Let us guess – you are intrigued by Mount Kilimanjaro, but you are not sure whether you could actually climb it? Perhaps you are worried that you might be too old, too unfit, too overweight, or whether the organizational effort is too difficult? Then keep reading, because we have good news for you!
We believe there are two main reasons for Kilimanjaro’s popularity. Firstly, of course, because it is the tallest mountain that doesn’t require any technical climbing skills in order to summit safely. Who wouldn’t feel proud to be able to say they have climbed to the roof of Africa and summited the highest free-standing mountain in the world? Secondly, however, there is a much more practical reason that is often under-reported in all the heroic climbing stories: Kilimanjaro outfitters take care of all the organization and heavy lifting on Kilimanjaro. For the vast majority of us, Kilimanjaro is not a self-supported trekking experience, but a luxury outdoors camping experience where – other than walking, eating and sleeping – almost everything is taken care of by specialized tour operators.
This is not to discredit the efforts made by Kilimanjaro climbers. It still requires a fair bit of preparatory work and stamina; and certainly a lot of heroic achievements have indeed been accomplished. However, if you look to some of these most outstanding feats, such as Kyle Maynard, the first quadruple amputee to ascend Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics, or Angela Vorobeva, the oldest woman to climb Mt Kilimanjaro at the age of 86 years, they will certainly give you inspiration that Kilimanjaro is for all of us.
Of course those extraordinary climbers haven’t been carrying their own gear and supplies, pitching their own tents or cooking their own food, and neither would the vast majority of Kilimanjaro hikers. Our summit success is made possible by Kilimanjaro guide companies that are full-fledged tour outfitters. These all-in trip operators offer a great variety of choices of tour packages. From low-cost no-frills guide companies to luxury five-star outfitters, almost all needs and requirements can be catered for. Experienced mountaineers still have the option to organize a self-supported independent hike as further explained below, but this need not be of concern to everyone else. Let us look at both options:
1. Package tour with a tour operator
Most Mt Kilimanjaro hikers take advantage of all-in package tours. This is due to a number of compelling advantages provided by tour operators:
Advice: Tour operators give lots of advice to their clients prior to the actual mountain climbing experience. They recommend appropriate gear for the mountain and inform their clients what to expect of their health and well being during the experience.
Planning: A tour operator also acts as the outfitter of the actual mountain climbing experience, either directly or by sub-contracting with a local partner company. They will do all the planning for you, including travel arrangements to the climbing points, choosing appropriate paths, and – often optionally – also arrange for airport transfer and additional hotel nights prior to the start of your hike.
Outfitter: As outfitters, they will also provide your tents and other equipment. More importantly, they will organize and provide you with a complete mountain crew, including choosing the most suitable tour guides, arranging porters, and even providing a cook.
Safety: Kilimanjaro can be life-threatening for those who ascend too quickly, get lost in bad weather, or have an accident that prevents them from walking any further. Experienced and well-trained guides of good operators not only help us optimize our chances of reaching the summit, but most of all make sure that we also come back down safely.
Heavy lifting: The porters will do all the heavy lifting for you. They will carry your equipment and personal gear, they will pitch your tent and fetch your water. The cook and his assistants will prepare your food, and often serve it to you while you relax at your dining table.
It is this last aspect of carrying all the heavy loads, pitching tents and cooking food, that would otherwise put Mt Kilimanjaro out of reach for all but the most experienced and fittest hikers. With those services and all the hard work done by the porters of Kilimanjaro, however, all that’s left to us is to walk. As long as you can walk, the summit is within your reach.
Private tours or group tours
Tour operators offer private tours as well as group tours, either of which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Private tours have the advantage of the climber choosing the time he or she wants to go based on their schedules. Moreover, a climber can request for more specific services based on their objectives. They can walk at their own pace, or even alter the route as they go along. On the downside, private climbing tours are somewhat more expensive as the costs cannot be spread amongst the group. More importantly, private tours lack the aspect of group motivation and the bonding experience with other climbers which is often described as one of the highlights by those hiking in a group. But for those looking for a truly meditative experience alone, private tours are the way to go.
Group tours, on the other hand, have the advantage of having people around you whom you can socialize with and encourage each other along the way. There are lots of group tours on offer by different operators for different routes and at different times throughout the year. So with some planning ahead – in any case recommendable for Kilimanjaro – climbers will most likely be able to find a group tour that matches their schedule and requirements. On the downside, groups may also slow one down since some mountain climbers may become a burden when the climbing becomes tough. Or, if you are the one suffering, you may not appreciate others constantly walking ahead. There also is the risk of annoying one another when the excitement and thrill of those adjusting well to the altitude is not shared by those suffering from altitude sickness.
Which option suits you best also depends on whether you already have a group of friends that will join you. Those who cannot motivate others to come along tend to join group tours, while groups of friends hiking together tend to organize their own private tour.
So in conclusion, climbing trips to Mt Kilimanjaro need not to be a headache as various package tours tailored to specific needs are available. The only real challenge is to identify the best Kilimanjaro tour operators and choose a Kilimanjaro tour package that best matches your specific needs.
2. Independent tour with a guide
There will always be those extraordinary climbers who are so confident of their level of fitness and expertise that they don’t see the point of paying others for what they can take care of themselves. Or they seek the thrill and challenge of a fully self-supported experience. Technically speaking, totally independent climbing is not possible on Kilimanjaro because by regulations everyone entering the Kilimanjaro National Park needs to be accompanied by a locally registered Mount Kilimanjaro guide at all times. However, Mt Kilimanjaro guides can be hired fairly cheaply, and their experience will come in handy to locate water sources, interpret weather changes, or find the right route.
If your goal is to be able to say that you did everything on your own without the help of any porters, just bear in mind that there are no water sources in the so-called Alpine Desert zone and further up (i.e. for your last almost 2,000m/6,000ft of altitude gain). That means you will have to carry a lot of water up to base camp in order to stay sufficiently hydrated for your summit hike. For the most experienced and fittest of all climbers, this challenge may add another thrill to your experience. We would love to know how many people accomplish such a truly self-supported climb. If you are one of them, please leave a comment below, and let us celebrate your achievement.