Take it to the Top: Ten Great Alpine Adventures
The resounding images of the African plains most often include striding elephants, graceful giraffes, acacia trees, and the majestic peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. Rising dramatically out of the savannah to 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro ("shining mountain") is the highest point in Africa. First climbed only a little more than a hundred years ago, it's now one of Africa's most popular destinations for adventure travelers. Kilimanjaro offers some of the best mountain trekking in the world, with challenging trails, great summit views, and enough altitude to make things interesting.
Hikers that venture through the range of topographyforest, alpine, semi-desert, then snow-capped peaks (even though you're only three degrees from the equator)are rewarded with magnificent views both on the way and at the peak. (You won't see big game, but monkeys and the rare Abbot's duiker may peer through the forest.) And there are numerous choices for both technical climbers and those with no mountaineering skills.
The non-technical trail to the top is a stern test but doable for a fit, active person. Try to use one of the longer back routes instead of the standard five-day Marangu route; you'll see far fewer people and have more time to acclimatize to the altitude. (A number of people die on Kili every year due to altitude problems.) Many think the Machame is the most beautiful; the Shira Plateau, though seldom used and sometimes impassable, offers great scenery and wildlife viewing.
Or reserve your wildlife viewing for that more restful part of your stay in Tanzania, coupling this somewhat arduous trip with a more traditional safari.
None of the choices on Kilimanjaro are cheap due to the high park and hut fees. The cheapest option is to simply show up and hire a guide and porters on the spot, in the town of Marangu. (Guides are required, porters a virtual necessity unless you don't mind carrying a 50-pound pack up to 19,000 feet.) Most local guides will want to zip you up the five-day Marangu route, the normal tourist route that is thronged with trekkers and whose huts resemble motel villages. This basic tourist climb can cost as little as $1,000, which includes the park and hut fees, but no hotel before and after.
Longer, less crowded, and more interesting routes, such as the Machame and Shira Plateau, cost more due to the longer time spent in the park (fees are on a per-day basis) and the more complex logistics. A seven-day Machame climb, booked in Marangu, at the base of the mountain, typically costs $1,300, again with no hotels. Kilimanjaro climb packages booked in Arusha typically include transportation to and from the mountain and hotel stays before and after the climb. Figure $1,200 for the Marangu route, $1,500 for the Machame. (Prices quoted here assume groups of at least three people. Singles and couples will cost more.) American agents can book these Arusha-based trips almost as cheaply.
A Kili climb package offered by an American outfitter is typically much more expensive, due mostly to the fact that it usually includes several days of game-viewing in nearby parks before or after the climb. There's also the added cost of transportation from the airport, first-class hotels and meals before and after the climb, a Western trip leader, and various logistical backup and safety measures. (And, of course, the overhead of the fancy home office and slick brochure.) Figure $3,000-$3,500 for the Machame route. (Most American operators don't bother with the Marangu Route anymore.) The best time to go is from January through March, August, and October.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication