Reccomendations for Kilimanjaro Tour Companies

2:22 p.m. on July 31, 2006 (EDT)

Can any of you experienced Kilimanjaro climbers recommend a good tour group to take me up the mountain?

Right now I’m leaning towards Tusker Trail. They are quoting me about $3800 for a 13 day trip (10 of which is hiking, the other 3 are spent training) up the Lemosho-Lava Tower trail. Has anyone had any experience with this company?

4:09 p.m. on July 31, 2006 (EDT)
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Don't know anything about Tusker Trails, other than their website. But $3800 seems a bit on the high side. As you no doubt know, Tanzania requires you hire local guides and porters. You can do this on the spot, or contact one of several local groups directly. The guide fee is only a few dollars per day, with the porter fee being about $1/day. Typically, you hire a guide for the party and 1 or 2 guides per person. They carry all your gear except your daypack with your lunch, rain jacket, water, and camera gear, and have your camp set up each day before you arrive. The climbs are 5 or 6 days. There is also a Parks fee.

$3800 is about what you would pay for a foreign-based tour company (which still hires local guides and porters), and covers their offices in the US, UK, Germany, France, or wherever, but not your transportation to Tanzania or Kenya (usually includes the transport from Nairobi to the mountain and the hotel at the park entrance). I note that Tusker bills itself as a Tanzanian company, but buried way down in the pages, they talk about their Lake Tahoe staff (Tahoe is on the Calif-Nev border, so you are paying the US prices and paying for US staff in addition to their Tanzanian staff).

The Park Rangers have several favorite companies they recommend - ZARA, MJ Safaris, and Shah Tours. ZARA, for example, charges $900-$1400/person depending on the route, for 5 to 8 days on the mountain. Add to that your hotel and meals before starting, plus, of course, your transportation and your photosafari, if you take one. Safaris are typically $200-300 per person per day.

It is interesting (and not unexpected, given that these are commercial outfits) that a number of the outfitters claim they are "Number 1 on Kilimanjaro" and/or "Most Experienced on Kilimanjaro".

If you really want to go with a US-based company, rather than doing some of your own arrangements, I would suggest Alpine Ascents International, based in Seattle. Talk to Allen Carbert, if possible (he is running AAI's Alaska summer program right now, but often leads their Kili tours in the winter). AAI is a real climbing outfit and does ascents and training all over the world. They are in the same price range as Tusker.

Oh, some extra costs you need to count on - tips for the guides and porters (handled differently by the different guide groups, and much higher tips for any US or European guides in the group - "white" guys are more expensive than the "black fellas" - their terms, not mine), and warm clothing and boots or shoes suitable for hikes like Kili to donate to the porters and guides at the end of the trip. As you can guess, $1/day doesn't go far toward equipping someone for the treks. So take along that old parka you don't use anymore and boots that just need resoling. T-shirts are ok, too, for the lower slopes, but they mostly want warm clothing. If you go with a US or Euro based company, tips are $10-20/day for each of the "white" guys. The locals usually pool the money and the head guide (local, not the US or Euro guide) doles it out according to some scale of merit or favoritism.

From one of the web sites:

Tips for guides and porters on Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru:

* You will be given an envelope at the Springlands Hotel after your trek for your tip money. You can use U.S. dollars, Euros, TZ shillings, or a combination of these. It helps if you have small bills to tip everyone individually. There is no need to take money on the mountain with you.
* The typical tip is $15/day for guides, $10/day for assistant guides and cooks, $7/porter/day for porters. This is from the whole group, not per hiker.
* Expect 1 guide per 8 hikers, 1 assistant guide per 3 hikers, and 1 cook per 8 hikers. Porters as follows:
o 2 porters per hiker on the 5-day Marangu Route (minimum of 4 porters)
o 3 porters per hiker on a 6 or 7-day trek (minimum of 5 porters)
o 4 porters per hiker on the 8-day Lemosho Route (minimum of 8 porters)
o Sometimes extra porters are required based on the weight of the luggage.
* Budget $200 per hiker for tips for a 6-day trek.
* Gifts: Guides and porters also appreciate your warm clothing, shoes, and packs. You may want to bring some older clothing items just for this purpose.
* Celebration: You are also welcome to invite your guides back to the Springlands Hotel for drinks and/or dinner (on you) as a thank-you in addition to their tip.

