Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

by , SmarterTravel Staff
On the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Photo: ZARA Tanzania Adventures)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on March 10, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Alaska, arts and culture, Berkeley, camping, Croatia, family travel, hiking, Kings Canyon Natl Park, Laos, Molly Feltner, mountain, national park, New Zealand, Peru, Saguenay, Sedona, Tanzania, trekking, wildlife.

Provider: Zara Tours
Length: Five days
Price: $1,000

Ascents of Everest or K2 are not in the cards for most adventure travelers, but Kilimanjaro—with its non-technical terrain, mild weather (by mountain standards), and elevation of less than 20,000 feet—presents mountain-climbing enthusiasts a real chance to top one of the world's seven summits.

Lots of providers sell Kilimanjaro treks, and many charge thousands of dollars for them. Quite a few companies that promote their treks in the U.S., though, are retailers rather than tour operators. They sell packages at a markup while contracting the ground operation in Tanzania to someone else.

Not so with Zara Tours, the largest Kilimanjaro outfitter, which runs its own operation in Tanzania and employs its own guides and porters, so it can offer travelers both lower rates and a more experienced staff than many other companies. Its five-day Marangu-route trek is its cheapest and easiest Kilimanjaro trip, and a good choice for those seeking a bit more comfort. The Marangu is the only one of Kilimanjaro's trails with mountain huts along the way.

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The 20-mile trek (each way) starts in the rainforest on the mountain's eastern slopes and ambles through local villages, heath land, and lunar-looking boulder fields, finally ending at 19,340 feet on Kilimanjaro's broad, glaciated summit. Porters carry most of the equipment and food while guides assist and encourage you as you make your way up to higher elevations. Nights are spent in the mountain huts, and cooks prepare your meals.

"This trip was one of the highlights of my life," says Toronto-based graphic designer Kitty McKechnie, who recently climbed Kilimanjaro on a Zara trek. "I can't say enough amazing things about the guides and the crew. If it weren't for their help and encouragement, I'm not sure my trip to the summit would have been what it was. I will always remember the last few steps to the summit, the amazing feeling of accomplishment and the view that took my breath away. It will be with me forever."

Trip planning

Treks are scheduled year-round. January to March and July to August are considered the best months, weather-wise. The quoted $1,000 price applies to climbs with six or more members, and any trip occurring between April 1 and June 15 or during the month of November. The price is $50 more in other circumstances. Costs cover airport transfers from the Kilimanjaro or Dar es Salaam airports, hotel and mountain hut accommodations, all meals on the trek, and porters and guides. Tips for the guides are extra and you are expected to bring your own backpacking gear. Round-trip flights from Boston to Dar es Salaam start at $1,380, including taxes on American and Emirates.

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