Beste. Barranco campsite tents among the clouds with Uhuru Peak showing through, Kilimanjaro

How to find the best Kilimanjaro tour operators

May 10, 2024
Reading time: 10 minutes

There are so many companies offering Kilimanjaro climbs that it can be hard to know which to choose without some sort of roadmap. With that in mind, here's a list of things to help you find the best Kilimanjaro tour operators.

1. Check if it's a tour operator or travel agent

There are travel agents selling Kilimanjaro climbs run by third-party tour operators. This is perfectly legal, but there are a few dangers to booking with a travel agent, including the fact that they no longer have the same level of skin in the game once you've made payment.

A Kilimanjaro tour operator sells its own climbs, meaning you book and then climb with the same company. This is clearly the better model as it's in the operator's best interests to ensure every aspect of your trip goes smoothly and well, from pre-booking till the time you fly back home after your adventure.

FA group pics Materuni Waterfall, Kilimanjaro

Some Follow Alice staff visiting Kilimanjaro's beautiful Materuni Waterfall

As you can guess since we're the ones pointing this out, we at Follow Alice are a Kilimanjaro tour operator. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This means we take care of every aspect of your trip, from booking to the actual climb, and each stage matters to us!

2. Ensure the operator is licensed in TZ

A company can only legally host Kilimanjaro climbs if it holds a Tourism Business Licence (or TALA) from the Government of Tanzania.

Unfortunately, some companies do still manage to run Kilimanjaro climbs without the proper licensing. To book with such an operation is risky, not least because you're putting your money and ultimately your safety in the hands of people who don't mind breaking the law.

 

 

3. See if it's a KRTO (formerly KPAP) partner

Not only do the best Kilimanjaro tour operators keep to the straight and narrow in terms of legalities, they also want to do things ethically. A particularly big issue within the Kilimanjaro trekking business is tour operators underpaying their crew and also in other ways mistreating them.

The best and easiest way for you to ensure that you don't support a dodgy tour operator is to only use one that is recognised partner of the Kilimanjaro Responsible Trekking Organisation (KRTO), formerly known as the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP).

Follow Alice team briefing for KRTO clean-up initiative on Kilimanjaro

Some of our Follow Alice Kili crew at a team briefing

The screening process for becoming KRTO-approved is rigorous. So any tour operator recognised by KRTO is a safe bet, as the certification assures you that it:

  • Pays its crew fairly.
  • Trains its guides adequately.
  • Feeds it crew properly.
  • Provides its crew with warm clothing and decent tents.
  • In every other way treats its staff fairly and respectfully.

Unfortunately, there are Kilimanjaro tour operators who claim to be approved by KRTO that aren't, so please check any prospective company against KRTO's own list of partners for responsible travel.

Group taking a rest stop on Kilimanjaro with Uhuru Peak behind

Your mountain crew is the backbone of your climb

4. Check what's included and what's excluded

Budget tour operators usually draw in potential clients by boasting very low prices. But often this is because they provide the bare minimum in terms of services and amenities.

While this is okay (provided they treat their staff well and don't stint on safety), you might want to tally the exclusions and then bear that figure in mind when looking at the prices of tour operators that include these extras in their package price.

At Follow Alice, for instance, we include a host of things in our Kilimanjaro prices that budget operators do not, such as:

  • Hotel accommodation the night before and the night after your trek.
  • Private transport to and from the trailhead.
  • Use of a four-season sleeping bag and a sleeping mat.
  • A private chemical toilet just for your group.
  • All meals, snacks and purified drinking water.

For a full list of what's included and not included in our Kilimanjaro climbs, please look at any of our exciting Kilimanjaro itineraries.

 

 

Note that there are also some luxury Kilimanjaro tour operators, who naturally charge their clients much more.

If your budget could extend to a luxury operator, check what extras are on offer to see if you personally feel the heftier price tag is worth it. Usually they'll offer five-star accommodation on either side of the trek, as well as some luxuries on the trail like fancier food and showers. (Just don't assume that their guides are automatically better โ€“ some of the best-rated Kilimanjaro guides own or work for mid-range tour operators!)

5. Consider the routes and trek durations on offer

Linked to the previous point, please consider which of the seven Kilimanjaro ascent routes are being offered when comparing Kilimanjaro tour operator prices.

Some tour operators offer a very low fee because they're taking you on one of the shortest ascent routes and you're therefore on the mountain for fewer days. While this can seem an attractive option, we caution against it, as Kilimanjaro altitude sickness is a very serious issue that can even prove fatal.

The best Kilimanjaro tour operators offer the longer routes because they're safer.

You also reduce your chances of successfully summiting Kilimanjaro if you try to conquer it in too few days. Don't be one of the countless folks we've encountered who underestimate how tough Kilimanjaro really is to climb!

We recommend taking at least eight or nine days for a Kilimanjaro climb, but certainly no fewer than seven days. This is why we don't even offer the Umbwe route at Follow Alice, as this route ascends the mountain too quickly and has a very low summit success rate.

