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Which Route to Climb Kilimanjaro?

Imagine taking in the breathtaking views from Uhuru Peak at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro? It’s something that many people dream of!

If you’re one of those people and you’re lucky enough to be planning your ascent up Africa’s tallest mountain then you’ll know there’s a lot to think about.

The peak stands at 5,895 metres (19,340 feet) and although the climb takes days, the beautiful views ensure the time passes quickly.

With snow-capped peaks above you and sweeping vistas all around, climbing any part of Kilimanjaro is an achievement to be proud of.

When planning your ascent of the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, it is important to consider the route options available to you.

There are seven main routes that climbers can choose from. They each have different elements to consider, challenges to face and varying levels of success.

Some of the routes are more popular than others but as you would expect, none of them is an easy option.

After all, you’re planning to climb almost 6,000 metres.

There’s no ‘easy’ option.

Machame Route

  • Days on mountain: 6 or 7
  • Distance: 61 kilometres
  • Difficulty level: 4/5
  • Acclimatisation: Good, particularly over the 7-day option
  • Best for: Most climbers with good fitness levels

This is currently the most popular route to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, due to the combination of a high success rate and stunning views.

You begin this trek at the base of the south side of the mountain, at the Machame Gate.

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting your favourite of the magnificent views you can enjoy as you spend your week on Africa’s tallest mountain.

There are also a variety of different climbing zones, too.

The toughest is often considered to be The Great Baranco Wall, although it’s a relatively short scramble that thousands of climbers make each year – as well as the load bearing porters!

Expect to be hiking up the mountain for 6-7 hours per day.

Then, when it’s time to achieve the peak, its 12-15 hours for a 6-8 hour climb up, followed by 6-7 hours back down again.

That’s a long time on your feet, but the exhilaration of gaining Uhuru Peak means it definitely worth it!

Marangu Route

  • Days on mountain: 5 or 6
  • Distance: 70 kilometres
  • Difficulty level: 3/5
  • Acclimatisation: Not the best, particularly if you go for the 5-day option
  • Best for: Most climbers

The Marangu route is the oldest route to Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro and possibly the most well-known.

It’s the only route that uses the same route up and down, which makes it pretty crowded.

Another attraction to this option is that no camping equipment is required as trekkers stay in huts all along the route.

Because it’s also known as the tourist route, it gained a reputation for being an easy trek which encourages more unprepared visitors than other routes do.

However, the success rate of achieving the peak up this ‘Coca-Cola’ route as its also known, isn’t the highest.

In part that’s because it encourages some climbers to attempt the trek in just five days which isn’t really long enough for acclimatisation to the high levels of altitude.

Another reason for the low level of success among the climbers who opt for the Marangu route, is that the last day before attempting the summit is a long one, that covers 1,000 metres of altitude difference.

If you’re well prepared as a climber and choose the six-day trekking option, you’ll likely have a better chance of reaching the summit, after taking in some wonderful views of the epic scenery.

But make sure you don’t start the Marangu route thinking it will be easy.

Rongai Route

  • Days on mountain: 6 or 7
  • Distance: 68 kilometres
  • Difficulty level: 3/5
  • Acclimatisation: Best with the 7-day option
  • Best for: Most climbers

The Rongai route is the only one that begins the ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro from the north side, before making your descent down the south east side, on the Marangu route.

While some say the scenery isn’t as stunning throughout the while of the Rongai route, it still passes through some areas of genuine wilderness, where you have a real chance of seeing some wildlife.

Add to that a night’s camping under Mawenzi Peak – one of the most beautiful on the mountain – and you’ll find there’s a lot to enjoy on this route.

The north side of the mountain is also drier than other faces, making this a typically more comfortable option.

Expect to be hiking for 3-4 hours per day for the first few days. This then picks up from day five to 5-8 hours.

Due to the lower level of demand for the Rongai route, while it’s quieter and is good for acclimatisation, it’s also more expensive.

Thanks to the well-planned route, the success rate of achieving Uhuru Peak is higher on this option, rising again if you choose the 7-day trek.

That’s mainly because you get plenty of time to acclimatise before attempting the peak.

After you’ve enjoyed a relatively peaceful ascent on the north side of the mountain, once you join the Marangu route for your descent, be prepared for a lot more foot traffic.

