Routes to trek Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain at 5895m (19340ft) and one of the most instantly recognisable landmarks on the continent with its snow-capped peak rising 5km above the surrounding plains. It is also the highest mountain that can be climbed without specialised mountain equipment or experience. Although straddling the border with Kenya, it is only accessible from Tanzania.
Mount Kilimanjaro and the associated Kilimanjaro National Park are located in the northern regions of Tanzania, straddling the border with nearby Kenya. It’s the highest mountain in Africa, and simultaneously lays claim to the “highest free standing mountain” in the world – it is a singular monstrosity that is not part of a mountain range…as is normally the case.
The mountain is a mere 3 degrees south of the Equator, and is furthermore unusual in the fact that it has a permanent snow-cap all year round, despite its locality. A combination of height and geographic features means that Mount Kilimanjaro represents all of the earth’s climate types – from the tropics to the arctics, with climbers passing through cultivated slopes, wild rainforests, moorlands, alpine deserts and glacial fields. Along the way, elephant, leopard, buffalo and various antelope can be spotted, and the view from the top is considered to be one of the best in the world…the whole of Africa’s wilderness at your feet!
Guidelines – how to trek Kilimanjaro
- Kilimanjaro is the only walk-able mountain of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks in all seven continents),provided you have a reasonable degree of fitness and some determination, reaching the summit is achievable without any previous texperience or knowledge
- there are currently six routes up the mountain from the popular and safe Marangu route to the Umbwe route that requires actual rock climbing. Each has its own advantages and the choice is down to preference (some are more scenic, others have a greater success rate, or different approach methods). We make use of guides who’ve been climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and the Rwenzoris since 1990. Since 1993 they’ve taken 8000 climbers up Mt Kilimanjaro. The average success rate of our groups is 95%.
- Other high peaks in Africa include Mount Kenya and Mount Meru, both are popular and less crowded. Or for genuine mountain solitude but far tougher climbing, try the remote Ol Doinyo Lengai in northern Tanzania – an active volcano.
- No special climbing skills are required for Kilimanjaro, but it’s not a trek to be taken lightly. Altitude sickness can kill if the symptoms (usually headaches, vomiting and disorientation) are ignored. Not only that, it chooses its victims randomly – even the fittest trekker can succumb.
- Aclimatisation is key to climbing ‘Kili’ safely; the most successful routes require several days to reach the summit. Walking at a slow pace and drinking plenty of fluids will also help, whilst a crew of porters, cooks and guides will help you make the most of the adventure.
- Most routes involve camping, so you’ll need warm clothing for Summit Night. Starting around midnight under the stars, that final breathless push through slippery scree seems to last forever, but when you reach the glaciers on the summit at dawn and see Africa spread out below you, it is a uniquely emotional experience.
Best routes to trek Kilimanjaro
Known as the “tourist” or “coca-cola” route, Marangu has the highest success rate and is less strenuous than the alternatives – permanent facilities are available, the physical route is easier and there are permanent rescue operations in place. Entails a relatively easy 80 km walking distance possible over 5 days but for improved success we recommended as a 6 night hike using dorm-style huts. Add 2 nights at in Moshi. Wildlife sightings are highest on this route, and scenery is good – the only issue is that it is the most used of the six and is generally regarded as overcrowded.
The Route typically takes five days, with Day One being a trek through inhabited land – although you pass through thick forest, animals are shy and not usually seen due to the regular human traffic. Day Two takes you from Mandara Hut (2,700m) to Horombo Hut (3,720m), and covers about 15km – about six hours.
Should you choose to do the six day option, an extra night at Horombo assists acclimatisation and improves success rates. Day three is a 6-7 trek to Kibo Hut, and marks the entry into the alpine zone, and often the beginnings of altitude sickness. Most people tend not to be able to sleep at the altitude here (4,703m), and await the summit attempt which typically starts at 0100 in the morning – a six hour push to the peak means that you can catch the sunrise as it peaks over the African continent. Bring a camera!
