Bob, Alan, Mike, with much assistance from Andrew, Loshie, Anthon, Harrison, John, Kreti, Frank, Isaya, Nasib, and many more
Perhaps most importantly, I was uniformly impressed with the competence, knowledge and friendliness of the guides and others Thomson Safaris provided to help us on our mountain trek and safari. Having said that, my impression is that Thomson Safaris is more expensive than many other outfits.
This was my first trip arranged with a tour group like Thomson Safaris. As it turned out, only 2 other guys had signed up for the trek/safari and one of them got altitude sickness and had to quit the trek the third day. So there were 2 of us trekking, along with over 25+ guides, porters, cooks, etc. We ran into another small group with another company who had about 5 such support people.
For the trek up Kilimanjaro I agreed to share my tent to save expenses. As it turned out, my tent-mate got altitude sickness after two nights, so I did not have to share. I would recommend not sharing if you can afford it, particularly if you are hesitant to urinate in a bottle at night with a tent-mate close beside you but you do not want to step out into freezing, possibly inclement, weather.
My favorite was Ndarakwai Ranch. Wonderful, large, tent cabin with hot shower, private bathroom, vanity and mirror, comfortable beds, storage chest. At night you might hear monkeys calling. Better yet, a guide (with a rifle), will walk with you to view giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, impalas, warthogs, etc. on the 11,000 acre preserve. This was how we spent our second afternoon in Tanzania. Completely unexpected and totally pleasant - I did not expect such sights until the safari. Dinner is served in an open-air facility, where a bushbaby came up to beg for banana slices. The Camp Manager, Ailsa, who is from Scotland, was really pleasant and fun to talk with. I highly recommend.
My least favorite accommodation was Mount Meru Hotel, but this is just a matter of taste. If you like large, institutional, expensive hotels, like Hilton, etc., this might be the place for you. It does offer massages, a health/fitness room and expensive shops in the lobby. The views of Mt. Meru are spectacular. And the room is quiet, except when you first step in and the TV comes on automatically to advertise the amenities of the hotel. The long, dark hallways have elevator music, which is appropriate, since they lead to elevators in this tall, multi-story complex. The hotel costs about $250/night, which is built into the Thomson Safari price. There is no ATM machine available at the hotel nor nearby. Use of computer was $3 per half hour.
We came down one day early and had to stay in a hotel not covered by the Thomson Safaris fee. So I requested, and Thomson Safaris arranged, a one night stay at a "cheap" hotel. We got the Outpost Lodge for $69 a night, which I thoroughly enjoyed, except my room was near some barking dogs. If I had turned on the air conditioner, I probably would not have heard them, but I like warmth. Instead of stepping out of your room into a long corridor, you stepped out onto a flagstone path in a garden. Very pretty. There was nice open-air dining. Computer use was free. Up the block was Barclay's Bank with an ATM machine.
Our favorite place, where we bought most of our stuff, was at one of the first shops, Mt. Meru Curio & Craft Market. Since there were no shop signs that I noticed - and I do not believe the area has a sign saying Maasai Market (but taxi drivers will know what you mean) - I suggest you look at the photos we took.
In 2013 I was 65 years old, but could run 5k races, regularly backpack in the Sierras, have hiked up Mt. Whitney, and hiked up and down 2,700 ft. Bald Mountain here in Santa Rosa, CA, several times a week in preparation for the trek. Going up Kilimanjaro made Whitney seem like a cake walk. I was the slowest person around as far as I could tell. Every few steps I stopped to catch my breath. Fortunately, I had really accommodating guides - asante sana, Andrew and Loshie - who in fact kept telling me "Pole, pole", pronounced po-lay and meaning "slow". I did not get altitude sickness, I made it to the top, but the hiking was exhausting. So do what you can to get in shape.
And if you are young, a word of advice - when I was 25 I quickly went up Mt. Whitney with no problem, passing old guys and kids, leaving them behind. Within a mile of the summit, maybe 200 ft elevation to go, I had to give up. The cottage at the top was in sight, but I was too nauseous to continue. Had no problem with Whitney two years ago - I went slow, and watched younger guys who had passed me give up from altitude sickness.
So get in shape, go slow, and boast that you have climbed the tallest hikable mountain in the entire world!
By The Author:
UC Berkeley in the '60's
Civil War Diaries