Your Crew: Trekking Guides

If portering is the first step on the career ladder of Kilimanjaro, then it is the Kilimanjaro trekking guides who stand proudly on the top rung. Ornithologist, zoologist, botanist, geologist, tracker, astronomer, chef, butler, manager, doctor, linguist and teacher, a good guide will be all of these professions rolled into one. With luck, over the course of the trek they’ll also become your friend.

Assistant guides on Kilimanjaro

The metamorphosis from porter to guide is a lengthy one. Having served one’s apprenticeship by lugging luggage as a porter, a few lucky and ambitious ones are eventually promoted to the position of assistant guides on Kilimanjaro. These gentlemen are probably the hardest working people on the mountain. While they still essentially remain a porter, in that they have to carry their fair share of equipment, they are also expected to perform many of the duties of a fully fledged guide – including, most painfully of all, the escorting of trekkers on that final, excruciating push to the summit.Their reward for all this effort is a slightly higher wage than a porter (Ts54,000-60,000 per six-day trip), a commensurately greater proportion of the tips – and, perhaps most importantly, the knowledge that they have taken that first crucial step towards becoming a guide, when they can leave all this hard graft behind and wallow in the privileges that seniority brings.

Simon Kaaya

Top guide Simon Kaaya and Henry at Uhuru Peak, November 2012

How to become a Kilimanjaro guide

Standing between them and a licence to be a Kilimanjaro guide is a period of intensive training conducted by the park authorities. This mainly involves a two- to three-week tour of the mountain, during which time they cover every designated route up and down Kilimanjaro. On this course they are also taught the essentials of being a guide, including a bit about the fauna and flora of Kili, how to take care of the mountain environment, how to spot the symptoms of altitude sickness in trekkers and, just as importantly, what to do about it.

Training complete, they receive their licences and are free to tout themselves around the agencies looking for work. While a few of the better guides are snapped up by the top agencies and work exclusively for them, the majority are freelance and have to actively seek work in what is already an over-supplied market; at the moment there are about 700 guides working on the mountain. For this reason, guides’ wages are not that stratospheric considering the work they do and the time and effort they’ve put in to qualifying, being about Ts72,000-115,000 for a six-day trip.

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