Many people look for a cheap Kilimanjaro climb. But if you have done some research, then you have already found that this is not possible. And you probably have also discovered that there are a wide range of prices charged for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro by different outfitters. There are more than 200 licensed operators on Mount Kilimanjaro. The choices may be overwhelming. The bad news is that there are not many reputable operators, so who you choose to climb with is crucial to your success and overall experience. However, if you disregarded the questionable companies, you'd be left with only a couple dozen or so quality Kilimanjaro operators.
First and foremost, do not make your decision based on price alone. Price should be only one component of your overall decision. High altitude trekking is not the place to shop for a cheap "deal", nor is it the place to overpay needlessly. What you are looking for is high quality service at a reasonable price.
There are minimum expenses every Kilimanjaro operator faces, such as park fees, staff wages, food, equipment, transportation and other logistical costs. Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA) entrance and camping/hut fees by far make up the biggest expense, costing over $130 per climber per day. The other significant expenses are staff wages, food, and transportation costs. Local wages amount to around $40-$80 per climber per day (depending on group size). Food costs come out to about $10-$20 per climber per day (includes food for staff). Transportation costs are about $100 per trip depending on the route. There are also costs associated with wear and tear on camping equipment and administrative costs for arranging your climb. By adding up all the daily costs listed here, you can estimate what it may cost to fund a Kilimanjaro climb on your own. So instead of asking how we can be priced so low, you should be asking how those other companies can be priced so high?
Do not assume that a high cost operator is providing a superior climb for the money.
Do not assume high priced operators are better simply because they charge more. These operators pitch extraordinarily high success rates, greater safety standards and added luxury... and then they take advantage of you by charging exorbitant fees. Do not be misled. It is mind boggling that some operators will charge $4,000, $5,000, even more than $6,000 per person for large parties on standard itineraries. It does not cost that much to climb Kilimanjaro! There is absolutely zero justification for these kinds of prices and the premium you pay does not translate into a better experience. It goes directly to the luxury operator's bank account.
The high priced operators are typically international companies, some of whom use foreign guides. But ask yourself, who knows the mountain better? A foreign guide, flown in for a few climbs per year, or a local guide, who has encountered and handled various situations, with hundreds of clients, during his many years of climbing? Who can better tell you about the trail, the wildlife, the fauna, and culture? The luxuries provided by these operators can be silly. A full size sleeping cot - on a mountain expedition? A portable shower - at these low temperatures? Bottled water on the entire trek - instead of collecting water from nearby streams?
The high priced operators heavily market the added safety of using pulse oximeters, oxygen and Gamow bags. But tests show that pulse oximeters are unreliable in the detection of altitude sickness (we use pulse oximeters only as a secondary measure to monitor climbers). Some "safe" operators supply "personal oxygen systems" such as Altox to boost climbers, so they can climb higher - a truly dangerous practice. Nobody actually believes this is a good idea yet it does not stop some companies from pitching this to their clients (we carry oxygen for use only in rescue situations, as a complement to descent). And the use of Gamow bags on the mountain is unheard of, because descent is the best, and always available, remedy. Nonetheless, there are those who are more comfortable paying inflated prices to climb Kilimanjaro. We provide the same safety measures, or better, but you don't have to pay thousands more to have them!
Avoid the cheap, low budget operators; they are downright dangerous.
Local Tanzanian companies are primarily made up of low budget operators. Because these are often unestablished, desperate, poorly run companies, they use low prices as their only way to attract clients. Their practice of undercutting each other has resulted in dangerous situations on the mountain. By reducing prices too far, there is simply no way for these operators to provide satisfactory services without skimping on necessary expenditures. It's a certainty that they cannot meet the requirements for a decent climb.
Low budget operators often do everything poorly. Here are the main reasons why low budget operators are a bad idea:
Ultimate Kilimanjaro offers high quality climbs at a reasonable cost. At our price levels, we can satisfy all park fees, pay real wages to staff, supply adequate food and proper equipment, while still providing great service to our clients. We are adventurers at heart, and therefore we strive to make climbing Kilimanjaro affordable. We don't believe that doing something extraordinary should break the bank.
It is customary to tip your staff upon completion of your trip. The decision on how much to tip should not be determined based upon whether or not you reached the summit, but by how well the guides, cooks and porters served you while you were on the mountain. Below are some approximate figures on how much to tip your staff on a full eight day climb, provided that their service was satisfactory.
8 Day Route (per 12 person group)
1 Lead Guide, $150 - $170
3 Assistant Guides, each $90 - $100
1 Cook, $90 - $100
1 Waiter, $60 - $70
38 Porters, each $40 - $60
These figures are the total tips given by the group, not per client. The figures are roughly $20/day for guides, $12/day for assistant guides, $12/day for cooks, $8/day for waiters and toilet porters, and $6/day per porter. Note that the cook and waiter will also perform the duties of a porter on the trip, and that preparing and serving meals are additional duties.
On a seven day trip, each client should expect to tip between $170 to $220. On an eight day trip, each client should expect to tip between $200 to $250. On a nine day trip, each client should expect to tip between $220 to $280.
Clients in full group climbs should expect to tip on the lower end of these ranges. Clients in private climbs with fewer people should expect to tip on the higher end of these ranges, or more.
Each group will have one lead guide, one cook and one waiter. There will be one assistant guide per four clients. The number of porters in your party depends on the selected route and the number of days. Generally, there are two porters per person on the Marangu and Meru route, and three porters per person on all other routes. For example, a party of two climbers on an 8 day Lemosho climb would typically have 10 staff total - one guide, one assistant guide, one cook, one waiter and six porters. Make an effort to know your porters and their roles.
It is against company policy for guides or porters to discuss tips during your climb. Unless there were extenuating circumstances that justify higher tips, please try to stay close the guidelines above, as gracious tips from customers have raised staff's expectations for ever increasing amounts.
The tipping ceremony occurs the last night on the mountain, after the summit day. One representative from your party should collect the tip money from the group. The guide will assemble the entire staff. It is customary for someone in the group to say a word of thanks to the staff prior to handing over the tips. When possible, the tips should be paid individually to each crew member. For larger groups, we understand it is impractical to distribute tips individually. In these cases, the entire tip amount can be given to the lead guide, who is required to count the tip and give a signed receipt verifying the amount received. The guide announces the tip amount to the entire crew, which will be later distributed. The tips each person will receive is based on a predetermined split according to their position, and matches our tipping guidelines. Each crew member signs a tip distribution report which we review after every climb to ensure each staff member received their fair share of the tip money. We operate under KPAP's guidelines for tip disbursement and provide oversight of the entire process to enforce fair and proper payment.
Tips can be made in US dollars or Tanzanian Shillings. It is very important that US bills be new, crisp and untorn. Do not tip with marked, wrinkled, torn or old (older than 2002) US bills; they are not accepted in the country. It is very helpful to bring an assortment of dollar denominations for tipping.
The suggested tips for the safari are $15-$30/day for the guide (who is also the driver).
Please consider donating your clothing and equipment to the climb team in addition to tipping them. Remember that the staff climbs Kilimanjaro many times a year and can go through their clothes and gear rather quickly. Your donation is of great assistance to these individuals, many of who are unwilling to spend their money on material goods they consider a luxury rather than a necessity. They will appreciate your generosity tremendously.
There are a couple ways to distribute donated items. The donations can be given directly to individuals, perhaps those with the greatest need or who were of particularly good service. Or you can give the items to your guide and ask him to distribute them to his team as he sees fit.