As I caught my first glimpse of the morning sun surfacing through the clouds and shimmering off the icy peaks of Kilimanjaro’s glaciers, I knew it had all been worth it.
The years of dreaming about what it would feel like, the month of anticipation once it had been booked, the 6 days it took to climb through the various vegetation, and the 24 hours proceeding the summit had been almost unbearable. Then I saw it. I saw the majestic glaciers, glistening in the day’s first rays of sun, praising my hard work and endurance.
Suddenly something awoke inside of me, and my zombie-like motions that kept me moving for seven hours kicked into full gear. My pace quickened, and determination took over. Every struggle I had ever endured, every hardship flashed before me. My fears, my regrets, my doubts, I saw them all in colors and sounds in the distance. Then they were gone, along with the pain in my wind-stricken face, the chill in my bones, and the little voice that almost convinced me to turn around.
I saw the sign supported by sturdy wooden posts that meant victory, and everything else faded away. My seven-year-dream of standing at the highest point in Africa was realized in a near sprint as my adrenaline surpassed exhaustion.
Summiting Kilimanjaro was no easy feat. It is not an adventure for the faint of heart. But I can say without hesitation that it is a journey worth taking and an experience you will cherish forever.
That being said, it’s the kind of adventure you have to want, and I mean TRULY WANT. Determination is the only thing that will get you through the final stretch of the summit hike, when you are running on low fuel because you haven’t eaten or slept properly in 24 hours and you are zigzagging up into the unknown darkness, with nothing but the moonlight and your headlamp to guide you.
Do not be intimidated though, climbing Kili is doable for the average person, despite what you might think or hear.
In fact, aside from the 7-hour summit hike (beginning at midnight and stretching out until the most epic sunrise of your life), the whole trek is relatively easy (depending on the route you choose and your fitness level).
What you need to know about Mount Kilimanjaro:
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain; meaning that it basically starts at sea level and its mysterious crown of ice peaks past the clouds, reaching an impressive 19,340 feet/5895 meters!
This experience is much different than other sought after climbs, such as the famous and tallest summit, Mt. Everest, where the base camp starts essentially where Kili ends. In essence, it makes for a more diverse experience taking you through the rainforest to glaciers and everything in between. It also means that acclimating can be a little rough. Altitude sickness can be extremely serious, however, Kilimanjaro has helipads all the way up to base camp in case there is an emergency.
How much will it cost and what company do I go with?
For a truly wonderful and supportive team who will make the hard parts bearable while pushing you until the end, let Epa and the rest of the crew at Nalan Travel guide you up Kilimanjaro. You can find them through TripAdvisor here.
There are quite a few overpriced foreign companies on the web that I researched and considered before going with a friend of a friend. There are also other cheap(er) locally run and operated tour companies that can be found in Moshi (the town closest to the Kilimanjaro entrance). However, most of those companies don’t have websites and the best deals will require booking last-minute in-person in Moshi.
Needless to say, if you don’t book your guide in advance, you will run the risk of missing out, unless your dates are extremely flexible.
Picking a Route to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
There are seven routes on Mount Kilimanjaro and quite a few things to consider when differentiating which is best for you.
Ultimate Kilimanjaro breaks them all down quite nicely based on difficulty, scenery, and traffic.
I chose the 6-Day Marangu route based on length, cost, and success rates for reaching the summit. Basically, the Marangu Route is the cheapest, shortest, easiest route with the highest success rate.
So depending on what your priorities are, it may or may not be a good fit for you too.
It is also important to keep in mind that the Marangu route is the only route that provides huts/cabins for sleeping, so if you want to truly rough it in a tent, then this isn’t the route for you.
Safety and Precautions
- Insurance: I highly recommend getting a travel insurance plan, because it’s better to be safe than sorry. I personally purchased a standard plan through World Nomads. There are many other companies, but I’ve been using World Nomads for almost 10 years because they are reasonably priced and cover things like medical evacuation and accidents that occur while trekking, which are important to look for in a plan.
- Altitude Sickness: Purchase altitude sickness medicine and start taking it on Day 1 of your trek! This can be bought anywhere in Moshi and typically your guide will have it for you. I also highly recommend doing an extra day on your trek for acclimating to the altitude no matter which route you chose. You don’t want to travel across the world, and pay all that money just to get sick and not make it to the summit.
