Planning a Kilimanjaro Trek

I’ve been asked several times what it took to hike Kilimanjaro. How much did it cost? How did you get there? Where did you stay? I will cover in detail all aspects of planning and getting to and from Africa. In a later post I will discuss the gear I packed and my “must have” gear on Mount Kilimanjaro.


Tip #1

I love spreadsheets so a lot of what I did was organized through that.


Step 1: Pick Route

I think the first step is to find the route you are most comfortable with. Routes vary by direction of approach, scenery, and difficulty. Your guide company will outline what routes they guide and support. They also vary by number of days. For example, I completed the Machame Route in a total of 6 days from start to finish. There are also options to do a 4, 5 or 7 day hikes on the same route. I recommend a 7-9 day hike for most people, especially if you are new to high elevation or have had altitude sickeness systems in the past at lower elevations.


I found the Machame Route to be my preferred because of its up-and-down topography and built in “rest days” where you would hit a high elevation at lunch time and then descent slightly down to sleep that night. I was worried about the altitude on the last day because, although I have many successful high-elevation mountain climbs under my belt from Colorado’s 14ers, I had never been above 14,500 feet on the summit of Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado.
“The Machame Route takes you high to Lava Tower (4,630 m/15,190 ft) on Day 3 then brings you down for an overnight at Barranco Camp (3,950 m/12,960 ft). This intermediate ascent and descent is the secret to a successful acclimatization, and is the reason that this route has a high success rate.” - Zaratours.com


Step 2: Find Dates


I researched dates that would work for a Kilimanjaro summit hike. Most mountains have “peak seasons” and best weather seasons. I chose the last week of June and first week of July for the best time to climb for a combination of the route and weather. It was also immediately after the rainy season which lasts from March to May so I missed the majority of crowds and also had great weather.


Step 3: Pick Guide Company

Once you have determined the route you think is best, locate a guide company. A guide is required to hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. I selected Zara Tours after carefully researching guide companies (not an affiliate link; I receive no money by clicking the above link). I would simply echo the reviews and advice I read when I was booking my guide company (not at all specific to Zara Tours):


    1.    Pick something “middle of the road” for price. Companies range from about $1,000 to much, much higher (more than $2,500 for a guide). Zara Tours was around $1,300 for a single person on the 6-day Machame route. On the mountain I found the higher-priced companies to offer better amenities (tents, meals, toilets, etc.) but also found it to be a bit overkill and there was a point of diminishing returns to be sure. A tent can only get so much better. A mess tent can only be so good (you are essentially squatting over a plastic hole no matter what company you go with). You are on a mountain for 5-7 days, a certain amount of “roughing it” should be expected. Middle of the road prices will guarantee that you have a reputable company with safe tents, good meals, and good guides and aren’t totally slumming it, either.



    2.    Pick a reputable guide with reviews and a website and contact information that is published. I saw several recommendations for guide companies that are either no longer in business or did not pay to continue their website or had very difficult to find contact information. Stay away from such places. Even the best companies are a bit … laid-back … compared to western standards so if you can’t readily find a website, a telephone number, or other basic contact information after a quick Google search I would stay away.



    3.    Keep your emails and document (PRINT!) everything that is agreed upon with the guide company. Even after pre-booking with Zara Tours it was pretty apparent they had not planned ahead as far as what group of hikers i would be joining and who my guide would be. They figured it out after I arrived the night before the hike began. I am pretty “go with the flow” so it didn’t bother me that they added me to a group of hikers and introduced me to my guide about 12 hours before we departed. But it is important to make sure that if there is any confusion that you have documentation that shows you are paid in full, booked with that particular company, that specific route, that specific day, etc. This is not really something to worry about, just make sure you are keeping documentation and records. Don’t show up empty-handed as far as your documentation or there could be a lot of headaches that ensue.



Step 4: Book your Flight

Most flights to/from Kilimanjaro from North America will fly from the east coast (New York or Boston) with a connection in Doha, Qatar to the Kilimanjaro airport. My airfare was about $1,400 for a roundtrip ticket to/from Denver, Colorado. I used United and Qatar Airways. The Kilimanjaro airport is quite small and very touristy so you will have no issues with getting in/out of the airport. I also recommend trip/travel insurance—the flight was about half of my cost of the climb and I booked it about two months before I left—impossible to know if I would be sick, injured, miss my flight, etc. I don’t typically get it but I think it’s wise to get it on a trip like this.


Step 5: Get your Vaccines

One of the aspects of the Kilimanjaro hike that I didn’t know until I started researching was the need for vaccines. It was recommended that I get yellow fever, Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Diptheria, and Typhoid. I also bought a supply of anti-malarial tablets that I used before, during, and after the trip. I went to a travel health company in Denver, Colorado for all of these needs. You can some of these at your local primary care physician office so check there first because the payment and insurance will be easier through your primary care physician.


Step 6: Entrance Visa

An entrance visa into Tanzania is required at the airport. The visa is $100. I recommend doing this ahead of time online from the Tanzanian visa office (https://eservices.immigration.go.tz/visa/) to skip the line at the airport and ensure you get into the country. It would be a real bummer to plan your hike for months only to find out you can’t get into the country. It’s only unlikely you would get turned away, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. There are third-party websites that will “assist” you in getting your visa but don’t bother—Tanzania is not a difficult or confusing visa to obtain and you are just throwing away money using another company.

As a journalist-turned-designer, the driving interest in my work is to unify the ethical and documentary obligations of journalism (storytelling) and its common ground with the projective, forward-thinking obligations of the design fields (futuretelling)."

Jonathan Knight