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!