Nairobi — Western tour companies have expressed alarm at overcrowding on Mount Kilimanjaro caused by corrupt local officials allowing too many people to climb at any one time.
More than 25,000 tourists climb Kilimanjaro each year, often paying thousands of dollars for the privilege, and each of the three routes up the mountain is supposed to have a set limit of climbers each day.
But the Marangu trail in particular, which has a daily limit of 67 people, often had double that number in this February.
The result has been overcrowding in the huts, long waits for food and worst of all, porters being forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures, which sometimes drop to as low as minus 12 centigrade.
But the Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) Director General, Gerald Bigurube told The EastAfrican from Arusha that he was surprised by the accusations, because neither Tanapa nor the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) have received such complaints.
he said there was no tourist overcrowding even on the routes that need no booking, such as Machame, Shila and Longai. "The Marangu route has a limit of 58 people per day and tourists are attended on a first come, first-served basis," he said adding that other necessities like food and shelter have to be taken care of by the tour operators.
He said accusations that there is corruption were also new to Tanapa because all arrangements are made through licensed tour operators and the tourists pay in advance. "Under such an arrangement, Tanapa fails to understand how corruption comes in," Mr Bigurube said.
Earlier, Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) managing director Peter Mwenguo told The EastAfrican that the allegations "were baseless." He referred the matter to Tanapa.
The Western tour operators further allege that the porters' union in Kilimanjaro blames greed by guides, which has seen them pocket up to $50 (Tsh50,000) per person for extra climbers.
They also say that the guides and chief porters are refusing to properly share tips given by tourists and are making them carry excessive heavy loads up the mountain.
Each porter is only meant to carry a 50 kg maximum load up the mountain. But often they are being forced to carry much heavier loads so that guides can hire fewer porters and make more money.
The porters say they are being made to pay up to $5 even to get a job as a porter and are being forced to pay for their own food - which is often only leftover scraps - while working.
They are so angry over the situation that a protest march is being planned on February 28 to highlight their conditions.
The overcrowding is also resented by tourists, who have complained. So bad is the overcrowding that at times fights have reportedly broken out.
Too many people on the mountain has also meant more people have been dropping out before reaching the summit. Normally around 65 per cent of climbers reach the top but this number is dropping.
One Western company, Exodus, has stopped using the Marangu route because of these problems, describing it as the "Coca-Cola route."
The Marangu trail is particularly popular as it is quicker and the only one with huts for sleeping in.
Western companies are aware of the corruption but have avoided publicly speaking out until recently for fear of losing their license.
The protest march will demand proper clothes for the porters, adequate food, the correct loads to carry and fairness in distribution of tips.
Western companies' concerns have been passed on through the Tanzanian High Commission in London. An official there told the Times newspaper Our government is keen to act against all corrupt individuals.
Additional Reporting by Faustine Rwambali in Dar es Salaam