All things considered, I'd prefer not to be left on the mountain and eaten by rhinos, thanks.
March 1, 2010 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Planning to hike Mount Kilimanjaro!

Three friends and I are planning a trip to Tanzania to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro and go on safari this August. We are trying to select a tour company, but would like feedback from someone who booked with the company and had a great experience before we commit. (I'm sure the tour company can pick such a person for us to speak to, but I'm also sure they won't pick an dissatisfied customer.) Here are the ones we are looking at:

Aim 4 Africa
Naipenda Safaris and
Safari Makers

Did you or anyone you know use these folks? Any feedback? Is there a super tour company we're missing beyond those here?
posted by *s to Travel & Transportation around Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
American Alpine Institute is AWESOME!

I would highly recommend them.
posted by TheBones at 10:12 AM on March 1, 2010

As a resident of East Africa, I'd strongly encourage you to go with locally owned-and-operated outfits. There's any number of outfits from Europe and the US that will charge you an arm and a leg, give you a great easy pretty first-world climb up a mountain and some nice luxury lodge to stay in during your safari, and if you can afford that and that is what you want - great, go for it. You will see the real Africa only from the other side of your Landcruiser windows, whipping by you at 100kmph, and you'll have visited Africa without ever visiting Africa.

I can recommend the guys I went with, Adam who owns Ringo Expeditions, will set you up at a price much closer to actual cost (I did my whole climb for under $1500). It won't be as luxurious, but its climbing, damn it, not a walk in Hyde park, like many of the luxury outfits try to make it (a tent for crapping in? for serious?). I'm not sure if he sets up safaris as well, but Safari Makers looks as close to a local outfit as possible. That said, I wouldn't recommend going through any of the 50 some tour organizers based out of Arusha, either. Yes, they are more local, but they still make a pretty profit margin at the expense of understanding how the system works and capitalizing on cheap African labor and a culture of bad business ethics (bribing park rangers, etc.).

Regardless of who you end up going with for your climb, read up a little bit about tipping and how the whole payment structure works for guides and porters/cooks. The porters/cooks do the lion's share of the work on the mountains and get paid next to nothing. Many of them are climbing in practically rags (and sleeping under only a blanket, on top of a cheap foam pad. Be sure to tip each person individually and directly and consider climbing in old gear you don't need that you can give them when you're done climbing. Believe me, you'll want to after watching some of these porters carrying your bag by you on their head, while they're walking in flip flops.

I have a personal friend in Arusha that has organized safari tours for friends of mine (I self-drive now that I live here, the only reason I haven't had him organize anything for me). If you're interested in talking to him, I can vouch for him, but he is a one-man outfit, rather than a set-up business. Same as with Adam, you'll get closer to actual cost with him, but he can also tell you what your real options are for things like hotels, etc., to give you some choices.

You really have 3 levels of service in the market, depending on your budget and desire for a "real" experience - 1st world outfits that charge a small fortune and give you all the highlights of a luxury trip, 3rd world outfits that have at least set up a business and a reputation and employ locals but are still making a pretty good profit margin on the local market, and then 3rd world start-ups who you have the least amount of "security" with but will get a good local experience at a really cut rate if you're willing to risk it. I'd recommend one of the last 2 options.

Oh and for safari - skip Ngorongoro crater if anyone tries to sell you on it and spend your time in Serengeti instead. The crater's nice but its smallish and the expensive fees to go down into the park aren't worth what's down there (even though its good they're charging that much for conservation work). You can get great views of it as you drive past it on your way from Arusha to Serengeti.

Let me know if that raises any more questions on your end. There's a number of Kilimanjaro questions previously on AskMe that you might be keen to check out. Have fun!
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:54 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We wound up going with Aim4Africa -- they use local outfits for the hike that are certified by the Tanzanian tourism ministry and use guides who are fairly paid and certified for the job. We needed a bit of security and weren't up for risking things with a less-established outfit. We're also hitting the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, and Lake Manyara. Now I just have to train for Kili by climbing 200 flights of stairs!
posted by *s at 2:01 PM on April 16, 2010

I'm sure you'll have a great time. Let me know what you think about Ngorongoro after the fact.

Kili's a cake-walk, there was a 79 year old dude climbing it the week I was there, something like 80% of all climbers summit successfully. I was unable to train coming off a prior injury, and still had no trouble with it. Its all about getting sufficient acclimation time. Make sure your guides have the altitude meds in case you get sick, they can be the difference between seeing the summit and seeing your lunch.

Oh, and if you want to see sunrise from the summit (highly recommended), push your guides for an early start on summit night. If you get on the trail behind the majority of the other groups, you'll have trouble passing to make up time.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:38 AM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: Indeed, it was a great time! There were issues with tipping (guidebooks were inconsistant and the guidelines from the tour company were obscenely low) and the tour company's compensation to the guides (not really so fair as we were led to believe) but we completely lucked out with great guides at every step. Everyone we ran into complained about their guides (absent, non-English speaking, unhelpful), so we felt comparatively fortunate despite some administrative issues at a few points.
posted by *s at 3:45 PM on August 31, 2010

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