When Orange is the New Black star Laura Prepon was approached by her friend, Roberto Santos, to join his climb of Mount Kilimanjaro—Africa’s highest mountain—the actress, a self-professed adventure-travel enthusiast, found it hard to say no. “I tend to do things on the spur of the moment,” she says. “I was hanging out with Roberto, and he said, ‘I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro in Africa, want to go?’ And I was like, ‘Sure!’ And then I came home and Googled it, and I was like, this is a full-on mountain! It’s almost 20,000 feet, which I didn’t know. I’m not a climber—I just like adventure.”
The actress and her group flew into Tanzania (which, coincidentally, made our list of Best Places to Travel in 2016), and spent the first seven days hiking the mountain. “Summiting Kilimanjaro was so hard the last day, because you have to ascend 5,000 feet in one day, since it’s too dangerous to sleep at those altitudes," she says. "So we left at midnight and climbed for seven and a half hours. At 20,000 feet, you’re like, losing your mind because of the altitude; the human body is not supposed to be at that high of an altitude. But when you summit, something happens to you that’s so incredible, and it’s such an accomplishment. After coming down the next day, we celebrated with our whole crew; we had barbecue goat, which is a tradition, and we drank my favorite cider I’ve ever found in my life, which is called Savanna Dry Cider. We all hungout and celebrated—it was fantastic,” says Prepon.
But after seven days of roughing it, the star was in need of some pampering (we can’t blame her). So she looked to Amani Afrika (“the best tour company I’ve ever worked with in my life”), who had planned her climbing expedition, to help her pick where to go next. So where did they choose? “We went to the Ngorongoro Crater and stayed at andBeyond Crater Lodge, which was one of the most gorgeous hotels I’ve ever been to. Then, we went to central Serengeti, where we stayed at the Four Seasons Safari Lodge, and it was just unreal. We were at the pool, and an entire herd of elephants just walked by, like, no big deal.”
As a first timer to Africa, we had to ask: what surprised Prepon most? “There are a lot of people from Los Angeles and New York that aren’t happy with their lives, and we have everything we could possibly want at our fingertips. Then you go somewhere like Africa, and that’s not the case. But everybody I met was so happy! When we were going up the mountain, one of our guides, Paulo, was literally singing, 'I love my job!' These guys wouldn’t change it for the world—they’re so happy. People take for granted what we have in America, and this trip was really so amazing because I always try to be grateful for what I have. Going to Africa really put that into perspective even more, which is incredible.”
For Prepon, climbing Mount Kiliminjaro brought about a whole new obsession. “It’s weird—now I’m all about climbing. It’s so relaxing. It’s like whenever I fly fish—I love fly-fishing—and the reason why it’s so relaxing is because your whole goal is to just catch a fish. It’s almost like a mantra. And that’s like what a mountain climb is; you’re above the clouds, and it’s so hard, but the fact that your one goal is to make the summit makes it oddly relaxing. And it’s amazing to be disconnected from the world. Whenever people are like, 'Where have you been?' It’s like, 'Dude, I was on a mountain.' It’s the best excuse to not have to be in communication with anybody, ever.”
As for where the travel junkie’s headed next? “I was going to France to climb Mont Blanc, but then I wrapped a movie, moved to New York, the show [Orange is the New Black] premiered, and then I start filming. So squeezing in a mountain climb is kind of tough. But also, I don’t know how to use crampons or an ice axe yet. So I’m going to have to wait to do that.”
For Prepon’s full travel diary through Tanzania, scroll on.