Booking your trek after you’ve arrived in Tanzania
The overwhelming majority of trekkers book their Kilimanjaro climb before they arrive in Tanzania (either with a foreign agent or online with a local company). This is only sensible – you will have enough on your plate once you get to Tanzania just trying to get to the top of Africa’s highest mountain without having to sort out the whole trek beforehand as well. Booking your trek before you arrive in Tanzania gets rid of the hassle of arranging everything when you arrive. It depends what kind of package you have booked, of course, but few tour companies will sell you a climb up Kilimanjaro and nothing more. Nearly all will include such things as: airport pick-up and drop-off at the start/end of your trip; accommodation in Arusha, Moshi or Marangu for before and after your trek; sightseeing trips; transport to and from the mountain; and maybe even the odd safari or Zanzibar excursion. Pay them some more and maybe they’ll even throw in the flights and insurance and sort out your visas too. With no need to arrange these things yourself, booking from home will save you a considerable amount of time. It also ensures you know exactly when you’ll be walking, rather than having to hang around for a few days as you may have to if you wait until you’ve arrived in Tanzania before organizing your trek. Booking in advance of your arrival in Tanzania also means you can plan your trek more precisely months in advance, and ask your agent any questions you may have well before you even arrive in Tanzania.
However, waiting until you’ve arrived in Tanzania to book your trek has its advantages too. You may be able to get your trek cheaper for a start, as you can negotiate face to face. If you’ve brought dollars in cash then you can avoid the hefty (4-5%) credit card fee or the charge for making a bank transfer. There are other advantages too. If you ask, there should be no reason why you cannot meet the guides and porters before you agree to sign up – and even your fellow trekkers, all of whom have a huge role to play in making your trek an enjoyable one. You can also personally check the tents and camping equipment before booking. Furthermore, the fact that you can book a trek the day before you start (though see the note on p000) gives you greater flexibility, allowing you to alter your plans so that you can pick a day that suits you; whereas when booking with an agency at home you often have to book months in advance, the tour is usually organized to a pretty tight schedule and altering this schedule at a later date maybe difficult or even impossible. Another point: while the money you spend on a trek may not be going to the most destitute and deserving of Tanzania’s population, at least you know that all of it is going to Tanzanians, with little, if any, going into the pockets of a Western company.
How to book your trek after you’ve arrived in Tanzania
The best place to look for an agency is either Arusha (see p000), which has the greatest number of tour and trekking operators, or Moshi (see p000). A third option, Marangu, has few agencies (see p000) and only one that we recommend (though it is a good one). Agencies in Dar es Salaam and other Tanzanian towns are usually nothing more than middlemen for the operators in Moshi, Arusha or Marangu: book a tour with an agency in Dar, for example, and the chances are you’ll still end up on a trek organized by an agency in Moshi or Arusha, only you would have paid more for it. Furthermore, if you book outside of Arusha or Moshi, you have less chance of inspecting the equipment or testing your guide before you set off.
Regarding the difference between Arusha and Moshi: in general the former is the home of the more established and larger safari companies/trekking agencies. However, perhaps due to its location, the Arusha-based companies tend to concentrate just as much on safaris in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Arusha National Park (including climbs up Meru) as they do on treks up Kilimanjaro. Indeed, some just act as middlemen for one of the agencies in Moshi and don’t actually arrange Kili treks themselves. Moshi, on the other hand, is a smaller place and one where the agencies tend to focus more on climbing Kilimanjaro than on safaris. It would also be fair to say that the Moshi-based companies tend to be a little cheaper than those in Arusha, and most budget operators have their offices in Moshi. What’s more, Moshi is a more convenient place to shop for a trek, given its smaller size and the fact that many of the agents have offices either in the town centre or within walking distance of it. Moshi also has the two biggest and best equipment rental stores for those who need to hire something for their trek.
Reading the above, therefore, it would seem that you should base yourself in Moshi rather than Arusha if you are in the market for a budget trek. And it’s true that Moshi captures the lion’s share of the Kilimanjaro-trekking business, and some of the trekking companies in this town do a roaring trade. But beware: there is still a fair bit of monkey business going on here too, and you do need to be on your guard against cheetahs.
In the Tanzanian agencies section on p000 we put a capital ‘M’ in bold to denote when an agency is in Moshi – and a capitalised, bold ‘A’ for those based in Arusha. If an agency is in the centre of town and thus easy to visit we give the address, too, and also try to mark them on the town and city maps for each place on p000 (Moshi) and p000 (Arusha). Before booking with any, read the general advice given on pp00-00 about dealing with the trekking companies. Note, too, that often agencies lower their costs by hitting the wages of the crew; please, if you are going to book with one of these agencies, at the very least increase the amount in tips you pay your crew to compensate for their lower pay.
Dealing with a Tanzanian agency
Wherever you decide to shop for your trek, the golden rule when shopping around is: stick to agencies that have a TALA licence for trekking and check that licence thoroughly to ensure it covers trekking. If they don’t have a licence, or the one they show you looks a bit suspect, or is out of date, take your business elsewhere.
Other advice includes:
l Decide what sort of trek you want, what route you wish to take, how long you wish to go for, and with how many people.
l Ask other travellers for their recommendations of a good agency.
l Contact us via our website to find out our latest recommendations.
l Shop around. Don’t sign up with the first agent you talk to but consult other agencies first to compare.
l Read the section on p000 on what should be included in your trek package and learn it off by heart (or take this book with you!) so you know what to ask the agency.
l Ask about the number of people on your trek and the number of porters you’ll be taking.
l Ask if you can see their ‘comments book’. This is a book where previous clients have written their thoughts on the agency. Some agencies will have one (though it’s fair to say in the internet age they are becoming less common, with people often emailing their comments instead; the rule is the same, however: ask to see them!); and if they are any good they will show it to you with little or no prompting. Ask if you can speak with someone who’s climbed with them recently, too – this is often an enormous help.
l If you have any dietary requirements or other special needs, ask them if these will be a problem, if it will cost any more, and how exactly they propose to comply with your requirements. For example, if you are a vegetarian, ask the agent what kind of meals you can expect to receive on the trek.
l Ask to see a print-out of the day-to-day itinerary (though some, admittedly, will not have this, all agencies should be able to describe the trekking routes and their itineraries without any problem); if you’re negotiating with an agency at the upper end of the market, you may even be able to get a preview of the daily menus.
l If you think you’ve found a good company, ask to see the equipment you will be using and make sure the tent is complete, untorn and that all the zips work.
l Check the sleeping arrangements, particularly if you’re not trekking with friends but have joined a group: are you going to have a tent to yourself, or are you going to be sharing with somebody you’ve never met before?
l If you are alone and on a budget, ask if it is possible to be put with a group, which should make things cheaper. (This is normally done automatically anyway; indeed, if you are travelling alone and were quoted a very low price, you can expect to be put with another group.)
Following on from the last point, many of the operators at the budget end often band together to lump all their customers into one large trekking group, thereby making it cheaper for them as certain fixed costs can be shared. So don’t be surprised if, having signed up with one company, you end up being joined by trekkers who booked with another company. Once again, make sure you know about any arrangements like this before you sign anything or hand over any money. And if you want to be on your own, tell them.
Finding that you don’t have your own tent but have to share with a stranger is just one of the potential hazards of booking with a budget company. Or rather, it’s one of the advantages of paying a bit more and going with a company that won’t spring any nasty surprises on you. Sign up with a more expensive company and you should also find that they have better safety procedures and emergency equipment and more knowledgeable guides. So unless money is really tight don’t look for the cheapest company but the best-value one; hopefully our reviews will help you to decide which agencies offer the best deals.