Mount Kilimanjaro Trek

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Mount Kilimanjaro Trek
Tanzania

Mount Kilimanjaro, known usually as just Kilimanjaro or Kili, is located in Tanzania on the East coast of Africa.

Not only is it the highest mountain in Africa, with its summit about 4,900 metres (16,100 feet) from its base and 5,895 metres (19,341 feet) above sea level, but it is also a dormant volcano.

Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira.

The first people to reach the summit of the mountain were European geographers Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889.

In the late 1900s, its popularity as a major climbing destination skyrocketed.

The most notable celebrity climb of Kilimanjaro was in 2009 when a team of nine celebrities climbed the volcano for Comic Relief. The celebrities climbing were Alesha Dixon, Gary Barlow, Ben Shepard, Denise Van Outen, Cheryl Cole, Chris Moyles, Fearne Cotton, Kimberley Walsh and Ronan Keating.

They took the eight-day Lemosho route and, outstandingly, every single one of them made it to the peak.

Other than climbers and tourists (and the occasional celebrity), the mountain has been the subject of many scientific studies because of its shrinking glaciers and disappearing ice fields.

The mountain is found in Kilimanjaro National Park, which receives almost 60,000 tourists per year, of which just under half are there to climb Kilimanjaro.

Despite generating around £42 million in revenue annually, the issue with this level of tourism is the irregularity of seasonal jobs for about 11,000 guides, porters, and cooks.

There has also been some concerns raised around the poor working conditions and wages of these workers. This is one of the key reasons that it’s worth looking into which tour company you trek with, as they are more likely to pay their workers a fair wage.

Many trekkers often choose to leave hiking boots or fleeces with their porters at the end of their trip.

Unlike many other mountain and volcano treks, there are seven official trekking routes that can be used to ascend and descend Kilimanjaro.

These are: Lemosho, Lemosho Western-Breach, Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Rongai, Shira, and Umbwe.

Known as the “Coca-Cola” route (due to the huts along the route selling the drink), the Marangu route is recognised as being the easiest and most popular trek on Kilimanjaro.

It is the oldest and most well established route with a gradual slope throughout.

The Machame Route is also extremely popular and also offers a very manageable gradient. This route is approximately 62 kilometres (37 miles) from gate to gate.

All treks on the mountain are designed for physically fit people with some hiking experience, but plenty of first time trekker take on the easier routes and find them manageable. Taking it slow and paying attention to your body and signs of altitude sickness are the keys to success.

Though the climb is not technically as challenging as the Himalayas (link to Everest article) or Andes, as with many treks, the high elevation and low temperatures can make Kilamanjaro more difficult than first expected.

Due to being almost 6,000 metres above sea level, acclimatisation is required – even for those who are physically fit. The six-day Machame route includes one night of sleeping low to help combat the risk of acute mountain sickness but cannot totally prevent it.

On average, for a six or seven-day Kilimanjaro trek, you’ll be looking to pay around between £1600 and £2500 – depending on your route and level of comfort.

Although seemingly pricey, this covers the combination of a guide with a full support crew and cook, park entrance fee and transfers. Any tour operators who offer treks under £1200 are likely cutting corners and not paying their staff a fair wage.

The larger the climb group, the lower the price per person. However, you should aim to have a group size of around 12 to get the most out of your experience.

Highlights
  • Highest and most famous summit in Africa.
  • Form bonds with your group and guide team.
  • Feel the ultimate sense of achievement on summiting whilst watching sun rise over the African plains.
  • On the way down, opt to walk down the path or moonwalk at speed down ashy slopes.
Walk Map
About the route
  • Travel

Direct flights from England and Europe go to both Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania. Some tours can be booked on arrival, often at a lower price and with more surety of weather conditions, but also at the risk of missing out on your first choice of route or operator.

From Tanzania’s main airport, all treks and tours will involve flying into Kilimanjaro Airport, where you will be met by a transfer driver and taken to a nearby town such as Arusha. You will spend one night here before getting up early and heading into the National Park.

  • Length

The Kilimanjaro hike distance will vary according to which route you choose and how many days you spend on the mountain.

Approximate distances are as follows:

Lemosho Route: 67 kilometres

Shira Route: 66 kilometres

Machame Route: 62 kilometres

Umbwe Route: 51 kilometres

Marangu Route: 70 kilometres

Rongai Route: 72 kilometres

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

Most routes begin at around 1,600-2,000 metres above sea level (5,200-6,500 feet) and then climb in increments of 800-1,200 metres (2,600-3,900 feet) a day in elevation. Summit night via the southern and eastern passage is the largest Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain.

As mentioned above, the Marangu route is recognised as the easiest trek on Kilimanjaro thanks to its more gentle gradient – meaning it is often the busiest. On the flip side, the Umbwe Route is the most difficult and demanding route but also the most spectacular.

It is worth looking into different route options and making your selection on what level of challenge you require.

The Shira Route catapults you to some serious altitude on the first day, so be prepared for a steep climb from the get go. The Lemosho Route is arguably the most beautiful Kilimanjaro climb route, but also expensive. Climbing via the Western-Breach is more secluded and also avoids the six-hour midnight ascent to the summit that is undertaken on all the other routes.

