kilimanjaro

10:34 a.m. on August 9, 2008 (EDT)
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has anyone done kilimanjaro with alaska mtn guides international. i'm researching several guide groups. anyone suggestions. would like to be safe and somewhat comfortable, but don't want to have to break the bank.

3:50 p.m. on August 9, 2008 (EDT)
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lauren -
Look at my article in the Trailspace News pages -
http://www.trailspace.com/news/2008/02/13/africa-2007-photo-safari-and-kilimanjaro-hike.html

I would strongly recommend going directly with a local guide service. There is a requirement in Tanzanian law that you must hire a local guide, cook, and porters for Kili (and similarly for safaris). So with Alaska Mountain Guides, Alpine Ascents International, etc etc - ANY American or European or other non-Tanzanian guide service - you will be paying not only for the guide service, porters, and cook, who supply the group gear, but also for the overhead of the external guide or travel service plus expenses for the "American guide" or "European guide" and other personnel who travel from their base country.

As my writeup notes, Barb and I spent a total of $7000 for airfare, a week-long safari for the two of us with a private guide and cook (so we could spend as much time as we wanted taking particular photos and not having to coordinate with a caravan of Land Rovers), and a private hike of Kili via the Machame Route (again, at my own pace, with plenty of stops for photos - I tend to go faster than most of the people I saw on the hike. Compare that to $5000-$10,000 per person plus airfare for any of the US-based guide services.

By the way, make no mistake, Kilimanjaro by any of the half-dozen standard routes is a hike, NOT a climb. Yes, it is 5 to 10 days (depending on the route you pick), and you do go to 19,000 ft. But any experienced hiker can do it, depending on how well you acclimatize (slower ascent means better acclimatization, but talk to your doctor about acetazolamide, aka Diamox, and/or ginko biloba as aids to acclimatization). I saw people who were grossly overweight making it to the summit, and others almost as old as I am (I am an official, card-carrying, US Government-certified "Elderly").

To make things easier to set up with a local guide, contact Adventures Within Reach (http://www.adventureswithinreach.com/). They are basically a travel agency which will arrange bookings, according to your budget. They will probably book with Ecotours, a local Moshi company. Phillip, the main guy at Ecotours, is really concerned with his clients' welfare and that their goals are achieved.

During my time on the hill, I got to observe many of the other companies, including the large companies and the American and European tours. The folks with the small local companies were getting every bit as much service and better attention than the large companies and the foreign groups.

You can go to Moshi by yourself and book on the spot. But you have to do a lot of on-the-spot research, since when you walk through town, you will be beset by dozens of men offering tours "special just for you". It takes time to sort out the good companies, so using AWR is just a lot easier.

Fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport with KLM. They are the only airline with direct connections from the US (you might get a leg with their code-partner, Northwest). You will have a change of planes in Amsterdam (be sure to take a few moments between your flights to visit the Rijksmuseum in the Schipol airport). If you have had AWR or one of the US-based guide companies, you will be met at Kilimanjaro AP by your guide service rep (if it's Ecotours, Phillip himself will probably be there). They will take you to your hotel (you will be arriving very late at night). If you use AWR, you will probably stay at the Keys hotel - nice enough, probably in a bungalow, reasonable price even by US standards in this age of cheap dollars and expensive Euros). Plan on a couple days to adjust to the 13 hour time shift. Walk into the main part of Moshi - not really a lot to see, but you will be besieged by lots of people trying to sell you Masai spears and artwork. Learn some Swahili before going - the most important word in town is "hapana", said very forcefully to the street vendors - it means "NO!". Actually, your guide, porters, and cook will appreciate it very much if you try at least a little Swahili.

One thing about Ecotours - the food is fantastic - on the mountain (and the safari), I had fresh fruit and vegetables for all meals, and way too much for me to eat it all. I gained weight, which I never do on expeditions. When you get to camp, you are greeted with popcorn and hot tea, and a bowl of hot water to wash up. For dinners, there was always a cauldron of soup (enough for a meal by itself), a huge pile of pasta or rice with some sort of topping (chicken curry, vegetarian topping, beef stroganof, different every night), fresh vegetables, fresh mangos, pineapple, bananas, etc, some sort of cookies or cake, and more). Breakfasts were also huge, with porridge, fresh fruit juice, eggs, sausage or bacon which I don't eat, toast, jam or marmalade, and of course fresh fruit. Lunches also were huge.

