Choosing a tour operator for trekking Kilimanjaro

In July 2013 we trekked the highest peak in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Since then, several people have come to us asking how we did it, which company we used, etc. So I decided to write about our experience here.

Our group with the guides

Our group with the guides

Why Kilimanjaro?

For my 25th birthday I came up with the idea of reaching one of the 7 highest peaks before I turned 30. With no prior climbing experience, I decided to try Kilimanjaro since it’s the easiest of all 7 peaks and it requires no technical climbing. I told my husband and he supported me, maybe he thought I was not serious enough or that I would forget and come up with an even more crazy idea.

The time finally came and I started planning. We invited Omar, my husband’s twin brother with his wife Jennie and two friends from Seattle; Jossie and Jon. They were up for the challenge so I started gathering all the information we needed to make this trip a successful one.

Choosing a tour operator to climb/trek Mt. Kilimanjaro can be an overwhelming process. When you type in Google “climbing Kilimanjaro” you get so much information and resources that is hard to choose one and that can make the decision even harder. Here are my two cents on how to make that process more enjoyable and easy.

Create a wish list

Whether you travel solo or in a group, during the process of choosing a tour operator it is important to have very clear what your expectations, demands and “must haves” are. If you are going with a group, then it is also important to ensure everyone is on the same page. Keep the group small, between 3-7 people. In my opinion, the smaller the group the easiest it is to reach a decision everyone is in agreement with.

I was taking the lead on the research and the group trusted my judgement, nevertheless I made sure they were included in the decision making process. It’s always fun to share the blame in case something doesn’t go as expected.

Remember everyone has different needs and expectations. After all we don’t go to Africa every day and for some this is  the trip of a lifetime so expectations are high. We want to make sure everything goes as planned and come home with pleasant memories of an unforgettable experience. In order to achieve that, discuss with the group their expectations before hand. Some of the questions we asked ourselves during the process were:

1. Are we looking for a luxury or a more simple experience?

2. Do we want to do just Kilimanjaro or take advantage of the opportunity and do other activities such as an African safari?

3. How much time do we have?

4. Which route should we take?

5. Do we go with a local company based in Africa?

6. How much money can we spend?

Do your research and ask for recommendations

In my case, the first thing I did was to contact a friend who did the same trip a few years ago and he shared with me the name of the company he used: Zara Tours.

Take the time to research the companies. Read the reviews and visit the travel forums on Trip Advisor, Yelp and Lonely Planet, just to mention a few. You will find stories and anecdotes from travelers all over the world who were in your same position and now are sharing their experience. Learn from others mistakes, get involved in the conversations and ask questions.

After reading the reviews and asking questions to other travelers, I came up with a list of top 4 tour operators. I sent them an email requesting information and a quote, and I studied each of them carefully.

What to look for in a tour operator company?

Besides the reviews, I will caution anyone who is in the process of choosing a tour operator to keep in mind the following:

1. Safety: look for a company with safety and wellness awareness. A company that puts the safety of the customers AND the porters first.

2. Ethical: choose a company that is ethically minded regarding the porters and guides.

3. Responsiveness: when you are investing time and money in a trip like this, responsiveness is critical. You will have so many questions and if you are like me, then you probably would want to hear an answer as soon as possible or will freak out. If you send an email and don’t hear from them between 3-5 days, that should be a red flag.

Which company did we choose?

After several weeks of research and studying the quotes, we decided to go with Zara Tours for various reasons:

1. Local company: Zara is ran by a local with over 20 years of experience

2. A company that gives back: Zara shares some of her profit with local communities with needs in Tanzania. She works with non profit organizations in order to help orphan children in the community and is involved in helping the porters with opening saving accounts and educating them about the importance of good saving habits.

3. Ethical standards: They treat the porters with respect and dignity. Putting their safety first and making sure they go up with proper equipment and clothing.

3. Value: Money does matter and Zara offered much more for less.

4. Responsiveness: Every time I sent an email I got a response within 24 hours. We even spoke via Skype and that gave me a peace of mind.

Me with Jackie from Zara Tours. She was always very responsive and answered all my emails within less than 24 hours.

Me with Jackie from Zara Tours. She was always very responsive and answered all my emails within less than 24 hours.

Am I happy with our choice?

Absolutely. I can not recommend Zara Tour enough. This company exceeded our expectations. We all had a successful trip where all 6 of us made it to the top. The guides and porters were incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. Zara Tours not only took care of organizing the Kilimanjaro trekking part, but also organized a 5 day safari and 3 days in Zanzibar for us. They were absolutely wonderful. We loved all the hotels they chose for us and the activities included in the itinerary.

Our group with Zara, from Zara Tours The girls, top row from left: Zara, Jossie, me, Jennie The guys, bottom row from left: Jon, Alexis & Omar

Our group with Zara, from Zara Tours. The girls, top row from left: Zara, Jossie, me, Jennie . The guys, bottom row from left: Jon, Alexis & Omar

 

Proof that we all made it to the top

Proof that we all made it to the top

I wish you a safe, fun and successful trip!

 

 

Do you have any questions or comments? Do you want to share your experience with us? We want to hear from you, please leave a comment and/or write us at TainoTrails@Gmail.com

 

 

Go on, leave a comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *