Kilimanjaro Mountain High

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 3, 2006

Q. I plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in July and would like to go with a tour group. Any suggestions?

Jodi Finkelstein, Olney

The Mount Kilimanjaro climb is one of the world's top mountain adventures, but unlike some other ascents, you'll have enough strength after the climb to gloat. "It's a marvelous trip, but it's a beginner's climb," says Todd Burleson, owner of Alpine Ascents International (206-378-1927,, a Seattle company that leads up to 10 Kilimanjaro climbs a year. "All you're doing is hiking, but you're gaining altitude, too."

The African mountain, whose 19,340-foot summit is the highest on the continent, sits on the northeastern tip of Tanzania. The trek to the top passes through five ecosystems, including jungle and high alpine desert, and adventurers can see antelope, monkeys and the occasional leopard along the way. The journey can take five to seven days, and most tour operators start the final leg at midnight, so trekkers arrive at the summit for sunrise. Climbers usually follow one of two main routes: the Marangu, nicknamed the Coca-Cola Route, and the Machame, or Whiskey Route. The former is shorter and less costly, and visitors overnight in trailside huts and eat in lodges that can be crowded. On the less populated route, guests sleep in cushy tents and have porters carry their gear.

If you're in good physical condition -- Burleson recommends doing cardio an hour a day and hiking six miles twice a month -- you should be able to master the mountain. However, climbers are susceptible to altitude sickness, which is why Burleson recommends traveling with a company knowledgeable in Western health care. In addition, when researching companies, ask the tour operator about its safety record, experience on the mountain and medical skills. Also, request references from past travelers.

Climbing season runs mid-December to February and July to mid-September; the rest of the year is full of rain. Alpine Ascents leads two July trips that cost $5,400 per person double. In addition to the Marangu Route climb, the land-only price includes safaris, meals and hotel stays in Tanzania; for the climb only, pay $4,500 per person double. International Mountain Guides (360-569-2609, of Washington state also leads multiple Kilimanjaro climbs in 2007; cost is $4,800 per person double land only or $3,300 climb only.

We'd like to take a spa vacation within three hours of Jacksonville, Fla. We're interested in a non-corporate type of spa.

Ann Reisner, Arlington

Choosing a spa vacation can be as difficult as deciding between the Swedish and Thai massage. "The definition of a spa has really expanded," says Betsy Isroelit, spokeswoman for (212-924-6800,, which lists 3,500 spas. "We are seeing more hotels and resorts adding treatments and exercise and nutrition classes."

Spa vacations fall into four categories: day spas, which have no overnight lodging; medical spas, which offer health and wellness treatments; resort and hotel spas, which are full-service properties with on-site spas; and the traditional spa destination, "whose only purpose is to be a spa," Isroelit says.

A number of spas are within 160 miles of your starting point. The White Orchid Inn and Spa (800-423-1477, is an adults-only property in Flagler Beach, Fla. The oceanside inn has 10 rooms (from $119), a full spa, a heated mineral pool and more. To save money, opt for a package: Book three nights (Sunday-Thursday) and receive $150 worth of spa treatments gratis.

For a larger resort, Sea Island (800-SEA-ISLAND,, on a private island in Georgia, has a new 65,000-square-foot spa and fitness facility, and four types of accommodations, including its sister property on St. Simons Island. Through February, the Best Escape Package costs $495 a night double and includes a 60-minute massage for two. Another option is the Canyon Ranch SpaClub at Gaylord Palms (407-586-2051, in Kissimmee, Fla. You can use the spa, but you may want to skip the massive Gaylord Palms and stay at a cozier property nearby. Check the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau (407-944-2400, for a list of hotels.


Liz Tankersley of Washington has a book suggestion for the road-tripper planning a drive around the United States. "I highly recommend the 'Off the Beaten Path' series, published by Globe Pequot," she says. "I spent six months driving around the country a few years ago after I retired, and I used several of the books in this series to give me ideas for interesting and unusual places to see."

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