Smiling female hiker with film camera hanging around her neck standing at the Lemosho Gate sign on Kilimanjaro, August 2022

The longer Kili routes have higher summit success rates

We also don't offer the Marangu route at Follow Alice, as on this one route you stay in communal huts. On all of the other routes, you overnight in a tented camp set up by your tour operator. Camping is the more expensive option, but the camps are usually cleaner, and also your group has its own space which helps to foster a more intimate and fun atmosphere.

If you want to find the best Kilimanjaro tour operators, you must consider the overall safety and quality of the experience on offer.

6. Determine the level of service offered

The best Kilimanjaro tour operators also offer a better level of service. Some questions to consider in this regard are:

  • What level of help is on offer before the trek to help you prepare?
  • What's the quality of the food that will be served?
  • What's the quality of the camping equipment provided?
  • How experienced are the mountain crew?
  • What's the guide-to-client ratio?

On this last point, it's important that there be enough guides for your group size. We say this not just from a safety point of view, but also in terms of your overall success and enjoyment on the climb: guides are there to monitor your health, encourage you, answer your questions, and even literally hold your hand if that's what the moment requires.

Mihaly and guide close up Kilimanjaro

Your Kilimanjaro guide often becomes your best buddy during your trek

At Follow Alice, we have a guide-to-client ratio of about 1:2. So if you're a group of eight climbers, there will be four guides.

It's important that there are always enough guides to keep an eye on everyone, even if a group becomes splintered on the trail owing to differing fitness levels or some other factor.

Guides are also often a critical factor in climbers making it to Uhuru Peak. In fact, many past climbers have stated emphatically that they wouldn't have made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro without their guides' invaluable encouragement and assistance.

7. Check on its safety measures and equipment

A major differentiating factor between Kilimanjaro tour operators is how seriously they take your safety. Please research a potential operator's safety measures and protocols. Some questions to guide you here are:

  • What first aid training do the guides have?
  • What health checks are standard on each climb?
  • What first aid equipment is carried on the trek?
  • What are the evacuation protocols should something go wrong?

Any reputable tour operator will be happy to provide answers to these questions, and should even have detailed online descriptions of the same. (If you'd like to know about Follow Alice's safety measures, please read How we keep you safe on Kilimanjaro.)

8. Research its approach to trekking sustainability

Every year, tens of thousands of people climb Kilimanjaro. While they're spread out over different routes, that's still a LOT of people to be on one mountain! Think of the countless footfalls, the many tents being erected, the rubbish (trash) created, the number of times people have to relieve themselves ...

Unless tour operators and climbers trek and camp in sustainable ways, the beauty and ecosystems of Kilimanjaro won't maintain their integrity for long. (Leave No Trace has an important set of principles you can read to learn how to be a responsible trekker.)

With this mind, we encourage you to find out if the Kilimanjaro tour operators you're considering have a decent approach to sustainable trekking (or any approach to it at all!).

Kilimanjaro mountain crew group photo with FA flag

Some of our crew after joining a voluntary multiday Kilimanjaro cleanup

9. Investigate its website

Finding the best Kilimanjaro tour operators does take a little work (unless, perhaps, you have a solid recommendation from someone you really trust). One good way to suss out a company is to browse their website and social media platforms.

In terms of the website, does it look like a fly-by-night operation? Or has it been around for a while? Is there helpful information readily available โ€“ like route maps, blog posts and videos โ€“ to help you prepare?

You might also like to see if the tour operator has a social media presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Such accounts not only suggest a legitimate operation, but they can also give you a great feel for the company's ethos and vibe.

10. Pose the company a question

We recommend reaching out to any Kilimanjaro tour operator you're seriously considering using to evaluate the responsiveness and helpfulness of its staff. That said, sales teams aren't always the most reliable litmus test for overall company quality. So if you really want to screen a company, perhaps ask a specific question that requires a detailed or insightful answer?

If you really want to go the extra mile, you might look at how the company responds to other people's queries and comments on their social media sites.

 

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11. Check out online reviews

Our final recommendation is that you read some online reviews for the tour operators you're considering.

While the reviews on a company's own website have some value, please be sure to take a look at independent review sites like Google Reviews, TrustPilot and TripAdvisor. No independent online reviews? This should give you pause, unless they're being upfront that you'd be on the guinea-pig trip!

Well that's our list of 11 ways to find the best Kilimanjaro tour operators. We hope it's been helpful.

Extra thought: Does the operator offer add-on trips?

We've found over the years that many Kilimanjaro clients like to add a safari or Zanzibar visit before or after their trek. Since most Kilimanjaro climbers have to travel to the region from outside of East Africa, it makes sense to see a little more of this beautiful part of the world while in the area!

With this in mind, you might like to check if your proposed Kilimanjaro tour operator offers other activities in the region so that you can have them organise one or two of those for you too.

You enjoy a more seamless experience when it's just one tour operator taking you on the different parts of your Tanzania or East Africa adventure.

African Elephant Loxodonta africana foraging between yellow flowers, Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Kilimanjaro is a stone's throw from some of Africa's best safari parks

If you decide to climb Kilimanjaro with Follow Alice, here are some of the other exciting adventures we could organise for you in East Africa:

Let us know if any or all of these appeal to you, and we can start chatting!