What I Wish I Knew Before Climbing Kilimanjaro (12 Lessons)

Tristan Balme 12 lessons i wish i knew before climbing kilimanjaro

As someone who has recently climbed Kilimanjaro, I want to share with you some of the things I wish I had known before embarking on this unforgettable journey. This article will provide you with valuable insights into what to expect when climbing Kilimanjaro and how to prepare for it.

Introduction

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be taken lightly. It is a challenging but rewarding journey that requires careful planning and preparation. In this article, I will share with you 12 lessons that I learned from my climb, which I hope will help you prepare for your own adventure.

  1. You should book before you go
  2. You need a guide
  3. Most of the fees go to the government
  4. Your crew gets paid terribly
  5. It’s the altitude gain, not the altitude
  6. You’ll be freezing cold and sunburnt
  7. The wildlife and plants are completely unique
  8. The toilets are rather minimalistic
  9. Be prepared for snow
  10. Spend a few days in Moshi
  11. Head to Zanzibar to unwind
  12. It’s 100% worth it

Lesson 1: You Should Book Before You Go

If you’re planning to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s important to book your trip well in advance. This is especially true if you’re planning to climb during peak season, which is from June to October and December to February. During these months, it’s not uncommon for popular routes to fill up quickly, so it’s important to secure your spot as soon as possible.

Learn More: In this article, I share my recommendations for the best trekking companies in each price range.

Lesson 2: You Need a Guide

You need a guide.

In fact, it’s required by law to have a registered guide with you at all times.

Your guide will not only help you navigate the terrain but will also provide you with valuable information about the mountain and its history.

It’s not permitted to climb the mountain by yourself, but if you do want to have a more bare-bones trip, where you carry your own gear and ascend much quicker than the large groups, you can arrange a private guide to take you.

Lesson 3: Most of the Fees Go to the Government

When you climb Kilimanjaro, you’ll need to pay fees for various things, such as park entrance, camping, and rescue services. It’s important to note that most of these fees go directly to the government, which are meant to use the money to maintain the park and support the local community (whether they do or not is a topic for another article).

The Kilimanjaro park fees are currently $70 USD per trekker per day. This fee is charged for the number of days you spend inside the park. For example, on the 8-day Lemosho route, the park fees would be $560 USD ($70 x 8 days).

Lesson 4: Your Crew Get Paid Terribly

While most of the fees go to the government, it’s important to know that your crew, including your guide, cook, and porters, get paid very little. In fact, they rely heavily on tips to make a decent living. As such, it’s important to be generous with your tips and to consider the welfare of your crew when choosing a tour operator.

In this guide, i talk about how much you should be tipping, and share my thoughts on the practice.

Tristan Balme porters trudging up kilimanjaro

Lesson 5: It’s the Altitude Gain, Not the Altitude

One of the biggest challenges of climbing Kilimanjaro is the altitude. However, it’s not necessarily the altitude itself that’s the problem, but rather the rate at which you gain altitude.

Kilimanjaro is one of the highest altitude gain hikes in the world – as you ascend from almost sea level to the 5,875m summit.

To prevent altitude sickness, it’s important to take your time and allow your body to acclimatize properly.

If you are prone to altitude sickness, opt for a longer route that includes an acclimatization day.

Lesson 6: You’ll Be Freezing Cold and Sunburnt

Climbing Kilimanjaro involves a wide range of temperatures, from freezing cold at night to scorching hot during the day. As such, it’s important to bring clothing that can handle these extremes. Additionally, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun, as the higher altitude means that you’ll be more exposed to harmful UV rays.

Lesson 7: The Wildlife and Plants are Completely Unique

Kilimanjaro is home to a wide range of unique wildlife and plants that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. From the Colobus monkey to the Kilimanjaro tree, there are plenty of fascinating species to discover along the way.

Tristan Balme The plants and wildlife on kilimanjaro

Lesson 8: The Toilets are Rather Minimalistic

When it comes to toilets on Kilimanjaro, don’t expect luxury. In fact, most of the toilets are little more than holes in the ground. As such, it’s important to bring your own toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other personal hygiene items.

There are no western comforts here. just a hole in the wooden floor..

Is flexibility an issue? I’d strongly recommend working on being able to sit comfortably in a deep squat position. Sorry, but these loos don’t come with western seats.

Lesson 9: Be Prepared for Snow

While it’s rare, it’s not unheard of for there to be snow on Kilimanjaro. As such, it’s important to bring clothing that can handle the cold and wet conditions just in case.

Even in good weather, you’ll be walking over snow and ice at the summit so make sure you’re comfortable using either poles in conjunction with good boots. Or, a pair of crampons to help you.

Snow at the summit of kilimanjaro

Lesson 10: Spend a Few Days in Moshi

Moshi is a small town located at the base of Kilimanjaro and is the starting point for most climbs. It’s a great place to spend a few days before and after your climb, as there are plenty of things to see and do in the area.

