Should I book my Kilimanjaro climb directly with the Tanzanian operator or through an agent in my country?
This all depends on what the foreign agencies are adding to the package provided by the local ground operator. In many cases they may be adding nothing at all, except perhaps the reassurance that comes from dealing with an agency that you may already know and one that is based in your home country. It may also be easier for you to get compensation from them should something go wrong, and their insurance is likely to be more comprehensive should something go seriously wrong on the mountain.
Occasionally, some agencies send a North American or European tour leader to work alongside the local guide on each trek, which some people like and are reassured by; we have provided a list of the agencies we know that do this in the book. But even assuming they don’t, your agency will hopefully have done its homework and checked out the ground operators thoroughly, and flown to Moshi or Arusha to compare a few of them, thus providing you with peace of mind that the Tanzanian agency you’ll be climbing with isn’t totally terrible.
Another advantage, with UK agencies at least, is that they are required to provide a bond or to join an institution called ABTA which basically means that, should they fall into financial trouble, their clients’ money is safe and will be refunded; 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, even if it’s the only one they get that day.
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) and removing any fee that he has added to the basic trek cost. You’ll also be dealing directly with those who are actually organising the trek, and who have a lot of experience on the mountain – rather than somebody who has never climbed Kilimanjaro, indeed may never been within 5000 miles of the mountain, and when answering your emails must resort to spouting something they were taught at a workshop when training for their job (a role for which they’ve probably been given the ludicrously inaccurate title of ‘trekking expert’, ‘Kilimanjaro specialist’ or some other such nonsense).
And while it may be true that the response of the foreign agent will usually be more prompt, you’ll get a more precise reply from a Tanzanian agent who will probably know first-hand how difficult the third day on the Rongai Route is, for example, or how likely it is to rain in September on the Lemosho Route, or what kind of menu you can expect as a vegetarian. Furthermore, many of the agencies actually have a ‘Westerner’ as one of the owners or managers, and often they’ll be the person who answers the emails – so their response to your enquiry may not be that tardy after all, 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 (see p000 and p000) now has online-booking services and while it may seem a bit scary sending a four-figure sum to people in East Africa whom you’ve never met, 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 in this book or by friends, there’s no reason why it should 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. Before you do commit to anything, however, do visit our website and drop us a line at email@example.com to make sure that 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, do check out the KPAP website (: www.kiliporters.org) for the latest list and write to Karen Valenti (: firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out how well your company is treating its porters.
Before we look in more detail at the Tanzanian agencies, what they offer, and which one could be right for you, let us look at what you can expect to be included in the price of a Kilimanjaro trek – and what isn’t…