WHO IS THE BEST KILIMANJARO OPERATOR?
Confused about which tour operator to use on Mount Kilimanjaro?
I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2009. Like you, I poured over all the information I could find in hopes of making a good decision on whether to attempt the climb in the first place, and which operator to climb with. Considering that there are several hundred Kilimanjaro guide companies on the mountain, trying to figure out which provides the best experience can be an overwhelming task. You've visited countless websites and forums. The opinions are all over the board. Instead of clearing things up, you simply became more CONFUSED.
I created this web page to help others choose an operator.
On Kilimanjaro, the guide makes all the difference.
The guide is responsible for so many things. He needs to manage the staff. He needs to set the pace, decide when to rest, and when not to rest. He needs to watch the food supply. He needs to make sure the equipment functions. But above all, he needs to keep everyone SAFE.
Kilimanjaro is dangerous. People die every year trying to reach the top. It is usually caused by a form of altitude sickness (acute mountain sickness, high altitude cerebral edema, high altitude pulmonary edema), though exposure and rockfall are also culprits.
While a poor guide in a city tour in Paris may mean a lack of insight into French culture, a poor guide on Mount Kilimanjaro can mean DEATH! In other words, CHOOSE CAREFULLY.
So what should you look for in selecting a Kilimanjaro Guide?
PRICE and PORTER WELFARE are two primary factors that can make your decision much simpler.
WHAT PRICE SHOULD I PAY TO CLIMB KILIMANJARO?
The first thing people want to know when they start thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro is how much it costs. Before people begin to seriously consider the trek, they want to know if they can afford it in the first place. The bad news is that Kilimanjaro park fees are expensive, costing more than $100 per day. So, at a minimum, you know that after you factor in staff wages, equipment, food, tips, and a profit margin, it is not going to be cheap! At a bare minimum, the costs of climbing will be around $1,000. But rarely is the bare minimum any good. When's the last time you were happy with getting the minimum? I've never heard of anyone being happy with minimum wage.
Don't book a cheap climb.
Why not? Most locally owned operators are low budget companies who compete for your business based entirely on price. But a cheap climb means you get low wage guides and porters. Great guides DO NOT work for cheap companies. If you were a fantastic guide, would you subject yourself to mediocre wages, equipment, and food? Would you want to try to make up for your underpayment by hoping for large tips - tips you would have to secure from a cost conscious customer? NO.
If you were a fantastic guide, you would have better options. So the guides who end up with these low budget companies are poor guides, in every sense of the word.
By eliminating all the low budget operators from consideration, you have effectively eliminated 80% of the companies on Kilimanjaro.
The expensive operators are overrated.
Most expensive operators are foreign-owned. They are usually more professional, better managed, and provide top-notch service on the mountain. Their staff is very competent. They use quality equpment. They have a high staff to customer ratio. They take the proper safety precautions.
So what's the problem? THEY ARE NOT WORTH THE MONEY.
Say this to someone who has climbed with a high priced operator, and they will get pissed off! No one likes to think they overpaid for anything, but in the case of using luxury operators on Kilimanjaro, this is almost certainly the case.
Tanzania is a poor country, so the cost of living is very low. Slight increases in what you pay for your climb should translate into HUGE differences in the service you receive. For thousands of dollars more, there better be something extravagant - beyond upgrades in tents and slight improvements such as this. I know people in the industry, and what they say behind closed doors is that the premium they charge is almost pure profit! No wonder it is hard to reconcile where your extra thousands of dollars went in terms of expenses. It doesn't go anywhere (but their bank accounts)!
There is one exception. Some guide services will use western guides to accompany the local staff. If this is the case, western guides' expenses (air fare) and time (high wages) must be accounted for. Understandably, some climbers feel more comfortable with having western guides - believed to be more professional, knowledgeable, and safety conscious - to watch over them. If it is important to you, then a luxury operator may be for you. OTHERWISE, THE PREMIUM IS NOT WORTH IT.
A mid-priced operator is the best choice for most.
The mid-priced operator will not have the budget restrictions that force the low budget operator to shed costs by supplying shabby equipment and food. Think of it this way - to add an extra porter to your climb, it costs the company only about $5 more per day. So if a company received just $500-$1000 more on a climb per person, that would be enough to cover upgrades to the equipment, food, and the quality of staff. For just a little bit more money, you could have all the standards, safeguards, and comforts needed to climb Kilimanjaro.
Buddha said take the middle road. What he meant was... CHOOSE A MID-PRICED OPERATOR.
You're probably saying, "But anyone can just charge a higher price."
"How do I know that a mid-priced operator is any good if I make a decision just based on price?"
THE IMPORTANCE OF PORTER WELFARE
A good indicator of a quality company is how well it treats its employees. This is true not only in the United States and western countries, but it holds true for companies all over the world. This is a HUGE problem on the mountain, and everyone who climbs Kilimanjaro needs to be cognizant of what happens behind the scenes.
Porters are often underpaid, or not paid at all. They don't always have the right clothing for the extreme temperatures. They don't always have the proper shelters. They don't always get fed adequately. Logically, this is moreso a problem with low budget operators, who skimp on costs to keep prices low, but not necessarily.
How can you tell that a company treats its staff well?
Luckily, there are independent organizations who look out for the porters on Kilimanjaro. The Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project (KPAP) and the International Mountain Explorer Connection's (IMEC) Partnership for Responsible Travel are organizations that monitor companies on Kilimanjaro to ensure that staff are treated properly - in terms of pay, food, clothing and shelter. To be recognized by KPAP and IMEC as a partner company is quite a statement, considering that there are several hundred companies on the mountain, yet ONLY A FEW DOZEN comply with IMEC's Guidelines for Proper Porter Treatment.
Below is the list of US partner companies:
These companies are the BEST KILIMANJARO OPERATORS.
You can't go wrong by going with any one of these operators.
Except for one thing - they are nearly all expensive operators charging between $3,000 to $6,000 per person. And as I noted above, the extra luxuries are not worth the premium.
There is a mid-priced operator in this select group.
THE BEST KILIMANJARO OPERATOR
Peak Planet was my top choice.
Based in the United States, Peak Planet is a partner with The African Walking Company, based in Arusha, Tanzania. The African Walking Company was founded by an American mountaineer with the goal of creating a guide service on Mount Kilimanjaro to rival those found in the Alps, Himalayas, and Atlas Mountains. Irrespective of price, it is one of the best Kilimanjaro guide service companies on the mountain. But when you factor in the price, PEAK PLANET CANNOT BE BEAT.
I had a wonderful experience with Peak Planet. We had 12 people in our party and everyone of us made it to the summit, a 100% success rate! We could not have done it without our guides, who diligently helped us every step of the way.
I hope this page was helpful for you. Have a safe, fun climb.