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How to Choose a Mt. Kilimanjaro Tour Operator

IMG_2327If you google “Mt. Kilimanjaro treks”, dozens of pages surface with various operators promising you the trek of a lifetime. With a $3000 price tag, one is surely guaranteed a great experience for checking off that bucket list. After all, climbing the highest peak in Africa is no small feat.

Certainly, to conquer this mountain, preparation is a must. First of all, you must understand the  basic geography of the mountain, and note the various routes available for summitting.  This will help you decide on the number of days you would like to spend trekking, as well as acclimating. The number of days ranges from 5 to 8 days.  Depending on your physical condition, and how much of a gambler you are, the duration of your trek is of utmost importance. The longer the trip, the higher chances that you have of acclimating to the high altitude.

Now, after you have selected a route, who will be the trustworthy group of guides and porters helping you ascend to Uhuru (the highest point of Kilimanjaro)? Contrary to one’s intuition, the selection of a tour operator should be saved for the very last minute. In other words, DON’T BOOK ANYTHING VIA THE INTERNET! Wait until you arrive in Tanzania!

In Moshi, as well as Arusha, there are over 50 tour operators with their offices waiting for you to arrive. In many guidebooks, they only list 3-5 companies that offer tours. Unfortunately, many of these companies are also luxury companies that quote a price a little more than to be desired for. I repeat, DO NOT BOOK ANYTHING VIA THE INTERNET, book your trek when you arrive at MoshIMG_2273i. You can book a trek for 1/3 of the price quoted on the internet! I repeat, for as little as 850 USD. There are groups leaving daily, and even if there is no other group departing on the date of your choice, they can still take you up the mountain as an individual or as a group. There is an abundance of guides and porters waiting for work, so rest assured that the supply is ample, and what dictates a tour departure date is entirely dependent on you.

When I arrived at Moshi this September, I spent one day relaxing and wandering around town. Uncertain of which operator to choose, I talked to various travelers and decided to conduct my own investigation. I interviewed 10 different companies for their quotes and packages for hiking Africa’s highest peak. After much research, I decided on Akaro tours, since they were able to leave the very next day, and agreed to a private tour. The price I negotiated was comparable to trekking with a group of 15 people; though instead, I had my own private guide and set of porters for ascent. Also, they included my hotel stay before and after the trek.

Use this blogpost as a guide to bargain with operators, as most of them are willing to negotiate for a price that is mutually satisfying. However, keep in mind that included in all the cost, is the park fee. As of September of 2012, the park fees are 100 USD per day, in addition to a 30 USD rescue fee. Given a Machame 6-day route, you are looking at 630 dollars for park fees alone. All of the information below are up-to-date as of September of 2012.

Akaro tour company

Akaro tour company

1. Akaro tours, 1070 USD, private tour

I chose Akaro because they explained everything to me upfront. I took a careful look at their customer recommendation book, and many applauded them for their safety. They were willing to take me up privately, and guaranteed me that they would pay for 3 porters. This is of note, since many companies will only bring 2 porters to save money.

Includes: – 6 days of Machame, food, clothing rental included, accommodation after the trek at the Buffalo Hotel in Moshi

2. African Spoonbill Tours and Safaris, 1110 USD, private tour

Office located at : NHC Bldg, Rinidi Lane, Adjacent to Stanbic Bank, Tel +255 713 408291

Owner was really friendly and explained everything clearly. Mentioned that he treats his porters fairly

Includes: 6 days of Machame, food, clothing rental included, NO accommodation before and after trek

3. Crown Eagle Adventure Ltd, 1100 USD, 6-person group

Office located at Old Moshi Rd, NSSF Building 1st floor, Moshi Tel +255 272 2545200

Their main office is in Arusha. When I inquired whether there were other groups going in the next few days, the lady at the office was very unclear. Though she explained the trek well, it seemed that the main office made all the negotiations. Since she was not able to contact them that particular day, she could not give me further details regarding the trek.

Includes: 6 days of Machame, food, accommodation and clothing rental unclear

4. Kili Climbers & Safari Ltd (Also call themselves Uhuru treks), 850 USD with 2 others

Uhuru Treks, aka Kili Climbers, in Moshi, TZ

Uhuru Treks, aka Kili Climbers, in Moshi, TZ

Office in Moshi Tel +255 754 290 477

Kili climbers has a partnership with the Backpackers hostel, so if you ask the receptionist about Kili, she will inevitably direct you to here. They are the CHEAPEST, quoting 850 USD. However, if you do the math, after deducting the park fees, the company is only making 220 USD which includes salaries for 5 people (guide, cook, 3 porters), food, accommodation and profit.

** Other agencies suggested that they are not officially licensed, and thus not paying the government any taxes. This would explain why their fees are so low.

Includes: – 6 days of Machame, food, clothing rental included, accommodation the day before and after at the Backpackers hostel

5. Tin Tin Tours, 1100 USD (with one other person)

* This operator has a partnership with Kindoroko hotel, the concierge will send you directly to this office if you ask them for assistance

Includes: – 6 days of Machame, food, accommodation after at the Kindoroko hotel. Clothing rental available but at extra charge

6. Tanzanian Trails, 1150 USD, private tour

Owner was at the office. He kindly explained the route clearly, and his office is decorated with photographs of Uhuru peak. * Word is that this operator is not officially registered with the Tanzanian government *

Includes: – 6 days of Machame, food, accomodation before and after at the Backpackers hostel. Clothing rental available but at extra charge

7. Shining Treks, 1100 USD, private tour 

Owner is very friendly and explains the package and climbing route very clearly. States that his price is higher since he treats his porters fairly. However, he initially told me that he had one couple leaving the very next day, but towards the end of our negotiation, he revealed that this “couple” doesn’t exist. Also, they only include 2 porters. * I didn’t like how he lied, thus the reason why I didn’t choose them. NOTE: many operators will try and tell you that there’s a group going tomorrow, so to push you to commit early.

Includes: – 6 days of Machame, food, clothing rental included but no accommodation before and after trek

8. ANDA tours 

No treks were departing within the next 5 days. They are not willing to do private tours, though office staff was helpful.

9. Ahsante tours, 1700 USD, private tour

Clearly a midrange operator. The office is located within a guarded compound. They seem to conduct most of their business online with international tour operators. Thus, they are able to charge more since most of their customers either book through travel agent or online. They were not interested in negotiating, and not interested in me as a single customer.

Includes: – 6 days of Machame, food, clothing rental available but at extra charge, NO accommodation before and after trek

10. Zara tours, 1500 USD, with group of 4 people

Clearly a midrange operator. They are quite well-known amongst tour operators, as they service a range of clients who are able to afford more. They seemed uninterested in serving the lone customer, as I assume that the bulk of their income comes from clients booking via the internet.

I saw their group during my hike, and they actually haul up a Port-a-potty for their customers. Keep in mind that there are toilets along the trail, since this is a “high-class” operator, they provide their own toilet. If this is what you are into, then this should be your pick. My preference was to have an authentic hiking experience, including using the toilets built by the park (which were clean).

Includes:  6 days of Machame, food,clothing rental available but at extra charge, NO accommodation before and after trek

At the end of the day, remember that all operators can get you to the top of the mountain. Yet, it is important to remember that registered companies are also the ones with insurance. Depending on your budget and your comfort level, choose one wisely. Ask questions and visit numerous offices. In addition, keep in mind that porters should be treated fairly, as without their tremendous hard work, the trek to the summit is not possible. Lastly, make sure that you tip your group well, as they earn most of their income through tips.

Other than that, pole pole!!!

Leave a message if you have more questions!

Olivia H.C.

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