5:13 p.m. on July 31, 2006 (EDT)

Hi Bill,

Thanks so much for the detailed response. In looking through various websites, it does seem that Tusker is a bit on the high side, although Alpine Ascents International is even higher. I guess my reasoning for going with a US-based company is the added security of having some legal recourse should the company turn out to be a sham. Did you find this concern to be unwarranted?

12:00 p.m. on August 1, 2006 (EDT)
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If you are concerned about sham companies, the answer is a bit of investigation of their history. The ones I mentioned that were recommended by the Kili parks people have been around for quite a while, so I think they are dependable.

Alpine Ascents is one of the world's premier climbing guide companies. Yes, they are expensive, but that is true of all the good companies based outside Tanzania. They have basically double the expenses, since they use US (or Brit or German or their base company) personnel who are paid US or Euro salaries and have home country overhead expenses. AAI does gear rentals as well, using top quality gear that is replaced frequently.

There is another AAI, American Alpine Institute, based in Bellingham, WA, which also does Kili trips. I would place them also as a top choice if you want a US-based company. Reason I mentioned Alpine Ascents first is I know more of the people there, and Allen, who leads some of their Kili treks, is a long time friend. I know some of the people at American Alpine Institute as well, particularly the owners. But I don't know their folks who are leading the Kili treks the past couple of years. There is a bit of interesting history to the 2 AAI's, but not to be repeated here. Regardless, even though they are a bit more than some of the other US companies, you would get your money's worth.

Going with one of the local Tanzanian companies will cost you a lot less, but would require a bit more work than the US companies making arrangements. With the AAIs, you basically buy a package. Both have arrangements with a travel agent who can book the flights and stopover hotels (you fly to Europe first, then to Africa - maybe Nairobi, Kenya then transfer by van or flight to Kili or directly to Kili if you go through Amsterdam on KLM). Both AAIs have gear advisors and shops which will rent or sell any gear you need, where with the locals you have to arrange that yourself.

If you go with a local company, there is a local guide/outfitter association. The companies I mentioned are all members. So you can cover yourself. Also, you can get trip insurance (recommended, but expensive) that covers getting stranded by airlines that go out of business or fake guides. But read the insurance policy carefully. There are all sorts of exemptions on trip cancellations on your part. Some policies I have looked at won't cover lost expenses if you get sick at the last minute or particularly if you have a "pre-existing condition" that normally wouldn't be a problem, but flares up at the last minute. And the "lost luggage" clause often says that if your luggage is delayed and you have to quickly buy boots, sleeping bag, and water bottle, you don't get more than $100, or maybe only get soap, comb, a toothbrush, and a towel. But they generally do cover the sham companies you are worried about.

7:56 p.m. on August 3, 2006 (EDT)

a.k.a. Chris, Christian

Contact Tunzo. I hired him and his local company upon arriving in the area. He is a great guy. Cares about the mountain and your costs will be much less than paying for the overhead as mentioned in someone elses email. Tell him Christian Lepley sent you and he will take care of you.

Good luck have fun.

5:18 p.m. on January 4, 2007 (EST)
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Tusker Trail

If you're going up a mountain that claims about 15 lives a year and only 45% of 29000 make it you better be with good people. I summited with Tusker (as well as my wife) in 2005. They were fabulous.

2:48 p.m. on February 7, 2007 (EST)
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Last year as inexperienced climbers, after visiting numerous websites we decided to climb with Tusker, paying the extra for increased safety and peace of mind in an emergency. Whilst Tusker provided excellent porters (and appeared to treat them very well),equipment and food with knowledgeable guides when we were making the final ascent, after the guides had descended with other climbers we were left with a porter with no radio, monitoring equipment (as promised in the guide). When my fellow climber became ill and had to descend I was given the option to climb on alone or descend, on arriving back at camp the guides were asleep and didn't even bother to check the health of the other climber. It's easy for a company to have good reviews when all goes well but should be judged on how they handle emergencies and from my own experience the extra money we spent did not provide the extra safety we expected.

11:04 p.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)

Does anyone have a recommendation on Thompson?

May 24, 2018
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