Kilimanjaro operators are not all the same.
Prices per person range normally from $1,500 up to $5,000 depending on which of the Kilimanjaro operators and Kilimanjaro routes you choose. You might wonder rightly why there’s such a wide range of offers. Let’s divide the Kilimanjaro operators into three segments: low budget, value for money and luxury operators.
Budget Kilimanjaro operators will take you on a 6-7 day climb for as low as $1,500 to $1,900. The margins they make are as thin as it gets and as you guessed right, there is very little room to pay the porters decently, offer high quality food and equipment. Just the park fees for a 6 day climb are fixed at around $900 per trekker and can’t be lowered.
Value for money operators, as we like to call them offer Kilimanjaro climbs for around $1,900 to 3200$. Most of these Kilimanjaro operators keep the cost to a minimum (with various degrees obviously) but without compromising safety, quality equipment and decent nutrition. The porters wages are fair and a higher guide to client ratio can be expected. The guides speak English well and have extensive experience on the mountain.
Everything from $3,200 upwards can be summarised as luxury Kilimanjaro operators. How do they distinguish themselves and how do they justify the high prices? Amenities provided by luxury tour operators for example are extensive and can include portable showers, wine, oxygen tanks etc. You’ll still be doing the same amount of work to climb up Kilimanjaro with a luxury tour operator, however there will be some goodies waiting for you at the campsite. The luxury could reduce stress by a certain amount but the marginal benefit decreases really and is not worth it for most climbers.
Additionally, there are certain Kilimanjaro websites that are only sales agents. Meaning they take a local operator (normally in the budget segment) and add their margin on top. Those should be avoided in any case. If you are happy with a budget Kilimanjaro climb, make sure that you book directly with a budget operator. On the other hand, if you would like a higher level of Kilimanjaro safety and well-trained and experienced guides, make sure you do your due diligence and don’t just book with a higher priced company that forwards you to a budget operator.
We would put Follow Alice in the category of value for money operators. Our approach to pricing is determined by offering an affordable price, without cutting costs on the important factors such as safety, quality of the equipment, hygiene and our staff. To give an example: we have a private camping toilet on all our climbs, but we decided against a portable shower which only some of the “luxury” operators might have in the higher price segment. With regards to toilets, there are either none on the campsites or they are in bad hygienic conditions.
Even though there might be plenty of people that had great experiences with a budget operator, we would not recommend scraping away the last few dollars. Damaged equipment and inexperienced staff will expose you to risks that will make your journey not only less enjoyable but also potentially dangerous. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime experience for most people so make sure it’s a great one!