Mount Kilimanjaro, at a glance
Kilimanjaro National Park is a jewel in the crown of Tanzania. And one of its most visited sites. Learn more about this important and extraordinary mountain park, like where exactly it is and what animals call it home!
Kilimanjaro National Park in northern Tanzania is a unique and surprising place.
And we’re not just saying that. For starters, it’s home to the highest mountain in Africa (5,895 m!), yet that mountain rises up out of a vast, relatively flat plain.
Most iconic mountains are a part of massive ranges, like how Mt Everest is part of the Himalayas and Mt Aconcagua part of the Andes. The reason for this is that Mt Kilimanjaro was once a volcano. This allows it to stand tall in a flat region, letting you enjoy unimpeded views of it from far away, even in Kenya.
Kilimanjaro Trekking Routes
Several routes lead to the top, all with different accommodation options, success rates, popularity and length. Routes typically take between 5 and 9 days, although it is recommended to go for at least 6 to allow for proper acclimatization.
The Marangu route, also known as the “Coca-Cola” route, is the oldest, most well established route on Kilimanjaro. This is the only route which offers sleeping huts in dormitory style accommodations in lieu of camping. There are 60 bunk beds each at Mandara and Kibo Huts, and 120 bunk beds at Horombo Hut.
Guests are supplied with mattresses and pillows, but sleeping bags are still required. The huts have communal dining halls and basic washrooms, ranging from flushing toilets and running water at the lower huts to long drop toilets and buckets of water at Kibo Hut.
Many favor Marangu because it is considered to be the easiest path on the mountain, given its gradual slope and direct path. However the short time frame of the route makes altitude acclimatization fairly difficult.
The route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the southeast. Marangu is unfortunately less scenic than the other routes because the ascent and descent are along the same path. It is also the most crowded route for that reason.
The Machame route, also known as the “Whiskey” route, is the most popular route on Kilimanjaro. Machame’s draw is in its scenic beauty. However, the trail is considered difficult, steep and challenging, particularly due to its shorter itinerary. Therefore this route is better suited for more adventurous folks or those with some high altitude, hiking or backpacking experience.
The route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the south, beginning with a short drive from Moshi to Machame Gate. The path leads hikers through the rain forest to Shira Plateau. Here, many of Kilimanjaro’s routes converge. Then the route turns east and traverses underneath Kilimanjaro’s Southern Ice Field on a path known as the Southern Circuit before summiting from Barafu. Descent is made via the Mweka route.
The Lemosho route is considered the most scenic trail on Kilimanjaro, granting panoramic vistas on various sides of the mountain. As one of the newer routes, Lemosho is a superb choice for your climb. It is our preferred route due to its ideal balance of low crowds, beautiful scenery and a high summit success rate. Ultimate Kilimanjaro® specializes in guiding on the Lemosho route. Most of our clients climb Kilimanjaro using this route and they consistently report that they loved it. Thus, Lemosho is highly recommended.
The route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the west, beginning with a long drive from Moshi to Londorossi Gate. From there, the first two days are spent trekking through the rain forest to Shira Ridge. The Lemosho route crosses the entire Shira Plateau from west to east in a pleasant, relatively flat hike. Crowds are low until the route joins the Machame route near Lava Tower. Then the route traverses underneath Kilimanjaro’s Southern Ice Field on a path known as the Southern Circuit before summiting from Barafu. Descent is made via the Mweka route.
The Rongai route is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north, close to the Kenyan border. Though gaining popularity amongst climbers, this route still experiences low crowds. Rongai has a more gradual slope than the mountain’s other routes.
It is the preferred route for those looking for an alternative to the popular Marangu route, for those who would like a more remote hike, and for those who are climbing during the rainy season (the north side receives less precipitation). Rongai is a moderately difficult route, and is highly recommended, especially for those with less backpacking experience.
Although the scenery is not as varied as the western routes, Rongai makes up for this by passing through true wilderness areas for nearly the entire way. Descent is made via the Marangu route.
The Umbwe route has a well-deserved reputation of being the most challenging route on Mount Kilimanjaro. Due to the fast ascent to high altitude, this route does not provide the necessary stages for acclimatization.
Although the number of people on this trail is very low, the chances of success are also low. Umbwe is considered to be very difficult, taxing route – one that should only be attempted by strong hikers who are confident in their ability to acclimatize quickly to altitude.
Approaching from the south, the Umbwe route is a short, steep and direct climb. After reaching Barranco Camp, the trail turns east and traverses underneath Kilimanjaro’s Southern Ice Field on a path known as the Southern Circuit before summiting from Barafu. Descent is made via the Mweka route
Kilimanjaro is very popular with both experienced hikers and first time adventurers because it is considered to be the easiest of the seven summits. Scaling the mountain requires no technical skills or equipment, such as rope, harness, crampons or ice axe. Therefore, it is a hiking or “walk up” peak, not a mountaineering or climbing peak.
When is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?