  • Experience

No previous trekking experience is necessary on the easier of the Kilimanjaro routes, but certainly a base level of fitness and some practise on longer walks is necessary.

All camping kit is provided and guides are very knowledgeable, so you can just focus on getting yourself up the mountain. However, doing some practice climbs in your boots of choice before setting off is highly recommended.

The six-day version of the Rongai route is the route of choice for those looking for an easy climb with excellent success rates, with the added bonus of having fewer crowds than the notorious Marangu route. It also offers great scenery and a wilderness feel to it but is slightly more expensive.

For experienced trekkers and climbers with a good level of fitness, more of a challenge will be offered by the Umbwe or Shira routes.

  • Permits

The Kilimanjaro National Park entrance and camping/hut fees work out at just over £80 per climber per day. For a six day trek that quickly adds up to almost £500.

Unfortunately there is absolutely no way around this or to reduce it, as it is a government instigated and enforced policy.

The good news is, you don’t have to worry about doing it in advance like you might on other protected routes. Most tour companies will bundle this into the total trek price and sort it for you.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

In 1991 the Tanzanian government and Kilimanjaro National Park Authority changed its policy towards unsupported treks on Mount Kilimanjaro. As a result, regulations now require that all trekkers are accompanied by a registered and licensed guide.

Further requirements dictate that trekkers need to register with the Parks Authority before beginning their hike, need to sign in at each camp along their chosen route and must stay on official routes.

Proper camping and cooking gear is obligatory, meaning that all tour groups will provide not only a registered guide, but porters carrying tents, gas (as open fires are not allowed), food and a trekkers gear.

Dependent on route and tour operator, the average ratio of trekkers to support crew is 1:4 (2:8, 3:12, 4:16). Some tour operators offer lite versions where support crews are smaller. This may reduce the price but note that trekkers are then required to carry more (up to 12kg) of their own gear.

best time to walk

Although it is possible to trek Kilimanjaro all-year-round, certain months are characterised by colder weather, more rain and potentially lots of snow on the summit. This can slow your progress and reduce your chances of summiting.

If you have flexibility over when you go, there are two distinct trekking seasons that are best to climb Kilimanjaro. These are January-March and June-October.

January-March is typically colder than the June-October window and there is also a higher chance of snow on the summit. For those who don’t favour the cold, this might be seen as a negative but the tradeoff is that the slopes are much quieter.

The June-October trekking season overlaps with the summer holidays in both Europe and the USA, meaning certain routes can be very busy.

March, April and November are the wettest months on Kilimanjaro, thus making them less than ideal for trekking.

If you want to go on safari after your climb, it is definitely worth doing so. There are different times of the year that are better suited for particular safari experiences. For example, if you’re looking to see the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, then the best time to visit is February or March. For some other animals, summer months are preferable.

Some people also look to climb Kilimanjaro under a full moon as it means significantly more light on the final overnight hike to the summit. If this is your key preference, then it is worth checking the full moon dates for the months that you are considering.

Again, you shouldn’t be surprised if those full moon dates are busier than other times of the month.

Accommodation

For most tour groups, you only carry your backpack with essentials such as water for the day’s hike throughout the climb. The porters carry all equipment, food and additional luggage.

The Marangu route is the only one which offers huts, making it a popular and busy option. If you can’t face the reality of camping for six days, this is likely the best option for you.

The porters and cooks are miracle workers. Using simple gas cookers they are able to create three-course meals, snacks, hot drinks and even birthday cakes. Drinking water comes from mountain streams and is boiled before drinking. The improper disposal of human waste on the mountain environment has created a health hazard, necessitating the boiling of all water. If you prefer, you can also bring iodine tablets with you.

On most routes, trekkers sleep in two-person tents in high-quality and warmth sleeping bags. The tents are pitched and taken down by a team of porters ahead of your arrival at each camp site. There are no showers on the camping routes, but some tour companies provide bowls of hot water in the morning or shower bags.

What to do

If you have a few extra days to play with it at the end of your trip then going on safari post-climb is a great option.

The Serengeti National Park is a top destination for wildlife and is a perfect place to see the Safari Big 5 – referring to some of Africa’s most popular wildlife: the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. Every year over a million wildebeest migrate over its great plains along side thousands of the other herbivores of Africa like the gazelle and zebra.

If underwater is more your scene and you’re looking for some cooling off, head to Zanzibar for snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities. Renowned for its white beaches and turquoise water, this paradise is considered to have the best diving on the entire east coast of Africa.

Other great things to do are visit one of the many rural towns or villages and integrate with friendly locals, marvel at The Great Rift Valley – spanning from Lebanon all the way through Africa via Tanzania to where it ends in Mozambique – or visit Stone Town – the UNESCO site and unlikely birthplace of Freddie Mercury.

At a glance
Skills RequiredHiking, Walking
Difficulty 3/5
Starts at Tanzania
Finishes at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania
Length of route 72 Km
Average time to complete 6 - 8 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsNo
Highest point 4900 metres
Permit requiredYes
Equipment neededPoles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited Tanzania