How To Find The Best Kilimanjaro Tour Operator: 60-Point Checklist

As I was researching on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, one problem stood out for me. How do I find a decent Kilimanjaro tour operator? I don’t want to find out that I missed something after flying all the way to a foreign land. After all, I will be placing my life in the hands of the tour operator and climbing guides.

Besides costs, there are lots of considerations to think about. I’ve decided to compile this list so that I do not miss anything out.

Hope you find these useful too!

Tour Operator’s Country Of Operation

What you should know

  • All guides will need to have their tour operator’s Tourist Agents Licensing Authority (TALA) license number. This will be checked before you can enter the park for the climb. The TALA license is a business license for tour operators.
  • You can book your climbs through overseas or Tanzanian tour operators.
  • Sometimes, an overseas tour operator may outsource the climbs to a Tanzanian operator. If they are, you might be able to secure a better deal be engaging directly with the Tanzanian operator.
  • If an overseas tour operator is sending in an overseas team into Tanzania, the cost will be significantly higher.
  • By engaging a local tour operator, you are helping the Tanzanian economy and boosting the income and wages of its people.

1. Does the tour operator have a TALA license? You can check the Kilimanjaro Association of Tour Operators (KIATO) website for a list of tour operators holding a valid TALA license.

2. If you are engaging an overseas tour operator, are they sending in an overseas team? Or are they outsourcing the climbs to a Tanzanian operator?

Responsiveness Of Tour Operator And Availability Of Information


3. Can you find information about the tour operator easily on their website? How long have they been in business?

4. Can you find reviews about the tour operator easily? Are they mentioned in forums or blogs? It is often not a good sign when you can’t find information about the tour operator online. They could be very new and untested or outright scams.

5. Does the tour operator reply to your emails and questions quickly (within 1 to 2 days)?

6. Are the replies clear? If a tour operator is deliberately keeping their replies vague, they might be trying to hide something.

7. Does the tour operator provide helpful information on their website? In their email replies? This is a good sign that the tour operator is experienced and organized. They are likely to go the extra mile to help their clients.

Availability Of Private Or Group Climbs

What you should know:

  • Not all tour operators organize climbs for private groups. This is especially so if you only have a small number of climbers in your group.
  • For some tour operators, you may need to join a group with other climbers. In some cases, the climb could be canceled if the minimum number is not met.

8. Does the tour operator offer climbs for private groups? Are you expected to join a group with other climbers?

9. Will the tour operator cancel the climb if that the minimum number of participants is not met? Will they inform you well in advance of a cancellation? You do not want to find out that the trip is canceled at the last minute. It can be costly to change your other travel plans.

Selection Of Routes

What you should know:

There are 7 routes to ascend Kilimanjaro:

  • Machame Route: The most popular climbing route. It has scenic views but comes with a steep ascent. It typically takes 6 to 7 days.
  • Marangu Route: The oldest route with scenic views. A popular route. It is the only route that offers hut accommodation. It typically takes 5 to 6 days.
  • Lemosho Route: A popular route with one of the most scenic views. It is a longer route. This gives you more time for acclimatization but it will also be more expensive. It typically takes 6 to 8 days.
  • Northern Circuit Route: The newest and quieter route. It is the longest route in terms of time and distance. This gives you more time for acclimatization but it will be more expensive. It typically takes 9 days.
  • Rongai Route: The easiest route. It typically takes 6 to 7 days.
  • Shira Route: The route with the highest starting point. It typically takes 6 to 7 days.
  • Umbwe Route: The most difficult and demanding route with one of the most scenic views. It typically takes 5 to 7 days.
Find out Which Kilimanjaro Route Has The Highest Success Rate?

The routes you choose may affect how likely you will make it to the summit. Personally, I would prefer to make it to the summit on an easier route. But some may enjoy challenging themselves on a more strenuous route.


10. What routes are the tour operator offering?

11. Does the tour operator have any recommended or preferred routes based on the capability of your group?

12. If you have a particular preference for a certain route, does the tour operator check and advise you if it is suitable for your group? This is a good sign that the tour operator is doing their due diligence.

