Best Kilimanjaro Guides
Getting a great guide for your Kilimanjaro climb is the most important decision you will make in regards to successfully climbing Kilimanjaro – and ensuring you have fun doing it! As with most guided experiences, the actual guide is often more important than the company they work for (although great companies generally attract great guides). Guides are the key to everything. At a bare minimum, they are responsible for keeping everyone safe. This prerequisite will be met all reputable guides – especially given that Kilimanjaro is one of the most forgiving large mountain experiences.
What makes a guide “great” vs. “bad” is really two primary aspects: 1) How well do they handle safety and the logistics of the trip and 2) Do they make the experience fun for everyone? Let’s look at these two aspects.
Guided Trip Logistics
For anyone that has gone hiking or backpacking or even car camping, you know that there is a lot of planning involved. What food do you need to take? How much food? Will there be enough water? Where will everyone sleep? Will it be warm? Cold? Rainy? Sunny? There is so much planning involved even if you’re just camping for a night or two.
Well, planning and executing a Kilimanjaro trip is a whole different beast! Imagine planning a backpacking trip for 20-30 people (guests + guides + porters) for 5-10 days traveling up to 60 miles (100 km) while still maintaining incredible comfort and fresh food the entire trip! It is more reminiscent of planning and moving a small army than just a simple camping trip.
A great guide will have everything pre-planned. And he will execute the plan so easily and gracefully, you won’t even know about anything going on in the background. You will just know that each night you settle into camp, you have a comfortable, dry tent with all of your gear ready and waiting for you. Then you will go into the heated eating tent and eat the most amazing East African cuisine you can imagine (just as good – or better – then you will have back in town). The very last meal will be every bit as good as the very first meal (something I’ve never been able to do on my own camping trips!)
Guided Trip Experience
Let’s face it…this could very likely be the most amazing feat you will accomplish in your life. Don’t you want to have a blast doing it? This is not a grueling "death march" type hike - your daily routine can be a lot of fun. You will have lots of downtime to relax, talk with other climbers and maybe even dance and sing along with your team!
A great guide will ensure that each and every guest is cared for and is having fun all along the way. They will understand that each guest might be there for a difference reason. Sure, everyone wants to get to the top, but each guest likely has many other interests. Some may really want to see and learn about the many climate zones. Others might be very interested in stargazing and other opportunities. Some guests may really enjoy the camaraderie of the group while other guests may want some solace and desire time to be alone. A great guide will get to know each guest and help ensure that they get the very best experience possible according to their needs.
Great guides have great crews
Your Kilimanjaro journey will include a lot of people! There will be the other climbers (guests), a lead guide and at least one assistant guide. Then, depending on the number of guests, you may have 15+ porters that help do just about everything at camp (setup, teardown, cook, clean, serve, etc.).
The life of a porter is not easy. They have the backbreaking work of carrying every piece of gear that is used on the expedition. They typically move twice as fast as the climbers so that they can get to the next camp and setup before the climbers arrive. And, they are not paid a lot of money. And, unfortunately, they often get ripped off by guides who do not give them their tips or even their earned money.
So think about it. If you are a porter, wouldn’t you much rather work for great guide that has clear leadership skills, empathy, compassion and honesty? And if you are a good, honest guide with lots of porters wanting to work with you, don’t you think you’d pick the best porters for your trips?
While there are lots of guides on Kilimanjaro, it is a surprisingly close-knit group and word of mouth gets out fast. Suffice it to say, the local guides know each other very well and compete to give the very best experience they can and often select the very best crews possible to do so.
How to find a great guide
OK, so now that you know about mediocre guides versus great guides, how do you find a great guide? To answer this question, it may help to understand a little more about the guiding industry for Tanzania.
First, it is important to first know that every trek on Kilimanjaro must be lead be a certified professional climber. This is a firm rule that is enforced by the Kilimanjaro National Park service. There is no “going solo” on this mountain – not even for professionals. And once you’ve had the full Kilimanjaro trekking experience, you’ll be very glad this rule is in place. It just wouldn’t be the same without a great guide and porters.
Furthermore, the Kilimanjaro Park Authority will only certify a local guide. Yes, you’ve read that correctly, you cannot be a certified Kilimanjaro guide unless you are a local. So regardless of whether you choose a guiding company from America, UK, France or Tanzania, your guide will be a local resident. And many of the individual guides often work for multiple agencies (which is common for guides everywhere around the world).
You will notice that there is a large difference in cost between different guide companies. Popular brands like REI and RMI charge almost double the fees that other guiding companies charge. There are various reasons for this, but it important to remember that the guides for the premium companies could very well be the exact same guides as for the average cost companies. It is the large company that takes all that extra profit. However, you certainly don't want to go with a low budget guiding company or one that is so low it is too good to be true (because it most likely is!) Educate yourself on the various costs a guiding company must pay, and you will see that a typical trip is going to cost somewhere between $2,300 and $3,000 USD depending on your route and the number of days.
Don’t be afraid to shop around and ask questions before committing your hard earned money to a guide company. And don’t hesitate to ask questions such as:
- How do you select your guides?
- Who is the guide that is planned for the date you want to go?
- How many Kilimanjaro trips has the guide lead?
- What feedback have you received about the guide?
- How long has the guide been certified?
While it is certainly important to find a reputable guiding company, when it comes to the actual experience on Kilimanjaro it is even more important that you have an experienced, professional guide.