How to make your trek cheaper – and how not to…
Kilimanjaro is an expensive mountain to climb. But there are several ways in which you can make it cheaper. We’re not talking about saving a four-figure sum – though with a bit of luck and effort and by following the guidelines listed here, you could save yourself a three-figure one:
Bring your friends Simply put, the larger your group, the lower the per person price – so try to persuade your friends and family to come along too (first insisting, of course, that they all individually buy a copy of this book; and maybe even two each, just to be safe.)
Join a group If you’re travelling by yourself or with just one or two friends, look to join a public trek; most of the big companies organise these and you’ll save yourself a fair bit of cash by opting to join an open, group trek rather than booking a private one.
Decide what ‘luxuries’ you don’t need Don’t require a private toilet on Kili? Or a mess tent? Or chairs? Then ask if your company if they can leave them behind. It could save you a few dollars.
Book your trek in Tanzania It is possible to just turn up at the airport, get a taxi to Moshi or Arusha (US$50), and begin negotiating with the companies there; see the Booking your trek after you’ve arrived in Tanzania page for more details. Obviously you can do this only if you have the time to wander around Moshi or Arusha and haggle with the trekking companies, but we find that by dealing with them face-to-face you can save a little off the price of your trek.
Volunteer with a Tanzanian charity Trekking companies in Moshi often offer a discount for volunteers who are based in Moshi.
Travel outside of the high season You won’t save much on the mountain by doing this – we know of only one company that varies its prices according to season – but you may well save several hundred dollars by flying outside of the busiest months. I very recently booked a flight from Heathrow to Kilimanjaro with Kenyan Airways for just over £300 – the lowest I’ve ever paid. The flights were for March – which I suppose could be described as a shoulder season, just before the rainy/low season of April and May. That same flight in August is usually at least double that. Many hotels in Tanzania also reduce their prices in the quieter months.
Choose your airline carefully There’s a wide variation in airfares and it pays to shop around. Some airlines, such as Ethiopian, charge less because the route they take is lengthy and inconvenient. Others, such as Turkish Airlines, charge less because they touch down at Kilimanjaro Airport at some godforsaken hour in the morning, which means you may have to pay for an extra night’s accommodation – thus reducing any money you’ve saved by flying with them. But Kenyan Airways are usually both cheap and pretty direct, and we’ve always found their service to be good too. If you fly with an airline such as Turkish, KLM, Qatar or Ethiopian, look to see if they’ll include a free stopover at their hub cities (ie Istanbul, Amsterdam, Doha or Addis Ababa respectively). It won’t save you any money, but it will at least make the airfare feel like better value, allowing you to enjoy two holidays in one!
Haggle Again, this is easier if you are booking for a large group as your bargaining position is so much stronger (because the companies will be even more desperate for your custom). Don’t be shy but don’t be too aggressive either, as this just creates a bad feeling and any money you save may come out of the wages of the mountain crew.
Be aware of any discounts on the park fees that you are due Under 16 years old? East African citizen? Tanzanian resident? Then you’re entitled to a significant discount on your park fees and there’s no reason why this discount shouldn’t be passed onto you in full by your trekking company. Unfortunately, many of them don’t, so make sure you know what you’re entitled to and don’t accept anything less than the full discount.
Book your safari with the same company Many trekking companies run first-rate safaris as well and offer a ‘climbers’ discount’ if you book both with them. See p000 and table p000 for which companies we found were passing on the ‘child discount’ in full.
Look at charity climbs Some trekking agencies, particularly in the UK, specialise in offering ‘charity climbs’, where the price of a trek is lower if you manage to collect a certain amount in sponsorship for a charity. How do these companies manage to offer such a low price for their treks? Because some of the sponsorship money you collect goes not to the charity but to the trekking company who invoices them. We personally think it’s better to just arrange the trek yourself and then organise your charity fundraising separately. The whole process is more transparent this way and you can then climb with whatever trekking company you want. But while we aren’t at all convinced by these charity climb companies, we suppose it is another way of lowering the price you pay.
How not to save money
There are, of course, other ways in which you can make it cheaper but which we don’t recommend. The following, we think, are not sensible ways of lowering your costs – because by reducing the amount you pay, you may also be reducing your chances of reaching the summit and/or your enjoyment of climbing Africa’s highest mountain:
Don’t carry your own luggage There are companies that allow trekkers the opportunity of doing this and the trek is slightly cheaper as a result. But the saving is small – essentially it will be equivalent to the wages that would be paid to that porter, which is only US$10 per day even if he is paid the minimum set by the park authorities (a minimum that many companies ignore). Furthermore, in our experience those that carry their own luggage on the mountain tend to succumb to altitude sickness more than those who don’t.
Don’t take fewer days than you can afford Sure, if your budget allows you to climb for only six days, then take a six-day climb. But don’t opt for a six-day climb if you can actually afford seven; and unless you absolutely have to, don’t opt for a five-day trek at all unless you’ve acclimatised somewhere else beforehand, which we think is insufficient for allowing your body to get used to the rarified air.
Don’t base your choice of company purely on the prices they charge Companies that charge more for their treks usually do so for a reason: because their equipment is better, their crew more knowledgeable and helpful, their food tastier and healthier, their portions bigger, and their all-round service superior. Sure, there are some that do over-charge, and some who are great value – and in thbook we try to sift through to point out which companies fall into which category; so read the specifications of every company carefully to find out what they offer and why they charge what they do.
Don’t scrimp on the tips you give to your crew Come on, where’s your dignity??