Climbing the Base of Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro – The roof of Africa

When it comes to Tanzania one thing you might find is the overwhelming number of activities you can do. What you will also quickly find is that these activities can be on the pricier side. This is specifically the case when it comes to either climbing the famous Kilimanjaro or going on a Serengeti safari. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do both?

As dreamy (and expensive) as this may seem, it is not entirely impossible. Here are some tips on how you can do both!

To hike or safari

Considered the highest free-standing mountain in the world and the highest in Africa, it goes without question that Mount Kilimanjaro is most certainly a sight to see.

View of Mount Kilimanjaro from my hotel

However, as I mentioned, the hike to the top is one that can hit your pockets really fast! When it comes to trekking, you will find that many people will choose to hike the entire mountain. They do so with the intention of arriving at the summit – the highest point of the mountain. This is bragging rights worthy. Yet, there are some things to consider.

  1. A hike to the summit can range anywhere from around $950 – $2000
  2. You must prepare for some very drastic weather changes (ie. sweating in the heat during the day and sudden freezing cold at night)
  3. The higher you climb the mountain, you might experience high-altitude illness, an ailment caused by the low levels of oxygen found at high altitudes. Most cases are mild, but some can be life-threatening.
  4. A trek to the summit can last anywhere from 5-9 days

Interestingly enough, the cost of climbing Mount Kili is similar to the base price of a standard safari experience in Tanzania.

If you really want to do both activities, there might be a few ways to cut corners.

Hike the base of Mount Kilimanjaro

I know it might not sound as thrilling as climbing to the summit, but if you would be ok with just placing your footprint on the highest mountain in Africa, this is certainly a great alternative.

Selecting a company

You are going to want to shop around for companies willing to give you a good price. A great starting point to navigate for companies is Tripadvisor. There you can go through lists of established companies, and either call or email them to inquire about their offers.

You will find that many of the tour companies offer both summit and safari experiences. However, the difference is in the pricing. Some might offer the climb at a much more affordable rate than the safari, or vise versa. It is entirely ok to book different companies for each experience. This was exactly what I did.

I chose to go with Pristine Trails. The main reason I selected this company is because they are partially local owned and operated. Sustainable travel is important to me, so this was a significant factor in my vetting process. Tour prices are also more affordable when organized and run by locals. I got a great deal to climb the base at $150. This was back in 2018, so more than likely prices have increased. Generally, however, expect a range of $170 – $550.

How to get to the Mount Kilimanjaro region

You are going to want to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport, which services two prime cities known for both the summit climb and safaris, Moshi (the capital) and Arusha.

I usually like to pre-plan my entire trip before landing in a country, but in Tanzania, particularly the Kilimanjaro region,  it is possible for you to book everything once you are in the country. This is because most tour companies will be found in these areas.

A view of Mount Kili

My experience with Pristine Trails

Let me start by saying, I absolutely loved my tour with this company. I was treated so well, and the package deal was one that I have continuously recommended.

To start they came to pick me up, early in the morning, at my hotel in Moshi, and took me to their office to get settled. As a note, make sure to eat breakfast prior to the start of your trip. Inform your hotel of the date and time of your hike so that they can coordinate everything for you.

The organizer of my trip was a gentleman by the name of Joel. If you should decide to book with Pristine Trails, ask for him! He is phenomenal. I had been in contact with him prior to landing in Tanzania. He organized a day trip for me that started around 9am and ended around 5pm.

I had a private trip, which included my own driver and guide. My driver’s name was Laurent (Lawrence), and he was the main person who physically and mentally prepared me for this trip. He informed me that like a regular climb to the summit, even whilst climbing the base, you could experience extreme weather. That meant at any moment it could be extremely hot or cold, there might be a torrential downpour, and it could even snow! So it was best to be prepared for anything. He literally packaged me up with all the articles I would need to brace any unforeseen circumstances.

On the way to the main site, Kilimanjaro National Park, we stopped to pick up my guide. Sadly, I do not recall his name, but he was my saving grace excursion.

Mount Kilimanjaro National Park

You cannot start your trip without taking a photo at the famous entrance of the park. It is probably the most touristy thing to do, but for the sake of saying you were there, it’s totally worth it!

Me at the entrance of Kilimanjaro National Park

There are a few different routes you can take to climb Mount Kili.

  1. Machame – Most popular, most expensive, but easier to acclimate to oxygen availability
  2. Marangu – Cheapest, often selected by unprepared/inexperienced climbers, very difficult to acclimate to oxygen availability,  less scenic, and less success at reaching the summit.
  3. Shira / Lemosho – High summit success rate, considered good for acclimatization, very scenic, and merges with Machame enroute.
  4. Rongai – True wilderness experience at the start of the climb, difficult trek the final evening to the summit, few acclimatization opportunities, and least scenic than other routes.
  5. Umbwe – Short and steep route, less summit success rate, and poor acclimatization. 
  6. Northern Circuit – Longest route and good for acclimatization.

