjaro is finding the best Kilimanjaro tour operators to book your trip with. A quick Google search will bring up dozens of blogs about the best offers, operators, routes to take and what to bring with you.
However, Kilimanjaro tour operators do not always agree on the ideal approach in terms of acclimatization, route, equipment and safety procedures.
Most people read reviews about the different tour operators before making their decision. The problem is there are positive and negative reviews for almost every company and they are not always accurate.
For example, some of the reviews on forums such as Tripadvisor, SummitPost and Lonely Planet may be misleading or written from fake accounts.
Unfortunately, there have also been reports that some operators have pressured travellers into writing positive reviews, while others have tried to remove negative reviews or bribe people into editing or deleting their feedback.
This is one of the reasons you cannot rely solely on the reviews or information you read online.
Although it may be tempting to simply follow the recommendations that you read or book a tour with an operator who has the lowest price, this is risky and may not give you the best experience or summit success.
So how do you know whether the information you read is credible or trustworthy?
In this blog, we will outline the key things you should consider when selecting the best operator for your Kilimanjaro climb. If you need help, feel free to reach out to let us help you find your best offer with a responsible operator:
What does your Kilimanjaro tour operator organize?
Before you select your tour operator and book your climb, it is important to understand exactly what your operator will organize, so that you can be better prepared.
Your Kilimanjaro tour operator will organize almost everything that is required for you to climb Kilimanjaro locally. They will hire your mountain crew complete with guides, cooks and porters; provide full-board meals and drinking water.
They will also organize your mountain accommodation; arrange transfers to and from the park gates; sort out your park entry fees and regulations; and more.
Depending on your package, your tour operator may arrange your airport transfers and book your accommodation before and after your climb. They can also help you organize gear that you may prefer to rent rather than purchase, such as sleeping bags or trekking poles.
In addition, your tour operator can give you lots of advice about how to climb Kilimanjaro safely and provide you with information about what you can expect of your health and wellbeing during the experience.
How to choose the best Kilimanjaro tour operator
It is important to compare offers not only by price and reviews, but also by the ethics of the tour operator, the experience of the guides and crew in question and the quality of equipment.
You should also consider the route you choose to take and the type of tour you want to book.
So how do you select the best tour operator?
Choose a responsible tour operator
The predominant problem caused by Kilimanjaro tourism is the exploitation of porters. When you are considering the responsible travel criteria used by tour operators, there is only one independent organization that monitors porter treatment practices locally. This organization is the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), an initiative of the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC). To make sure that you're booking an ethical climb and that your porters will be treated fairly, verify that your tour operator is listed on the official list of approved KPAP Partner companies on IMEC's website.
Environmental damage and pollution is not such a big problem on Mount Kilimanjaro as it is for other destinations. Most tour operators, and including all KPAP approved companies, adhere to the Kilimanjaro National Park's leave no trace guidelines to collect waste at campsites and bring it down the mountain. Therefore, it's not a major consideration when booking your climb.
Why does it matter if my porters are treated fairly?
We believe that responsible tour operators who treat your porters fairly are also more likely to offer you, as a client, higher quality standards, and that porters who are treated fairly by their companies are also more likely to have your best interests in mind. That means first and foremost not your summit success, but your health and safety.
Amongst others, you rely on your porters for your water and food to be treated properly. In the worst case, you might have to rely on them for a safe descent. Will your porters be able to do a good job if they are hungry, cold and get paid significantly less than their colleagues camping right next to your group?
While there is no guarantee, we believe that booking your climb with responsible tour operators who treat your porters fairly will be the safer choice for you.
Decide what type of tour you want
Start by deciding which route you want to take and how many days you want to climb. The route you take will influence the success of your climb. For most people, we recommend climbing for at least 7-8 days because this will help you to acclimatize to the high altitude.
Similarly, you should check whether a private or group tour is better for your circumstances and ensure that your operator offers the type of tour that you are looking for.
Most tour operators will be able to offer almost any itinerary their clients want, but you should beware that not all of them have experience with more sophisticated, or off-the-beaten track itineraries.
If you do you want such an itinerary (for example one which includes an overnight stay at Crater Camp), then be sure to book with a company that has a proven record of catering to those types of itineraries. So sure to check what they offer before booking your climb.
Another thing you should be aware of is that if you do want to go for a specific itinerary (during a preferred time period) and you want to join a group tour, then this will obviously narrow down the list of tour operators who are able to offer this.
This is why it is important to decide on the route and type of tour first.
You can find more information about tours and itinerary ideas on our Climb Kilimanjaro Experience page.
Choose a Kilimanjaro tour operator with experienced guides
Another important consideration to take when climbing Kilimanjaro is the experience of mountain crews and guides who will accompany you up the mountain.
A responsible tour operator will ensure that guides are properly equipped, prepared and trained to lead climbers up Kilimanjaro. They will also ensure that there are enough guides for your group.
So how do you know whether your tour operator has experienced and knowledgeable guides?
