This is a great debate for many independent travelers coming to Tanzania. Should you choose to go with a local budget operator and pay less? Or, should you choose to climb with a Western-based operator and pay more?
Most backpackers coming through Tanzania try to save every penny and tend to shop around for the cheapest possible climb up the mountain. The question is, “Is it a good choice?”
Here are some things to consider:
A typical climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro should run anywhere between $700 to $2000 per person, depending upon which type of company you choose. Some local companies will say they charge less and some high-end Western based companies will charge more.
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The reason is Kilimanjaro is so expensive is due to a number of factors. First, and probably the most important, the government parks fees PER PERSON are around $450 dollars. That means, if a budget tour operator approaches you in Arusha or Moshi and said that you can climb Kilimanjaro for $600, they are actually only using $150 in operating costs. That means, the operator is going to pay the guide, the porters, buy your food, and make a profit off $150. That’s downright impossible, unless there are other “fees” that you don’t know of, or your safety, food, equipment and services will be compromised, which is usually the case.
Second, if you are climbing one of the highest mountains in the world for five to eight days, you generally would like a qualified guide, one that speaks good English, has some good mountain training and is knowledgeable about the entire mountain. The cheaper you pay for the trip, the higher chance you have of not having a good guide.
Third, it’s nice to have good food on the mountain, not just rice and beans. If you go with a budget operator, there is chance you can be eating toast, eggs, and other heavy starchy food for much of the trip.
Fourth, and this is what many people fail to research, is your equipment. Equipment is normally included in your climb — tents, sleeping pads, water filters, etc. If you pay for a budget price, you might be sleeping in old crappy non mountain style tent, with rips, holes and zippers that don’t work. You probably won’t have a sleeping pad, let alone a chair to sit on at dinner. Since you will be climbing with other groups, you will see that the bigger group that have the full amenities. Ask to see the equipment before the climb.
Fifth, your guide and more importantly, your porters, will be paid sub-standard wages. Many of the porters will actually only be making maybe a few dollars per day, hoping they will get a good tip from you at the end.
These are all reason to not only research your trip, ask good questions, and not go with the first cheap operator you find. Climbing one of the highest mountains in the world should be taken seriously and the extra things will considerably make your experience that much better.