The fewer clouds, the better your vision from the summit will be. Seeing the mountain scale up behind Moshi is an impressive site when there is little cloud coverage. We recommend waking up early to get the best views.
The rainy season in Tanzania is twice a year, from the end of March to the end of May, and again from November to mid-December. The wet ground and clouds make for difficult trekking and less vision at the summit.
The best conditions are in January and February, as well as August and September, although any time outside the rainy season will work well.
March and October offer less crowded hikes as people fear the rains could come early. The period right after a rainy season can also hinder vision as clouds can often linger for much longer. Sometimes you are just out of luck and the weather will be too bad to even attempt to summit.
Accommodation options at Mount Kilimanjaro
While on the mountain, you will either stay in tents or huts. Huts are exclusive to the Marangu route, so this might be a decisive factor in your planning.
Your trekking team will be responsible for organising your gear and equipment. The tent quality will much depend on their services and how much money you are willing to pay.
Before starting your trek, you will normally spend a few days in Moshi (or Arusha) to start acclimatizing and sleep off any jet lag.
How to get to Mount Kilimanjaro
The town of Moshi is traditionally the starting point for climbing Kilimanjaro. It is also possible to start from Arusha, known as the safari capital of Tanzania. Arusha is about 2 hours away from Moshi.
If your trip is in combination with a safari to the north, staying in Arusha can be a good option. Both towns are only a short distance from Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO). You can easily reach Kilimanjaro Airport from Europe with a stopover in Amsterdam (KLM), Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines) or Doha (Qatar Airways).
From the airport your arranged driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel. Based on traffic, which can get hectic in Tanzania, this will take around 45 minutes. Arusha can experience quite the rush hour in the evenings, but this is all part of the pole pole (‘slowly slowly’) lifestyle in Tanzania.
Tanzania has three major international airports:
- Dar es Salaam (DAR)
- Zanzibar (ZNZ)
- Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO)
The latter is the most convenient for Kilimanjaro, sitting only 42 km away from the mountain town of Moshi and 50 km from Arusha.
In addition to flights to Tanzania, you may consider flights to Nairobi in Kenya, which is only a five-hour shuttle bus ride to Arusha or a one-hour plane ride to JRO. Note, however, that by choosing to fly to Kenya you may need a multiple-entry Kenya visa (if you’re flying out of Kenya, too, for example, and spend longer than a fortnight in Tanzania), which can cost as much as $122. This would reduce or even eliminate any saving you may have made in airfares.
In deciding which flights to book, you should take the full trip into consideration. For example, if you’d like to spend a couple of days in Zanzibar after the climb, it might be best to book one-way tickets from your home to Kilimanjaro Airport for the climb, from there to Zanzibar after the climb, and then from Zanzibar back home.
We recommend arriving one day early (what we refer to as “arrival day”). This will give you time to relax, meet your fellow trekkers, and get a proper briefing before the climb starts. More importantly, if there’s any delay to your flight or your luggage goes AWOL, there’s enough wiggle room so that this delay doesn’t derail your climb. Seriously – this extra day really is a good idea, especially with post-pandemic airlines being in a little bit of a pickle right now.
All that said, we understand that travelling to Kilimanjaro can be a challenge. So we’ll accommodate your arrival time as best we can (for example, if you only arrive late at night the day before the climb starts, we’ll still be there to collect you!).
Yes, most foreigners need a Tanzanian visa to visit the country. US, Canadian, British and most European citizens can simply obtain a visa upon arrival at the airport. The cost is $100 for US passport holders and $50 for others. US citizens do get a longer visa, however.
If you’re a citizen of a different country, please check with your embassy if you can obtain a visa upon arrival – of if you even need one. Certain African nationals, for instance, can enter Tanzania without a visa.
Please also note that you need a passport that’s valid for at least six months after your departure date.
There are no specific vaccine requirements for entry into Tanzania. However, be aware that the Government of Tanzania requires proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival if you are travelling from a country with risk of yellow fever.
While it’s not mandatory by any means, we suggest you talk to your doctor about getting the following vaccinations (which are standard in developed countries): Hepatitis A & B, typhoid, yellow fever, tetanus, polio, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and meningococcal meningitis (Africa and Asia).
There are seven different Kilimanjaro routes up the mountain. We recommend the eight-day Lemosho, seven-day Machame and nine-day Northern Circuit routes. These routes offer the best balance of a high success rate and beautiful scenery.
Kilimanjaro requires no technical climbing experience nor climbing equipment. This makes it the most accessible of the Seven Summits in many ways.
Any decently fit person can summit the mountain. That said, for most people, it will be one of the most difficult things they ever do in their lives! As we discuss in Kilimanjaro vs Everest Base Camp, it’s even harder in our opinion than trekking to Everest Base Camp!
Don’t underestimate how tough Kilimanjaro is. Too many people do, and don’t make it to the top!
Depending on your current fitness, we suggest that you start your physical training at least two or three months prior to the climb. Please read How should I train for Kilimanjaro? to learn more.
Remember, the fitter you are, the more enjoyable the whole experience will be for you.