A friend of mine is going to volunteer in Tanzania, and she'll have a break from her teaching project in December. I'm going to go visit her then, and we want to climb Mt Kiliminjaro.
What's your opinion on what route we should take? We were told the Machame route is the most beautiful. Is there another route that you think would be better to take in December? We are both relatively fit and don't mind a challenge, but also don't want to go the hardest way possible.
Do you have a recommendation on a tour group or guide we can use? Is it better through an online tour broker or would we be able to save if try to find something while on the ground there?
I climbed the 6 day Machame route in September of 2012. While I enjoyed it, it did feel like the route was pretty crowded. No waiting in lines to summit or anything like that, but just a lot of other climbers on the same route and lots of folks at the camps.
Good alternatives to Machame are Lemosho where you start the first 2 days in an area where there is more wildlife and its less crowded (it ends up merging with the Machame route after the second day) and the Rogai route which is a lot less crowded. I've had friends go on both of these routes reporting very positive experiences. At the end of the day it really depends on your personal preferences and if you prefer solitude vs. company :)
If you are more adventurous, given a second opportunity to climb Kili, I would climb Kili and camp at the crater camp after summiting (climb high, sleep low). Only around 5% of Kili climbers visit the crater camp.
I recommend picking up Henry Steadman's book on climbing Kilimanjaro which is the one of the best guides out there about climbing Kili. He has day by day descriptions of each route which really helped me make my decision and also offers tons of other useful info.
Here is a description/comparison of all the routes and their route profile.
Picking a good tour local tour operator:
Check out a blog post I wrote here: http://journeykilimanjaro.com/ about picking a good local tour operator and what to look for (very important to verify the tour operator licenses and find out which company is actually taking you up). Definitely do your research and ask for references.
You can certainly book your tours by finding something on the ground when you get there. However, since it is high season in December I would recommend booking ahead of time so that you have peace of mind that you have booked your tour after doing all the due diligence in advance vs. comparing tour operators in real time while out there.
As part of my work with VentureFar which helps travelers connect with local tour operators around the I have done a lot of research in this area in addition to climbing Kili not too long ago while I was working in Kenya for 6 months :)
We did it. Here I am at Uhuru PeakWe ended up booking with a tour operator called Naenda Tours based out of Moshi. They were one of the few Tanzanian owned tour groups we could find. The owners, Abidan and Jesse were great. They started the business from a Muhammad-Yunus-inspired microfund loan. They've since re-payed the loan and have promised to give 5% of their profits toward a local orphange.
We decided to do take the Machame Trail since we thought it would be more fun to do a more popular route with all the different climate zones
. It took 5 days to summit and a day and a half to come back down the Mweka Trail. We paid the tour company $1450US each and tipped the team of porters, guides and cooks $350US for the both of us(the main guide seemed a little dissappointed and was hoping for a total tip closer to $700US, but since we knew our tour company had was fairly compensating the team, we didn't feel too bad... but it did kind of kill the good vibes we had with guys coming down). Other than the awkwardness of the tip, the whole experience was great.
From the pic above, I hope you get a feeling for how it feels to be above the clouds and and below the sun as it creeps daylight over the earth.
Other than the summit day where we walked almost 14 hours in the span of 24 hours, it was not has hard as I expected. We would walk 4-6 hours a day going from camp to camp. By the time we got to the next camp the team of porters would be there to give us a warm tea and a nice meal. I hike a lot while at home but have never gone up to anything close to the altitude of Kili. So, I was glad the guides took us up at a slow pace. Since I took the altitude pills, the only problems I had was a short head ache on the 3rd day when we went above 4,000m. I had some stomach problems on our summit day, but was able to make it. At first, I wasn't planning to take diamox to prevent altitude sickness, but after seeing that most people were taking it, decided to not take a chance and use it. It was probably the right choice since people that didn't take it had a hard time.
Before we started the hike, we stayed at the Kindoroko Hotel. They have a rooftop breakfast area where you can see Kili. If you look past the clouds you can kind of see the peak in the haze above the clouds. When we were done, we spent a few days in Arusha before flying back to Dar.
Here's a pro-tip that can save you $200-400US. If you fly into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport there are shuttles that can bring you to Moshi or Arusha for about $100US. Flying into JRO or Dar Es Salam is generally a lot more expensive than flying into Nairobi.
Mentioned in this answer:
Sorry for the length, but hopefully you'll find this useful. Just so there's nothing misleading, I'm also the co-owner of the Tanzanian climbing/safari company Wild Trails (www.wildtrails.co) .
Here was my personal experience:
I spent 2 months in Tanzania end of last year (2013) and am an avid hiker. I ended up climbing the Machame route in 6 days in late November with my friend.
If I were to do it again, I would choose Lemosho. It's supposed to be as scenic if not more so than Machame and less crowded (I like to get away from the crowds when in nature - Machame in some respects has become the new Marangu. And from my experience I thought ascent scenery was alright. I really liked the descent via Mweka scenery though, which Lemosho takes as well).
There are a lot of tour companies out there, and it's hard to tell who's good from the bad.
I know this because I spent a heck of a lot of time stressing over which operator to choose...and some of the websites didn't look all that..credible.
We ended up going with a budget operator, but I would not recommend that company. On-site, the owner tried conning us into paying a higher price than what we agreed on.
Owner: "Oh, I miscalculated, this is the actual price, $200 more.
Me: *knowing what he's up to* "Sorry, this is what we brought, we agreed on the price, and we don't have any more money."
Owner: "Well, why don't we split the difference?"
Me: *repeats statement*
Owner: "Ok ok, don't worry about it, we'll just go with the original price."
The service wasn't the most professional, to say the least.
Most big online tour brokers will charge a super high markup. We got quotes from about ~25 of those...some went as high as $5000 a person.
You can reserve on the ground with an operator. There are hundreds of them. And I'm sure your friend will be inundated with offers from companies. Talk to them, check out the gear they use.
Paying somewhere between $1400-$2000 is the reasonable range (depending on what you want: route, rental gear, regular or deluxe packages, private vs. joining an existing group, etc.). Lemosho's rates are slightly higher. Then you have to take into account tips for guides/cook/porters.
Some budget operators also treat their porters really badly - while we were bundled up in cold gear, porters passed us dressed in torn jeans and t-shirts lugging more than they should have. Some people bring outdoor gear they don't have a need for instead or in addition to a tip to help out.
If you want shorter/longer days for any route, you have to request it. Only do shorter if you have experience with high altitude of 14,000ft+.
My friend and I adventured for two weeks. If you have time, do a safari afterward. We also climbed Ol Doinyo Lengai, the active volcano. Hardest one-day hike in my life, but the exotic scenery made it one of the best hikes I've ever taken. Mt. Meru is supposed to be even more scenic than Mt. Kilimanjaro, and a good mountain to prep for climbing Kilimanjaro.
Anywho, the lack of professionalism, credibility and communication I encountered, led me to start-up a company. I found experienced, quality climbing/safari/cultural tour operators to join the ranks, and we currently offer free flight booking, handle all the planning logistics (a hassle for groups), make sure you're adequately informed & prepared before flying, and offer 24/7 Q&A service from someone who's been there.
Let me know if you have any more questions!
Hope that helps,