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, and 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.
We often are asked how we can be priced thousands of dollars less than the luxury operators.
To explain, we must look at the minimum expenses every Kilimanjaro operator faces, such as park fees and taxes, staff wages, food, equipment, transportation and other logistical costs. Kilimanjaro National Park entrance fees, camping/hut fees and Tanzanian taxes by far make up the biggest expense, costing about $200 per climber per day. Below is a breakdown of park fees and taxes:
Conservation Fees - $70 per day per person.
The Kilimanjaro National Park authority collects fees from all visitors in order to fund the upkeep of the park. This includes maintaining the trail, keeping it clean and paying for the rangers. The conservation fee applies for each day (including partial days) you spend inside the park. On an 8 day Lemosho climb, the conservation fees total $560 ($70 x 8 days).
Camping or Hut Fees - $50 to $60 per night per person
This fee is charged for using the campsites and simple huts on the mountain. Huts are only available on the Marangu route. All other routes camping at designated public sites. The hut fees on a 5 day Marangu climb are $240 ($60 x 4 nights). On an 8 day Lemosho climb, the camping fees are $350 ($50 x 7 nights).
Rescue Fees- $20 per person per trip
Rescue fees are charged for the chance the park authority may need to coordinate a rescue. This fee must be paid whether or not you actually require rescue. The cost is $20 per person per trip.
Guide and Porter Entrance Fees - $2 per staff person per trip
All of the staff also must pay park fees to enter. The park entrance fee is $2 per person per trip.
Value-Added Tax - 18% of services
A value-added tax (VAT) is a type of general consumption tax that is placed on goods and services whenever value is added at a stage of production or distribution. The Tanzanian government charges an 18% VAT to Kilimanjaro operators.
The other significant expenses are staff wages, food, and transportation costs. Local wages amount to around $80-$150 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 above, you can estimate what it may cost to fund a Kilimanjaro climb on your own. The total is certainly significant, but are not high enough to justify the jaw dropping price tags seen in the industry. So instead of asking how we can be priced so low, you should be asking how those other companies can be priced so high?
Let's take a look at the types of operators on Kilimanjaro.
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 that do not focus on Kilimanjaro. Some of them use foreign guides. But ask yourself, who knows the mountain better? A company that runs only a handful of climbs per year or a specialist like Ultimate Kilimanjaro® that operates more than 150 climbs per year? Do you want to climb with a foreign guide who was flown in for a couple climbs per year, or a local guide who has encountered and handled various situations, with hundreds of clients, during his many years of service? Who can better assess the trail conditions, the weather, their clients' capabilities? Who is more in tuned with the wildlife, the geography, the fauna, and the 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 and purifying water from nearby streams?
The high priced operators heavily market the added safety of using pulse oximeters, bottled oxygen and Gamow bags. Although pulse oximeters are a good indicator of altitude acclimatizaztion, tests show that they are not completely reliable in the detection of altitude sickness and therefore should not be solely relied upon (Ultimate Kilimanjaro® uses pulse oximeters as a secondary measure to monitor climbers). Some "safe" operators supply "personal oxygen systems" 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 "exclusive feature" to their clients (we carry bottled oxygen on every climb and use it responsibly - for rescue situations as a complement to descent). And the actual 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. For the most part, luxury operators do provide excellent service. However, we provide the same standards, including the same safety measures or better, and you don't have to pay thousands more to have them!
General tour operators, by definition, are not experts on Mount Kilimanjaro.
General tour operators are companies who book various types of trips for tourist destinations all over the world. These trips may include Kilimanjaro climbs and safaris, but they also include Meditarrenean cruises, European wine tasting tours, tropical getaways, bike rides through countrysides, scuba diving trips, cultural city tours, etc. You get the idea. They sell everything. Then, they contract local partners in each destination to handle the customers. Small general tour companies can have a handful of partners, while the largest ones can have several dozen partners.
So why is this bad? Because general tour operators are comprised of no one but sales staff. They do not have a presence within the countries that their trips are run. Often times the staff does not have real knowledge of the trips themselves, as their primary job is to sell any trip the customer wants, no matter where it might be. So you are dealing with a simple salesperson who has never been to Kilimanjaro or has only rudimentary knowledge of climbing Kilimanjaro. The general tour company has no expertise on the mountain, and outsources to a local partner, whose operations may be good if you are lucky, or substandard if you are not. You may be put into a group with climbers booked by many different operators, or your trip may be unexpectedly canceled if it becomes unprofitable for the general tour operator or the local partner to proceed.
YOU SHOULD BOOK WITH A REPUTABLE KILIMANJARO SPECIALIST. A CLIENT'S
"I wanted to say thank you to your wonderful staff and the Ultimate Kilimanjaro company for saving my trip. As you may recall, I had originally booked a climb and safari with [a general tour company] last October. I paid over $5,000 for my trip and $2,000 for my flights. Not to mention the money I spent renewing my passport, getting my visa, and buying all the equipment. I was in great shape and so excited to go. But then just two weeks before the trip, they cancelled my climb! They said not enough people were booked (I was the only one). Or I could pay another $600 to go by myself.
I was devasted. I spent all that money and time, and they left me scrambling to find a group elsewhere! Luckily, I found Ultimate Kilimanjaro and I was able to get onto a Lemosho group climb that fit my dates. Without your help I would have been stuck. But it all happened for the best I think. Your crew was just fabulous from beginning to end. Almost certainly I had a better trip with you than if I'd gone with the original company."
Ultimate Kilimanjaro® is a specialist outfitter dedicated to leading clients on Mount Kilimanjaro. This is our passion and has been our only business for nearly a decade. All our staff have first hand knowledge having climbed Kilimanjaro themselves. All our trips are guaranteed to run regardless of the number of climbers booked. We know climbing Kilimanjaro is a big investment for our clients, so we want to make your planning and preparation as easy and stress free as possible. We will never cancel your trip, or ask you to pay more money down the line.
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:
YOUR MONEY MAY NOT BE SAFE WITH A BUDGET OPERATOR. AN ALL TOO FAMILIAR
"During the week of Nov 17th, I booked a 6-day hike for myself and two friends with [budget operator], communicating with John [scam artist]. Communication was good, he shared info about the trip professionally, and he ultimately gave us a discount, leading us to choose his agency over another. He asked that I send a deposit of $1,000 USD via Western Union.
Once the deposit was sent, communication suddenly changed.
John claimed he did not receive the money, became very angry over the phone, and ultimately cut off communication.
Ultimately, we booked at the last-minute with another agency which was very reputable, so that we could still complete the hike.
DON'T be deceived. DON'T book with [budget operator]."Post from Jesse P on Trip Advisor
Nobody likes to pay more than necessary to climb Kilimanjaro. But we implore you to do some research into the working conditions of porters before you decide to climb with a budget operator. You may unknowingly be rewarding a company's unethical behavior and exploitation of others.
There is a fair share of budget operators who offer cheap climbs. But in return for that low price, these operators engage in appalling practices that are often out of sight to the tourist. These include:
Paying porters less than minimum wage or not at all
Please watch this nine minute video (made in 2008) that describes the plight of porters on Kilimanjaro.
We hope that once you are aware of the issues surrounding porter mistreatment, you will only support Kilimanjaro operators that demonstrate their commitment to porter welfare.
KPAP partner companies, like Ultimate Kilimanjaro®, are leading the industry to improve working conditions for all porters on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Fighting for the fair treatment of porters is an upbill battle. There is strong resistance to change from certain local operators who have considerable power and influence over government and park regulations. In order to stop the abuse, tourists need to stop supporting the behavior, and boycott budget operators as a whole.
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.