When it comes to climbing Kilimanjaro, most of the companies and their staff are honest, hardworking people. However, whenever there are large sums of money involved and poor people who need it, there are bound to be scams and fraud that takes place. In this article, we will discuss common scams surrounding climbing Kilimanjaro.
NOTE: Peak Planet has many systems in place to protect our clients so you will never have to worry about these behaviors when you are with us. Book and climb with confidence!
The Too-Good-To-Be-True Kilimanjaro Operator
This is probably the most common scam that we hear of when visiting forums and message boards. It usually begins with a tourist who finds an obscure operator via the internet. The website seems decent enough and the prices are very attractive, relatively speaking. So they begin exchanging emails back and forth. The company representative builds enough confidence in his messages that the tourist sends money to Tanzania to book the climb. Then somewhere in the process, the company stops responding to emails. Despite attempts to find the company or person, he disappears along with the cash.
The way to prevent this is simple – book with a reputable, established company like Peak Planet that has been operating for many years. Never book with a company that has little to no reviews or history. The longer a company has been in business, the more legitimate they will be. And if that company has many positive reviews spanning a long period of time, you can be sure that they are in the business of providing guide services, and not in the business of scamming people. Secondly, do not wire money to use money transfers for payments. Instead, pay with a credit card so that you have a means to dispute a charge resulting from fraud.
The Magical Reappearing Porters
When you have a medium to a large-sized group on Kilimanjaro, the amount of porters can be deceptive. One of the oldest tricks on Kilimanjaro is to start with a large group of porters, then have some of them leave over the next couple days, only to have them reappear on the last days.
The number of personnel on supported Kilimanjaro climbs is extensive. Normally there are 3-4 porters for each client. So a 12 person group can have 50 crew members. Keeping track of this many porters is difficult. With the exception of the guides, cooks and waiter, the porters names and faces are not that memorable. And since they are busy at camp or doing things away from the group, you will not spend much time with them. They are picking up gear, setting up tents, fetching water, and moving early in the morning to make sure your gear stays ahead of you.
Here is what happens. Early in the trip, the guide introduces the group the large number of porters that support their climb. The guide then sends some porters down early. The porters’ loads and duties are shared among the porters who stay. Near the end of the trip, the porters come back for the tipping ceremony. The disappearing porters receive tips for the full climb, and the guide takes a cut from the stray porters.
This cannot ever happen on a Peak Planet climb as we are a member of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP). KPAP is an independent association that regulates Kilimanjaro companies to ensure that the mountain crews are treated fairly by the company. As part of KPAP, each climb has a KPAP representative embedded in our porter crews who monitors and reports the events that happen on our trips. In short, there is no way porters could disappear and come back undetected. Always book with a KPAP member as these companies are vetted independently as fair, ethical operators.
The Guide that Wants Tips Upfront
This scam happens once the climb is already underway. At some point in the trip, the mountain crew decides they will not proceed unless they are paid additional monies on the mountain. This can be framed as tips or as additional, unexpected costs that they had to endure. No matter what the excuse, to you it means they want more money. If you do not agree, they threaten to descend the mountain, leaving your climbing dreams shattered.
For this to occur, you would have had to have booked with an awful guide or company, but it happens. Usually the guides that will attempt such an overt power move are independent contractors that do not represent a company and therefore have no fear of negative public reviews or shaming. Victims of these scams are typically long term travelers who arrived in country and found a cheap guide by asking people around town. This is not the way to select a Kilimanjaro guide. Do your research at home and don’t try to book a climb on the spot. Choose a professional operator with a long history of service rather than a guide alone.
The Guide That Offers to Distribute the Tips
Most people tip the porters at the end of the trip on the last day or at the last camp. Often tourists feel uncomfortable with tipping the porters directly. After all, most of the porters speak Swahili while the climbers speak English. It’s hard to tip without being able to communicate directly. There is usually a huge number of porters and a small group of climbers. Walking into a big group with a bunch of money can be intimidating for some people. And the entire process is a bit awkward. You may wonder if the porters will be happy with their tip amounts. So the guide says that if you give him the entire tip, he will take care of tipping the crew. But what can happen instead is that the guide keeps the lion’s share of the money and underpays most of the crew.
On our climbs, we follow the tipping procedures outlined by KPAP. The method of tipping ensures that every single crew member receives the intended amounts. The way it works is this: you will be given a tipping sheet that lists the names of the guides, cooks and porters. The clients decide how much to give each individual by writing the amount on the tipping sheet. The tipping money goes into one envelope and is given to the guide, who counts the money in your presence. At the end of the climb, each crew member receives the tip money that corresponds to the amount on the tipping sheet, and signs the sheet. This is reviewed by our office to ensure accuracy and compliance, so you never have to be concerned that the porters did not receive their fair share of the tip money. You should always climb with a KPAP member company, for many reasons including this one. But if you do not, hand the tip money directly to the porters.
The Short, Rushed Climb
Altitude sickness is common on the mountain. The way to avoid it is to ascend slowly. So why would a guide purposely rush a climb? Perhaps it is because of the short climb scam.
This is truly despicable. It works like this. You pay for an 8-day trip but your dishonest operator pays for a 6-day trip. The crew is ordered to set a fast pace on the mountain in an attempt to cause the clients to get AMS. These clients are then encouraged to descend off the mountain, cutting their trip short in the interest of safety. The operator not only saved the park fees for the two extra nights for the clients, but also doesn’t incur the full expenses for staff wages, food, etc. – which pads the company’s margins.
The hiking pace of our climbs is very, very slow. Our guides intentionally walk at this pace so that everyone can acclimatize. Rather than finding the pace too fast, you will likely deem it to be too slow. But trust us, it works.
If you find yourself in a situation where your guide is pushing an unreasonable pace, where you seem to be passing most of the other parties and even the porters, you need to take more control of your circumstances. If you are suffering obvious health problems and your guide seems to be asking you to do things that exacerbate your condition, assert your status as a paying client and lay down the law. Do not be coerced or bulldozed into side excursions that you do not feel fit for, and do not adhere to any suggestions of short cuts, truncated days, faster walks, or any other creative route finding that strays from the written itinerary.
The After Climb Scam
On your Kilimanjaro climb, you will likely become friends with your guide, assistant guides, cooks, waiter and porters. Perhaps you have exchanged emails addresses and social media contacts with them. Back at home, after some time has passed, you receive an email. The email reads that he is looking for money to care for a sick relative, or that they have come upon hard times and need a loan, or that they want some help to start their own company. You feel their pain. You are eternally grateful for the job they did on the mountain. You saw how many sections of Tanzania are very poor. You want to help.
Should you send them money? Absolutely not.
What we have discovered often times that the request for money has actually been written by someone who has hacked into an email or Facebook account. Many Tanzanians do not own a computer so they use a public one at an internet cafe. The scammers are there, waiting for them to leave so they can hop on the computer and send you the sad sob story. They are hoping to pull on your heartstrings enough to get some money out of you.
We have strict rules against soliciting money from past clients. Any staff member who engages in this behavior is immediately terminated. Despite the harsh consequence and zero tolerance policy, sometimes the culprit determines that the reward is worth the risk. If any of our clients are solicited, we encourage you to report it to us immediately. Do not respond to the request. And do not send money.