Kilimanjaro: What To Know Before You Go

©istockphoto/PDJPhoto11Towering above the lush hills of northeastern Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft) is Africa’s highest peak. Most climbers ascend the mountain in 6-8 days, and almost all visitors call it the trip of a lifetime. But as with all mountains, there are insider tips that will make your trip safer, more successful, and more fun. If you’re thinking about a trip to Africa, consider these suggestions before you go.

Double-Check the Gear List
Kilimanjaro may be the most beginner-friendly of the seven summits, but it’s still not a mountain that should be underestimated. Research the different routes of ascent carefully, and chose a trip that allows plenty of time for acclimatization. Double-check the gear list, and make sure that you’ve tested every piece of equipment before you pack. Take extra batteries (which can be hard or impossible to find there) for headlamps and any other battery-operated gear. Talk to a travel doctor about anti-malarial options, and always carry your own medications—never leave them in a bag that’ll go with your porters.

The battle cry of Kilimanjaro is “pole, pole,” a Swahili phrase meaning “slowly.” Local porters and guides repeat this phrase for good reason: while climbers might be tempted to walk at the speeds they’re used to traveling at sea level, that’s not a recipe for success at altitude. Trust the experts, and walk at a conversational pace. Practice deep breathing. For an added bonus, invest in a pulse oximeter before the climb.

Remember: It Takes a Village
You’ll feel like a hero when you stand on the roof of Africa at sunrise, but don’t get cocky: expedition climbing takes a village. Guided trips usually require a ratio of at least three support staff per climber, and you’ll see plenty of local workers on the trail. Always give porters right of way, be respectful of local customs, and plan your budget to include tips for local staff. If there’s gear you don’t want to bring home after the climb, consider donating it to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), which lends porters important gear like warm boots, ponchos, and backpacks.

Don’t Skimp on Post-Trip Fun
Many climbers are tempted to fly home immediately after their climb to save time or dollars, but those who know the area highly recommend sticking around. Head to the Serengeti to snap photos of elephants, giraffes, and lions and explore the Ngorongoro Crater. Visit with one of the local Maasai tribes, who welcome visitors to see traditional nomadic hunting practices, dancing, and ancient ways of life. Or hop on a plane for the short ride to Zanzibar, which boasts some of the world’s best white sand beaches. Just check the calendar to make sure it’s not Ramadan before ordering that fruity cocktail!