The basic rules. You can not just show up in Tanzania and go off an hike Kilimanjaro on your own. There are rules and regulations. You sign up with a guide service for a selected trail for a specified number of days. We are not going to get in to special permits for the special people that are funded by some extreme outfitter to do a magazine story or a movie or a first ascent or anything like that. We are talking the case for normal everyday people who want to hike this mountain. So you have to hire a guide with comes along with the guys who carry his stuff anf the guys who carry your stuff and the guys who carry the others guys' stuff, etc. Then there is the cook and the guy who carries the food... you get the picture. Your money helps employ many many people.
So that all boils down to you have to book with a tour company or agent. We went though three companies to try and book this trip. It took us three years to get this trip together. During that time we did a lot of research on who to go with and why. We wanted to go with a group that practiced ethics that we were comfortable, and one that had a good success rate.
Let's talk ethics first. People die on this mountain every year. Mistreated, underdressed, over burdened guides die. We wanted to make sure we went with a company that had high values for the lives, safety, and health of the guides that they employed. We do not want to pay for a trip and have the guide die or get hurt.
Success rate is a huge mythical magic number that I have yet to gather enough data to validate. Reasons for not making it are pretty consistent - bad weather, feeling unwell, altitude sickness, feeling lazy, just can't do it, etc, but to the point, there are a lot of reasons not to make it. The following companies gave the highest success rate of anyone I talked to: Abercrombie and Kent (95%) and Thompson Safaris (90%). I spoke with someone who just got back from the A&K trip and out of the 3 people, 2 made it. I talked to someone who went on the Thompson one and I think it was 2 out of 7 did not make it, might have been 2 out of 8.
So I certainly did not get enough data on either group to make an assessment on the success rate, but what I did like about both groups is they have people who work for them in the offices that have done these trips and can answer a lot of your questions. They also have high standards for treatment of the guides. Both take extra time to get to the top because this approach increases your chances of summiting. They are both US based so you have a point of contact here, and neither one contracts you our to a random group like some other companies do.
We made our final choice between the two companies listed above based on timing in the end. Thompson was our first choice, but because of flight problems we went with A&K. So far our only two complaints about A&K are that they are really big and you have to press buttons for 2 minutes to get connected with a human being. I know because I timed it. Also, they seem to have a repeating problem of sending the thank you and confirmation to the husband even though it was the wife who made the reservation, put it on her card, and was the one paying for it. It was not reassuring to her that I was not the only one slighted in this manner.
Things to consider / ask the company:
- Does the tour company contract out or have their own guides?
- How does the company treat their guides? Do they have tents as well? Protective wear?
- Is the itinerary a quick up and down, or does it take longer so you can acclimate?
- If it is a US company, does it have an office ni Arusha, too? (What if something goes wrong)
- Are flights included? Can you fly from Amsterdam direct into Arusha or do you have to go though Kenya?
- Will you visit Arusha National Park on the first full day to recover from the flight? (then begin the trek up Kili the following day.)
Things to consider / ask yourself:
- Do you want to extend your stay with a safari?
- Is your fitness level string enough to hike 8 hours a day for a week uphill with high altitude?
- Is getting to the summit important to you or is it the overall adventure?
- Are you OK with not having a bathroom for a week?