Choosing Tour Operator for Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro Hike

by Jackie
Choosing Tour Operator for Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro Hike

How To Start The Process

The research was the exciting part of any travels. We wanted to find a tour operator that had both the safari and Mount Kilimanjaro hike options rather than finding two different companies. We went through TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet forums to see recent positive and negative comments on what others have used, and further explored potential companies.  

One of our “must haves” was to have a local company based in Tanzania. We wanted our tour fees to go back to the locals rather than to a middleman company. In addition, the industry is competitive with every operator offering the same tour itineraries so we wanted one that focused on customer service, ensured a smooth transition throughout the tour, and provided fair working conditions and wages for their workers.

We also opted to go with a budget type tour. A trip to Africa isn’t cheap, so we didn’t want to dry up our bank account (spend all our life savings). Our willingness to spend was under $4000 USD for the safari and Mount Kilimanjaro hike (excluding tip). For reference an outfitter like REI Adventures charge $4900 for a 9 day safari and $5600 for the climb (via Lemosho).

As mentioned in our last post regarding a private/group tour, we opted to go with a private tour. We had more flexibility based on our private group setting and didn’t have to worry about strangers.

Don’t worry, even if you are a solo traveler, you can easily have a private tour.

Tracking Galore

With my background in project management, I love using spreadsheets for tracking things. Every trip that we’ve been on has a spreadsheet with things to do, hotels, transportation options, and more. In order to share updates with Justin and anyone else in our group, Google Sheets was our best friend. No need to send a document back and forth through email!

Questions To Ask

We contacted the potential tour operators through email or the contact form on the website. We asked them the following questions if we couldn’t find the information on their websites:

  1. Where the company is based?
  2. How many years has the company been in business and selling tours?
  3. Can they provide references/contact information of past clients to contact them?
  4. What is included in the cost? Is there a discount for having X number of people in the group?
  5. How are special dietary restrictions handled? We also asked for a sample menu.
  6. What hiking gear is included in the cost? Are sleeping pads, sleeping bags, hiking poles, etc a part of the package? If not, what is the additional cost?
  7. Where can we store our luggage during the hike and safari? (The company may allow you to leave luggage in their office or luggage is left at the hotel.)
  8. What is the packing list for the hike? Is a private toilet included in the price? (A private toilet is a must have so you don’t need to walk far to use the restroom in the middle of the night.)
  9. What is the difference in price for the safari lodging – camping versus lodge? What are the names of the lodges they would book?
  10. Which hotel do we stay in the local town (Arusha or Moshi depending on where the company is based)?

We looked the operator’s customer service – Details of the email responses, how quickly the responses were (24 hours or less were desirable), and if they followed up with our inquiry after a lack of response from our side. We also followed up with several companies who didn’t respond back to initial inquiries.

Mount Kilimanjaro Hike Routes

There are 7 routes (Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe, Marangu, Northern Circuit, and Rongai) to hike the mountain depending on what you’re looking for. We wanted to have a challenging route that wasn’t too crowded, a high completion success rate, and beautiful scenery.

Top choices were either Machame or the Lemosho route. We went with Lemosho as hikers said that it was a beautiful route and didn’t have as many people compared to Machame.

The length of the hike various per hike. We wanted to have a longer acclimation on the mountain, so we went with 8 days. Machame route had 6-7 days of completion, while Lemosho route had 7-8 days of completion. We proceeded with 8 days/7 nights for the hike.

Choosing Tour Operator for Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro Hike

Lemosho Gate Sign and Distance to Campsites

Safari

We agreed with the safari itinerary provided for a 7 days/6 nights tour. Ultimately, we had 1 day Lake Manyara, 4 days Serengeti, 1 day Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and 1 day Tarangire.

The only thing that we provided feedback was camping vs lodges. We opted to save money to camp for 5 nights and have 1 night at the lodge. We wanted a hot shower in the middle of our camping excursion. Prices for the camping and lodges various from different operators, so you’ll need to inquire.

