Can you afford to climb Kilimanjaro?

The first thing people want to know when they start thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro is how much it costs. Before people begin to seriously consider their Tanzanian trip, they want to know if they can afford it at all.

The bad news is that Kilimanjaro park fees are expensive, costing more than $100 per day (2009). So, at a minimum, you know that after you factor in staff wages, equipment, food, tips, and a profit margin, it is not going to be cheap!

At a bare minimum, the costs of climbing will be around $1,000. But rarely is the bare minimum any good. When's the last time you were happy with getting the minimum? I've never heard of anyone being happy with minimum wage.

Don't book a cheap climb.

Why not? Most locally owned operators are low budget companies who compete for your business based entirely on price. But a cheap climb means you get low wage guides and porters. Great guides DO NOT work for cheap companies. If you were a fantastic guide, would you subject yourself to mediocre wages, equipment, and food? Would you want to try to make up for your underpayment by hoping for large tips - tips you would have to receive from a cost conscious (cheap) customer? NO.

If you were a fantastic guide, you would have better options. So the guides who end up with these low budget companies are poor guides, in every sense of the word. By eliminating all the low budget operators from consideration, you have effectively eliminated 80-90% of the companies on Kilimanjaro.

The expensive operators are overrated.

Most expensive operators are foreign-owned. They are usually more professional, better managed, and provide top-notch service on the mountain. Their staff is very competent. They use quality equipment. They have a high staff to customer ratio. They take the proper safety precautions.

So what's the problem? THEY ARE NOT WORTH THE MONEY.

Say this to someone who has climbed with a high priced operator, and they will get pissed off! No one likes to think they overpaid for anything, but in the case of using luxury operators on Kilimanjaro, this is almost certainly the case.

Where does all that money go?

Tanzania is a poor country, so the cost of living is very low. Slight increases in what you pay for your climb should translate into HUGE differences in the service you receive. For thousands of dollars more, there better be something extravagant - beyond upgrades in tents and slight improvements such as this. Really, for that price I should be able to keep the tent and sleeping bag!

I met people who work in the industry after my climb, and what they say behind closed doors is that the premium they charge is almost pure profit! No wonder it is hard to reconcile where your extra thousands of dollars went in terms of expenses. It doesn't go anywhere BUT THEIR BANK ACCOUNTS!

There is one exception for using an expensive Kilimanjaro operator. Some guide services will use western guides to accompany the local staff. If this is the case, western guides' expenses (air fare) and time (high wages) must be accounted for. Understandably, some climbers feel more comfortable with having western guides - believed to be more professional, knowledgeable, and safety conscious - to watch over them. If it is important to you, then a luxury operator may be for you. Otherwise, the premium IS NOT WORTH IT.

A mid-priced Kilimanjaro operator is the best choice for most.

The mid-priced operator will not have the budget restrictions that force the low budget operator to shed costs by supplying shabby equipment and food.

Think of it this way - to add an extra porter to your climb, it costs the company only about $5 more per day. So if a company received just $500-$1000 more on a climb per person, that would be enough to cover upgrades to the equipment, food, and the quality of staff. For just a little bit more money, you could have all the standards, safeguards, and comforts needed to climb Kilimanjaro.

Buddha said take the middle road. What he meant was... CHOOSE A MID-PRICED OPERATOR.

You're probably saying, "But anyone can just charge a higher price. How do I know that a mid-priced operator is any good if I make a decision just based on price?"

WHY IS Porter Welfare IMPORTANT?