WHY DOES A KILIMANJARO CLIMB COST THAT MUCH?
If you’ve taken a look at our mountain climbing packages or requested some quotes from other tour operators, you have probably noticed that prices vary hugely. The cheapest offers start at just over 1000 USD per person, and the most expensive packages are being sold for several thousand dollars. Those expensive packages usually offer a level of luxury that not many people require whilst climbing a mountain, so they are not within the scope of this article. But even within the ‘standard’ offers, price differences can be important, and for all of them it is safe to say that no matter what, climbing Kilimanjaro is never a cheap adventure. We – deliberately – do not offer the cheapest tours, and we want to explain to you, in all transparency, why does a Kilimanjaro climb cost that much?
The short answer to this question is ‘because we are a registered tour business who cares about your safety, uses qualified crew members, treats them with respect and pays them a decent salary‘. But let’s break it down and give you a little bit more details!
PRICE FACTORS THAT TOUR OPERATORS HAVE NO IMPACT ON
There is a minimum cost for any tour, determined by factors that we have little or no impact on. We will use the example of a 5-day climb over Marangu route, which is the absolute cheapest option for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s an option that we do not recommend, due to the limited possibility to acclimatize, and the duration for this route that we do recommend is 6 days.
We also ask you to make sure you compare apples with apples. A 7-day climb over Machame route will be cheaper than a climb of the same duration over Rongai route, because the starting point of Rongai route is further away from Moshi. Or 6 days on Machame route will have a slightly different price tag than 6 days on Marangu route, because 1 offers accommodation in tents and the other in huts.
- National park and rescue fees for this 5-day Kilimanjaro hike cost 413 USD per person, and hut fees equal 283 USD per person, adding up to a total of almost 700 USD per person for access to the park and the sleeping facilities alone. The hut fees only include access to the sleeping huts and toilet facilities, they do not include food, kitchen gear or anything like that. There’s also a small entrance fee for each crew member.
- Transport from Moshi to the starting point of your climb and back. The shortest drive is about an hour one-way, and we need to transport tourists, all the staff members (keep reading for more information about how many exactly they are) and all the gear and luggage, so this usually happens in a minivan or bus. It’s difficult to say how much this costs per person, as it will depend on the size of your group, but we’re sure you understand that this has a price card.
- For LICENCED tour operators (which we are but unfortunately many are not…), several other things need to be added to this list, like company taxes, city taxes, taxes on personnel, insurance, permits for organizing climbs, office costs, etc. In return for this extra budget, you get the security of climbing with a tour operator that is actually allowed to organize climbs, will probably take things seriously because they have the reputation of their business to think about, and that you will be able to rely on in case anything goes wrong during your climb.
HOW RESPONSIBLE TOUR OPERATORS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
It is probably clear to you by now that for a tour operator that tries to make a bit of profit, selling this tour for just over 1000 USD per person leaves little room for any other expenses. And we still have some very important aspects to cover: food, and the facilities provided and salaries paid to our crew members.
The food isn’t the biggest cost in your climb, but when you add up the food itself, the kitchen gear, tables and chairs, etc. it does represent a certain budget. We could feed you rice and beans 3 times a day to save some money on this – and some of the cheapest operators probably do – but we don’t. Our food is varied and healthy, and we make sure you get enough energy to actually make it to the top. We provide decent chairs to sit on, and while that might sound like a detail, we think you will be happy about it after a long day of climbing. The same goes for tents and other gear on routes that involve camping, so all of them except Marangu. We only use gear in good condition, tents that are adapted to the conditions on the mountain, etc.
But there is one last aspect that makes up a big part of the cost of your climb, and it’s one that can make all the difference: crew salaries, and the way they are treated. It is forbidden to climb Kilimanjaro without guides and porters, so you have to be accompanied by a certain number of them no matter what. But tour operators can have a huge effect on the final cost of this, by playing with the number of crew members, the facilities provided to them during the climb, as well as with their respective salaries. Let’s break it down.
For every Kilimanjaro trek, you will be accompanied by a number of guides (and possibly assistant guides), porters and usually 1 cook. The (assistant) guides are the ones who stay with you throughout your climb, take care of any question or concern you might have, and make sure everything goes as planned. They are supposed to carry only their own gear.
