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Choosing Your Kilimanjaro Hiking Guide

If you are reading this then you may be thinking about hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. And why not? Africa’s tallest mountain is among the world’s most famous destinations and its icy summit can be reached by hiking instead of climbing. You’ll have your backpack on for between six and eight days, depending on the route, and be led by mountain guides with camping equipment, food and water carried by porters.

Kilimanjaro view from Amboseli

Snow-capped Kilimanjaro seen from Kenya’s Amboseli – combining your trek with a safari is easy.

It certainly sounds simple enough but there’s one big question: Who do you go with? There are dozens of operators offering Kilimanjaro hikes, plus endless online reviews that say this and that. And then there are other questions. What about altitude sickness? Are there adequate safety protocols in place? How many other people will be on the trek? And are the people carrying my tent, bed and food properly remunerated – and what about all the trash we’ll make?

Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro with private guide

Choose a trekking operator with an “Only Footprints Left Behind” policy.

Most of the time, as you might imagine, it comes down to price – but not always. There are a few operators that stand out above the rest, if only in the sense that their operations go above and beyond the general level of service. You still have to put the miles in of course; there are no short cuts to the top! But the experience of getting there with the top operators will be both easier and more comfortable, and may well boost your chances of summiting – let’s find out why.

THE HIKING GROUP

If it is just you and one or two others planning to summit Kilimanjaro, then it would make financial sense to join a group departure. But if your group is four or more, then consider a private hike: just you and your companions with an entire trekking team dedicated to your group. Now you can tailor-make your hike according to group size, fitness and budget with a choice of six routes to the top, and enjoy the camaraderie of your friends or family as the adventure unfolds. You won’t be bound by the set departure dates of a group hike, and a top operator will give you the option of hiking Kilimanjaro over full moon. Now you can make your summit bid bathed in the white light of a looming moon – no flashlight needed!

Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro with full moon

Several vegetation zones are traversed as you gain height, each with their own character.

THE CAMPING EXPERIENCE

You can also determine how comfortable you’d like to be. There are many operators at the lower end of the market providing what is called ‘rustic’ (basic) accommodation but we’d recommend top operators with completely closed tents, solar LED lights and battery charging, plus your own private flush or chemical toilet. You’ll sit down to dinner at a table in a dining tent, wash your hands in a basin and go to bed with a hot water bottle (you’ll need it, trust me). Move to the elite operators and now you can enjoy hot showers, freshly-baked bread in a heated dinner tent and even a cosy lounge with inflatable chairs!

These operators have special menus available for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free hikers and can also cater for allergies or faith-based dietary restrictions.

Luxury walk-in sleeping tent

Our recommended trekking operators use leading-edge camping equipment.

GETTING TO THE TOP

Everyone wants to get to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro but it’s over 19 000 feet (5 900 metres) above sea level – it is not an easy hike. Apart from your fitness, there are two major factors that decide whether you can summit or not: the number of days you spend on the mountain, and altitude sickness.

The first factor is easy: the more time you spend on the mountain, the greater your acclimatisation and higher your chance of success. Hikers who spend five days on the mountain have a 75% chance of summiting; those who spend eight days record a 92% success rate.

Hikers high up at summit

Not everyone gets to the top: increase your chances of summiting by choosing the right operator.

Altitude sickness is hard to predict but if you are thousands of feet up and suffering from it, you’ll want to be with an operator that has everything you need. And that goes for all medical emergencies too. Our preferred Kilimanjaro operators have more emergency oxygen than others, and carry Automated External Defibrillator (AED) devices, rigid stretchers, satellite phones and even a hyperbaric chamber, in case of acute altitude sickness. Your heart rate and blood oxygen levels are checked every day by the head guide who leads a team of Wilderness First Responder-trained guides.

Happy hikers in a dinner tent

Enjoying the congenial (& warmer!) atmosphere of the shared dining tent on a Kili trek.

WHAT IS MY IMPACT ON THE LANDSCAPE?

Gone are the days when hikers left behind their rubbish. Kilimanjaro’s top operators adhere to a strict ‘Leave No Trace’ policy and take everything out with them – including what’s in the toilets. Also gone are the days when local communities were excluded from the trekking value chain, and your porters were dressed in patched hand-me-downs. Our preferred operators pay the highest wages, supply three meals a day and therefore attract the best, strongest and most professional porters; you’ll be able to spot them as they have technical uniforms and new boots. Their loads are set at a maximum of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) and their health is monitored.

Happy guides and porters hiking Mount Kilimanjaro

Our preferred operators ensure porters & guides are both looked after & paid fairly.

A similar upliftment occurs in their communities. Kilimanjaro’s best operators take care to return to the people who supply them with their labour. Local businesses, a bicycle maker for example, are supported as are plastic waste solutions driven by, and benefitting, the local community. And in a male-dominated industry, the most progressive operators are nurturing female talent, both as porters and as guides.

Heated lounges, freshly-pressed coffee and female mountain guides: times are changing on Kilimanjaro: book that trek and find out for yourself.

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