While working in the tourism industry here in Tanzania, it’s not uncommon for me to hear the question “why is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro so expensive?”. When researching, they are often surprised to find that a journey to the “Roof of Africa” is not cheap.
With over 300 companies offering Mount Kilimanjaro climbs, there is a wide range of prices, and deciding on which operator to choose can sometimes become a very overwhelming task.
First and foremost, the decision to climb Kilimanjaro should not be based on price alone. High altitude trekking is no easy feat, so you want to choose an operator wisely to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience.
While there are many operators out there that will claim to offer cheap treks, it is best to tread with caution. The market has become so over-saturated with companies over the years, this has resulted in a cut-throat price war. Sadly, there are many companies that are quite willing to omit certain information to offer a lower price.
I’ll touch more on why it is best to avoid very low budget tour operators later in this article, but first, let’s have a look at the lowdown on Kilimanjaro costs.
The true cost of climbing Kilimanjaro
The following fees are in USD and are approximate figures at the time of publication:
Conservation Fees – $70 per day per person
Camping or Hut Fees – $50 to $60 per night per person
Rescue Fees– $20 per person per trip
Guide and Porter Entrance Fees – $2 per staff person per trip
Food costs – $10 to $20 per climber per day
Transportation – Up to $150 (depending on the route and group size)
Value-Added Tax – 18% of services
The other significant expenses are staff wages. Your package price will include guide, assistant guide, cook and porter wages, which will vary between companies. However, if you wish to choose an operator that pays fair and ethical wages, expect to cover the following operator costs:
Guides – $20 per day
Assistant Guides and Cook – $15 per day
Porters – $10 per day
On each climb, you will have two guides for every two people (or one guide for a solo climb) and three to four porters for every person. So, you can see how the cost for the crew can easily add up.
There are also costs associated with wear and tear on camping equipment, regular maintenance of vehicles, administrative costs, license and insurance fees, plus additional government taxes associated with running a tour company.
It is also worth noting that the route you choose will also influence the overall price. For example, an eight-day Lemosho climb would cost more than a six-day Marangu climb because:
- Lemosho’s starting point is located further away so the transport costs are higher
- Lemosho is a longer trek, therefore incurring more costs per day as listed above
- Marangu is the only route to offer hut accommodation, therefore less porters are required to carry equipment.
By adding up all the daily costs listed above, you can get a rough idea of the basic operational costs to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Then on top of your package price, you may also need to pay for things like accommodation, airport transfers, tips for the crew, and equipment hire (if they are not included in your package price).
Why you should avoid low budget Kilimanjaro operators
As mentioned above, a recent 18% VAT implementation by the government has driven an already saturated market into a much more competitive environment. As a result, many companies are forced to cut corners to drop prices. This includes:
If you are booking a cheap climb, it is quite likely that the money you save is coming straight out of the pockets of your porters.
There are many local operators who will offer cheap climbs. But in return for that low price, you may be unknowingly encouraging a company’s unethical behaviour and exploitation of porters.
These appalling practices include:
- Paying porters less than minimum wage or not at all
- Allowing guides to take tips and wages meant for porters
- Feeding porters only once or twice a day
- Requiring porters to pay the operator a fee for food or camping on the mountain
- Forcing porters to carry loads greater than the weight limit
- Allowing porters to climb with insufficient clothing
- Providing poor shelters (such as mess tents) for porters to sleep in
Sadly, most deaths on the mountain are linked to poorly cared-for porters. So when researching a company to climb with, it is worth considering those who are members of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), an independent organization whose mission it is to protect porters from mistreatment on the mountain.
Other reasons to avoid low budget operators include:
Many low budget operators will often hire freelance guides with very little experience and a lack of medical training to save costs. This is because they generally don’t have secure work and are much more willing to take low-paid jobs. High-quality guides are hired full-time by top operators who keep them busy with regular climbs. If a good tour operator must hire freelancers due to a high volume of climbs, then they will only employ those that have ample experience with reputable companies.
Lack of safety measures
The competence of a guide or operator is not always obvious until a crisis emerges. Very few will have safety measures in place for when climbers get sick. For example, they have little knowledge on how to use equipment to detect altitude sickness or do not carry rescue equipment like portable stretchers or bottled oxygen. Many will be quite happy to take the risk and rely on other guides from well-prepared companies to assist them if an emergency arises.
Another place where money can be saved is equipment. Low budget operators tend to use equipment that is poor in condition and barely functional. This is most common with tents, which are often not waterproof, not durable and not for four season use. Quality operators will use camping equipment from reputable manufacturers and regularly replace their tents, sleeping bags, and other climbing and camping gears.
These are just a few reasons why it is best to avoid booking a Mount Kilimanjaro climb with a low budget operator. These companies are notorious for offering a poor service as they do not have the necessary operating procedures in place, nor do they have the customers’ best interests at heart. It is also not uncommon to hear stories of clients falling victim to scams by fraudulent companies, or losing money or having their climb canceled at the last minute.
So, what is my advice when choosing an operator?
The most important factor in ensuring the safety and success of a Kilimanjaro climb is by doing your research.
While I strongly advise against booking a climb with a low budget operator, you should also not assume that high-priced luxury operators or generic travel agents are better simply because they charge more.
My best tip is to book through a reputable Tanzanian company that specialises in Mount Kilimanjaro climbs, as they are more likely to have first-hand expertise. By booking locally, you could also potentially save from hundreds to thousands of dollars, which can be better spent in other areas of your trip.
With mid-tier local operators, you will typically expect to pay anything between $1,500 to $2,800 depending on the route you choose and how many people are climbing in your group.
Do your research
When researching operators, thoroughly dig through their websites and don’t be scared to ask questions. Do they have a good safety record? What is their client success rate like? Do they act responsibly and treat their staff fairly? Are they open and transparent about how they run things? If not, then ask yourself, why?
Any operator who has lots of experience and a great history of providing an excellent service would not want to hide that, would they? There is no better way than to personally contact operators to get a feel for how much they really care about their clients.
Another way to gauge this is to see what past clients have said about their experience. Online resources such as Tripadvisor or Facebook, which have forums and reviews, can be a good source for this information.
While it is undoubtedly a big financial commitment to climb Kilimanjaro, and can take a significant amount of time to fully vet operators, it will all pay off in the end when you are standing at the summit of the highest mountain in Africa.
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