(Note: If you are after a quote, a specific price for a climb, please go to this page.)
A Kilimanjaro tour is a once in a lifetime trip.
It is a trip on which you spend a heck of a lot of money.
It is a trip into a part of the world that you are likely not familiar with.
And it is a trip that, if organised by irresponsible or incompetent Kilimanjaro tour operators, can quickly become dangerous and even life threatening.
Now, you may think that Kilimanjaro trekking companies would all be responsible and competent.
After all, they have to get approved by the park authorities, right? And all the mountain guides have to be licensed, right? So that would ensure that no matter who you go with, at least you would be safe, right?
There are several hundred operators who offer Kilimanjaro tours. I would trust only a small fraction of them with my life and money.
Tanzania is a typical African country and regulation exists only on paper. There are a million loopholes and evasion strategies. The people supposed to enforce the regulations are poor. A budget Kili tour operator can bribe his way out of any requirements that would cost him too much money to keep his rock bottom prices.
Safety may be the most dramatic issue, but it's not the only one.
The best Kilimanjaro climb operators not only have the best safety record, they also have the best client success rates.
Your chances to reach the summit depend on your operator more than on anything else. Yes, your operator is more important than your fitness level!
I talked to long time Kili mountain guides about success rates, to investigate how the "official" numbers compare to their real life experience. They would not give me a number or estimate, because in their experience the success rate totally depends on the tour operator.
And last but not least, there is the issue of the Kilimanjaro porters. How they are treated does not necessarily affect your safety or success rate. But is that a reason to support the blatant exploitation of the people who make it possible for you to climb Kilimanjaro in the first place?
Reading them will help you make a better decision about who is the best Mount Kilimanjaro tour operator for you.
So now that you know that you want a quality operator with a good safety record, with good client success rates, who treats their staff fairly, how on earth do you find such a Kili tour?
There are two ways to book a Kilimanjaro trip. You can do it from overseas, or you can do it when you get there. Most people book from overseas, so I will talk mostly about how to do that. Further down the page I'll tell you how to find the best tour operator in Tanzania when you get there.
First of all, stay away from the bottom level budget Kili climbs. Yes, your friends may have had a great experience with a budget operator. Some people also win lotto.
But a lotto ticket costs a few bucks, a Mt. Kilimanjaro tour costs a few thousand (with flights and all). If the trip sucks and you don't even make it to the summit, is that really money saved? It's wasted!
If all the stars align correctly a budget operator may well guide you to the summit successfully, but you want a good chance in any weather! And you want to know that you will live, no matter what happens on that mountain.
It's difficult to give you price guidelines (I gave some suggestions on the costs page), because there are so many variables. Starting point, route, number of days on the mountain, booking through an agent or directly... as you start looking around you will get a feel for the prices soon enough.
Dig through the websites of the operators you consider. How much information do they share? Contact them and ask for more info. Are they open and transparent about how they run things? If not, ask yourself why not.
Someone who has lots of experience and knowledge, excellent equipment, an exceptional saftey record and great success rates would not hide that, would they? And I find there is no better way than to personally contact tour operators to get a feel for how much they really care about their clients.
Unfortunately many highly professional Kilimanjaro trekking agencies that treat their clients extremely well, still keep their prices competitive at the expense of the porters.
To make sure a Kilimanjaro tour operator not only genuinely cares about you but also about their staff, check the partner program of the International Mountain Explorers Connection.
The IMEC is behind the porters assistance project in Kathmandu, Nepal, and also the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) in Moshi.
The companies listed as partners not only agreed to treat their porters as recommended by the project and to pay them a fair wage. They also agreed to be audited and inspected by the KPAP on a regular basis.
(Naturally, the operator I recommend is listed on that page.)
Checking whether your chosen Kilimanjaro tour operator or agency is listed on that page is one important thing you can do to improve the situation of the Kilimanjaro porters.
(An international agency may not be listed on that page, yet the Tanzanian operator they use on the ground is. So if booking internationally, find out what the name of the company is that will actually be guiding you on Kilimanjaro.)
There is an added benefit to choosing a responsible partner. Do you think that an operator who sets an example when it comes to looking after even the lowest staff members, would then neglect the safety and welfare of their clients? I don't think so.
In fact, many agencies listed on that page are definitely in the top end of the price range, but there are also some that are reasonably affordable.
Still, if you want a good Kilimanjaro tour, you can only go so low in the price.
Your Kilimanjaro tour will be cheaper if you book directly with a Tanzanian agency when you get there. Not only do you cut out the middle man, you may also be able to negotiate something like a "last minute" deal. The operator may prefer to sell you a spot for a cheaper price than to not sell it at all.
There are of course risks. The good operators may be booked out. There may not be any climbs on your preferred route or preferred date. You may have to do a lot of waiting and running around.
And there is only so much running around you can do, only so many companies you can personally check out...
Most Kilimanjaro tour companies are located in Arusha or Moshi, some are directly in Marangu. To save yourself some time and research there, read up on the local Kilimanjaro tour agencies beforehand. You can.
Henry Stedman reviews a huge number of them in his excellent Kilimanjaro trekking guide. He also gives many tips what to look out for and what questions to ask before you sign that contract.
If you plan to book your Kilimanjaro trip locally, this guide is invaluable. It is also a great guide book to Arusha, Moshi and Marangu, covering all the accommodation, restaurants, public transport, other attractions and more.
Even if your Kili climb is prearranged, if you are travelling in northern Tanzania independently, Henry Stedman's Kilimanjaro guide is a must have.
In fact, even if your whole trip is arranged, you should still get it for the excellent background information. It's a fantastic and entertaining read and I can't recommend it enough.
I remember first discovering Henry Stedman's guide, AFTER I had booked my first Kilimanjaro tour. To my great relief Henry considered the Kilimanjaro tour company I had booked with as "one of the best on the mountain".
And you will be relieved to hear that they certainly were not in the luxury price range :). (Luxury is neither my style nor my budget.)
Take the time to do your research as outlined above, ask questions and trust your instincts.
What seemed to be an overwhelming choice of Mount Kilimanjaro tours, will soon be whittled down to a surprisingly easy decision.
Read more about What it takes to climb Kilimanjaro