Well, read my article.

10:34 a.m. on August 16, 2008 (EDT)
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thank you for the detailed information. it was quite helpful. i spoke to awr and am waiting for further info from them.

7:48 p.m. on September 2, 2008 (EDT)
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Hi there.

I know this guiding company pretty well and they do a great job for a great price. Run by local guides. Ask for Tunzo and tell him Chris Lepley sent you for even better treatment.

Have fun.

http://www.uhuruexpeditions.com/

11:09 a.m. on September 3, 2008 (EDT)
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Hi
I just back from Kili. We went with Nature Discovery out of Arusha. www.nautrediscovery.com I have heard that they are pricier then some so might not be what you are looking for but they were excellent. The tents were waterproof (it rained day one, all of night one, and day 2 as well), they provided closed cell sleeping pads (but we each still had our own and I would recommend that), a mess tent with chairs that had backs (so nice at the end of the day) and also our own 'prive' (chemical toilets). The food was excellent as well and the hot water in our Nalgene bottles at bedtime ... wonderful (avg temp at night was 1C). We also had warm water to wash with daily and filtered water to purify for drinking daily as well.

We were a large group (30 which went up in two groups of 15) and the guides were fantastic at handling the large group and meeting everyone's needs. I was really impressed on the wall at how they directed us and moved into positions to support and encourage where it was a bit more challenging then in other spots (especially for the person who was afraid of heights and found this part challenging). Out of 30, 29 successfully reached the summit. For one, the altitude and cold on the summit approach was too much. An assistant guide and 2 porters were with her all the time to ensure her safety.

We did the Machame route doing it in seven days which made days four and five shorter. We all used Diamox and all agreed that the 7 day route contributed the high level of success. Two other people were hit hard by altitude but because we were going slow their bodies adjusted and they made it to the top.

Each group of 15 going up the mountain had 1 guide, 4 assistant guides, 55 porters, 1 cook, 2 assistant cooks, then a few other support staff. We were quite the entourage when we moved each morning but most of the time it was just the group, guides, and personal porters. We had a wonderful time!

7:04 p.m. on September 14, 2008 (EDT)
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I enjoy meeting new people with a shared interest. But, if the opportunity to hike Kilimanjaro comes along personal preference would be for a smaller # of people than 15 plus all the support crew.

BillS, from your photos the most number of people I saw in one photo was 7. Some looked to be porters. Number of tents at camp were 6 including what looks like the "cook tent". Did the tour organization you use have an upper limit on the number per group? Chris & Lauren, same question?

12:39 a.m. on September 15, 2008 (EDT)
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My hike up Kili was as small a group as you can get, given the Tanzanian requirement to hire local guide, porters, and cook. I was the only "client", and had the minimum of 1 guide, 1 cook, and 3 porters. My group of 5 locals are in the one photo toward the end. Other photos include people in other parties, except for the ones of Patrick or of Patrick and me, or just of me. For our group, there was one sleeping tent for me, one tent that served as my dining tent plus storage, one tent for my guide and one of the porters who was a guide in training, and one for the rest of the porters. In some of the photos you can see tents of other parties. By law, you are required to camp at the designated sites (part of their Leave No Trace efforts to minimize the impact on the environment). The designated campsites have the latrines. Between camps, I rarely saw other people, except for porters racing to move gear and food from camp to camp, or when Patrick and I were passing other people (we never got passed by any parties unless we had stopped to take photos, in which case we usually caught and passed the group soon after).

EcoTours had a group of 4 on the mountain at the same time as me - one couple from the US (finishing a work tour in another African country), a Dutch woman, and another American man. They had opted for a somewhat fancier outfit (dining tent, which appears in one photo, table, chairs, more porters, plus an assistant guide and assistant cook).

Unless you specifically reserve a private expedition for one person (or your small group), you probably will be assigned to a group that the guide service makes up. Only a very few of the guide services are willing to take small, private parties. Usually, you will get stuck with a group of random people, who may be from several countries and may or may not speak your language. This is especially true of the large companies (except for companies based in the US or Europe, who will set up the groups all from the same country, and recall that they still have to hire local guides and porters). On the other hand, most Tanzanians do speak English, and many non-US people speak a fair amount of English (unlike Americans, who, as Professor Higgins put it, "haven't spoken English for years", much less any other language).

