Tanzania Profile > Kilimanjaro for students: To Climb or not to Climb

After a successful summit attempt, proud and elated we start our descent | Eva Moons
After a successful summit attempt, proud and elated we start our descent | Eva Moons

School Group Travel to Tanzania

Tanzania is the ‘pop star’ of African travel destinations. It’s without doubt one of the most popular African destinations for those seeking unique experiences, and for very valid reasons.

Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest mountain, the permanently snow-capped 5895m Mt Kilimanjaro; some of Africa’s best wildlife experiences are had in places like the Ngorongoro Crater and you will feel like you have stepped back in time if you wander the streets of Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar. You can even meet the famous Maasai warriors. Tanzania also borders Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria, which is the source of the Nile River, the longest river in world.

Then there is Tanzania’s place in world history, which was assured right from the start. Olduvai Gorge in the countries north is referred to as "The Cradle of Mankind" thanks to the discovery of fossils in 1959 from the oldest human settlements ever found. One of the beds from where fossils were discovered is said to be over 2 million years old. It was the unearthing of fossils from this site that helped make Louis and Mary Leakey household names.

The African plains are vast, none more seemingly so than in Tanzania. It’s the largest country of East Africa, made up mainly of a dry highland plateau with a narrow strip of low-lying coast and the off-shore islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. Within these lands lie some of travel’s most treasured travel experiences such as wildlife safaris in the Serengeti or within the volcanic crater that is the Ngorongoro. Perhaps the most attractive feature in Tanzania is the chance to climb Kilimanjaro,  a dormant volcano that appears to rise straight out of the earth and into the sky, or discovering the land and its unique features on a walking safari with the Maasai.

With such natural treasures spilling over its borders Tanzania became a country of interest for many early colonising powers. Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s visit to the coast in 1498 sparked trade between the Arabs and Portuguese as well as almost 400 years of foreign rule under the Portuguese, Germans and then British.  The United Republic of Tanzania as we know it today was formed in 1964 when Tanganyika gained independence from Britain and merged with the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. The name, Tanzania, is a combination of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.

Getting to Tanzania

Australians planning to visit Tanzania typically fly via Nairobi, Kenya. There are other, longer routes, but many choose from a choice of airlines that fly to the Kenyan capital first. There are no direct flights to Nairobi, they go either via Bangkok, Johannesburg or Dubai. From Nairobi the usual flight connections are to Zanzibar, Dar Es Saalam (the countries capital city) or to Jaro Airport, the closest airport to Arusha (approximately 1 hour away) from where many Kilimanjaro climbs depart.

Kilimanjaro - To climb or not to climb

Kilimanjaro draws active travellers to Tanzania like flies to honey. Hundreds of people from around the world come to tackle what has become an iconic challenge, to walk through five different ecological zones to the Uhuru Peak summit at 5895m the official roof of Africa.

Kilimanjaro is also part of a select club that many experienced adventurers want to tick of their list. It’s one of the seven summits, the seven highest mountains on the world’s seven highest continents. Being the biggest is, well, a big deal.

Just because it is billed as the highest ‘walkable’ mountain (there are no technical skills required) doesn’t mean anyone who can walk should attempt the mountain. The altitude is serious – deadly serious – and minors in particular should not be exposed to such extremes.

"Consider this. Everest Base Camp in Nepal is just around a 14-15 day trek. Highest altitude reached is around 5500m. Kilimanjaro, sensibly, is minimum a 7-day trek. Its summit sits at 5895m. The daily gain in altitude is a serious consideration when planning a trek to the top of Kilimanjaro. Park fees are not cheap, so many aim to save money by trying to go from sea level to near 6000m in less than a week. For the young and inexperienced this could potentially be a quick trip to trouble if the correct precautions are not taken."

The debate over whether school children should be allowed to climb Kilimanjaro has been raging for a long time, and well it should. Experienced organisations will talk you through whether your students are in a position to climb Kilimanjaro. Medical history, age, fitness and many other factors should be discussed at length to ensure a safe expedition. Senior students who are very fit and comfortable with the outdoors, escorted by an equally competent teacher and have access to backup emergency oxygen, can consider climbing Kilimanjaro. Younger students should consider the nearby wildlife rich Mt Meru.

‘Kili’ is not a must do. Does everyone have to climb Everest when they visit Nepal? No.

A school expedition to Tanzania has so many other attractive elements to consider. Here are a few ideas.

Ngorongoro Crater: Ngorongoro Crater has been called the eighth wonder of the natural world and was designated a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. The crater represents only about

3% of the entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area which covers 8,280 sq km. The region contains at least seven extinct volcanoes and has probably one of the most varied terrains in East Africa. The Crater is a very picturesque setting for viewing wildlife and as the animals are familiar with vehicles, you can get really close to them, providing an excellent opportunity to study their behaviour. The usual grassland dwelling animals live in the crater: wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, eland, hartebeest, buffalo, warthogs and the predators include bat-eared foxes, jackals, hyenas, lions and rarely seen cheetahs. With over 30,000 animals, the Ngorongoro Crater can be regarded as a “Garden of Eden”. The 100 sq km caldera is home to the last black rhinos to be found in Tanzania and also has the highest density of lions anywhere in Africa. The rhino population here is carefully protected and they are quite commonly seen.

Olduvai Gorge: Known as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, Olduvai is one of the world’s most important prehistoric sites since the discovery of fossils, bones and artefacts linked to some of the earliest humans on earth. For school groups looking for a more curriculum based itinerary a visit to Olduvai Gorge is a must and can easily be combined with a wildlife safari.

Mt Meru: At 4555m, Mt Meru is a much more achievable objective for schools short on time or not ready to tackle Kilimanjaro. The climb of Meru involves huts, as opposed to camping, and ascends through slopes that are home to a large wildlife population including elephants and mountain reedbuck. The mountain provides wonderful vantage points to view Kilimanjaro.

The Serengeti:Serengeti National Park is the most famous of Tanzania’s parks – its name is derived from the Maasai word ‘siriget’, meaning ‘endless plain’. Apart from being the largest national park in East Africa, the Serengeti is home to one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world – the migration of nearly two million wildebeest. The migration involves not only wildebeest but also the predators that prey on the newborn, the sick and the old. Between December and April the wildebeest begin to move on to the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is here that up to 300,000 calves are born in January and February each year. After the rains in May, the wildebeest migrate north and west towards the permanent water of the Grumeti River. This world-famous wildlife sanctuary contains the greatest and most spectacular concentration of game found anywhere in the world. 
Tarangire National Park:The largest population of elephants in northern Tanzania are found here, with approximately 2000 sighted along the river at certain times of the year. In the dry season, (July–November) most of the wildlife in the Tarangire ecosystem migrates to the permanent water of the Tarangire River. The lush green shores of the river are a big attraction to many varieties of wildlife, so they offer fantastic game viewing. Dry baobab and acacia trees are scattered w

Maasai culture:
The iconic red clothes of the Maasai are iconic. Spending a day in the life of a Maasai will take children into a completely different world. From learning how to make houses out of mud, sticks and cow dung to learning about their diet of meat, milk and blood, students will be either shocked or enthralled by what they will see and learn.idely throughout Tarangire National Park and these provide an ideal home to over 500 species of birds. Most people who have visited East Africa give fabulous accounts of game-viewing in this National Park.

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