Thousands of people make it to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro each year. For many, the experience is a trip of a lifetime and the fulfillment of a personal ambition. The satisfaction of having completed the trek and arriving at the spectacular Mount Kilimanjaro Peak “Uhuru” is hard to beat.
However the feeling is even better if you know that all the porters helping you along the way have been well looked after and treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Now that most climbers on the highest free-standing peak in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro take a trek organized by a local tour operator, the camping equipment (tents, dining tent, kitchen tent, tables, chairs, gas bottle and food) is carried on the backs of human porters.
The prices that tour operators charge for a five to ten day trek can vary considerably as can the rates of porter pay and conditions provided by each company. However trying to find out if a company looks after its porters can be quite difficult. Often tour companies are not completely honest about the wages that they say that they pay their porters and real facts are difficult to verify. If you ask a porter how much he gets paid then very rarely you will get a straight answer. If a porter is well paid he is likely to tell you that he is poorly paid so that you give him a better tip! If he is badly paid it is likely that the company has instructed him to lie and tell you that he receives more than he actually does. If he complains about his pay to tourists on the trek then he is unlikely to work much longer!
How you can help
1. Book your trek with a responsible trekking company.
At the moment none of the trekking agencies are perfect and there is still plenty of room for improvement.
When you book with a company let them know that the treatment the porters receive is important to you. Porters need fair wages, decent meals and warm and dry accommodation.
2. Hire a porter.
Hiring a porter will make your trek more enjoyable, giving you time to enjoy the scenery rather than looking at your boots! You’ll also be giving employment to people who really want and need to work.
3. Interact with your porters.
Talk to your porters, learn about their traditions and villages. Share some stories about traveling around the world or about your country or why you decide to climb. Even ask them to sing some of their local songs. Most porters suffer from low self-esteem so make the first move, don’t wait for them to talk to you first.
4. Thank your porter.
Show your porters that you appreciated them. Thank them verbally and leave a tip.
5. Report instances of porter neglect.
If you are unhappy about how your porters are treated then complain to the guide. If he/she can’t resolve the problem then make a big fuss back at the office when you return. Make sure the office is full of other potential clients. If you bought your trek in another country then make a complaint in writing when you return home.
The Porters Law
The Tanzanian government can be praised for introducing the Porters Law which states that a porter should receive a minimum wage of Ten Dollars per day. Sadly not all trekking companies are paying their porters this wage.
The maximum weight that a porter can carry on Kilimanjaro has been limited to 20kg. This includes a 4kg personal allowance for items such as sleeping bag and clothes. Each porter is weighed at the start of the trail and then again at the start of the second day. Companies that are caught overloading their porters receive fines and the risk of losing their licenses. However, as with most regulations, many companies make great efforts to get around them.
Meals & Sleeping Conditions
The biggest difference between a responsible company and an irresponsible one is how they look after their porters on the trek. Many porters are given very little food to eat on the mountain. Many porters end the trail tired and hungry. In general, porters sleep together in a group. This is fine since there is warmth in numbers.There is still plenty of room for improvement for even the most expensive and professional trekking companies when it comes to providing warm, comfortable and dry accommodation for their porters.
How much to tip?
Tipping the guide and cook should be depend on the quality of the service that you received. If their tips are consistently poor then they will soon get the message that they need to improve. However, even if the food was terrible and the guide spoke no English (which we hope will not be the case), the porters were probably still working away hard carrying the camping equipment and tents so don’t forget to leave a tip.
The amount you pay depends on you but as a guideline we recommend that each porter in your group takes home an extra 40-50 US dollars (a combined tip from everyone in the group). Try to take plenty of small change so that you can give the tips directly to the porters. This is much better than giving the money to the cook or the guide to be divided up later amongst the porters as often the money is unfairly distributed.