Duration Of Climbs

What you should know:

  • Other than the route, it is also important to know the number of days allocated for the climb. The duration will equally affect the chances of you reaching the summit.
  • If you have more days for the climb, you will have more time for your body to acclimatize to the high altitude. This will reduce your chances of getting altitude sickness. It is common for tour operators to offer an extra acclimatization day.
  • The park fees for climbing are charged on a per day basis. Some tour operators may keep costs by organizing shorter climbs. Unfortunately, this will be at the expense of your safety and success at reaching the summit.
  • If you have more days for the climb, each day of climbing is going to be less strenuous for you. You shouldn’t be pushing yourself to the limit every day. Fatigue is going to accumulate day by day.
  • Here’s a summary of the average number of days usually spent on each of the routes:
Machame Route6 to 7 days
Marangu Route5 to 6 days
Lemosho Route6 to 8 days
Northern Circuit Route9 days
Rongai Route6 to 7 days
Shira Route6 to 7 days
Umbwe Route5 to 7 days

13. For each of the routes, does the tour operator offer flexibility in the duration?

Cost Of Tour Packages

This is possibly the first question that comes to a lot of our minds. How much is too much? At what point is the low cost a cause for concern?

What you should know:

  • Going for the cheapest option might not always be a good idea. Some tour operators may be compromising on safety. They may also exclude certain items from the package.
  • On the flip side, some tour operators may offer exorbitant packages. They may boast about their high success rates or greater safety standards. Some may also position themselves as a luxury provider.
  • Here is a rough guide of what I’ve found offered by several tour operators:
Low Cost/ Budget Operators Mid To High-end Operators
Luxury Operators
Average cost per personUSD1,100 to USD1,500USD1,500 to USD3,500USD3,500 to USD5,500

14. How much are the tour packages being offered? How do they compare to similar packages offered by other tour operators?

15. If something looks too good to be true, does the tour operator have a list of exclusions or add-ons? They may make you pay for these items later.

16. If a tour operator claim to have high success rates or greater safety standards, is it really true? How do they compare to other tour operators?

17. If a tour operator claim to be a luxury provider, what luxuries are they providing?

18. Are the park fees included? These cost USD 70 per person per day for non-residents and USD 35 for locals or residents. The fees for crew members are $2 per person per trip. These should be included.

19. Are the camping or hut fees included? These cost USD 50 — 60 per person per night. These should be included.

20. Are the rescue fees included? These fees are charged regardless of whether you have used any rescue services. These cost USD 20 per person per trip. These should be included.

21. Is there any discount given for larger groups?

Number Of Crew Members Provided

What you should know:

  • As a general guide, these are the number of crew members provided for the climb:
    • 1 guide for every 3 climbers
    • 3 porters for each climber
    • 1 cook for every 2 to 3 climbers
  • To avoid issues when tipping the crew at the end of the climb, you should take note of the number of people in your crew. You don’t want to be tipping some stranger who mysteriously appeared only at the end of the trek!

22. How many guides, assistant guides, porters and cooks will the tour operator provide?

23. Are the porters expected to be carrying your personal belongings (e.g. your backpack)? Usually, porters are only expected to carry common equipment and items (e.g. tents, food etc). If you need help with your backpack, you may need to hire a separate porter to carry it for you. This is not always the case and it will be good to check with the tour operator.

24. Are the guides or cooks also expected to double up as porters? Guides and cooks are not supposed to be working as porters. Some tour operators might be doing this to keep costs low.

Proficiency Of Guides

What you should know:

  • All guides need to be qualified to bring a team into the national park. They should be certified by the Kilimanjaro National Park Authority. A guide will need to provide their guide number before entering the park.
  • In an emergency, your guides are more important than any safety procedure or equipment. They should know what they have to do and be well-trained for it.
  • Your guides are the ones who will provide medical assistance during an emergency. They are the ones you have to rely on if you need to return to base.
  • Your guides are also the ones who can help prevent medical emergencies. Good guides will ensure that any minor issues are addressed before they worsen.
Check out these 15 Potential Dangers And Hazards Of Mountain Climbing.
  • Make sure that the tour agencies do not change your guides at the last minute. If they do, make sure you run through the checklist again for the new guides.

