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When I first started planning for my Kilimanjaro trek, I was overwhelmed by the number of tour operators available for hire. I read review after review of various Kilimanjaro tour operators but wasn’t sure which factors to look out for that would be most crucial to my success. Now, having just summited Kilimanjaro with a company that contributed vastly to my success (thank you Pristine Trails), I have a few tips for how to choose the best Kilimanjaro guides on your Kilimanjaro trek.
1. Choose a Kilimanjaro tour operator that won’t skimp on resources
As a general rule of thumb, you should have at least one guide per three hikers and at least three porters per hiker. For a group of 10 hikers, we had 31 porters, four guides, and two chefs. Your porters will help you carry your large duffel bags with all your belongings other than what you will carry with you in your daypack. That includes your clothing, toiletries, sleeping bags, tents, mattress pads, dining tables, cookware, food, portable toilets, and any other miscellaneous items. As such, the only way you will be able to hike with all the items you need is by having at least three porters helping you carry your gear. If a company tries to tell you otherwise, they are skimping on resources and will not offer you the best chances for success.
2. Choose Kilimanjaro guides who will pay attention to your behaviors and actions
I noticed pretty early on with our guides from Pristine Trails that they would constantly observe our actions and monitor our health, so that they would be able to step in with a solution as soon as we started exhibiting signs of altitude sickness. Everyone gets altitude sickness at some point on Kilimanjaro, whether it’s a mild headache or a full on fever with nausea and vomiting. The important thing is that you are trekking with guides who are not only knowledgeable about your symptoms, but are also able to pick up on your symptoms right away and advise you on the best course of action to take at that given time.
Many of us got sick on day three as we reached 15,000 feet for the first time, but we all recovered quickly with the help of our guides. By the time we reached base camp on day five, we were all rested and ready to go. Since our guides had been observing and monitoring us so closely, they were confident that we were all ready for summit and would make it on the big day (which we did).
3. Choose Kilimanjaro guides who are knowledgeable about symptoms and treatments for altitude sickness
Merely having observant and intuitive guides isn’t enough if they aren’t also knowledgeable about the symptoms and treatments for altitude sickness. Make sure you choose guides who are well versed in common medicines like Diamox (for altitude sickness), migraine medication, painkillers, antihistamines, and natural remedies like ginger tea for an upset stomach.
Our guides from Pristine Trails knew exactly which medicines to prescribe and when to prescribe them. For example, on night three of our trek, I started to have headaches that worsened throughout the night. The next morning, I asked our lead guide, Patrick, whether to take Diamox (for altitude sickness) or Excedrin (a migraine medication). Patrick explained that Diamox could take up to 24 hours to kick in, which would leave me in pain for the entire day’s hike, so he instead recommended Excedrin and to only take Diamox if my symptoms still persisted by the time we arrived at the next camp. Despite our guides’ general rule that we should avoid any type of painkiller in the first few days, they were able to identify and explain to us when an exception to the rule occurred.
Even though I had both medications with me, I would not have been able to reason my way to the correct answer were it not for our knowledgeable guides. The guides’ advice would change depending on which stage of the hike we had reached, and I found it invaluable to have them at my disposal 24/7 to answer questions about what a certain symptom meant and how best to deal with it in that moment.
4. Choose Kilimanjaro guides who are knowledgeable about the mountain and mountain conditions
This seems like an obvious one, but there are many nuances on the mountain that inexperienced guides may not be aware of. For example, when we arrived at base camp, we found our tents set up behind a large rock wall. Our guides explained that the rock wall blocks a lot of incoming wind, which is why they like to set up camp there. Our guides knew how big of an issue the wind can be at base camp and on summit night, so they tried to shield us from it as much as possible while we were at camp.
Another reason it’s so important to find guides who are well acquainted with the mountain is so you know how to dress appropriately for each day of your hike. Every evening, our guides would give us a rundown of the weather conditions for the following day’s hike. Sometimes our guides’ weather forecasts would be accurate to the minute. For example, our guides told us on one of the days that it would be very warm in the morning, but the clouds would roll in at 11:00am and the temperature would drop significantly. Lo and behold, the clouds rolled in at exactly 11:00am and we were all able to add on the additional layer we had packed in preparation for the weather change. Since you want your body to maintain a constant temperature throughout your hike, it’s very useful to know ahead of time what to expect from the weather and to pack accordingly so you never get too hot or too cold.
5. Choose a Kilimanjaro tour company that is well organized
I had never been to Tanzania or East Africa prior to the hike, and neither had the majority of hikers from my group, so it was extremely helpful to have all the logistics organized for us prior to our arrival. When we arrived at Kilimanjaro airport (JRO), a driver from Pristine Trails picked us up and drove us all the way to our hotel in Moshi, which had also been organized for us and paid for as part of our Kilimanjaro trekking package. Our package also came with a free night’s stay after the hike and free transportation back to the airport.
The day prior to our hike, Patrick, our lead guide, and two of our assistant guides met with our group at our hotel to go over the logistics of the hike. Patrick went over what to expect on each day of the hike, pointing out each of our camps on a map to us. This way, we knew going into the hike generally what to expect from each day’s hike, at least in terms of how many hours we would be hiking, what altitude we would be hiking and camping at, and any special terrains we should be prepared for. Going into our hike with this knowledge helped us to mentally prepare ourselves for the hike much more adequately and gave us peace of mind that we would be well taken care of over the course of the next week. Make sure you choose Kilimanjaro guides who are professional and experienced in leading guests. The last thing you will want to deal with as you’re focused on summiting is a logistical hiccup that brings you unnecessary stress or anxiety.
6. Choose Kilimanjaro guides who are good at improving morale
There will be times during the hike when you find yourself wanting to quit or asking yourself why in the world you signed up for this. You may get sick from the altitude or become grumpy from lack of sleep. During these times, you will want to have guides with you who are good at boosting morale. Our guides from Pristine Trails would sing to us during our hike, teach us their songs, play cards with us during our downtime, and give us pep talks every evening after dinner to encourage us to push through the next day. They always carried a positive attitude and lots of energy, which seemed to permeate onto us as we spent more and more time with them. Half the battle to summiting Kilimanjaro is having the mental stamina and determination to make it, so our guides’ energy and morale boosting efforts were absolutely crucial to our success.
7. Choose Kilimanjaro guides who are there to serve YOU
Overall, you want to find guides who have the same goals for you as you have for yourself – and are willing to make that their priority. There were times during our hike when we had to wake our guides up in the middle of the night because one of us was feeling sick, there were times when one of our guides had to go ahead or stay behind with one person from our group because they weren’t feeling their best that day, and there were times when our guides and porters helped us carry our daypacks for hours while hiking because we were feeling too weak. Not only did our guides do all of this for us – and MORE – but they did it cheerfully and always went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable. Our guides did everything in their power to give us the best chances of making it to the top, and that is a big reason why all 10 of us successfully summited the tallest mountain in Africa together as the sun rose on day 6 of our trek.
While I was able to find many reputable Kilimanjaro trekking companies during my research months ago, I cannot recommend any company other than Pristine Trails for the best Kilimanjaro guides after my experience with them. The guides and porters at Pristine Trails are professional, helpful, knowledgeable, and proved to be absolutely crucial to my success. My experience trekking Kilimanjaro with Pristine Trails far exceeded my expectations and showed me exactly what to look for in searching for the best Kilimanjaro guides. No matter which company you end up choosing, make sure you do your research and ask the right questions to make sure your guides are well equipped to tackle whatever obstacles might stand in your way during your 6-8 day hike.
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