Choosing the right Kilimanjaro trekking company is the most important decision you’ll make. The company will determine how successful, comfortable and safe you are, so choosing the right one is essential.
Trekking companies come in all shapes and sizes, providing different levels of service, guide quality, training, resources, pre-trek, support, culture and professionalism. However, they can generally be grouped based on several factors that we’ve outlined in this article.
Travel Brokers and Travel Agents
Let us start with who to avoid. . . travel agents and brokers!
Travel agents and brokers match up individual trekkers to local guide companies based in Tanzania. They usually find a cheap local operator but charge premium prices. They offer very little if any pre-trek support and after taking your reservation, they will subcontract your trek to someone else.
We have nothing against travel agents in general, but remember that Mt Kilimanjaro is a 5,895m mountain. Treks should only be organised by companies with the experience and knowledge to do so. We don’t believe they belong alongside beach holidays to the Maldives or sightseeing tours to Europe.
How to spot travel agents and brokers?
If their website has lots of non-mountaineering or general holiday packages then they are a travel agent or broker. It is almost certain that they will pass you onto a local Tanzanian guide company that they’ve never met and were chosen as the cheapest.
This brings us to the option of going direct to the local Tanzanian companies that the travel agents and brokers use.
In our experience, the only benefit of going straight to the local operators in Tanzania is cost. By cutting out the travel agents and brokers, you will get the same service for a lower cost.
Whilst they are cheaper, their service and quality match the price paid. These companies tend to be high-volume, low-margin operators that churn through as many people as they can each year. The support you receive is generic, rather than personalised based on your individual requirements.
This situation is disappointing but easy to understand. These companies have no incentive to deliver a high-quality service as they don’t rely on returning customers. Once you’ve climbed Kilimanjaro then you are unlikely to return. So, these companies are more focused on getting new trekkers onto trips rather than offering the best mountain experience. This culture is different to companies like Summit Expeditions, where a core part of our business is returning customers that climb mountains with us year after year.
Be aware that in the last few years, local operators have built flashy websites with lots of pre-booking information. However, we’ve seen first-hand on the mountain how poor their service is and sadly dangerous the outcomes of their actions can be. Unsurprisingly, the success rates are low when compared to higher-quality international mountaineering companies.
How to spot local operators?
It will be obvious if they are a local operator as they will only have Kilimanjaro treks on their website, plus maybe safaris and a few other Tanzanian excursions. Also, if they have ‘Kilimanjaro’ in their website name or promise a 100% success rate on any of their routes, then we suggest avoiding them.
International Mountaineering Specialists
Finally, we consider specialist mountaineering companies, which are run by experienced mountaineers who have dedicated their lives to operating treks around the world. These companies understand the importance of running high-quality, comfortable and safe treks on Kilimanjaro and boast both the highest customer satisfaction and the highest summit success rates.
By choosing an international mountaineering specialist, you will have a lot more pre-trek support, including personalised guidance on training and gear. You will also have the best safety processes as their best practices have been developed from mountains around the world.
Another important component that these companies provide is the Team Leader. This role is taken by an experienced mountaineer who works for the company and will lead the trek. They have usually climbed Kilimanjaro many times, as well as led expeditions around the world. A good Team Leader will provide support in the months leading up to the trek. This role is significantly different to the local Kilimanjaro guides that just provide support during the trek. We have found that our Team Leaders are the defining element for many trekkers with their summit success.
The one drawback is that these companies cost more than local operators, although they are generally the same as travel agents and brokers. Remember that cost should only be a small part of your decision. You are trekking to almost 6,000m and into an environment that you might never have been in before. This is not the time to be penny-pinching. You should go with the operator that will provide you with the highest quality trek, rather than the cheapest.
What we’ve noticed over the last few years is that some of the biggest international operators are now subcontracting treks to local operators. An easy way to check this is to ask whether an international Team Leader will be on the trek. If they aren’t sending a Team Leader then you can reclassify these companies as travel agents and brokers. You’ll be surprised which of the big companies are now doing this, so please check before booking and have it in writing.
What about Summit Expeditions?
We are proud that Summit Expeditions is an international mountaineering specialist providing high-quality small-group and private treks on Kilimanjaro, and other mountains around the world.
We offer the highest quality guides, camps, food, safety processes and pre-trek support. We also have international Team Leaders on all of our expeditions. They support our trekkers from the moment they book, all the way to the summit and safely back down again.
It is not a surprise that we have a >97% summit success rate across all routes compared to an average of 50%-60% and have customers returning year after year for our mountain adventures.
Check out our upcoming Kilimanjaro Expeditions.
Choosing the best Kilimanjaro trekking company is the single most crucial decision you will make when booking your trek. You should find a company that offers the highest levels of service, guide quality, training, resources, pre-trek, support, culture and professionalism.