Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, is a famous trekking challenge. Requiring no technical training to trek and well-supported for tourists, Kilimanjaro’s accessibility makes it very popular. Although most trekkers arrive as a group or couple, there are some people who come alone. In this article we’re going to look at climbing Kilimanjaro solo, what options you have if you travel alone and considerations you need to take.
Many solo travellers come to Kilimanjaro with one goal in mind - get up the mountain. They don’t mind how they do it. So, what are the options?
The easiest option if you are alone is to join a group tour. A Kilimanjaro group climb usually has a mix of travellers of all ages, from couples to small groups and other solo travellers. You can arrange a group tour from hundreds of operators from home, or you can do it in Tanzania itself in the trekking towns near Kilimanjaro such as Arusha or Moshi.
There are a number of advantages of joining a group. You get to meet new people, share the experience with other travellers and prices are cheaper. Do check the size of the group in advance. You usually pay more to join smaller groups but this might be preferable to the big groups, which can be pretty noisy and you won’t get much time alone!
Some solo travellers to Kilimanjaro prefer to find trekking companions in advance. This is a popular option for backpackers and younger people who want to meet likeminded travellers. Then once they have found some companions, they have more options about how to approach the trek and lower their costs by being in a group.
Forums and social media are a good way to get in touch with other travellers and arrange meetups. Some useful forums for this are Tripadvisor and Thorn Tree. Rendezvousing in Moshi or Arusha is a good idea for travellers already in the country, as there you can easily arrange a Kilimanjaro trek. Hostels and small hotels in those towns are another great way to meet other trekkers who are looking for hiking companions.
It’s a very good idea to meet with prospective trekking companions before you arrange anything. You are going to be spending at least 5 days with them, so it’s important that you get on! This can be a way to make lifelong friends and a nice way to meet likeminded new people. On the other hand, somebody might turn out to be obnoxious or annoying and then you’re stuck with them. Trust your instincts and don’t feel pressured to join someone if you’re unsure - it’s your trip and you can do what you want!
You will meet other trekkers on Kili even if you travel Solo. Photo by Stignygaard
If you are travelling solo on Mount Kilimanjaro, you will meet other trekkers anyway. It’s a popular mountain and on the busier routes you will always meet other people, especially at huts or campsites. There will be other solo travellers in the same situation as you and they may be happy for some company.
Your mindset might be “Forget other people - I want to do this myself!”. Unfortunately, you can’t do Kilimanjaro completely alone. By Tanzanian law, you must have a guide and at least two porters with you on the mountain. You can be the only trekker, but you must have the support staff. The only people who can get away without this are special expeditions and sporting events. It’s normal to have three to five support staff with you if you are travelling solo, often including a cook.
There’s a very good reason for these laws though - Kilimanjaro is challenging and there is almost no tourist infrastructure on the mountain. Aside from the Marangu route, which has accommodation huts, you must camp every night. As the trek takes at least five days, you need enough food, clothing and other supplies to survive for this time. Altitude sickness can be an issue. Temperatures range from below freezing to very hot. Weather can get bad and change very quickly. There are many routes and paths on the mountain making a guide essential. This is not an adventure that is wise to tackle completely alone, and aside from being illegal could very well have serious or fatal consequences if you attempt to do so.
What do support staff do? Guides lead the way, provide local knowledge, give you someone to talk to and organise the other staff. Porters carry supplies, camping gear, and your extra luggage such as clothing. Cooks… cook! You need good food on the mountain to replenish your energy and you will be burning a lot of calories. All your support staff are usually hard-working Tanzanian locals who rely on your money for survival. For more about the support staff on Kilimanjaro, check out our Guides and Porters on Kilimanjaro article.
So when we say climbing Kilimanjaro solo, we mean with the help of at least a guide and a few porters. What are the advantages? Well, your group is tiny - there will only be around three to five of you in total. This number may be lower when you are walking, as porters often go ahead of you to set up campsites or set their own pace. So you should have a much more isolated, quiet and peaceful trek compared to a group tour.