Currently, there are no objective certifications or ratings which can help you to find the best Kilimanjaro guides. We are hoping to change that eventually and create an industry standard. However, there are ways that you can increase your chances of finding a good guide.
Firstly, you should book with a responsible tour operator. They tend to have the best guides, because they are better paid, trained properly and given the resources they need to navigate the mountain.
How many guides should there be for my tour?
Before booking a tour, make sure you understand the ratio of hikers to guides that will be provided by your operator. Having an adequate number of guides is essential to ensure a safe and successful climb.
When climbing Kilimanjaro, you must have at most 2 climbers per guide, and at least 2 guides for groups of 2 climbers or more.
This ensures that there will always be enough guides to assist climbers who require descent, while at the same time allowing all other climbers to continue their summit ascent safely.
The minimum guide-to-climber ratios are stipulated by Kilimanjaro National Park regulations and they apply to all climbs booked via Fair Voyage. So for every group, there will always be one lead guide, and we have classified all other guides as assistant guides.
Please beware that guides and companies operating illegally on Kilimanjaro may not adhere to these minimum ratios, which can lead to dangerous, life-threatening situations. While it may be tempting to save costs by booking with a low-budget operator, your financial savings may come at the cost of your own safety.
Minimum ratio of Kilimanjaro climbers per guide for all climbs booked via Fair Voyage:
|1 climber||1 guide|
|2 climbers||2 guides|
|3 climbers||2 guides|
|4 climbers||2 guides|
|5 climbers||3 guides|
|6 climbers||3 guides|
|7 climbers||4 guides|
|8 climbers||4 guides|
|9 climbers||5 guides|
|10 climbers||5 guides|
|11 climbers||6 guides|
|12 climbers||6 guides|
What else will your Kilimanjaro tour operator provide?
Prices for Kilimanjaro climbing packages typically include: all park fees; transfer to/from the park gates; dormitory accommodation in the Marangu Huts on the Marangu Route, or sleeping tents and mats on all other routes; drinking water and full-board meals on the mountain; and the salaries of your mountain crew including an English-speaking head guide, assistant guide(s) (if more than one climber), cook and porters.
Many packages (but not all) also include: airport transfers; pre/post climb accommodation; a mess tent, tables and chairs for dining; a private toilet tent; oxygen for emergencies; and more (if specifically stated).
If you are looking for a tour that offers more than the bare minimum or one that includes equipment such as a hyperbaric chamber then be sure to check whether your tour operator includes this. These types of inclusions are usually only offered by mid to higher range operators.
Good tour operators will always be transparent about what is and isn’t included in each itinerary. Be sure to check whether your tour is fully customizable, in terms of itinerary variations, upgrades or rentals.
Tour operators will also vary in terms of the quality of the equipment they offer. The three most important components are tents, sleeping bags and any AMS-related equipment.
Some of the considerations you should keep in mind are the make and quality of the equipment provided, as well as usage practices.
Even if your tour operator provides the best equipment, you should also pay attention to the number of times it is used.
For example, when sleeping bags are used over and over again, they gradually become less effective at keeping you warm during the night. This usually happens after about 10 times of washing.
Keep in mind that not all operators offer high-quality equipment. In fact, most don’t. If in doubt, it is better to check with them to confirm exactly what type of equipment they provide.
What you will usually find is that if something is not clearly listed on an operator’s website or in their booking documentation, then it is most likely not provided by your operator.
Food and nutrition
Budget tour operators will usually just offer simple carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and porridge, because these are thought to be simpler to digest at higher altitudes.
The best operators will try to include a variety of foods and a fair ration of fruit and vegetables, as well as protein for most meals.
If you have special dietary requirements, then be sure to ask about this before booking your tour. Budget tour operators may not always provide specific answers to your questions, so if in doubt, request a specific meal plan to avoid nasty surprises when it’s too late.
The key to selecting the best Kilimanjaro tour operator is to get clear on the type of tour you want before your climb. Once you are clear on what your requirements are, the next step is to ensure that you understand exactly what your tour operator offers and how well this fits in with your requirements.
A good starting point is to select a KPAP Partner company. Companies who have demonstrated a commitment to treating their porters fairly are also more likely to be committed to your safety and wellbeing, compared to the industry average.
Once you have carefully considered the above, you will be able to make a much more educated assessment in selecting the operator that is most suited to your needs.
Why not let us select the best offers for you?
Finding tour operators can involve hours of research, asking questions and comparing offers. Even once you have done your due diligence, it is still difficult to find your very best offer when you are searching on your own.
But there is an easier way.
We have gone to great lengths to compare the best Kilimanjaro offers and tour operators and offers for you, including onsite meetings in Tanzania with all KPAP approved outfitters and our work though KiliGATE. Based on objective price-value comparisons, we have already pre-selected the best offers, carefully vetted all tour inclusions, and made them easily comparable for you. We remain open to working with all KPAP Partner companies who can give you the best offer for your requirements.
You can also find out more information about your chosen destinations, itinerary and reviews, by visiting our Climbing Kilimanjaro Experience page.