Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, is it worth it?
Kilimanjaro, how difficult is the trek? What are the costs involved? What route should I choose? Itinerary. Our Story. In Hindsight: Would I do it again, was it worth the price tag?
Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, in northern Tanzania is Africa’s highest peak and the world’s highest free-standing mountain. As such the mountain is a major destination for mountaineers and trekkers from around the world.
Kilimanjaro was my first multi-day trek. Since then I have done many long treks, including famous treks like Everest Base Camp, Torres Del Paine and to Machu Picchu and plenty less well known and more wild routes. I am writing this entry in 2016 with updated prices and my current opinions. The original blog entry that I wrote just after I did the trek in 2013, I leave unedited under the heading ‘Our Story’.
HOW HARD IS CLIMBING KILIMANJARO?
The simple answer is anybody in reasonably good shape can do it without special preparation. If you can walk 15 to 20 km a day without any problems I think you should be ok. ‘Pole Pole’, one step at a time as the locals say – take it slow. The hike was not too tough, except for summit night and did not involve any real climbing. The last day was hard, starting at 12:00 at night, 7 hours up from Kibo Hut (4730M) to Uhuru Peak (5895M) to make it for sunrise and about 6 hours down to Horombo Hut (3705M).
It is a long day and a steep climb with almost no sleep and a very quick increase in altitude. In Nepal the recommendation was not more than 600m increase per day to avoid altitude sickness, here the final day starts at almost 5000m with more than a 1000m climb to go. You have porters and do not carry your own gear making it a lot easier. We usually trek for a week independently, carrying all food, cooking gear, tent and other equipment required ourselves.
WHAT ARE THE COSTS ENVOLVED?
The only bad thing about trekking Kilimanjaro is the price, it is insane! I paid a $1000 shopping around in Arusha and if you book over the internet expect to pay about $2500 (R37 000).
COSTS: All inclusive Kilimanjaro Trek: $1000 (R15 000)
Extra acclimatization day: $150 (R1500)
Gear rental: $70 (R1000)
Tip : $100 (R1500)
I shopped around for a couple of days in Arusha and this was the cheapest price that I could find for a five day trek. You can pay $150 for an extra acclimatization day. You can still find five day treks in Arusha for between $900 to $1200. After a huge argument with the ladies we did not take the extra day we payed for and one of them ended up not making it due to severe altitude sickness during summit night, see the story later in this entry.
TIPPING CREW: I have seen many different figures for expected tips, but in general 10% of what you pay for the tour was what I found to be the expected tip. The ladies that climbed with me did not leave a tip and this resulted in a huge upset, I would recommend that you sort out what you are going to tip with your operator before hand.
GEAR Since I only had boardshorts and flip flops I had to rent everything: trekking pants, trekking jacket, boots, gators, trekking poles, balaclava, headlamp – $70 for a week. Did I need all this stuff? That is up to you, but today I would leave the balaclava, trekking poles and gators at home.
WHAT ROUTE SHOULD I CHOOSE?
There are seven routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro – Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe. I did the Marangu route in 5 days, the success rate of this route is the lowest (less than 30% make it to Uhuru peak) since the ascend is so quick. Many people do this route with a extra acclimatization day. Marangu is the only route that has shared hut accommodations, which means you won’t need to do camping it is also the only route that goes the same way up and down. I think camping is nicer and a slower ascend decreases your chances of altitude sickness. Based on what other trekkers said my first choice would be Machame, followed by Rongai.
- Marangu Gate (1860M) – Mandara Hut (2715M)
- Hiking time: 4h
- Distance: 8.1 km
- Habitat: Forest
- Mandara Hut(2715M) – Horombo Hut (3705M)
- Hiking time: 5h
- Distance: Approximately 12 km
- Habitat: Moorland
- Horombo Hut (3705M) – Kibo Hut (4730M)
- Hiking time: 5h
- Distance: Approximately 10 km
- Habitat: Alpine desert
- Kibo Hut (4730M) – Uhuru Peak (5895M) – Horombo Hut (3705M)
- Hiking time: 8 hours to reach Uhuru Peak, 6 hours to descend to Horombo
- Distance: Approximately 5 km ascent and 15 km descent
- Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit
- Horombo Hut (3705M) – Marangu Hut (1860M)
- Hiking time: 7h
- Distance: Approximately 19.7 km
The idea of climbing Kili has been lingering for a long time and while on safari listening to the two Chechen guys, Bendict and Vrba, speak about their Kilimanjaro experience I decided I am here, lets do it. Smart Safaris offered me the best price for a Kili trek and I was happy with their service on the game park Safari. Me and the 2 Spanish girls, Gina and Martha signed up for the same kili trek.