Trekking Kilimanjaro Solo gives you independence and flexibility. Photo by Stignygaard
You also have more independence and flexibility in your trek by doing it solo. You can tailor your itinerary to what you want. Your guide and other staff are there for you alone so you can get the most out of their skills and knowledge. You will get to know your staff better and learn about the local culture. You can make photo and rest stops without worrying about being left behind or holding people up. You can set your own pace - although always heed the staff’s pacing recommendations to avoid altitude sickness. “Pole pole”, they’ll say, meaning “slowly, steady”. Racing up the mountain will massively increase your chance of altitude sickness.
The main disadvantage is that it’s more expensive to trek Kilimanjaro solo, sometimes significantly so. We’ll talk about this further below. You may also find it a bit lonely without other trekkers to chat to or share your experience with. Although usually your guide and porters will be good company, it can be nice to have someone in the same boat as you experiencing the trek for the first time.
Many tour operators offer solo/private trek options for their Kilimanjaro tours. Look for a separate solo section on their website, or solo tickbox when booking a trek. If you don’t see this option, just ask. Every tour operator will be happy to arrange a solo Kilimanjaro trek. They will organise support staff for you and offer a package deal, usually including meals and various other options.
Another option is to arrange it yourself or via a tour agency in the local towns of Arusha and Moshi. Shop around and get quotes, haggling is perfectly viable as there is so much competition. Get precise details about the route you will take, what is and isn’t included. Quality of equipment, meals and their number, number of staff, their welfare and wages should be high on the agenda. Do your research into reputable agencies in advance and ensure their staff are well treated. See KPAP for more information and partnered agencies which provide fair treatment to mountain staff.
If you arrange independently, be aware of the regulations and only hire staff that you trust, ensuring that they are adequately trained or qualified for the task. Kilimanjaro mountain guides must be registered with the Kilimanjaro National Park. Talk to your guide at length, quiz them on mountain knowledge, safety procedures, their awareness of altitude sickness and just to check that you get on with them, as they’ll be your main source of company and point of contact on the mountain.
Make sure that your staff have adequate clothing, footwear and trekking equipment, and that porters are not overloaded (25kg per porter is the maximum legal allowance). Although many mountain workers will be happy to overwork themselves or take work under poor conditions as they need the money, it’s your responsibility to prevent this. Check out the KPAP website for more information on porter welfare.
Check out this blog here for some useful first-hand information about arranging a trek yourself, although it is rather cynical and some of it should be taken with a pinch of salt. Some conditions and regulations have improved since the time of it’s writing. We would always recommend hiring porters to carry your equipment, by law, to reduce your load and chance of physical problems on the mountain and to provide employment for porters.
Your climbing Staff is essential to successfully reach the Kilimanjaro summit. Photo by Bradley
The costs for climbing Kilimanjaro solo will depend on a large number of factors, from the route that you take, to the number of support staff you bring. Expect to pay quite a lot more than a group trek. Allow at the very least USD$1000 ( as of 2017 ) in total for the shortest treks solo, and usually substantially more.
Some figures which are easier to quantify are compulsory park fees, which are around USD$100 per day. Staff wages vary but minimum wages (which are often not adhered to) are around $10 a day for porters, and $20 or more a day for guides or cooks. In addition to this you need to factor in tipping, which is effectively mandatory and a vital part of the mountain staff’s income. We talk more about tipping Porters here and the KPAP has some good guidelines as well. In general, assign around 10-15% of your total trek cost to tipping and ensure you bring enough cash to cover tips.
Also see the How to Climb Kilimanjaro Cheaply article for ways to save money on your Kilimanjaro trek.
Climbing Kilimanjaro solo can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. Even if doing it as a solo traveller you will still find it easy to meet and join people if you want. Or you can go alone with support staff and have the experience to yourself. Remember to prepare properly for the trek, from proper training for Kilimanjaro and packing right for Kili to choosing the best route for your needs. We also have compiled a list of books for Kilimanjaro you may want to read on your solo trek. We hope you found this article helpful to plan your Kilimanjaro adventure!