The porters carry their own personal belongings and yours (on their back and on their head), as well as all the other gear that needs to go up the mountain with you. Together with the cook, they climb faster than you, in order to be at the campsites in time to put up your tent and make sure food is ready when you arrive.
There is a minimum amount of guides and porters that is necessary in order to assure ethical working conditions, and we make it our promise to respect this. We use at least 1 guide per 2 climbers and at least 3 porters per climber, with the exception of Marangu route as this route provides accommodation in huts, so less stuff needs to be carried up the mountain. These minimum amounts help us assure that the porters never have to carry more than 20 kg of gear on top of their own belongings.
We provide food and good tents just for our crew members during the climb. The cheapest tour operators often limit the number of porters on their climbs, or don’t provide decent sleeping conditions or food to their staff to reduce costs.
When it comes to the crew’s salary, differences are often even bigger. We deliberately choose to pay every crew member 100% of the salary recommended by Kilimanjaro Porters Association Project (KPAP), who strive to defend the right of porters on Kilimanjaro. It is common practice for tour companies to pay as little as 50 or 60% of this recommended amount, with the industry average being at less than 70% (source). It’s not difficult to understand that this is a very easy way to save a lot of money. We, however, care more about our conscience than about our wallet, and we hope you do too.
Here’s an exercise to show you the huge impact of playing with salaries. Imagine the same 5-day hike over Marangu route in a group of 6 people. For this climb, we would use 3 guides, around 15 porters and 1 cook. Considering the recommended salaries for a trip of 5 days adds up to a total of around 1000 USD per group, or 170 USD per climber. For longer routes of eg. 7 days, it goes up to about 250 USD per person. Now imagine you only pay half of this… and on top of that save on food and sleeping facilities, or maybe even use less crew members… You will see that it’s not that difficult to save a few hundred dollars on a climb. Also, add 170 USD to the 700 USD for entrance fees and access to the sleeping facilities and you will see that if we were to sell this tour at 1000 USD, there’s only about 130 USD left to pay for food, transport or expenses related to running a tour business, which is simply not realistic. And of course, we hope you’ll allow us to make a little bit of profit as well…
We make it our promise to provide decent, respectful working conditions to all our crew members and to pay all of them an ethical salary for the hard work that they do. We hope you agree with us that this is the only way to run a business and that you’re willing to spend a little bit more money in order to achieve this. Every extra dollar that you spend does not end up in our own pockets, but will go towards creating ethical working conditions for our crew. And it might not even be as much as you expect when you consider the full picture. Keep reading to know more…
We strive to include everything that can be logically expected into the standard prices of our climbing packages, and provide clear information about what’s included and what is not. Please check each package to see the full list. With us, you don’t have to worry about suddenly having to pay more, even though we told you everything was included. We deliver what we promise.
One thing that isn’t included, are tips. Tanzania is a country where tips are expected for tourist activities, and while it obviously also depends on the quality of the service you have received, we want to be transparent with you concerning standard expectations. You are lucky that we are an ethical tour operator, as you will be expected to tip less, because we already pay our crew a decent salary. KPAP recommends a total salary of about 16 USD per day for porters, 10 of which should be paid by the tour operator and 6 should come from tipping (source). This amount is to be divided by all climbers, so in a group of 6 climbers you would tip each porter 1 USD per climber per day. For our 5-day climb in a group of 6, there is a total of about 15 porters, so you would spend 75 USD on your total tip for all the porters for the whole trek. To this, you need to add tips for your guides and your cook.
Of course, if you received an excellent service, you are very welcome to tip more, and we recommend the amounts below.
- Guides: 20 USD per guide per day, to be divided by all climbers (minimum according to KPAP: 12 USD)
- Cooks: 15 USD per cook per day, to be divided by all climbers (minimum according to KPAP: 10 USD)
- Porters: 10 USD per porter per day, to be divided by all climbers (minimum according to KPAP: 6 USD)
When you compare offers to see how much climbing Mount Kilimanjaro costs, we recommend that you don’t only consider the price of your package, but also keep in mind the company’s tipping recommendations, as they are often much higher than ours for companies that sell cheaper tours. In the end, you might end up paying (almost) the same amount of money to a company that doesn’t value your safety, nor the comfort or the working conditions of their crew members.