Funny enough, just to do the base, I went along the Marangu route. Honestly, I loved it. I didn’t have any difficulties at all. We specifically passed some key sites including the first base point, the Mandara camps. These are huts in which climbers doing the summit trek can stay in. It is about 3 hours from the entrance gate, but trust me, you will feel start to feel exhausted once you reach it.

Me exhausted in front of Mandara Camps

Not far from the Mandara camps is the Maundi crater, a small depression in the ground that was caused by Mount Kilimanjaro’s volcanic activity years ago. I absolutely loved this place! I felt like I was in The Sound of Music movie. Haha My guide laughed historically at me as I ran and threw myself onto the grass. I convinced him to run in the grass too, so he could feel like I did. It was great.

Maundi Crater 1
Maundi Crater & guide

The Fauna

Of all the places I’ve been to, Tanzania is by far one of the wildest I have ever seen. I initially thought I would see all animals on the safari, but I was wrong.

My guide informed me that even climbing the mountain, you might encounter some interesting-looking animals. From birds to monkeys, to bucks, you could see anything at any point in time. During our trip, we specifically came across: the black-and-white colobus monkey, the duiker, and the blue monkey.

Along certain routes, although quite rare, you might even be lucky enough to spot a giraffe, warthog, water buffalo, elephant, hyena, or even a leopard. However, of the most documented wild animal sightings is that of the African wild dog. Apparently, these dogs, though they are little, run in packs, and should a lone hiker encounter them, it could be dangerous. That is why it is often ideal to join a group doing the hike (note, the cost of the trek is usually cheaper with more people).

Nonetheless, my guide and I still did the trek together. He had done the base and summit so many times with clients that he had the skillset to fend off some of these animals if they appeared. Luckily, we didn’t see any vicious creatures, and more than likely, your trip would be the same. Haha

The Flora

Wild flower in Mount Kilimanjaro

The greenery of Mount Kilimanjaro is one to marvel at. A very diverse foliage, you might feel as though you were in a tropical jungle, and this is exactly how many have described it. However, the vegetation of Mount Kilimanjaro changes the higher the climb. It starts with a dry savanna-like appearance, then rises to a rainforest and scrubland-like appearance, and then finally reaches a rocky and icy summit.

Me at the start of my excursion

Standing currently at a staggering  19,341 feet (5,895 meters), the mountain is divided into 5 distinct level zones. At the very bottom is the cultivation zone, otherwise known as the farmlands where all of civilization is found, including villages and grasslands. Next, is the rainforest zone, also known as the montane region. This level is often considered the wetlands, as it receives the most rainfall and is comprised of dense vegetation. The next level is the moorland zone. In this area, the vegetation begins to turn from green to brown, consisting of grassland and ericaceous plants. It is then followed by the alpine desert zone. An inhospitable area, it is mainly stone and volcanic rock. It is also known for subzero temperatures in the evenings, so it is advised to dress warmly when crossing this level. The final level is Uhuru peak, otherwise known as the roof of Africa. Loose dirt and gravel turn into ice and glaciers, making this the most challenging part of the trek to reach the summit. However, the view at the top is most certainly worth it in the end.

Me trekking the forest

Midtrip to Tail end

My guide and I eventually stopped to have lunch in the grass. We sat on a hill and took in the spectacular view of Tanzania. The sun shone so brightly in beautiful clear blue skies, that you could see every creature that flew past us. It was such an amazing experience.

On our way back, we passed this peak in which you could see the Tanzania and Kenya border. This too was an incredible sight to see.

View of Tanzanian and Kenyan border

We also took a detour to get a view of another famous mountain, Mount Meru. It is the 5th highest mountain peak in Africa. On a clear day, it can easily be seen from Mount Kilimanjaro. Boy, were we ever lucky!

Mount Meru

Overall

I thoroughly enjoyed my day trip with Pristine Trails. From start to finish, everyone involved put in so much effort to assure I had a fantastic time.

Of course, I’m sure some would think I should have climbed all the way to the summit. However, I did not have the time to devote to an almost week-long excursion. So I really did not mind trekking the base. On top of that, I still had ample time to take part in a safari afterward.

If you are looking to experience trekking Mount Kilimanjaro but are limited due to time, funds, or simply want an alternative to the summit climb, consider hiking the base.

Me after lunch

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