Budgeting For Your Trek

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Budgeting For Your Trek
  • Large group of trekkers and guides in front of their bus by Mweka Gate at the end of their Kilimanjaro climb - they seem to be happy with how much their Kilimanjaro's cost

How much does it cost to climb Kilimanjaro?

The most significant cost of your holiday in Tanzania is the cost of the Kilimanjaro trek itself. The absolute cheapest trek is around US$1000. To get this price, however, you would probably have to travel directly to Tanzania and negotiate with various agencies, look to join a group, and opt for the cheapest route (Marangu, probably) and the shortest number of days (5). As soon as you start looking at a route other than Marangu, opt for more days (highly advisable, or your body probably won’t have enough time to acclimatise), or insist on walking without other trekkers, or go with anything but the cheapest (and thus, probably, worst!) operator – then count on it costing a good deal more. A decent trek, should, to be honest, cost double this – US$2000-3000.

There is one other thing I need to say before we look at what you can get for your money on Kilimanjaro. Don’t think that by paying more you are automatically improving your chances of getting to the summit. What you will be paying for is, probably, a safer trek, one with more experienced guides and better emergency equipment should things go wrong. But it won’t really improve your chances of getting to the summit significantly. It will just improve your chances of getting down off the mountain if you get into trouble up there. We write a lot more about this on our Which company to choose page.

Let’s have a look now at what you can pay for a Kilimanjaro climb – and what you can expect in return:

For those with a budget of less than US$1000 for their Kilimanjaro climb

If you have less than US$1000 for your Kilimanjaro climb, then stay at home – because you won’t find a climb this cheap. You can always come for a day’s walk on the mountain, and you can possibly afford to climb Kili’s diminutive neighbour, Meru, too – and possibly do both! But forget about climbing Kili to the top for this price – it’s very difficult to find a trek for less than US$1000, highly dangerous if you do find one, and the company that offers it will have minimal safety standards, little to no customer service, and will doubtless pay their staff appallingly too.

The cheapest Kilimanjaro climbs (US$1000-1500)

The cheapest way to organise a climb is to just turn up at the airport, get a taxi to Moshi or Arusha, and begin negotiating with the companies there. That said, you need to have confidence in your bargaining skills, and – at the risk of sounding like a salesman! – it’s a good idea to have a copy of our book so you know how to haggle, what to look out for, and what should be in the contract that you sign.

Note that even at this bargain-basement price threshold you should still get your park fees paid for, all meals on the mountain, a porter to carry your bag, a guide to lead you, and transfers to and from Kili at the start/end of the trek (though this last one, particularly the lift back to town at the end of the trek, often does not materialise and you may have to hitch back on a lorry full of porters).

If you book in Moshi then it is still possible, just, to get a trek for US$1000-1200. But this trek will be for just five days, which we really don’t recommend, and with a company that we won’t be able to recommend either. In short, it won’t be possible to guarantee the reliability or honesty of any company charging so little. One thing I will be able to guarantee, however, is that their treatment of porters will be terrible and the wages they pay to their staff measly – no matter what the company claims. If you decide to climb with one of these companies then you could always ease your conscience by dishing out higher tips. But then, of course, that negates any savings you have made by opting for the cheaper company in the first place.

Between US$1200-1500 there’s a slight improvement. But only a slight one. And you can still forget about finding a company that treats its mountain crew – the porters, guides and cooks –  fairly and pays them well. (The cheapest company we found, when researching for the latest edition of the guidebook, that is a partner of KPAP, which is the only guarantee that the company you are climbing with treats its staff well and pays them a fair wage, charges around US$1750 for their budget six-day trek. So presumably you can get a five-day trek for about US$1500 with them. But as we mention throughout this website and indeed in the book as well, we really don’t recommend a five-day trek as it’s simply too dangerous, because it doesn’t allow you enough time to acclimatise safely. See our section on altitude sickness for more information on this.

So if you have have only US$1500 or less for your trek, then our advice is to delay your trip, save up some more money and try another year. Or you can come, but leave your conscience at home; because you won’t find a company that treats its porters/crew well for this price. The only exception to this rule is if you find the cheapest KPAP company, and opt for a five-day trek – having first acclimatised on another mountain.

Budget Kilimanjaro climbs (US$1500-2000)

Between US$1500 and US$2000 you will get a lot more choice and find several companies that are partners with KPAP (ie their is a guarantee that they will treat their staff well) and the quality of the treks start to improve exponentially too. Companies may start to provide private toilets and mess tents, the quality of food certainly improves and the quality of the guides do too. They should also all carry oxygen with them (the one and only bit of emergency equipment that we think is absolutely essential).

So if you’re on a tight budget, this is the price bracket to aim for. You will still probably have to take a six-day trek rather than the preferred 7 or 8 days (remember, the longer the trek, the greater your chance of acclimatising safely and thus reaching the summit), and the food, equipment and service may not be of the highest quality. But it should be good enough, your trek should run reasonably smoothly and successfully, any dietary requirement you may have should be catered for, and whether successful or not, you should return from your climb happy with the experience.

