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Jun 16

Climbing Kilimanjaro with Zara Tours

My wife and I summited Uruhu Peak of Kilimanjaro on July 10, 2011 at 7:06AM. It was a very exciting. For those considering a similar trip, I would like to share my thoughts.

Air
The trick is to fly into Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO). JRO is half way between Moshi and Arusha (apx. 30 minutes from each), the two cities that Kili trips are based out of. The alternative is to fly to Dar Es Salam or Nairobi and take either a puddle jumper or a long bus ride. The only flight from outside the region to JRO is a once a day flight by KLM from Amsterdam (AMS). Delta has multiple direct flights from Boston to AMS, so the whole trip only required one stop each way. The best part of all is that we were able to do the trip on miles (80,000 delta miles per person round trip). I was able to get 150k of the 160k miles we needed from the Platinum American Express Card. Basically, Amex offered 100,000 Membership Rewards points for getting the card and then Delta offerred a 50% bonus on MR transfers netting 150,000 miles. Keep your eyes on my credit card blog for more ideas like that. Or if you are getting your ticket directly with FlyingBlue points, you can top up your points here.

Climb
Choosing an operator is a bit difficult. There are travel companies around the world advertising Kili trips, but almost all of them appear to use a local operator. Save your sell a couple of thousand and book direct.

Low-end ($170-$220/day): I am not going to name names, but some signs would include not having a tent for many of your meals.

Medium-end ($190-$290/day): Expect moderate quality equipment, most, but not all of your meals in tents, a guide with pretty decent english and limited english for the rest of the crew. Our provider, Zara Tours, would be an example. Note that many of international tour companies use Zara locally but charge a lot more. I believe both Gap Aventures and Destination Africa (climber’s package) among others use Zara.

High-end ($300+/day): Expect top quality relatively new equipment, guides with near perfect English, crews with decent English and lots of extras included in the price (e.g., private toilet tents, rescue oxygen on hand, etc.). African Environments would be an example, though they claim not to book direct.

Zara Tours
I mostly had a very positive experience with them. My guide, Michael, was very professional and helpful. Our Assistant Guide, Julius, didn’t talk much but was great (he even ended up carrying two of our day packs on the final ascent). We did have a lot of trouble with our tent. It was pretty beat up and it leaked. The staff did all they could, but it belonged in the garbage. The food was ok, though I didn’t sample anyone else’s, so I don’t know how it compares. The provided sleeping mats were pretty low-end, certainly not Therm-a-Rest. We used our own sleeping bags, but heard the rentals were so-so.

If I had to do it over again, I would use Zara (a fraction of the cost of the operators that would include more), but I pay for or bring some better equipment. I would probably bring my matts and sleeping bag. I would ask Zara to pay extra for a new, high quality tent (I would ask for a specific make and current pictures of the exact tent being reserved) or consider bringing my own.

Springlands Hotel
Included in my fee to Zara was my hotel the night before and night after the trek. This was the Springlands Hotel in Moshi which is owned by Zara. If you keep your expectations in check, you will be pleased. It has relatively pretty grounds, the appearance of very high security (big gate, high walls and tribal warrior guards), pretty good food (most meals were included, but would have only been $7 for lunch and $9 for dinner) and fine rooms.

Do note that internet is NOT included and often not available. It is not expensive ($2/hour), but since they charge for it, both Wifi and terminals are only available during the business day. It gets turned off when the “cafe” manager goes home and doesn’t turn back on until she feels like showing up in the morning.

Also note that Moshi doesn’t have reliable electricity, they often have blackouts during the day. The hotel can provide something like an hour on generator power, but assume the power will be out for much of the day.

ZARA, Please:
– Buy better tents and charge us extra to use them if you must
– Make Wifi free at the Springlands or, at least, allow your night time clerks access to sell it

Additional Advice
– Be very careful if you are considering the Western Breach / Arrow Glacier route. It is considered very dangerous due to rock fall. My guide wouldn’t go near it. This is one case I would use one of the high-end providers.
– If you are sensitive to altitude. Go very slow, especially the first day and on the final ascent. Also consider getting Diamox from your Doctor and having Dexamethazone on hand for emergency (i.e., you are already heading down) use only.
– Consider a tour of a Maasai village. It was very interesting. Zara set this up for us as well as part of a half-day safari in Arusha National Park, few hours in the village and drop off at the airport for my evening flight back to Amsterdam. The village was only a few minutes from the Airport. We met with the Village “chief”, a very nice man with decent English who showed us the school a donor from Chicago built, had a bunch of the residents dance for us and showed us their traditional homes (they seem to actually live in larger ones nowadays).

Please feel free to contact me if you want specific advice or helping setting up your trip. I have a few contact names, but I don’t want to post them in the wild.

Day by Day itinerary

6/3/2011
Fly from BOS to AMS

6/4/2011
Fly from AMS to JRO
Stay at Springlands Hotel

6/5/2011 (Hiking Gain: 1200m, Sleeping Gain: 2100m)
Drive from Moshi (900m) to Machame Gate (1800m)
Hike from Machame Gate to Macahme Camp (3000m)

6/6/2011 (Max Gain:850m, Sleeping Gain: 800m)
Hike from Machame Camp to Shira Cave (3800m)
Hike from Shira Caves to Shira Hut (3850m) and back to Shira Caves

6/7/2011 (Max Gain:800m, Sleeping Gain: 100m)
Hike from Shira Cave to Lava Tower (4600m)
Hike from Lava Tower to Barranco Camp (3900m)

6/8/2011 (Max Gain:350m, Sleeping Gain: 30m)
Hike from Barranco Camp to Barranco Wall (4250m)
Hike from Barranco Wall to Karanga Camp (3930m)

6/9/2011 (Max Gain:670m, Sleeping Gain: 670m)
Hike from Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (4600m)

6/10/2011 (Max Gain:1295m, Max Loss:-2795m, Sleep Loss:-1500m)
Hike from Barafu Camp (12:00AM) to Stella Point (5745m, 6:00AM)
Hike from Stella Point (5:31AM) to Uhuru Peak (5895m, 7:07AM)
Fast hike down from Uhuru Peak (7:15AM) to Barafu Camp (9:00AM+/-)
Brunch Break
Hike down from Barafu Camp to High Camp (3970m)
Hike down from High Camp to Mweka Camp (3100m)

6/11/2011 (Hiking Loss:-1300m, Sleep Loss:-2200m)
Hike down from Mweka Camp to Mweka gate (1800m)
Drive from Mweka gate to Spinglands Hotel in Moshi (900m)
Relax at hotel

6/12/2011
1/2 Day Arusha National Park Safari
1/2 Day Maasai Village Tour
Overnight Flight from JRO-AMS
Sleep at Hilton Amsterdam

6/13/2011
Tour Amsterdam
Fly AMS-BOS
Sleep at Home in Boston

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