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Thursday 29th February 2024

The true cost of climbing Kilimanjaro

Mouthy Money editor Edmund Greaves had a brainwave in December 2022 – he was going to climb Kilimanjaro. But the costs of doing so have not been what he expected.


At the time of writing I am just over three weeks away from climbing (or at least, attempting) Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

I’m climbing in aid of Marie Curie who looked after my mum when she had terminal cancer in 2013/14. You can find my Justgiving page here.

LISTEN NOW: Ed & Myron’s monthly money episode two –  Mortgage rates, the cost of Kilimanjaro and New Year’s financial resolutions

It has been quite a mission to prepare physically, emotionally and financially for the climb. It is not unfair to say the trip has set me back rather more than I had anticipated.

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Some of the costs range from the surprising to the absurd. And while I have yet to actually take the trip, here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away for anyone who is thinking of trekking to the ‘Roof of Africa’.

1. Book local

Researching tour companies online that can organise your trip generally brings up a host of local options. For the UK this means priced in pounds, operators based out of the UK.

But if you choose a Tanzania-based tour company instead, you’ll immediately realise you’re getting around a 20% discount on the price.

The simple fact is if you book with a UK-based agency all you’re doing is paying a big commission to them to then arrange with a local operator. So go direct to a Tanzanian firm.

I will caveat a couple things here though. Tanzanian companies quote prices in US dollars typically, so ensure you pay with a credit card, that has low fees on foreign exchange (and pay it off straight away), to get the Section 75 protection.

You are also taking more of a risk using a foreign tour operator because it won’t have UK travel industry protections such as ATOL or ABTA. But canny use of a credit card as mentioned above will afford you some protection. Make sure you do your research and try to book a reputable agency.

A good place to start is the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project which looks after the welfare of the porters that make the climb possible. It has a list of approved partner operators both in Tanzania and around the world.

I also recommend the linked guide book by Henry Stedman which I found very useful for tour operator reviews and other essential info for the Kilimanjaro experience.

2. Make careful gear choices

Packing for Kilimanjaro is really tricky. On your first day you’re walking through humid rainforest. By the last day you’re in what is effectively an Arctic wasteland in ecological terms. The temptation to buy loads of gear (gear acquisition syndrome or G.A.S) is real.

During my preparations and practice for the climb I’ve spent too much money on gear I ultimately don’t want to use, such as trekking poles, and boots that gave me blisters. I also bought a mid-price raincoat which turned out to be useless when it got very wet.

Both these decisions ended up costing me more because I then had to buy more expensive, better items that actually did the job. The old adage buy nice or buy twice applies. Make sure you do your research and get quality stuff you can use for life.

Plus, you only get 15 kilos of luggage (on top of what you can carry on your back) which seems like plenty but is not actually a lot once you factor big stuff like a sleeping bag.

Sleeping bags that match the -15-degree cold are also generally really pricey, so renting one in Moshi, the town below the mountain, is possible for a cheaper price.

3. Prepare for unexpected costs

There’s all sorts of things you will end up spending money on that will rack up the costs.

I’ve had to spend £150 updating my vaccines, which was much more than anticipated. Then you have to buy two weeks’ worth of malaria medication, altitude medication and other items I hadn’t really ever considered I’d need.

We also decided to go via Nairobi in Kenya as the flights were much cheaper (around £300 at the time of booking) than to Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. While it is saving us money, we’ve had to spend extra on visas, transport and other stuff which has meant the saving isn’t as great as initially expected.

The key is to plan your trip well in advance and begin saving for it really early. Having cash on hand for unexpected stuff that crops up is key.

This is also important because you’ll have to get US dollars cash beforehand in order to tip the porters and guides who help you climb the mountain. Exchanging cash is generally cheaper than using a credit card as long as you shop around for a good rate.

4. Find the right travel insurance

If you have a standard annual travel insurance policy, it most likely will not cover you for Kilimanjaro. Generally speaking, these policies have limits on the altitude to which they will cover (typically 4,000 metres).

You will need a specialist policy to ensure you’re covered for the mountain. The good news is that Kilimanjaro isn’t a ‘technical’ climb – in other words you don’t need crampons, ice picks or climbing gear – so the cost of the policy should be less than a serious ‘expedition’ policy.

But if you fall ill with altitude sickness, or break your leg on the mountain, and aren’t covered then you could be facing a major bill for the helicopter that evacuates you.

Enjoy the hike

I’m nervous and excited to get started with what should be the trip of a lifetime. The honest truth is the cost has been tough to absorb, but hopefully worth it for the experience.

All in, flights, tour, gear, and other ancillaries I anticipate the whole endeavour will probably be setting me back around £3,500. That breaks down as follows:

  • Tour: £1,700
  • Flights: £700
  • Gear, medications and other kit: £600(ish)
  • Dollars for tip (and other bits such as local transport): £500

I have spent too much money on gear, but feel I have been able to plan and save in other areas such as the tour and flights.

The key has been to be as organised as possible, make a spreadsheet and anticipate as much as you can while saving money as early as possible.

Photo credits: Pexels

Edmund Greaves

Editor

Edmund Greaves is editor of Mouthy Money. Formerly deputy editor of Moneywise magazine, he has worked in journalism for over a decade in politics, travel and now money.

1 Comment
  1. The cost of climbing Kilimanjaro varies depending on factors such as the number of climbers, the duration of the trek, and the company chosen. For a 7 or 8-day trek, an all-inclusive package can cost between $2,000-$2,500 (£1,500-1,900), which excludes flights. The most significant expenses include park entrance fees, camping/hut fees, Tanzanian taxes, staff wages, food, equipment, transportation, and other logistical costs. The average success rate for climbing Kilimanjaro is only 60%, but choosing a company with Kilimanjaro local guides who care about your success and climbing a longer route can increase your chances of reaching the summit.

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