Lemosho Route

  • Days on mountain: 6 to 8
  • Distance: 70 kilometres
  • Difficulty level: 4/5
  • Acclimatisation: Good, particularly if you choose the 8-day option
  • Best for: Confident climbers

The Lemosho route is among the quieter options for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, particularly at the beginning.

Its also considered to be among the most scenic and the beginning of your trek takes you through remote rainforest terrain, also known as the Lemosho Glades, where there’s an excellent chance of seeing wildlife.

You’ll begin your climb on the west side of the mountain and are treated to a wide variety of vistas and stunning views that will remain forever ingrained on your memory.

From beautiful rainforests, to sweeping desert landscape the Lemosho route is an improved version of the Shira route and also takes in the best of the glorious views around Mount Kilimanjaro that the older and tougher ascent has to offer.

The descent via the Mweka trail only adds to the variety of beautiful views you’ll enjoy.

The acclimatisation along this route is well-planned out and the chances of achieving Kibo crater and Uhuru Peak is highest on the 7 and 8-day trekking options.

In terms of hours trekking, the first day is nice and short at 3-4 hours, but that increases quickly to up to 7 hours by day three.

After that though, your hours trekking will be around an average of 5 per day, apart from when you gain Uhuru Peak – this will take some 6-8 hours.

However, that slightly longer climb and the way in which you ascend Africa’s tallest peak, mean it isn’t one that inexperienced trekkers shouldn’t attempt with out plenty of training first.

Northern Circuit

  • Days on mountain: 9
  • Distance: 87 kilometres
  • Difficulty level: 4/5
  • Acclimatisation: Good
  • Best for: Experienced climbers

The Northern Circuit is the newest route to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and because of that it takes in pretty much all the best views and trekking options that are available.

Like the Lemosho route, you’ll begin on the west side of the mountain and take in the rainforest. However, rather than going to the south east, you’ll head north to enjoy the peaceful and untouched northern slopes of the mountain.

The climb isn’t the easiest as you’ll do an almost complete 360 trek around Mount Kilimanjaro on your way to Uhuru Peak.

With 9 days to enjoy views, vistas and scenery you can only dream of, the acclimatisation process is good, supporting the high success rate of this climb.

Also benefiting the number of trekkers on this route who gain Kibo and Uhuru Peak, are the trekking hours; 3-4 hours and 5-6 hours for much of the climb, with the exception of the day your complete your ascent, which takes up to 8 hours.

Of course, with a longer climb and more camping stops, this route is a more expensive option.

You’ll be rewarded with one of the best chances of ascending Uhuru Peak and seeing Mount Kilimanjaro in all its majestic glory.

Shira Route

  • Days on mountain: 6 or 7
  • Distance: 66 kilometres
  • Difficulty level: 4/5
  • Acclimatisation: Not great, as it begins at an already high altitude
  • Best for: Confident, experienced climbers

The Lemosho Route is a new and improved version of the Shira route.

The main difference is the beginning of the route, as you start with a drive through the rainforest and at that higher level of altitude gained more quickly, it’s harder to acclimatise well from there on.

If you want to take on this tougher route, then you’ll need experience and to be careful around your acclimatisation planning.

A positive detail from beginning beyond the rain forest is that there are a couple of days with just 1-2 hours trekking, with the other days a mixture of 3-4 and 5-6 hours. As you would expect, the Peak day is up to 8 hours on your feet.

The views are also simply stunning and much of it is the same as the Lemosho route.

The success rate is low, again due to the poor acclimatisation planning.

If you do achieve Uhuru Peak on this trek then you certainly have something to boast about!

Umbwe Route

  • Days on mountain: 6 or 7
  • Distance: 51 kilometres
  • Difficulty level: 5/5
  • Acclimatisation: The toughest option
  • Best for: Very experienced climbers

The Umbwe Route is considered the toughest of the main routes up Mount Kilimanjaro, largely due to how short and steep it is.

That detail also means the acclimatisation process isn’t great for many climbers and the success rate of achieving Uhuru Peak via this route, is low.

While the views you will enjoy are truly spectacular, there are some exposed parts of the climb, with Rope Rock proving a very tough element of your steep ascent up the southern face of the mountain.

As you would expect, the climbing hours are long – anywhere from 4-8 hours throughout the climb, apart from the final day which is 3-4.

This route is one that really should only be attempted by experienced climbers who have already undertaken previous acclimatisation.

If you do reach Kibo and Uhuru Peak up the Umbwe Route, you’ll have bragging rights for ever, not to mention glorious memories of beautiful views.

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