How to choose your Kilimanjaro Climbing Company

Before I begin, it should be noted that in this article we are really talking about trekking companies in Tanzania. If you decide to book with their overseas agent (ie one based in your home country in North America, Europe, Australia etc), then you’ll probably still end up climbing with a Tanzanian company. You’ll just paid almost double for the privilege. This is because you will be paying that oversea’s agent’s commission too.

Furthermore, the commission each trekking operator charges varies wildly. As a result, the price of the trek is not always an accurate indicator of the quality of the service provided. I know of several overseas agents who charge an absolute fortune for their treks. Which would be OK, except that they actually use a pretty unexceptional (and in some cases, poor) Tanzanian company to actually run the trek for them. 

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For a more in-depth discussion on this, please visit our page on booking with an overseas agent versus booking directly with a Tanzanian company.

There is one more thing I should say. I realise it’s a controversial thing to say, too. But I’ll say it anyway. In my opinion, an expensive trek does not dramatically improve your chances of getting to the summit.. The route you take, the duration of your trek, how well you eat, drink and sleep on Kili… These are all more important than the company you choose.

So don’t think that by paying more for your Kilimanjaro climbing operator you are automatically improving your chances of getting to the summit.

I can hear the murmurs of discontent already. If that was true, then why do many companies go to such great lengths to advertise their success rates?

Well, the main reason they do so is because they recognise that getting to the summit is the one thing people care about more than anything else.

So by publishing their success rates for getting people to the summit, they are telling people what they want to hear. But you should be wary. Because:

a) There is nothing to stop these companies from baldly lying. I am not saying that any of them are. But they could do, because nobody can verify any of their claims.

b) In reality, none of them have really discovered a secret recipe for getting people to the summit.

Which does of course lead to another question.

If their success rates are true, then surely this does show that they have the secret recipe for getting people to the top?

Well, let me just say this: I have not encountered one company in my two decades of working on the mountain that has found a magical formula. Instead, all they are doing is obeying the usual maxims:

  • Taking a route that allows for acclimatisation
  • Spending seven days or more on the mountain,
  • Eating well
  • Drinking plenty
  • Sleeping well;
  • and possibly taking Diamox or some other wonder-drug.

What about having oxygen to get you to the top?

I have encountered only one Kilimanjaro trekking company that has employed a tactic in addition to the above that may have significantly improved people’s chances of getting to the summit. One Western agency offers their trekkers the chance, for a fee, to take supplemental oxygen. This is distributed via a cannula inserted into their nose while they ascend. This I believe will improve one’s chances of getting to the top.

But most trekkers will be put off by the downsides of such an approach. There’s the extra cost for one thing. And the discomfort of having this cannula fitted. Not to mention the fact you’ll look a bit silly.

Plus, of course, there’s the nagging doubt in the back of your mind that you’re somehow cheating, particularly when no-one else on the mountain is doing this. For this reason, most people decide against it.

I know. You’ve now got another question: If we assume the success rates published by many companies are true, then…

Why is it that the more expensive Kilimanjaro climbing companies tend to have higher success rates?

Well I think there are two strands to my response here:

i) Expensive companies are more reliable

Firstly, it is true that the more expensive companies are likely to be more experienced. This means they should be better organised, and have more money behind them. And as a result of this, they are less likely to make mistakes. Mistakes that could jeopardise your chances of getting to the summit.

For example, by not supplying your trek with enough food, or by using old and broken equipment) that would jeopardise your trek. And if they do mess up, then they have the financial wherewithal and organisational skills to sort it out (eg by sending a team of porters up to resupply your trek with more food or replacement equipment). As a result, they have a higher success rate, simply because they mess up less!

Budget trek = shorter trek = higher failure rate

The other reason why more expensive companies have higher success rates is slightly more subtle. If you’re on a budget and want a cheap trek, then the chances are you’re going to want a shorter trek too (ie one of just 5-6 days). As a result, the cheaper companies tend to run more shorter treks – and thus have a lower success rate. Simple.

So  if you can’t pay more to improve your chances of getting to the top, why bother paying more at all? Well, I think the main reason you pay more for your trek is to have a better time, to enjoy your experience more, and to be in safer hands if something goes wrong.

And yes, by paying more to trek with a better company you minimise the risk of them messing up somehow, and causing something to go wrong that could jeopardise your trek.

Once you’ve chosen your budget – the next step

Perhaps the first thing you should look at is our Kilimanjaro Countdown,. This will lead you through the booking process step-by-step. If you know your budget but don’t know what company to choose within that budget, then drop us a line.  Or you can buy the book, which has a rundown of all the main operators and agencies working on Kili.

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