Tipping on Kili: how to reward your crew

Should you tip porters and guides on Kilimanjaro?

Like a herd of elephants on the African plains, the subject of tipping on Kilimanjaro is a bit of a grey area. What is certain is that, in addition to the cost of booking your trek, you will also need to shell out tips to your crew at the end of it all.

This is a contentious issue. Indeed, the subject of tipping on Kilimanjaro is, perhaps, the one subject that we get more emails and letters about than any other.

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The gratuity system on Kilimanjaro follows the American-style. That is to say, a tip is not so much a bonus to reward particularly attentive service or honest toil, as a mandatory payment to subsidize the poor wages the porter and guides receive.

In other words, tipping is obligatory.

To anybody born outside the Americas this compulsory payment of gratuities seems to go against the very spirit of tipping. Nevertheless, it is very hard to begrudge the guides and porters a decent return for their labours. And depriving your entourage of their much-needed gratuities is not the way to voice your protest against this system.

Porters dancing

Clearly satisfied with the size of their tips, these porters started to dance uncontrollably.

How much money should you give out as tips on Kilimanjaro?

As to the size of the tip you should give on Kilimanjaro, there are no set figures or formulas. But we do urge you to let your conscience instruct you on this matter as much as your wallet.

One method that’s popular is for everybody to contribute 10% of the total cost of their trek towards tips. So if you paid US$2000 for your trek, you should pay US$200 into the tip kitty. (If there are only one or two of you, it would be better to pay slightly more than 10%.)

My problem with this is that those porters who work for expensive companies get more tips. But expensive companies usually pay their staff well anyway. It’s the budget companies where most of the malpractices go on and the staff are underpaid. Still, like I say, that method remains popular and does have some merit.

A couple of popular methods

If you look at the KPAP website, they have some great advice on tipping and I urge you to follow their suggestions. They suggest that a fair return for a porter for their labours is US$15 per day. This includes both their wage and their tips. So all you have to do is find out how much your company pays a porter, and then make it up to US$15 per day in tips.

The only flaw with this approach, of course, is that it’s usually difficult to find out the wages of your crew. You should also note that there are those porters who do more than the others, and are therefore deserving of a higher tip. As KPAP point out, the camp crew, toilet porters, summit porters and medical porters all deserve slightly more than their colleagues. But let’s not over-complicate things now.

Formula two

Another approach we’ve heard about is where each member of the trekking staff receives a set amount. For example, from US$50 to each of the porters to US$100 to the assistant guides, and US$150-200 to the guides. (This is assuming a seven-day trek.) Alternatively, you can opt for a per diem amount such as US$7 per porter per day, US$14 for the assistant guide, US$20 for the guide. These are mere guidelines, and you may wish to alter them if you feel, for example, a certain porter is deserving of more than his normal share, or if your trek was particularly difficult.

Handing out the money

Sorting out how much to give your crew is only part of the problem. You also have to work out when to give it, and how.

The most popular place to hand out the tips is at breakfast on the last morning. Because porters come from the towns and cities all round the mountain, so when they reach the exit gate they all tend to go their separate ways. For this reason, your final camp on Kilimanjaro will be the last time you are together with all of your crew.

Having collected all the money, the usual form is to hand out the individual shares to each porter and guide in turn. The KPAP website provides some great guidance on how best to distribute the tips. But whatever you do, do not hand all your tips to the guide. If you do, there’s a fair chance the guide will trouser most of it for himself.

Go with a decent company and save yourself the bother!

Of course, you could just save yourself a lot of hassle and go with a decent company that takes out the ball-ache of sorting out tips. Because a good company will provide you with an amount to distribute, and instructions on how to distribute it too. They will also have set up a procedure to make everything as easy as possible for you, in order to minimise any worry or concern.

At the risk of sounding like a salesman, I genuinely think the tipping process of the Kilimanjaro Experts can’t be beaten. It’s clear, it’s fair, and it’s proving to be fool-proof. Furthermore, we’ve tried to make it as simple as possible, and to minimise the stress of the climbers. We even collect your tips money from you before you start your trek. We do this, so you’re not carrying hundreds of dollar with you up KIlimanjaro.

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