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Written by: Matt Phillips

If you make it to the crater of Kilimanjaro, being able to see for miles and miles above the clouds, makes the whole experience totally worthwhile.


One final push and you arrive at Uhuru Peak – something I thought would be impossible. People will be exhausted and very emotional, and you take it all in before you realise that you have to walk all the way back down. But here are five things that I wished I knew before I left.


1. Porters are the hardest working people on the mountain

These guys will pretty much pick you up when you are down; they will leave camp after you and arrive before you; they will carry your bags, tents and other bits of equipment. Porters will completely go out of their way to make sure you are happy and safe, they will sing and dance all the way to the top and stay with you when you most need support.

2. Altitude sickness

Not everyone will suffer from this, but a lot of people do, and it especially occurs when you climb to a high altitude too quickly. Most people get headaches, feel sick and dizzy, and the higher you go, these symptoms are most likely to get worse. On summit night I suffered headaches, exhaustion and confusion while others suffered from sickness.

3. Bring plenty of water neutralising tablets

If you have treated your water with chlorine tablets then you will be left with a horrible taste of swimming pool water because of the chlorine. I found it very hard to want to drink water tasting like that, but neutralising tablets will take the swimming pool taste away completely. Not packing these is one of my biggest regrets!

4. Learn basic Swahili

For many of the porters and guides, English is not the first language so communication can sometimes be difficult. But do not worry as learning and speaking Swahili with your porters and guides can actually be quite fun.

5 . Nothing can prepare you for summit night

This was potentially the hardest night of my life. The more people I tell this to, the more people think that it’s a complete exaggeration.

Leaving base camp at around midnight, after trying to sleep for a maximum of three hours, you start your summit climb. Two hours go by and you are still walking. Five hours go by and you are still walking. Everything will start to freeze including your water. You stop for 10 seconds and struggle to get your breath back. I felt so exhausted and confused that I wanted to throw down my trekking poles and go home. That night I kept asking myself why on earth I was putting myself so much physical and psychological pain.

Then you reach Stella Point. The summit is only 45 minutes away, and the remaining walk is mostly flat and offers the most amazing view of the sun rising through the clouds, lifting everyone’s spirits. You then make it to the crater of Kilimanjaro. Looking around at all the glaciers, and being able to see for miles and miles above the clouds, makes the whole experience totally worthwhile.


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Travel in Africa is about knowing when and where to go, and with whom. A few weeks too early / late and a few kilometres off course and you could miss the greatest show on Earth. And wouldn’t that be a pity? Search for your ideal safari here, or contact an Africa Geographic safari consultant to plan your dream vacation.

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