Kilimanjaro – Getting Your Visa

Thursday, 30 June 2011 01:15 by ranjanbanerji

If you are a US citizen you are going to need a visa to enter Kenya and Tanzania.  Kenya charges $50 and Tanzania charges $100.  Being used to travelling to Europe without a visa this comes as a bit of a shock though nothing of significant concern.

Obtaining a visa for either country on the other hand may appears to be a daunting task.  Kenya (according to their website) no longer accepts walk-ins to the embassy or consulates.  You must mail your passport to them.  So if you are someone who feels uncomfortable doing so, well it can be a problem.  Here was my experience for obtaining the Kenyan visa:

  • First you need to fill out an online form on their embassy website.  When you do so you get a tracking number which you use to track the status of your application (also a link on their embassy website).
  • I then sent them my passport with all relevant documents (please see their embassy web site for latest details) via Fedex.  In the Fedex package I had to add another empty paid for Fedex package using which the embassy would return my passport.  Now here you should be careful.  not just for getting your visa but anytime you send a return Fedex package.
    • If you do not have an online account with Fedex, go create one.  This way you can use your Fedex account number on the air bill for your return package.
    • If you do not create a Fedex account you will have to put your credit card number on your return air bill which can then be seen by many people.
  • Once I sent my passport via Fedex I knew the day it was delivered to Kenyan Embassy.  However for an entire week their website showed no sign that my passport was received by them.  This had me concerned.  I repeatedly called the Embassy but each time was transferred to voice mail.
  • Then one day I found a Fedex package at my door.  It was my passport with visa issued.  Just for kicks I checked the web site and it finally had a status of received.  LOL

The Tanzanian visa experience was similar though not identical.  Their web site has no tracking system.  But after about 6-7 days of waiting I had my passport and visa.  So all in all the process was really not all that bad and quite honestly it saved me the trip of going to the embassy or local consular office.

Alternatively you can fly to Kenya or Tanzania without a visa and get one issued at the port of entry.  People on several blog and forums have recommended this option.  But then I have also been warned that this is a risk.  Do you really want to fly all the way to Tanzania and find someone at the airport who says “NO”?

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Kilimanjaro – The Initial Plan

Saturday, 2 April 2011 02:07 by ranjanbanerji

Its been a while since I have been wanting to visit Africa and also climb Mt Kilimanjaro.  Climbing is really not the right way to describe the Kilimanjaro adventure.  Its more of a walk, though by no means an easy one.  Or so I have read and been told.  In a few months I will find out.  Why?  Well I am planning to go there this year.  As I plan, prepare, and climb I will write about the experience.  It takes a bit to plan your climb.

Route:  First of all there are various routes up Kilimanjaro.  Use Google and you will find plenty of information on this.  I am not going to get into details over the different routes.  I am choosing the Rongai route.  Its one of the two routes (the other being the Marangu route) that does not require you to deal with the Barranco wall.  The Barranco wall can pose a bit (not significant from what I hear) of a problem with people who have a fear of heights.  Apparently I have developed one (subject for another blog post).  So I picked the Rongai route.  Pretty simple huh?

Operator:  There are many operators that can take you up the mountain.  I am certain that like in any other business there are good ones and bad ones.  I currently looking at Team Kilimanjaro.  I read good reviews on them and they have been extremely helpful and responsive to all my queries and I have been sending them at least one email a week for the past 10 weeks.  If nothing else, they appear to patient.  They seem to be in the middle of the road when it comes to cost.  I have seen some that are cheaper and some that cost more.

Equipment:  This is a big cost and I believe an area that one should not be cheap.  As someone who does a lot of hiking and backpacking I know that good equipment is critical for having a good experience.  Your climb should be a challenge but fun.  If you want to be tortured go to the middle east, china, or go screw with the CIA.  Kilimanjaro is just an adventure :-).  Team Kilimanjaro provides a good list of equipment you will need.  Several other web sites have very similar lists.  So I will go with Team Kili’s list.

I will add a table of the exact brand of what I own or purchase for this trip here.  Since I am also very interested in photography and I plan to do a safari while in Africa I am breaking my kit list into two categories of climbing and photography.

Look here for updates on the climb and photography kit.  For photography related information you may also want to see this thread:  http://www.juzaforum.com/forum-en/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=20183&start=0&hilit=kilimanjaro

Training:  While Kilimanjaro requires no technical mountaineering skills it should be noted that it is 5,895 meters high (19,341 ft for those who can’t multiply by 10).  At these altitudes you are in a region with very low oxygen levels.  This therefore makes the simple task of walking quite difficult.  So being in good physical shape is probably a good idea.  I, however, am not much of a runner.  So running 5 to 10 km 3 times a week is out of the question for me.  So far I have been going for long walks, short runs, and been doing the insanity workout videos (yep! I am a sucker for the those infomercials).  If I make it to the top of Africa in good shape I will let you know.

Medical:  Its a good idea to go see your doctor before the trip.  Based on my doctors recommendation and the CDC and The Kenyan and Tanzanian government rules I will be taking and/or carrying the following:

  • Malaria pills
  • DTAP shot
  • Yellow Fever Shot
  • Diamox
  • In addition I will also be carrying Immodium, Advil (Ibuprofen), and Acetominophen (Tylenol).

Getting There:  Planning my trip to Kenya/Tanzania is so far one of my biggest challenges  Flights to Nairobi are not cheap.  Specially not over the summer months.  Mostly because in the summer:

  • Americans are going to Europe on vacation.  This pushes up airline costs.  Most flights to Nairobi go through Europe.
  • Europeans and Americans are going to Kenya/Tanzania on vacation to see the great wildebeest and zebra migration.

So if you are a budget traveler you may be in for a surprise.  So plan ahead and avoid peak seasons. As for getting a visa, here are some tips.

Staying There:  Obviously during the climb you will be camping in tents or staying in huts depending on the route you take.  But when you get to Africa (depends on whether you fly to Tanzania or to Kenya) you may end up needing to spend a night or two in a city like Nairobi.  As a stranger in such cities we tend to find what we classify as safe accommodations which in simpler terms implies expensive hotels.  Now let me tell you this.  I am amazed, shocked as to how expensive hotels and for that matter everything else is in Kenya and other African countries.  This is going to be my first trip.  Once I have scouted around maybe I will learn to find cheaper places to stay.  Hotels in Nairobi during peak season are in the $200 plus a night and if you have kids, expect to pay more.  I have been to many parts of the world and have never had to pay so much.  Maybe when it comes to Nairobi, the internet is a not a good place to search.  I did find one place.  The wildebeest camp in Nairobi.  Its a tented campsite and is very reasonable with regards to cost.  I have yet to stay there (since I have yet to make this trip) but if I do end up staying there I will provide feedback on it.

Safari:  You are not going to go all the way to Africa and then not go on a safari.  For most people, myself included, a trip to Africa is expensive and will perhaps not be repeated too often.  So yes, you might be going there to climb Mt Kilimanjaro but you should take advantage and visit places like the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Masai Mara, etc.  But now that I am suggesting that you go for a safari or two, let me warn you.  At least based on what you will find on the web, a safari can be incredibly expensive.  During peak season you can end up paying a mind boggling $1,000 a day and that’s at the low end, so called budget safaris.  I don’t care what kind of luxuries they throw at you, this is absolutely insane.  I am told there are cheaper options but none that I could find online.  Perhaps after my first trip I will learn more about local conditions and places to stay etc.  But as a first time visitor it seems like a trip to Africa is one very expensive endeavor.

I will provide updates as I gather more information and plan my trip.  Of course more will follow after my trip.

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