Another advantage, with UK and EU agencies at least, is that they are required to protect their clients’ money. This means that, should your company go bankrupt, your money is safe and will be eventually refunded back to you. Other countries may have similar schemes.
What’s more, the chances are that the English spoken by the agent in your country will be superior to that of the Tanzanian operator, for whom English will be his or her third language (after Swahili and their tribal tongue).
Your agent’s response may also be more prompt. The Tanzanians can be notoriously slack at replying to an enquiry.
And then there’s the payment. It always feels a lot less, well, scary, sending payment to someone in your home country, rather than transferring thousands of dollars to some bloke in deepest, darkest Africa whom you’ve never even met. And if you pay by credit card, well then the banking system in Tanzania currently charges somewhere between 3-5% for this – which can easily amount to several hundred dollars in total; pay by credit card with your agent at home and the charges, if they exist at all, are unlikely to be anything like as large.
Booking with a Tanzanian operator
Looking at the other side of the argument, it will nearly always be cheaper to book directly with a Tanzanian agency. By doing so, you’ll be cutting out the middleman – ie the agency in your country. In other words, book directly and you’ll remove any commission that the foreign agency has added.
You’ll also be dealing directly with those who are actually organising the trek. The person who replies may have a lot of experience on the mountain.
This will be much better than talking to someone who has never climbed Kilimanjaro. Someone, in fact, who may never have been within 5000 miles of the mountain. And someone who, when answering your emails, must resort to spouting something they were taught on a course, rather than through experience. Someone who, despite their ignorance and unsuitability for the role, has probably been given the ludicrously inaccurate title of ‘trekking expert’ or ‘Kilimanjaro specialist’.
Contact one of the big foreign agencies and you’ll see what I mean.
Speak directly with the people who have first-hand experience of the mountain
It’s true that the response of the foreign agent will probably be more prompt. But you’ll get a more precise reply from a Tanzanian agent. After all, they will probably know, first-hand, what, for example, the weather is like in May on the Rongai Route. Or whether you need gaiters on the Lemosho Route. Or what kind of menu you can expect as a vegetarian. Or how busy Barranco Camp will be in October.
Furthermore, some of the local agencies actually have a ‘Westerner’ managing them, and they’ll be the person who answers the emails. So their responses may not be that tardy, and may be written in English that’s every bit as good as yours.
Of course, thanks to the internet you don’t even need to wait until you arrive in Tanzania before booking with a local operator. Pretty much every agency in Arusha and Moshi now has online-booking services. I know, it seems a bit scary sending a four-figure sum to people in East Africa whom you’ve never met. But most companies are used to receiving bookings this way and are trustworthy.
What’s more, if you go with an agency that’s been recommended by us or by friends, it shouldn’t be any more risky than if you were booking with an agency in your home country. Indeed, there’s a slim chance that you might even end up joining a group who did book their tour abroad and paid more as a consequence.
And don’t forget to ask us!
You’re welcome to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can tell you if the company you’re interested in is still running and still has a good reputation. Similarly, if you want to book with a KPAP-partner company, visit the KPAP website (: www.kiliporters.org). They’ll have the latest list of partners. You can also write to Karen Valenti (: email@example.com) to find out how well a company is treating its porters.
Let us now look at what you can expect to be included in the price of a Kilimanjaro trek – and what isn’t…
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