The Kilimanjaro trekking companies – which one should you choose?
Before I begin, it should be noted that in this article we are really talking about Tanzanian companies; if you decide to book with their overseas agent (ie one based in your home country in North America, Europe, Asia or Australia/New Zealand), then you’ll pay probably double the price charged by the ground operator at least, as you will be paying that agent’s commission too. Furthermore, because the amount of commission each agency charges varies wildly, I think it’s fair to say that if you are booking with an overseas agent 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 but actually use a pretty unexceptional (and in some cases, poor) Tanzanian company to actually run the trek for them.
For a more in-depth discussion on this, please visit our booking with an overseas agent versus booking directly with a Tanzanian company page.
There is one more thing I should say and I realise it’s a controversial thing to say too – but I’ll say it anyway: in my opinion, your chances of reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro are influenced far more by the route you take, the number of days you choose to spend on the mountain, whether you take Diamox, drink and eat plenty and sheer good fortune (ie, are you good at acclimatising, or not!) than they are by the company you choose. So don’t think that by paying more 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 the ‘better companies’ go to such great lengths to advertise their success rates for getting people to the summit, with many boasting of rates near the 100% mark for certain routes? Well, for one thing, there is nothing to stop these companies from baldly lying because nobody can verify any of these claims. Secondly, the reason they do so is not because they think they have really discovered the secret recipe for getting people to the summit; it’s because they know that this is the one thing most people care about more than anything else: getting to the summit. So by publishing their success rates for getting people to the summit, they are telling people what they want to hear.
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 17 years of working on the mountain that has truly found a magical formula for getting people to the summit, beyond obeying the usual maxims of taking a longer route, spending seven days or more on the mountain, eating well, sleeping well and possibly taking Diamox or some other wonder-drug. I have encountered only one company that has employed a tactic in addition to the above that has significantly improved people’s chances of getting to the summit – one Western agency has for the past few years offered their trekkers the chance, for a fee, to take supplemental oxygen via a cannula inserted (I believe) into their nose while ascending. And yes, this will improve your chances still further of getting to the top. But most trekkers will consider the downsides of such an approach – the extra cost, the discomfort of having this cannula fitted, the fact you’ll look a bit of a pratt, and 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 – and decide against it.
I know, you’ve got another question: If we assume the success rates published by many companies are true, then why is it that the more expensive companies tend to have higher success rates? Well I think there are two strands to my response here. Firstly, it is true that the more expensive companies are likely to be more experienced, and thus better organised, and have more money behind them. And as a result of this, they are less likely to make a mistake (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, because they mess up less.
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 to take a shorter trek too (ie one of just five or six days). As a result, the cheaper companies tend to run more shorter treks – and thus have a lower success rate. Simple.
In conclusion, in my experience if you take a longer route and spend seven days or more on the mountain, choose a route such as Rongai, Lemosho or Machame that have high success rates, eat well and get plenty of rest on the mountain, then your chances of getting to the top will be much the same whether you go with a budget company or an expensive one.
So why, then, if you can’t pay more to improve your chances of getting to the top, should you bother paying more at all? Well, I believe that 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, which 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, or aren’t sure which route to take, then drop us a line and we’ll be happy to help with any enquiry you may have. Or you can buy the book, which has a rundown of all the main operators and agencies working on Kili as well as pretty much everything else that you’ll need to know to make your trip a happy and successful one.