Price

As mentioned earlier, our target budget was under $4000 USD for both the Mount Kilimanjaro hike and the safari tour only.

We paid:

  • Cost of Lemosho hike (8 days/7 nights): $1500
  • Cost of safari (7 days/6 nights [5 nights camping; 1 night at lodge]): $1965

Total: $3465

Cost included:

  • National Park fees
  • Transportation to/from the Kilimanjaro airport
  • Fair wages for the workers
  • Food during trek/safari
  • Water during trek/safari
  • Sleeping pads for camping
  • 1 night accommodation before the trek and
  • 1 night accommodation after the safari.

Cost excluded:

  • Additional hotel room nights
  • Tip
  • Equipment rental
  • Food during non trek/safari days
  • Additional day trips
  • Souvenirs

You’ll need to factor in what the tour does or does not include.

You may get a price discount if you have a larger group!  

Payment

Ask about the deposit process. Many ask for a 10%-20% of your total cost as a security deposit through bank wire transfer or credit card. We asked if PayPal was used, and it wasn’t.

We did a bank wire transfer and everything was fine. It was our first time sending money to another country and were paranoid that we’d lose all of our money. Our contact sent us an email receipt once the money arrived in his bank. Success!

The remaining balance was brought in U.S. dollars. Bring clean bills that have the year 2003 and above (2004, 2005, and later). It is better to have larger bills as the Tanzania money exchange places have a better exchange rate for $50 and $100 USD. Smaller bills are better for tip. 

Who We Chose

After many months of research, we chose Top Climbers Expedition. You won’t be disappointed with their top notch service and care for their customers. We were lucky to travel with them for 2 weeks! And no, we don’t get commissions from this.

Top Climbers Expedition is a young company based in Moshi, Tanzania. Manase Mwanga, the owner, ensured that all of our questions were addressed during the research. He responded back to my email inquiries within 24 hours and even honored things that we discussed back in 2015 (1 year ago), such as the old pricing for the Lemosho route and the complimentary private toilet. Manase met us in person multiple times at the hotel – before and after the hike and safari, and as we departed to the airport. We appreciated seeing him frequently to check on us.

Choosing Tour Operator for Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro Hike - Top Climbers Expedition

Group picture with Manase before we start the safari

The “Dream Team” for the hike and safari were awesome! They were professional, knowledgeable in their field, and ensured our safety during the adventure. Each of our guides had 8-10+ years of experience, and we were never in a dangerous situation. Plus, they were fun to hang out with.

Our mountain support crew consisted of 14 team members for the three of us – 2 guides, 1 chef, and 9 porters. Our safari had 1 guide and 1 chef. We couldn’t have done the trip without them! The porters worked very hard with carrying 20kg on their heads and back plus their personal stuff, and everything was set up when we arrived at our next camp. Our safari guide had a hawk eye for seeing birds and animals in trees even while driving. In addition, our chefs did an amazing job feeding us healthy meals in sometimes challenging environments.

Choosing Tour Operator for Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro Hike - Top Climbers Expedition

Our “Dream Team” for the Mount Kilimanjaro hike. At the Londorosi Gate before we started the hike.

Choosing Tour Operator for Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro Hike - Top Climbers Expedition

Our Safari Team!

Justin’s mother and I had dietary restriction of a pescatarian diet (vegetarian and seafood/fish diet) and it was accommodated. No traveler’s diarrhea here!

The company values suggestions for improvement so they can continue to grow. Manase seeked feedback after we completed the hike and safari. Whether they were related to the itinerary, team members, food, equipment, lodging, etc, they were valuable discussions to share our positive and/or negative experiences.

Asante (“thank you” in Swahili) Top Climbers Expedition. This is one company we would recommend to friends and family.

What are some helpful tips that you’ll use during your planning? Let us know in the comments.

Choosing Tour Operator for Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro Hike

 

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