Virtuoso director of marketing technology Matt Elliott recently joined 19 Virtuoso-affiliated agency owners and hoteliers for a hike to the top of 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The group booked a six-day trip with Abercrombie & Kent: five days up and one day down. On this shorter itinerary, adjusting to the altitude is a bit more challenging than on the typical nine-day trek, but everyone in Elliott’s group reached the summit – in fact, A&K boasts an overall 97 percent summit success rate. “This trip is all about the memories: the people helping you get there, the friends you’re climbing with, the sunrise at the summit,” Elliott says. “It’s a physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Here, his tips for reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and enjoying every step.

Why go now: The mountain gets more visitors every year, and its glaciers have receded dramatically in the last decade. Go now, while it’s still a relatively intimate experience.

Climbers at the Mount Kilimanjaro Summit
Advice from Virtuoso agency executive Tania Swasbrook: “Plan at least six months out from your trek in order to train and break in your boots. It’s a life-changing experience, and the tech detox is liberating, but be prepared for rugged hiking and camping.”

Pre-trip prep: Follow the training guidelines your tour operator gives you. I even did some of my CrossFit workouts in the hiking boots I’d be wearing. It’s extremely important to have well-fitting, broken-in boots.

Top-tier guides: Dismass, our lead guide, and A&K’s support staff were some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met. They carried our gear (up to 40 pounds per person), plus their own up the mountain, and prepared each day’s camp, including tents with comfortable mattresses and pillows.

Encouraging words: If we struggled at times during the hike, the staff would give us friendly smiles and a Jambo! (hello) or hakuna matata (no trouble). They made sure we were safe, healthy, comfortable, and doing everything right to reach the summit.

What’s the food like? The menu was designed to keep us healthy and give us energy. But it was tasty! After a six-hour hike, it was refreshing to enjoy a hearty soup, stew, or chicken dish.

Matt Elliott at Mount Kilimanjaro Summit
Virtuoso’s Matt Elliott with the summit selfie of a lifetime.

Mount Kilimanjaro packing tips: I didn’t need all the protein bars I packed – your appetite might not be what you think it will. I wished I’d brought some prosciutto or charcuterie as a little extravagance, like my Italian friends did. Bring a backup phone battery – cell service is spotty, but you’ll want it for photos. Layers are key: I liked having zip-off pant legs.

Hydration upgrade: You’ll drink three to five liters of water a day. Bring electrolyte tablets and start hydrating with them on the flight over. They make drinking water a little more enjoyable and help your body replace lost minerals.

Mount Kilimanjaro - Trek Camp
Nightly camp on the trek up Kilimanjaro. (Matt Elliott)

Freshening up: There were a couple of shower tents, but I didn’t shower. Instead, I used the wash basins A&K set up at the tents with hot water for a sponge bath. The weather was excellent, so it wasn’t uncomfortable.

Sage advice: You may not understand why your guide is asking you to do something (like deep-breathing exercises and measuring your blood-oxygen saturation before meals), but it all pays off when you see the incredible sunrise at the summit.