Descent is a seven hour affair, stopping at Horombo Hut for a well-deserved sleep, and finally the last day’s concluding 8 hour walk back to Marangu.
Nicknamed the “whiskey route”, Machame can be busy unless you hit the trail early. It offers some of the best scenery – ascending from the western side of Kilimanjaro, and descending down the south face. Has the highest success rate with great acclimatisation and allows climbers to “walk high, sleep low” in tented camps. The standard 6 night hike plus 2 nights at base hotel in Moshi.
As the most scenic walking route, Machame has become increasingly popular and has great views across to the near Mount Meru. A six day climb, the route is relatively gradual and only marginally more difficult than the Marangu route – although the extra day allows for better aclimatisation, and this more than compensates.
Rather than permanent hut facilities being available, much of the old huts have fallen into disuse and you will be camping overnight, despite the national park authorities insisting upon a “hut fee”. Shira is your second night stop and allows for some flexibility in your ascent – depending on your level of experience you could take the short 4 hour climb to Lava Tower Hut (4,630m) and have a tricker summit attempt later, or do the easier option of staying at Barranco Campsite (12km hike from Shira, slightly tougher than Marangu’s trail), and summit from Barafu (4,600m) to Stella Point and optionally carrying on to Uhuru Peak after sunrise. After summiting, a quick descent to Mweka Hut via Barafu is done, and the homeward journey on the sixth day is done following the Mweka route (4-6 hours).
The shortest and fastest route to the summit, there are only two huts (Mweka at 3,100m and Barafu at 4,600m), although it is most likely you will camp in their general location rather than using the huts themselves. Starting near Moshi, an eight hour walk to Mweka is done on the first day, followed by another eight hours to Barafu the next day, and then following the above Machame Route. We tend not to recommend this particular route as it doesn’t offer true acclimatisation and is normally only used for descents.
This route can take between 5-7 days depending on the options you choose, although we’d recommend six, and go for the seven if you have the time; your success rate is greatly higher the more time you have to acclimatise. Starting at Londorossi Gate on the western side of the mountain, a 19km hike takes you to 3,500m over territory with regular elephant and buffalo sightings. This trail can be done in a 4×4 (thereby shortening the route to 5 days, but not recommended) and the overnight stay is camping outside Simba Cave. An easy 4km ascent to Shira Hut occupies the next day, and some people choose to spend two nights here…exploring some of the great day walks from the disused hut. From hereon, the summit follows the same plan as the Machame Route.
The only ascent from the northeast, Rongai is less strenuous than the Marangu route and has stunning scenery. It similarly takes five days to the more popular route, and has a high success rate due to the easier paths and gradual slopes, but is unfortunately more expensive as less people use the route and it is operationally more complex. Starting near the Kenyan border at Nale Moru village, a footpath leads through cultivated land (colobus monkeys keep you company along the way) until the first campsite is reached at 2,700m…a five hour walk.
Second day is an easy climb to Third Cave Campsite (3500m), and passes through moorland that occasionally provides fodder for elephants. School Campsite at 4,750m is your next stop, although some people prefer continuing to the nearby Kibo Hut and enjoying the banter of other adventurers at the busier location. From hereon, the route replicates that of Marangu.
Most challenging route up Kilimanjaro suited to those with altitude experience, known to acclimatise well. The least utilised ascent route but has a low summit success rate because of rapid ascent on the first 2 days. It joins Machame route at Barranco Camp. Whilst feasible as a 5 day trek we only offer this as a 6 day private climb with an option to overnight in the crater.
Probably the most scenic, although requires some rock climbing experience and a slightly fitter climber than the other routes. Umbwe is short, steep and quick, and most operators charge a premium for using it as logistically it is slightly more challenging than the others. Caves along the way provide sleeping accommodation, although tents are normally used.
Kilimanjaro – Lemosho route
A 9 day fully - guided trek up the Lemosho Route favoured for being less crowded and its high summit success rate.
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