When a Kilimanjaro tour operator offers you a price tag below $2,000 per person for a climb, you want to ask yourself what’s being left out or compromised to make that price possible?
There are three different types of Kilimanjaro operators
There are many, many Kilimanjaro tour operators out there, and their prices vary drastically. Some offer climbs for as low as $1,500, while others can ask for as much as $5,000! If you’re in the early stages of your Kilimanjaro research, you might naturally be quite baffled by the huge price differential!
Don’t worry, we’ll soon help you to understand the reasons behind the greatly varying fees asked by different operators. To help us do this, we’ve divided Kilimanjaro operators into the following three groups:
- budget operators
- value-for-money operators
- luxury operators
Let’s now look at the differences in their offerings, which explains the differences in price …
Budget Kilimanjaro operators will take you on a six- or seven-day climb for as low as $1,500 to $1,900. The margins they make are as thin as it gets, meaning there’s very little room to pay the mountain crew decently, nor offer climbers high quality food and equipment. Just the park fees for a six-day climb are fixed at around $900 per trekker and cannot be lowered.
The concerns with budget operators are that they might be paying and feeding their mountain crew too little, and not providing them with adequate equipment, from warm clothing to regularly maintained medical equipment. Some budget operators don’t even feed their crew sufficient food! Their training of staff might not be up to scratch either.
In terms of the client, the quality (and quantity) of the food, equipment and support given to clients can be compromised. For instance, budget operators sometimes don’t have enough guides for the number of climbers. You want a low guide-to-climber ratio to ensure your health is being properly monitored. Also, should a guide need to descend the mountain with an ill or injured climber, there needs to still be enough guides to safely lead the remaining climbers.
Even though there might be plenty of people who have great experiences with a budget operator, we wouldn’t recommend taking the risks associated with them just to save a little money. You don’t want to expose yourself to unnecessary risks, or have less-than-pleasant food or accommodation. Since climbing Kilimanjaro is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, we recommend ensuring you trek with a really reputable tour operator and ensure your trip is a great one!
Value-for-money tour operators offer Kilimanjaro climbs for around $1,900 to $3,200. We consider ourselves at Follow Alice to fall into this category. This is because we, like other value-for-money operators, do our best to keep costs costs to a minimum without compromising on important things like:
- the quality and upkeep of equipment
- providing ample and nutritious food (to both clients and mountain crew)
- providing hygienic amenities
- paying our mountain crew fair wages
Value-for-money companies also offer a higher guide-to-client ratio. This is important in many ways, such as keeping a keen eye on every climber’s health and being able to detect the early warning signs of altitude sickness. and encouraging you when you’re struggling. The guides also speak English well and so are able to encourage you when you’re flagging or doubting yourself. They have extensive experience of summiting the mountain and so can tell you what to expect each, when the next camp is nearby, and so on.
Value-for-money tour operators offer a good guide-to-client ratio, which is valuable in terms of safety as well as your chances of successfully summiting the mountain.
Good crew treatment
Sadly, the mistreatment of porters is a challenge in the climbing industry. At Follow Alice we know that porters are the backbone of every climb, and wish to help bring improvement to the climbing business by always treating them well and with respect, and paying them decently. Accordingly, we applied and have become an approved partner company of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) and its associated NPO the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC).
We voluntarily submit to KPAP’s monitoring activities, which include allowing a KPAP representative to evaluate the treatment of our porters on our climbs. By climbing with us you can rest assured that your porters are being treated and paid well.
We cannot really overstate the importance of a well-trained and happy mountain crew to the success, safety and enjoyment of your Kilimanjaro climb.
Every company asking for $3,200 and upwards can be classified as a luxury operator. How do they distinguish themselves and how do they justify the high prices? For starters, they provide extra amenities such as portable showers, wine, and fancier food. So you’ll still be doing the same amount of work to climb up Kilimanjaro with a luxury tour operator, there will just be some extra goodies along the way.
Such luxuries – especially the shower! – can certainly be very nice. And for those with cash to spare, this is a good option. We do, however, find that most people cannot justify spending the extra money on such marginal benefits. Climbing Kilimanjaro tends to be a fairly pricey endeavour without adding hundreds or even thousands extra to the tab just for a handful of luxuries. One could even argue that roughing it is part of what makes the experience so memorable!
Luxury operators also sometimes carry extra oxygen – one oxygen tank per person. This sounds good, but it simply isn’t necessary to be honest.
Sales agents versus operators
Finally, we want to also point out that there’s a difference between sales agents and tour operators. There are some Kilimanjaro websites where you’re dealing with sales agents only – not the people who will actually accompany you up the mountain. Sales agents usually liaise with a local tour operator (often a budget one) and add their margin on top.
We advise against booking with a sales agent. For starters, their level of involvement and knowledge simply cannot compete with companies who have feet on the ground in Tanzania – and on the mountain itself! Further, you may think you’re booking with a value-for-money operator given the price, but actually the sales agent’s markup fee is misleading and you’re actually being connected you with a budget operator.
At Follow Alice, our approach to pricing is to offer an affordable price without cutting costs on important factors such as safety, quality of equipment, hygiene, nutrition, and our staff’s wellbeing.