25. Who are the guides? Are they qualified? Ask for a copy of their latest certificate. They should also have a Guide Number. Check the Kilimanjaro Guide Association’s website for a list of registered guides.

26. How experienced are the guides? How long have they been working as a guide? How many climbs have they made?

27. Are the guides trained and certified in first aid? Ask for a copy of their most recent First Aid certificate.

28. Do the guides have other certifications such as Wilderness First Responder? Ask for a copy of their most recent certificate.

29. Do the guides have the medical training to perform daily health checks for you and your group? Do they know how to interpret the results?

30. If your group has supplemental oxygen or a Portable Altitude Chamber, do the guides know when and how to use them?

Treatment Of Crew Members By Tour Operator

What you should know:

  • Your guides, porters, and cooks are indispensable members of your climb. It is only fair to ensure they are not exposed to unreasonable working conditions.
  • Porters are a huge part of any climbing expeditions. They are in charge of carrying everything needed by the group. However, they are prone to exploitation by tour operators. Tour operators may be paying them unfair wages or forcing them to rely on the tips given by climbers.
  • The US-based nonprofit organization International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC) has worked with Tanzanian authorities and launched the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) initiative. The initiative looks into the treatment and welfare of Tanzanian porters.

31. Is the tour operator listed as a partner on the KPAP’s website? Check the KPAP’s website for a list of tour operators who adhere to KPAP’s guidelines.

32. If you are booking through an international agency or other middlemen, find out who their local operators are. Then check if they are listed as a partner on the KPAP’s website.

Tipping Arrangement For Crew Members

I generally dislike the practice of tipping because I never seem to feel good either way. I feel guilty when I give too little. And I feel like a sucker when I give too much.

What you should know:

  • Tipping is the norm and the amount of tips varies between USD 200 and USD 400 for each climber. This is usually about 10% to 15% of your tour package cost.
  • It is certainly not a small sum! This is the breakdown I’ve found online. These amounts are for each group and NOT each climber.
    • Main guide: USD 15 — 25 per guide per day
    • Assistant guides: USD 10 — 20 per guide per day
    • Cooks: USD 8 — 15 per cook per day
    • Porters: USD 5 — 10 per porter per day
  • Some tour operators also provide guidelines on how much to tip their staff.

33. What are the tour operators’ guidelines on the amount of tips to give? If the amount is too high, it might be a sign that the operators may not be paying fair wages.

34. What are the tour operator’s guidelines on when to tip? Is it at the end of the entire expedition? After the last meal?

35. What are the tour operator’s guidelines on how to tip? Will the tips be given to the main guide? Will the tips be given separately to each individual staff? KPAP emphasized that the amount of tips given should be made transparent to all. If the tips are given to the main guide, he or she should acknowledge the amount given to all the staff in the climb. You can read about KPAP’s guidelines here.

Safety Procedures and Equipment Provided

What you should know:

  • Getting sick or injured in the mountains is a nightmare. There are no doctors available and you can’t just call a car to send you back to where you came from.
  • Your guides are critical here. They are the ones who will provide medical assistance. They are the ones you have to rely on if you need to return to base.
  • Your guides are also the ones who can help prevent medical emergencies. They can help make sure any minor issues are addressed before they worsen.

36. How are the tour operator’s safety records? Are they open to sharing it? Can you find any reports or reviews that contradicts what the tour operator told you?

37. Does the tour operator ask you to complete a comprehensive medical form before signing you up? This is a good sign that they are doing their due diligence.

38. What are the health monitoring procedures? Are there daily medical checks done by the guides? Do the tour operators provide the equipment to check on lung sounds or oxygen levels in the blood?

39. Does the tour operator have a plan for evacuating injured or sick climbers? Will you have a guide to bring you back to base camp or to a doctor or hospital? A guide should be doing this and NOT a porter.

