Barafu Camp during the Kilimanjaro ascent

News What are the toilets like on Kilimanjaro?

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The call of nature is a fact of life. We all need to go to the loo. Some of us, several times a day. Or night. Yet it’s one of those subjects that we’re a bit too shy, self-conscious or squeamish to talk openly about.

So we make up bizarre cryptic euphemisms to avoid directly mentioning the actual directly. “I’m just off to see a man about a dog”, we’ll say. Or “I’m just going to drop the kids off at the pool”. The braver among us will be a little more forthright, yet still revert to childhood phrases: “I’m just going for a wee/poo” or “I need to do a number one/number two” (delete as applicable in either case).

In most situations we can find a decent loo - whether at home, at work, in the shopping center, restaurant or pub – to *ahem* ‘do our business’ in comfort and privacy. It’s a different story when you’re trekking Mount Kilimanjaro. On the trail in Tanzania, handy public conveniences are nothing more than a fond memory. And suddenly, everyone’s a lot more open about ‘toilet talk’.

Toilets in Kilimanjaro

I need to go to the toilet on Kilimanjaro. What are my options?

Firstly, let’s put your mind at rest. There are public toilets at every camp stop on a Kilimanjaro trek. You’re going to need to lower your expectations though. Forget porcelain loos with lockable doors, marble sinks with soap dispensers, hot water and hi-tech hand driers. We’re talking about a wooden shack (usually without a door, let alone a lock) that surrounds a deep hole in the ground.
You’ll have to get used to squatting and near-zero privacy. Also, while Kilimanjaro National Park staff do their best to keep these facilities clean, it’s an uphill struggle (geddit?) because almost everyone on the mountain uses them. This means that the erm, bouquet, of Kilimanjaro’s public 'long drop' loos can often be a) challenging and b) cut with a knife. However, the natural views afforded by these dunnies are sensational so… swings and roundabouts.

Help! I’m shy. Can I get a private toilet on Kilimanjaro?

Trekking Kilimanjaro is an immensely bonding experience. In time you’ll come to regard your guides, porters and fellow trekkers as honorary brothers and sisters. All the same, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be comfortable ‘dropping your fudge’ in front of them. Don’t panic. There is an alternative to the ‘toilet shack’.

The second option is the ‘portable private loo’. This amounts to a proper chemical toilet (with a seat, no less!) that is contained within its own discreet tent for total privacy (if not soundproofing). A portable private loo is for the exclusive use of you and your group only. As with the shacks, though, it is only set up and available in camp.

The trek’s porters are responsible for cleaning, maintaining and transporting the loo between camps, so at least you have the assurance that your ‘comfort breaks’ will be sanitary and conducted in privacy.

A lot of Kilimanjaro trek operators will levy an additional charge of anything from $100-$200 for the privilege of being able to use a portable privvy. You’d need to spend a hell of a lot of pennies to break even. That’s not the case with Kandoo Adventures; the use of a portable private toilet is included as standard with every one of our climbs because we look after the needs of our trekkers and don’t cut corners (end of own-trumpet-blowing).

Private toilet in Kilimanjaro

I’m between camps on Kilimanjaro and I need to go to the loo! What now?

Getting ‘caught short’; It happens to all of us. Ignoring the urge and attempting to ‘hold it in’ for hours on end is inadvisable and can actually be dangerous. However, wetting/soiling yourself is not a great solution either. People will notice.

Now, if you simply need a pee the solution is to swallow your pride and disappear behind the nearest tree or bush for a couple of minutes. To avoid consternation/embarrassment, you might want to let your guide know. Things get trickier above the tree line. You might get lucky and find a sizeable shrub to spare your blushes; failing that you’re not usually far from a suitable boulder or rock formation.

The best solution, though, is to carry some sort of suitable container with you that can be emptied appropriately when you reach the next camp. You can actually buy dedicated gear for this – check out Shewee (for the ladies) and Peebol (for both) on Amazon. There are ‘personal toilet’ kits designed for use at festivals that are just as suitable for taking on a Kilimajaro trek. The upshot is that a bottle or container of some sort will prove absolutely invaluable both on the trail and in the middle of the night in when you’ve just gotta go but haven’t the will to stagger out to the camp’s bog.

OK, so what if you need to ‘curl one off’ (sorry) rather have a pee when you’re on the trail? Here’s the deal. You’ll have to find somewhere secluded to do the deed (see above). Leaving your waste behind is both unnecessary and unforgivable. So, make sure that you pack some disposable plastic bags in your day pack that can be used for collecting poo. Also make sure that you have at least one roll of loo paper (two would be better) and some hygienic wet wipes for cleaning up with.

I’ll say it again: leave nothing behind. Especially not wet wipes as – at present – these are non-biodegradable and need to be disposed of appropriately. You do not want to be the person who is becomes known for littering Kilimanjaro. We know you’re better than that. In brief then: do what you need to do, clean and tidy yourself up, put everything into a plastic bag (maybe double-bag to be on the safe side), tie it up securely and take it along to the next camp stop where the porters will take care of it for you. There. That wasn’t so bad was it?

Going to the loo on Kilimanjaro: a final thought

Comedy legend Frank Skinner used to do a routine in which he talked about taking multivitamin pills which, as a side effect, used to make his urine ‘glow in the dark’. Describing the act of taking a pee in the night without turning on the bathroom light, he said that looking down at his bathroom mat reminded him of flying over Las Vegas.

Going to the loo might not be the most glamorous pastime, but believe me, when you’re answering the call of nature in the magnificent surroundings of Mount Kilimanjaro, it’s part of a life-changing experience that’s far more exciting and memorable than staring down at your bath mat. No matter how many multivitamins you’ve taken.

Here is a hilarious video of one our clients talking about the long drops on Kilimanjaro.

*Please note, this video was filmed a few years ago before Kandoo Adventures started including a private toilet with all climbs as standard. *

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does a long drop toilet work?

A long drop toilet, also known as a pit latrine, collects human feces in a hole in the ground where the toilet is located and can work with or without flowing water. Long drop toilets work to decrease the amount of spread of disease and the transfer of pathogens from flies.

How do you make a toilet drop longer?

The longest that you can make your long drop toilet as far as the ground level goes is 1 meter deep, and you will have to dig a new one once you fill your current one up to 330mm. You will also have to cover the long drop completely with soil after it is filled.

What is a long drop?

A long drop is a type of non-flush toilet that collects waste underground. This low cost type of toilet helps decrease the spread of infectious diseases.

Do you need a permit for a composting toilet?

The need for a permit in order to install a composting toilet depends on the standards set by your local building department. If they do not require you to have a permit, you can go ahead and install your toilet. If you are required to have a permit, then you will have to speak with your local building department and talk about obtaining a permit.