We did the Marangu route, also known as the “Coca Cola route”. This route is the only route with huts, the other routes are all camping. The Kilimanjaro National Park shows that only 41% of trekkers on all routes actually reach the Uhuru summit with the majority turning around at Gilman’s Point. I decided to do the trek over 6 days allowing a extra acclimatization day before the summit, I’ve heard about a lot of people getting sick on summit day being forced to abandon the trek before reaching Uhuru peak, I am not an experienced climber, didn’t train and wanted to minimize chances of that happening to me.
Since I did not have any gear, not even proper shoes I rented the following from Smart safaris; thermal underwear, waterproof pants, ski jacket, scarf, ski mask, hike boots, headlamp and trekking poles.
What I enjoyed most about the kili trek was the change in climate and vegetation that accompanies the increase in altitude. The first day was a lush rain forest with hot humid conditions, everyday the temperature drops a bit, plant growth changes until it looks like a dessert, cold and snowing at Kibo base camp. On day 3 the girls changed their minds and they wanted to do the trek in 5 days instead of 6, Martha was very unhappy when I insisted in doing the 6 day trek that we booked and paid an extra $150 for, after some arguing I gave them their way since I didn’t feel like spending the remainder of the trek with unhappy people constantly complaining.
We trekked about 6 or 7 hours a day and the whole trek was easy until summit day. We walked for about 6 hours, reaching kibo hut at about 16:00, after an early dinner we all went to bed trying to get 3 or 4 hours of much needed sleep before starting the summit at 12:00.
An early start
At 12:00 we started the trek for the summit wearing headlamps and every bit of warm clothing we had. After about 2 hours Martha started getting sick and unfortunately could not continue. Continuously vomiting for a long period of time left her to dehydrated. She was fit and strong and walked way in front of us the whole trek. Maybe ascending to quickly caught up with her. Taking the acclimatization day she insisted on skipping could have avoided this altitude sickness.
Me and Gina reached the summit at 7:00 just in time for sunrise, shuffling the last couple of 100m to the summit. Uhuru peak was beautiful, surrounded by snow and glaciers. The last couple of hundred meters were tough leaning on my trekking poles shuffling the last inches to the summit thinking; ‘this is awesome, it feels like I am in a movie!”.
You feel the altitude and I was exhausted at the summit, I thought how the hell am I ever going to make it all the way down! you only realize how steep the climb up was when you are going down in daylight. The down was quick and easy and the sleep at the stop for the day was amazing!
Why so much?
Kili is a very expensive outing at about a 1000 usd. You can not get it much cheaper since 60% of this money goes to the government for park fees. You are not allowed on the mountain without a certified guide, porters carry most peoples packs and food, so when you start adding up the company, porters, cooks and guides that is a few people that must get paid for a week out of the remaining 3 or 400$. The porters and guides work almost for tips only, so if you go remember to work the expected 10% tip into your budget. My fellow climbers didn’t and this understandingly caused much unhappiness among our crew. Kili was an amazing experience.
If I can do it again I would do Machame route, 6days – would prefer camping and then you do different routes up and down, the Machame up is supposed to be amazing and you do the Marangu down. Marangu does same up and down. If Machame is full Rongai allso sounds very good. If you do Marangu I don’t think the acclimatization day is necessary, just stay behind your guide the whole way – pole pole (slowly slowly)
IN HINDSIGHT – WILL I DO IT AGAIN?
Short answer – NO
It was a nice trek with some beautiful views and a challenging climb to the summit. It is way overpriced and my ideas of spending money on the road is obviously very different after four years of traveling. I now prefer to carry my own bag, make my own food and just do my own thing. In Nepal trekking to Everest Base Camp cost us $20 per day each and in South America between $5 and $20 per day depending on the trek. Compare this to the $220 per day to climb Kilimanjaro. When it comes to views and beauty it was amazing, but it was not nearly as amazing as the things I saw hiking Torres Del Paine in Chile (7 days at$7.60 per day), Roraima in Venezuela (7days at $5.70 per day) and Ausangate in Peru (5 days at $6 per day).
Guide is compulsory
This is not the only trek that I have done where a guide is compulsory, it was the same for the Roraima trek in Venezuela. Here however we were four people that shared the cost of one guide and each person carried his own gear and supplies for seven days. As far as I am aware for some reason this option is not available for trekking Kilimanjaro.
I enjoyed the trek, if you have the money and you want to do it – Go For It! I am only saying there are many other options and that I have done in my opinion nicer treks for 20 times cheaper.
You be the judge! look at the photos in this entry and compare them with the photos in the before mentioned entries.
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