40. Does the tour operator provide a comprehensive first aid kit with sufficient supplies?

41. What equipment are the tour operators providing? Are they providing any supplemental oxygen? Or a Portable Altitude Chamber for people suffering from altitude sickness? (Read How High Can You Climb Before You Need Oxygen?)

42. Does the tour operator provide a satellite phone for emergencies?

These are not mandatory requirements but they can help guide your decision process. You should feel like your tour operator is doing all they can to ensure your safety. It is a red flag if they are just making you sign a disclaimer to cover their liability.

If you want greater peace of mind or have someone in your group prone to altitude sickness, you may have to consider paying a premium for additional safety features.

Provision Of Food and Water

What you should know:

  • The tour operator should handle all your meals and water. You are not required to pack any food other than your own snacks or treats.
Check out these snack and drinks ideas for your climb!

43. What is the menu provided by the tour operators?

44. How many hot meals and pre-packed meals are there?

45. Do they cater to your dietary requirements or restrictions?

46. How is the food being stored during the duration of the climb?

47. Will the tour operator be providing bottled water, purification tablets or water filters? Read: Are Water Purifying Tablets Safe (Idoine, Chlorine, Chlorine Dioxide)?

Equipment Rental

Read: What Equipment Do You Need To Climb A Mountain? (Pictures Included)

What you should know:

  • This is usually not included as part of the tour package. It needs additional payment depending on your individual needs.
  • It might be better to consider renting bulky items such as tents since it may be costly to fly with them.

48. What equipment is available for rental?

49. How much is the equipment rental?

50. Can the tour operator provide the exact models of the items you are renting? Are the brands well-known? How old is the equipment?

51. Are the tents provided big enough for sleeping and storing your backpacks? You may find two-man tents to be a tight fit with 2 huge backpacks. Ask for the model or dimensions of the tents to check on the size.

52. Are the tents and sleeping bags provided sufficiently warm? Do they have the insulation and weatherproofing designed for cold climates?

53. Does the tour operator provide sleeping mattresses or pads? Going to sleep on hard surfaces might be unbearable for some.

54. Does the tour operator provide a tent for meal times? This is helpful in sheltering you from the cold winds

55. Does the tour operator a private toilet? Personally, this is a must have item for me.

56. Does the tour operator provide ice axe and crampons? Depending on the season, you may need them to walk on icy terrains.

57. Are there reviews by past climbers about old or damaged equipment provided by the tour operators?

Payment Options

What you should know:

  • Travel insurance generally doesn’t provide refunds for any tour packages when the tour operator fails to deliver or go bust.
  • If you booked via a tour operator in your home country, there might be protection schemes in place for you. This might not be the case for Tanzanian operators.

58. What kind of payment options does the tour operator have? Credit card? PayPal? Bank transfers?

59. What kind of protection is in place should the tour operator go bust or fail to deliver on their promises?

60. Do you have to make a full payment upfront or only a deposit?

61. What are the refund and cancellation policies?

Additional Services Provided By Tour Operator

These are complementary services that could make your entire journey more pleasant.


62. Does the tour operator provide pick up and drop off services from the airport or hotel?

63. Does the tour operator provide accommodation the day before or after your climb? What type of accommodation are they providing?

64. Will the tour operator help you store any pieces of luggage that you are not bringing along for the climb?

65. Does the tour operator provide additional packages that you can add on (e.g safari tours)? Signing up for add-ons might be cheaper than getting a separate tour package.

Where To Start Looking For The Best Tour Operators?

Whew. That’s just a lot of things to consider!!

So where do you even begin looking for a tour operator?

A helpful place to start will be to look at the partners of IMEC and KIATO. IMEC has a list of 132 partners in Tanzania and around the world. KIATO has a list of 44 Tanzania tour operators.

Check online if there are any bad reviews for any of these operators. Just because they are established partners of certain agencies doesn’t mean they provide excellent service.

Once you have shortlisted a couple of potential tour operators, run through the checklist items listed above and see if there are any major issues.

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