Check out this guide where I share my tips on what to do in Moshi before and after your climb.

PS: Go to the hot springs!!

Tristan Balme swimming at kiluletwa hot springs near moshi tanzania

Lesson 11: You Need To Unwind After: Head to Zanzibar!

After climbing Kilimanjaro, it’s important to take some time to unwind and relax. You’ll be filthy, stinky, tired and ready to do nothing for at least a week!

One of the best places to do this is on the island of Zanzibar, which is known for its beautiful beaches and laid-back vibe.

Read More: Checkout my guide for the top 17 things to do for a week in Zanzibar

Tristan Balme Relaxing on the beach in Zanzibar

Lesson 12: It’s 100% Worth It

Despite the challenges, climbing Kilimanjaro is an incredible experience that is absolutely worth it. The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you reach the summit is indescribable, and the memories you’ll create along the way will last a lifetime.

If there’s one thing I learnt from my trip is that everyone is doing it for their own reasons. It’s not just a mountain, but a pilgrimage. And is a trip where every single person on the mountain comes home a better person than when they left.

What will you get from it?

I can’t tell you that.

But I can tell you that you owe it to yourself to find out.

Tristan Balme Admiring The View From On Top Of Mount Kilimanjaro

Conclusion

Climbing Kilimanjaro is not for the faint of heart, but with the right preparation and mindset, it can be an unforgettable adventure. By following these 12 lessons, you’ll be well on your way to conquering one of the world’s most iconic mountains. Good luck and happy climbing!

Kilimanjaro Travel Planning Cheatsheet

 

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Tanzania?

100% YES! — Tanzania has now introduceed “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover high altitude hiking as it's a high risk activity!

(that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance

I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for high altitude hiking UP TO 6000m (Which most travel insurance companies don't offer!)

🎫 Do I need a visa for Tanzania?

Probably not — Tanzania now provide a visa on arrival (VoA) for most western countires which allows you stay for up to 90 days. However, some other countries do need a pre-approved eVisa (check here!). VoAs cost $50 USD for a single entry - Note, US Citizens are required to get a Multi-Entry visa which costs $100 USD. (View visa prices here)

If transiting through Kenya (a lot of people fly via Nairobi), you'll need a Kenyan visa too. Visa's cost $20 for a 3 day transit visa and $50 for a toursit visa

(By the way, on both my interactions with the imigration officers in kenya they tried to scam me, so know what your obliged to pay and BRING THE EXACT CASH for the visa!)

💉Do I need any vaccinations for Tanzania?

YES! Make sure you are up-to-date with all your vaccines. Common travel vaccines include Hep A/B + Typhoid, and Diphtheria + Tetanus.

A yellow fever vaccination isn't a requirment to visit Kilimanjaro but is for neighbouring areas in East Africa. In reality, you will might not be allowed back into your home country on your return (I was asked for proof of vaccination upon returning to Australia) so getting this jab prior made for good peace of mind. 

Rabies is an issue in Tanzania but the vaccine is expensive and ineffective as a preventative measure (it only lasts a few years and you'll need to get them again if you require treatment). If bitten by a stray dog seek immediate medical attention!

As always, talk to your GP or specialised travel doctor a few weeks BEFORE you leave.

🏩 What’s the best Kilimanjaro Tour operators?

Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Booking.com. Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options

If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.

💸How do you pay for things in Tanzania?

Cash is king in Tanzania, so you'll want to get some folding tender out from an ATM when you land. Larger businesses and hotels will take Debit / Credit Card but most resturants, and street vendors want cash. I even had to pay for my Kili trip in cash!

I personally use a Wise debit card for all my international money needs as they only convert the funds when you make payment, plus they offer a much better spread (margin on the true exhange rate) than the banks do. They work in all the Tanzanian ATMs I tried. 

🚌 What's the public transport like in Tanzania?

There is a good basic network of local and inter-city busses in Tanzania and travel this way is very cheap. Domestic flight are also very affordable and a far more comfortable option. Checkout Busbora for booking bus tickets online.

📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Tanzania and on the mountain?

This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is prepaid SIM cards are cheap and availible to tourists and locals alike (You don't need a pricey tourst SIM!)

Your cheapest option is buying a physical sim card on the street corner once landed and getting the shop assistant to help you set it up. I went with Vodacom and had generally good coverage, even up on Kili!

Another option if you're visiting other African countries is the Airalo eSIM. This is a little more expensive but gives you connectivity across 14 neighbouring African Countries and connectivity the moment you step off the plane!

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Tanzania?

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).

💧Can you drink the water in Tanzania?

Safest not to — tap water in Tanzania may be OK (the locals drink it) but is generally untreated and not reccommended for tourists. Purchase bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing.

🏔️💧Can you drink the water on Mount Kilimanjaro?

Yes — Your tour company with ensure the water provided to you is safe to drink by either carrying in bottled water, or by treating stream water with purification tablets or by boiling it. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I'd also recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely. 

 

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