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Learn more about Climbing Kilimanjaro Routes

Date Added: September 17, 2018 03:02:00 PM

As the tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro is also one of the world’s most climbed mountains. That means several routes to the summit have been mapped out over the years that vary by difficulty, length, and terrain.

Nearly 40,000 people set out annually to conquer the mountain, but exactly how many reach the top is debatable. That’s why it’s very important to know the differences between Kilimanjaro routes and be prepared for this adventure.

Here’s a look at the various Kilimanjaro hiking routes that are available and what you need to know before planning to climb this mountain.

Navigating Kilimanjaro Routes: What You Need to Know First

At an elevation of 19,341 feet, ascending Kilimanjaro isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Even tourists who train regularly and are in their best physical shape have turned back before reaching Kilimanjaro’s summit. The most common cause is altitude sickness, which can suddenly bring on nausea, hyperventilation, hallucinations, and other symptoms.

Quite a few Kilimanjaro routes cover a big jump in elevation over a short distance, which can catch some hikers off-guard if they’re not prepared.

The temperature range can also be a shocker. It’s not uncommon to experience temperatures during the day of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or more that plunge to the freezing mark at night.

You’ll want to plan your trip during one of Tanzania’s dry seasons, which is typically January and February and June through October. Otherwise, you’re likely to encounter rainy and muddy conditions.

The Tanzanian government requires that you hire a local guide for your trek up Kilimanjaro. They will remind you when to slow down and provide safety and climbing tips. These workers guide tourists to provide for their families, so bring plenty of cash to provide tips at the end of the climb.

Which Kilimanjaro Route is Best For You?

There are seven established routes for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Which one is best for you really depends on several factors: your physical ability, your budget, how important scenery is, the crowds you’re willing to put up with, and how many days you want to spend on the mountain.

These routes each have their own pros and cons. They’re listed below in order from the “easiest” to the most challenging.

The Northern Circuit Route

This is one of the two newest routes on the mountain, taking hikers to the summit in nine days. That longer time gives people more chances to acclimate to the altitude and therefore, a very high success rate.

It’s also a fairly scenic route, approaching the mountain from the west and traversing over a lush rainforest, tall grass, volcanic rock, and wildflowers. It eventually takes hikers through the quieter northern slopes of the mountain.

The final push to the summit is still very challenging and takes place in the dark for several hours, but this route is considered one of the two easiest ones.

The Lemosho Route

Another new route, this one is an improved version of the far more challenging Shira route. It offers panoramic views and breathtaking scenery as it crosses the Shira Plateau from the mountain’s western side. Much of the beginning of the route is fairly flat, making for an easy trek.

The Lemosho route joins the Machame route where hikers will encounter the company of other climbers then follow the southern circuit to the summit. This route takes seven or eight days, allowing time to rest and get used to the increase in altitude.

Kilimanjaro routes

The Rongai Route

The Rongai route was previously considered the easiest of the Kilimanjaro hiking routes before the Northern Circuit and Lemosho routes were established. If you must visit the mountain during a wet season, this route is the safest to take. It ascends the mountain from its northern side which is also its dryer side.

Rongai will help hikers reach the summit in six days, although seven is recommended. A con of choosing this route is the scenery is less than awe-inspiring, but the foot traffic remains low.

The Marangu Route

This route has been nicknamed the “Cola-Cola Route” because you’ll find the iconic soda drink for sale in huts along the path. It’s also one of the most popular routes with tourists (hence its other moniker, the “Tourist Route”) but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily an easy hike up.

It is designed to get you to the summit in five days which can be dangerous because there’s not enough rest time to become used to the altitude. The last day covers a big jump in height.

This is also the only route that uses the same path to both climb up and descend the mountain, making it very crowded.

The Machame Route

If the Marangu route is known as the Coca-Cola route, then the Machame is often referred to as the “Whiskey Route” to indicate the increased challenge of taking this path. The Machame route is a little more strenuous but is carried out over six or seven days which provides more time to acclimatize to the elevation.

The Machame starts on the southern side of the mountain before heading east through the ice. It can usually be completed in six or seven days. Despite its level of experience required, it still tends to attract heavy crowds of climbers.

This route is recommended only if someone has mountain backpacking experience under their belt.

The Shira Route

The Shira route is similar to the Lemosho route but with far more challenging portions. Shira has a very high starting point of 11,800 feet because hikers are transported directly to Shira Gate to begin their climb instead of hiking through rain forest. Because of this, there’s an increased chance of climbers experiencing some altitude sickness symptoms on their first day of the hike.

Shira approaches Kilimanjaro from the west and still gives those brave enough to take it on some variations in scenery including volcanic formations and moorlands. It can be completed in seven or eight days.

The Umbwe Route

As the most challenging path to the top of Kilimanjaro, the Umbwe route is not for the faint of heart. It is steep and direct, with hikers at one point using tree roots both for grasping to pull themselves up and to step on.

The first leg of this route contains several caves, and hikers will eat and sleep at Umbwe Cave Camp on their first night. The route crosses a steep ridge in between two rivers surrounded by spectacular forest. It’s a very scenic route with a variety of vegetation and terrain, but very taxing even for the most diehard hikers.

The final camp stop, at Camp Barafu (the Swahili word for ice), is a cold, inhospitable rest stop with high winds and steep drops.

The Umbwe route has the least foot traffic of the six mountain routes but is also the one with the worst success rate.

We Have More Tips for Your African Trip

Now that you know more about Kilimanjaro routes to the summit, perhaps you’re thinking about other attractions to visit in the area. We have plenty of travel tips for tourists interested in visiting Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar. Visit our blog for the latest posts and updates.