- Shoes: Shoes are SO important. A good pair of hiking boots is a necessary and worthwhile investment, not just for Kilimanjaro, but for hiking in general! Forever and always, I’m going to recommend REI Co-Op for gear in general, because quite frankly, you can’t top a lifetime guarantee! Check out my personal favorite women’s hiking boots.
- Layer, layer layer. It’s not necessary to purchase or bring a huge, heavy-duty coat/gloves/pants if you don’t have them. You can rent them for relatively cheap in Moshi. However, you will
wantneed lots of layers for your summit hike (5 layers is the recommended amount, but I wore 7 and felt wonderfully warm and comfortable). I do recommend bringing your own base layers though. Here are all my favorite hiking gear & apparel and my backpacking packing list which is a good resource even if you rent a lot of gear (FYI: your tent &/or hut and sleeping bag are included in your tour price).
Things to expect on Mount Kilimanjaro
- Paying via bank transfer: If you choose a cheaper/locally run and operated company you will most likely have to pay a deposit via bank transfer or money wire. This seems sketchy, and isn’t something we are used to in the western world, but it is common practice in Tanzania. That being said, you should always research and read reviews (usually on Trip Advisor) for the company you chose to make sure they are legitimate. I can vouch for Epa and his company Nalan Travel, but I also felt skeptical and weary of paying by bank transfer at first, even though he was a friend of my coworker.
- Tipping your guides/cooks/porters: Tipping your guide team is standard protocol and expected. How much is really up to you and how pleased you are, but remember your life is in their hands and this is their livelihood. A simple method would be 10% of your whole trek and the lead guide can divide it out to the rest of the team. However, Climb Mount Kilimanjaro has a few other tips for tipping.
- Throwing up: You might see some people throwing up, and you might throw up yourself. This is pretty normal, don’t be alarmed. Your guides are trained to know when your symptoms are serious and signs of true altitude sickness, and they will take care of you (my guides force-fed me energy gel packs, wouldn’t let me break for too long, and kept telling me “ten more minutes until we’re there”–I was thankful in the end).
- Superhero Porters: You will see porters dressed for the beach carrying your heavy bags on their head, your mind will be blown by their strength, and you will be put to shame.
- Pole Pole: Everyone on the mountain will say “pole pole” meaning “go slow/little by little,” and it will become your mantra whether you like it or not.
- Meals: You can definitely expect to be in heaven when it comes to elaborate and delicious 3 course dinners and the perfect blend of traditional Tanzanian and American food. Also keep in mind that most guides can accommodate dietary restrictions and food allergies as long as you tell them in advance! Mine happily accommodated my gluten-free diet.
- Frozen Camera Warning: Pack your camera inside something warm, the extreme weather at the top has been known to deplete battery life in electronics, and you certainly don’t want to get to the summit with a dead camera!
- Kilimanjaro & Safari Combo: Do a combined safari/Kilimanjaro package with the same company to save money. I started at the Serengeti, and went through Ngoro Ngoro Crater and ended at Moshi/Kilimanjaro and would 100% recommend this itinerary!
- Counting Steps: When you want to give up on the summit hike, count your steps, until eventually you go numb and tune out–this is a good thing!
- But most importantly enjoy the delicious meals, the most epic views of your life, and high five the person next to you when you reach the summit, because you made it to the highest point in Africa, and the top of the world’s highest free-standing mountain, and that’s pretty damn cool!
|Logistical Tips for Booking Your Trip|
I typically use Skyscanner to book my flights because it allows you to search through websites and airlines worldwide all in one convenient search engine. You can also get price alerts for flights you’re interested in. Compare prices on flights with Skyscanner.
I always book my hostels through Hostelworld. If I’m not staying in a hostel, then I book an
|Using a VPN for Online Bookings|
I also use a VPN (a powerful virtual tool that provides you with a private, anonymous, and secure internet connection) when searching for flights, accommodation, and rental cars. Since websites track your online activity and location, then use these factors to make the rates you are given dramatically higher than their true value, a VPN ensures that you get the best rates, by eliminating artificially high prices based on your country and internet search history. I recommend an affordable VPN like Surfshark to make sure you are getting the best travel deals online!
I always travel with insurance, because I know all too well how many things can go wrong while traveling (and sometimes even beforehand). Travel insurance protects you against certain cancellations, theft, medical emergencies, and more. I have been using World Nomads for the last seven years, and they haven’t disappointed me yet.
|Other Travel Resources|
Check out my Travel Resources Page to see the best companies, apps, jobs and other resources I use when traveling on a tight budget.