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In a rare move, I agreed it would be easier to work with a tour company to plan the Kilimanjaro and safari legs of our trip. Based in South Africa, ClimbingKilimanjaro.com came recommended and offered reasonable rates, very responsive service via email to our questions (Yvette was always very quick with email replies), and helpful information packets/itineraries for our 2 weeks in Tanzania. Their assigned local Kilimanjaro operator, Hidden Valley, was a bit disorganized and didn't always deliver according to expectations (for instance, we had paid for a private climb, but were put in a group with 3 other men-- who turned out to be terrific, so we didn't complain; our rental equipment was almost forgotten, and they delivered a sleeping bag of inadequate warmth; and lunch on the first day was postponed until 3pm). However, the ascent was safe, and the 24 (!) porters and guides that accompanied our group of 5 were pleasant, knowledgeable, and helpful. Our safari operator, Leopard Tours, is one of the largest safari companies in Tanzania. To our delight, we had a personal driver/guide, and the experience was pretty seamless.
I flew via KLM Airlines into Nairobi, Kenya, survived an interminable and inefficient immigration line (US$25 in exact change required), and then a couple of days later took the Riverside Shuttle (US$25) from Nairobi to Arusha, Tanzania. I'd correctly anticipated the lack of leg room and personal space, and the ceremonial strapping of my luggage to the roof, but didn't expect the amount of bumps (half the road appeared to be under construction) and dust. At the border, you must offboard in Kenya to complete the departure paperwork, and then walk across the red-dust road to Tanzania, collect a visa in exchange for US$50 (but US$100 for citizens of the US, Ireland, and Pakistan). That all said, I am glad I took the shuttle: it was fascinating to see how the terrain changed, and what the small "highway"-side villages looked like.
The transportation from Arusha to Kilimanjaro and through the safaris was efficiently handled by the tour operators. Upon our return from safari to Arusha, we took a short Precision Air flight to Zanzibar, arranged by ClimbingKilimanjaro.com, since I couldn't figure out how to purchase tickets online. From Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam we took the surprisingly modern but still seasick-inducing Azam Marineferry, though there were multiple options at the busy Zanzibar port for around the same price (and even an overnight ferry, allowing budget-minded travelers to sleep on board the docked ferry while it awaits the Dar customs office to open at 6am).
The CDC website lists the required and recommended immunizations for Tanzania and Kenya. Per policy, I carried my yellow fever immunization certificate, though was never asked for it. I also brought 2 additional medications: Diamox, to reduce altitude sickness, and Malarone, to prevent malaria. The CDC has a helpful summary of malaria prevention medications. We brought chlorine pills to clean our potable water (unfortunately, my UV Steripen ran out of batteries a few days after arrival). I also brought a stash of Emergen-c vitamin C and electrolyte powder, which I frankly wish I brought more of to disguise the taste of chlorine and provide health and energy.
Nairobi: I highly recommend Kolping Guesthouse, located in the Adams Arcade neighborhood. It was extremely reasonable rates (around US$25), beautiful yard, and super-friendly staff.
Arusha: We were booked via tour operator at the Impala Hotel in Arusha, which was surprisingly well-appointed and had a few on-site restaurants to choose from, including particularly delicious Indian food. However, it is about a 1 mile walk to the city center along the main road.
Kilimanjaro: Our guides and porters provided us tents, affording million-dollar views of some of the most gorgeous land and air I've ever seen.
Safaris: Since the luxury Serena and "mid-range" Sopa accomodations were unavailable when we booked our trip, 3 months in advance, we agreed to stay at the lowest-tier Wildlife Lodges in and near the safari parks. We were overwhelmed with the beauty, grandeur, and design of our three lodges: Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge at Lake Manyara, Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge at Ngorongoro Crater. Fortunately my traveling companion and I are "just friends"-- the romantic atmosphere might be a little daunting for even the most amorous couple.
Zanzibar: We stayed in central, pedestrian-only Stonetown at 236 Hurumzi. Originally a sultan's palace, it became the place to trade in slaves for cash after slavery was abolished, and is now a quirky, gorgeous collection of Arabian-Indian-African influenced designed rooms with 20 ft high ceilings and mosquito nets like bridal veils over the beds. We had dinner at the superb rooftop restaurant seated on pillows, and the dust and dirt of Tanzania melted underneath the caresses of the Indian Ocean breezes and the sounds of the Islamic call to prayer. I highly recommend the Towertop Restaurant-- fantastic 360 views of the city, and first-preference reservations go to hotel guests-- but was not overly impressed with the airport transfer and the lack of any toilitries provided by the hotel, and the constant buzz of hawkers on the street below. Perhaps a day in Stonetown and night at 236 Hurumzi followed by beachside resort would've been a better sequence.
Dar es Salaam: The Holiday Inn in the city center was recently renovated, is relatively inexpensive, and has terrific city views from its rooftop bar and restaurant.
I bought reasonably priced medical insurance that provided helicopter evacuations from Kilimanjaro from IHI Bupa.
As a fit woman in her early 30s who is fortunate not to be greatly affected by altitude sickness, I didn't find climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro too taxing-- though the summit day, where you start climbing at midnight and slip easily on the mountain's scree and loose gravel, required significant psychological discipline. We climbed with men in their late 50s who did well, despite some medical and physical issues (and one even summitted).
However, I strongly recommend a specific training program starting at least 3 months in advance to ensure that your experience is positive. Mine consisted of many sessions of Stairmaster at the gym, yoga and piliates to build core strength, balance, and mental focus, and, of course, lots of hikes.
More Information on Mt. Kilimanjaro
Here is an excerpt from our Mt. Kilimanjaro itinerary:
23 September (Summit Day)
As usual, my favored form of preparation for a trip is not the guidebooks, but the adventure travelogues, novels, and other works of literature that describe the soon-to-be-seen rhythms and tone of the land and people. These books were all terrific! My friend also loved the Footprint guide, and used it to inform me of the history and culture of the country and regions.