Upper limits - the small local companies generally keep their groups (made-up or a group that books together) to less than 10-15. But the large companies will set up groups of 100 or more, and will book groups of 100 or more. They have a number of assistant guides and will hike with smaller groups, separated by roughly similar speed groups. But at the campsites, these will usually group all the tents in close proximity and have fairly large dining tents. In other words, it varies by the company, with large companies often catering to large groups. On my last night at Mweka Camp, there was a group of about 60 camped not far from where my group was camped. They had a big celebration with lots of speeches, which proved a bit annoying. On the mountain, most clients were so exhausted at the end of the day that they just had their dinners and retired to their tents to sleep. One advantage to being in a private party and going at my own pace was that I arrived before most of the groups at the next campsite and could wander around by myself for an hour or so before the crowd started trickling in.

11:25 a.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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What type of temps can one expect on or near the summit? What type of clothing would you all recommend for summit day?

11:44 a.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Temperatures are dependent on which of the "dry" seasons you go. But basically summit day will include temps well below freezing. Layering is requisite, since you get warm while hiking up and cool while standing on the summit. You will need to take precautions with your water bottle to keep it from freezing. Hydration packs are NOT recommended (unless you know how and have experience at keeping your hydration bladder from freezing at temperatures below 0F/-15C). Remember you start your summit "day" at midnight to arrive at the summit shortly after dawn. The summit itself is usually well below freezing and windy (the guides generally limit summit stays to less than 5 minutes, enough time to get a quick summit photo, then head right down).

8:10 a.m. on September 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Just a note --- our group was large because we were a cross Canada group raising funds for Arthritis. Nature Discovery does trekking groups of all sizes, not just large ones. Sorry if I gave the wrong impression!

2:47 p.m. on September 26, 2008 (EDT)
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I had some communication today with the Tanzanian porters union (http://www.kiliporters.org/ )and would like to make a strong point that a large number of the companies guiding on Kilimanjaro exploit the porters (and some of the guides and cooks as well) by paying low wages, providing inadequate food and gear, and forcing the porters to carry large loads. Unfortunately, this includes some of the larger companies (reason the company I used was formed by a group of guides and porters). Check to be sure that your tour group is following the guidelines and Tanzanian regulations.

To give an idea of what the basic cost is:

the fees into the Kilimanjaro National Park are

* Porters - $10/porter/day
* Cooks - $15/cook/day
* Guides - $20/guide/day
* Non-Tanzanians over 16 years old (clients) - $60/person/day
* Campsites - $50/client/night
* Rescue fees - $20/person upon entry

That's the required fees, not the wage paid to the porters, guides, and cooks. Generally count on 1 guide per 4 or 5 clients, 2 porters per client plus porters to carry gear for the guides and cooks, and your cooks. Add on the cost of food.

The Park suggests (not requirement) a wage of 8000 schilling/day for porters (about $8), but I was told by my porters that many companies pay more like 4000 schilling/day and provide only 1 meal per day for the porters (my crew had the same meals as I did, plus got the 2/3 of the meal I was not able to finish).

The Park suggests (not requirement) a maximum of 25 kg per porter, including their own gear. If you look at my report here on Trailspace, the load some of the porters seem to be carrying in the photos looks more like 30 or more kg.

Yes, cost of living is much less in Tanzania, but it certainly is not 0. When I add up the costs, I would estimate that the fee per person in a group of 4 or more should be at least $1000 plus tips for the guides, porters, and cook (I suggest at least equaling the park fee per day), plus your in-town costs (hotel, airport transportation, meals, etc), plus your airfare.

Barb and I kept our total costs down by getting a cheap flight, staying in a moderate hotel (Motel 6 quality, though expensive by US standards), and tent camping on the safari (called "Basic Camping"). If you stay in a "star" hotel, it runs your costs way up, as does staying in lodges during the safari. Most of our costs were for the guides, cooks, and porters.

So ask lots of questions about how much the folks carrying your gear and feeding you are actually getting from the company. And be sure you hand the tips directly to the people who served you, not to someone who "promises" to distribute them to the group.

August 23, 2014
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