Mid-range Kilimanjaro treks (US$2000-3000)

Between US$2000 and US$3000,  you are right in the mid-range of companies and there are several very good value choices here. Most of the larger Tanzanian companies inhabit this territory, and several have their own hotels now, and maybe even a lodge in one of the national parks; which means that there’s every chance that you’ll be in their care from the moment you pass through customs at the airport to the moment you fly out at the end of your trip.

There’s a lot of competition in this price bracket so some companies try to distinguish themselves by, for example, offering unusual routes, or packages that include a safari or sightseeing tour beforehand. Some companies will be KPAP partners, proving that they treat their porters well and pay a fair wage. Others will have guides who are WFR (Wilderness First Responder) qualified, meaning their first-aid skills should be up to scratch. Many of the companies that are owned in part by Westerners pitch their prices in this bracket (presumably, the treks that cost less than US$2000 simply don’t offer big enough returns for them!). Some people will be comforted by the fact that there is a person ‘like them’ in the company; while other trekkers will go the other way, and insist on a company that is wholly Tanzanian-owned, safe in the knowledge that every penny/cent/euro/shilling of the money they spend on their trek will stay within the country, rather than some of it being siphoned off to the American/European director’s offshore bank.

One thing that definitely improves in this price bracket from those offering treks below US$2000, is that the safety procedures tend to be superior. Often trekkers will be monitored with a pulse oximeter, which measures the oxygen saturation in your blood (a useful, if not definitive, way of telling how well someone is coping with altitude); and they should all have well-rehearsed evacuation procedures too, which they should be able to tell you about comprehensively before you’ve even booked your trek.

Despite all their efforts at standing out from the crowd, usually there can be little to distinguish between the companies in this bracket and you may find yourself choosing the one that answers your emails more promptly, or more comprehensively, or that simply has a trek organised on the dates you want, and on the route you want too.

It’s fair to say that in this price bracket you should be happy with pretty much everything in your trek package. If your transfer from the airport is late, then you should complain; if the food on the mountain is inadequate, or the equipment broken or not fit-for-purpose, or the guides rude, then again, you should complain. Of course, the same should apply for the budget treks of less than US$2000 too – though in this category a certain acceptance that, as long as the company is trying its hardest, not everything will necessarily be perfect, is usually advised for your own mental well-being.

Luxury Kilimanjaro trek operators (US$3000 and above)

By the time you get to this price, things start to get very interesting. Most of the companies in this price bracket will be able to get away with charging this much because they are Kili specialists. Some will have worked on the mountain for decades for example; others will rightly boast of having established new routes on the mountain, or of having highly trained and experienced guides, with several hundred treks under their belt and a WFR (Wilderness First Responder) qualification. Most companies will be KPAP partners, proving that they treat their porters well (and if they’re not then you need to ask some sharp questions to  to get them to explain why they’re not!) One or two companies may also offer such luxuries as inflatable furniture in the mess tents, proper beds set up at each campsite, wifi hotspots on the mountain and smartphone chargers. These may sound gimmicky, and indeed they are, but nevertheless the companies in this price bracket should also be very good at the important stuff too: cooking exceptionally nutritious and tasty food on the mountain, for example; having first-rate safety procedures and equipment; having highly trained guides with excellent English; and boasting a team back at base that is efficient at responding to any questions you may have with highly informative and comprehensive answers.

All this stuff costs, of course – which is why you pay such a premium for their services.

Costs away from the mountain

After your trek, the main costs of your trip will be:
flights, visas, inoculations before you go, food and accommodation (outside of that provided by your trekking agency, of course), and any other activities that you plan to do before/after the trek such as going on safari or visiting Zanzibar.

Away from the mountain and the other national parks, by far the most expensive place in Tanzania is Zanzibar. Elsewhere, you’ll find transport, food and accommodation, the big three day-to-day expenses of the traveller’s life, are pretty cheap in Tanzania and particularly in Moshi and Arusha:

Accommodation in Tanzania

Basic tourist accommodation in Tanzania starts at around £5/US$7.50. You can get cheaper, non-tourist accommodation, though this is often both sleazy and unhygienic and should only be considered as a last resort. We have not reviewed these cheap hotels individually in the book, but we do give some indication of where they can be found in the introduction to the accommodation sections in the city chapters. At the other end of the spectrum, there are hotel rooms and luxury safari camps going for anything over US$2000 per night in the high season.

Food in Tanzania

Food in Tanzania can be dirt cheap if you stick to street sellers plying their wares at all hours of the day – though dirt is often what you get on the food itself too, with hygiene standards not always of the highest. Still, even in a clean and decent budget restaurant the bill should still start at only £3/US$4.80.

Public transport in Tanzania

Public transport is cheap in Tanzania, though it could be said you get what you pay for: dilapidated buses, potholed roads, inadequate seating and narcoleptic drivers do not a pleasant journey make, but this is the reality of public transport, Tanzanian-style. Then again, at around £1/US$1.60 per hour for local buses and dalla-dallas (the local minibuses), it seems churlish to complain. That said, given the appalling number of accidents on Tanzanian roads (they say that after malaria and AIDS, road accidents are the biggest killer in the country), if your budget can stretch to it do consider spending it on transport: extra safety and comfort are available on the luxury buses, and at only a slightly higher price.

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.

Once on the mountain, however, you won’t need to pay for anything else throughout the trek (though don’t forget tipping!!!).

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