A common question we are asked is “Do I need travel insurance?” The exact answer is no, however many reputable guiding companies will require you to have it (and will likely want you to send them a copy prior to you coming to Tanzania). This is for good reason. A lot of things can go wrong with any long-distance international trip. But in the case of climbing Kilimanjaro, things can not only go wrong, but they can go really wrong. And it is highly likely that your other forms of insurance will not be valid when climbing a high-elevation mountain like Kilimanjaro. In fact, most policies will not cover anyone injured over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). You MUST get a policy that specifically allows for climbing up to 6,000 meters.
We absolutely recommend getting insurance specifically for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro immediately after you book your trip with a guiding company. Many companies offer several different options, and it is important to consider these when finding the insurance plan.
No one books a well planned trip to Africa expecting to cancel their trip. But things do happen. And when you add up the total costs of your trip it will likely be quite expensive: flights/travel, guiding company fees, hotel fees, safari costs, Zanzibar trip, etc. If something unexpected were to happen you certainly do not want to end up paying all those costs and not experiencing your vacation! So make sure you find an insurance plan that will cover these fees in case something happens.
Different plans will have different coverage, but we recommend find a plan that covers a trip cancellation for at least the following reasons:
- Sickness or accidental injury of you, a traveling companion or family member
- Traffic accident
- Employer requires you to cancel vacation OR lays you off
- Natural disaster near your home or in Tanzania
Your policy may have additional options for you to consider adding such as home burglary, jury duty, bankruptcy of your guiding company or airline or other options. Some other important options are explained below.
Lost or Stolen Bag
Be sure that your insurance covers this loss, since you will likely be leaving a bag behind at a hotel while you are climbing Kilimanjaro. We have not heard of luggage getting stolen from hotels frequently, but this would cover you if that happens. Perhaps even more importantly, your duffel bag with your climbing gear and equipment could get lost on one of your flights and the clothing and gear in that bag could be worth thousands of dollars.
Some policies also might cover you if your baggage is delayed. This is important, because if your baggage is delayed and you must start your trek up Kilimanjaro, you will need to rent most of your clothing and gear. This extra clause on your insurance policy would cover that expense.
Illness or injury while off the mountain
Although most people think about all the dangers that are present while climbing a high elevation mountain like Kilimanjaro, many forget that there are significant risks within the cities in Tanzania as well. In addition to standard “trip and fall” type injuries that could occur, you also have risks that aren’t likely present in your home country. For example, there are diseases such as Malaria, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Dengue and more that are present in the towns like Moshi, Zanzibar and Arusha as well as Kenya and other countries if your journey is taking you outside of Tanzania. While you will hopefully have had all of your recommended immunizations, there is still a risk of getting these diseases. Even plain, basic travelers diarrhea could potentially keep you from taking your trek and you will want to ensure that your policy will cover costs if that happens.
Injury or illness on the mountain
This is the number one reason to get special insurance that is specifically tailored to high-altitude climbing. It is very likely that any of your standard insurance will not cover you for high altitudes, so be sure to get a policy that specifically covers rescue and medical care for climbing up to 6,000 meters. Also, be sure to inform the insurance company (or check the policy) and let them know that you will not be using ropes, crampons or any other climbing gear (you will only be walking/hiking) Policies that cover actual technical climbing will have a higher premium that is unnecessary for your trip.
Acute Mountain Sickness and it’s severe forms of HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) are very real issues on Kilimanjaro. Even if you take all the recommended cautions, these conditions can still occur. And, if they are severe enough, may even require a helicopter rescue. This is where things can get very expensive ($10,000 and up) and absolutely necessitate the need for insurance. So make sure your policy covers helicopter rescue!
Medical flight return home
While most policies will cover your rescue and medical expenses you incur in Tanzania, but what happens if you need a complex surgery? Most likely, you would much prefer to get this type of procedure done back in your home country. Not only is the quality of care likely to be much better, but you will also be able to recover at home.
But if you require a flight home to get a surgery, you may need to be transported in a full medically enabled plane with a crew of emergency doctors and nurses. This can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Most basic policies do NOT cover this event. But they often have an upgraded policy (or the ability to add this). So be sure to check. It is sometimes referred to as “hospital of choice” option or “medical repatriation”. The add-on clause will generally cover up to $1 million expense if you need to be medically transported.