Kilimanjaro Massif

  • © Emily Townsend
  • Kenton"s Muted Greeting - © Arabella Cecil
  • Porters Leaving Lava Towers - © Arabella Cecil
  • © Arabella Cecil
  • Giant Lobelia - © Arabella Cecil
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • © Emily Townsend
  • Giant Senecio forest - Great Barranco - © Arabella Cecil
  • Kili as Earth Mother - her flanks support rain and cloud forest to 9,500ft - © Arabella Cecil
  • Footsteps crunching across the solafluction - © Arabella Cecil

Key information: Kilimanjaro Massif

  • The highest mountain in Africa, a spectacular, charismatic, free-standing retired volcano. Justly famous, and sections of the summit climb can be crowded.
  • Pass through varied ecosystems, gaze at cliffs, caves and lava fields.
  • A wide selection of multi-day treks across the massif, using huts or camping on the lesser known routes. You don't need to make the beyond-tough final ascent to make walking here worthwhile.
  • This is a high, tough mountain, turning into an altitudinous slog at the end, for which you will need to be self-sufficient: be prepared.
  •  

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating86
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest19
  • Human interest3
  • Charisma34
  • Negative points4
  • Total rating86

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Maximum Altitude: 5,896m
  • Level of Difficulty: Difficult
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© Emily Townsend

WALK SUMMARY

At 5,896m, the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world:  Kilimanjaro is spectacular, romantic and a famous "bag"; but the 40,000 people on the mountain each year make at times for crowded huts and trails on the summit approaches. You will feel triumph and exhilaration if you are one of the 40% who reach the peak, which your altitude misery will not wholly ruin. Most people, though, are too debilitated by headache, nausea or worse to manage the final ascent. This is one tough mother.

Although now dormant, Kilimanjaro is, amazingly, less than a million years old a blink in geological terms. Its vast crater area was, until recently, covered by an ice sheet up to 100m thick the "snows" that inspired Hemingway. The last dying glaciers are predicted to have vanished by 2040.

You can understand why Kilimanjaro has been so admired, and draws adventurers from all round the world. A view of it, on a rare clear day, towering in all it majesty above the acacia plains of East Africa, breathes life into that tired word "iconic".

You will ascend through dense rainforest, damp giant heather, sparse scrub moorland, alpine desert, and then rock and ice, deep into a complex of volcanic craters, cliffs and glaciers. As the trail climbs, you may catch spectacular views across a region of natural wonders and you should spot animals of interest - eagles and buzzards will soar above but bigger game is scarce, unlike on neighbouring Mt Meru.

There is a multitude of ways to walk on Kili, whether or not you are heading for the summit. Unless you are set on reaching the summit, a trek across the massif, reaching around 14,000ft so suffering (relatively) less, but avoiding the crowds on the motorways to the peak, are wildly rewarding. For those with the time and desire, an acclimatising crossing of the volcano followed by an assault on the summit is the best of all options. 

Our Kilimanjaro Summit page gives more information on the ascent to the summit.

It is a requirement of the Kilimanjaro National Park to have a Tanzanian guide to ensure safety and to organise suitable lodgings/camping, food and porters (you really wont want to carry everything yourself to these heights).

 

Routes which reach the summit include:

  • The Machame route (from the southwest) to the summit, which requires camping so is less heavily used than the Manangu route. It reaches altitude fairly quickly, but then leaves more time to reach the final ascent, which aids acclimatisation. 
  • The Manangu (or "Cola Cola") route (from the east) is the shortest route to the summit with huts all the way. It is heavily used, with crowded huts and a nose bum slog at the end. Avoid if you can.
  • The Shira and Lemosho routes which approach from the west and can be extended to create an almost leisurely ascent and crossing. The more direct Mweka and Umbwe routes from the South are also available, ascending steeply through the cast cliffs of the Western Breach. All these routes involve camping.

 

Remember: the slower you ascend, the less miserable it will be at the end. Most of the above routes can be extended or linked up to create longer ascents and crossings of the high shoulders of the volcano. If you are not aiming at an eventual ascent of the summit, you are even freer to choose varied and discursive routes of the (relatively) lower slopes.

Possibly the best route of all - if you have the time and the money to take more time in the ascent - is Nature Discovery's (see Natural High Safaris; www.naturalhighsafaris.com): ascend the western flank, then walk around the little-frequented northern slopes, to the ravishing Mewenzi tarn, below Kilimanjaro's shattered second peak, then across the desert saddle and up to the summit.

www.tourdust.com organise an expedition here : we have travelled with Tourdust, and were delighted. They were very nice and flexible to deal with, and evidently cared about quality, as their walk was meticulously prepared and our support team were outstanding in every way. We are proud to be their partners.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Guidebooks/maps/background reading

Suggest books and maps

 

Guidebooks

General

Other books

Maps
  • Map and Guide to Kilimajaro, Andrew Weilochowski (1:75,000)
  • Kilimajaro Map and Guide, Mark Savage (1:50,000)
  • Delightful hand-drawn and illustrated map, issued by Maco Editions (www.gtmaps.com) can be bought locally. Artist Giovanni Tombazzi is a talented man.
  • ITM Kilimanjaro Travel Map
  • TMB 1:62,500 Kilimanjaro trekking map – Stringall, 2004
 

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

 

There are two main trekking seasons– from late December to March and from August to October. The busiest time is around Christmas.  The best times are January February and September. April to June is rainy season (November and December can also be rainy). July and August can be very cold.

Weather

 

Daytime temperatures are usually quite warm, considering the altitude, and can reach 10ºc, but in the early hours it can get really cold, especially above 15,000 feet (4,570m). Cloudy days certainly feel cooler on the mountain so you still need to carry warm clothing and a comfortable sleeping bag.  The final night ascent is likely to be bitterly cold, so bring lots of layers in case you have to stop.

 

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides.
 

 

Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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AIRPORT: Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), between Arusha and Moshi, or Nairobi. From the UK: BA to Nairobi, then KIA; or KLM to Amsterdam then KIA. Flights can get expensive so book ahead.

TRANSPORT: It is possible to travel by bus from Arusha, Moshi or even Nairobi to Marangu. Taxis are also possible, but be sure to agree on the price before starting.

You will need a four wheel drive vehicle to take you and your team to the start of the routes. Transport is best organised in advance.

Those on organised expeditions (i.e. most people) will be transported from the airport or other starting point.

COST: Climbing Kilimanjaro is not cheap. Assume at least US$100 per day (2008) in park fees and other fees, plus organisational costs such as guides, porters and food. 
 

 

Route(s)

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Choosing your route carefully is vital. While factors such as cost and your time available will be relevant, the longer you take to acclimatize to this tough mountain, the more you will enjoy your experience and the more likely you are to make the top if that is your wish. If you can, follow the less-used and more gradual routes. Routes include:

  • The Machame route (from the southwest) to the summit, which requires camping so is less heavily used than the Marangu route. It reaches altitude fairly quickly, but then takes more time to reach the final ascent which aids acclimatisation.
    • Day 1 (6.5 miles) – Machame Gate to Machame Huts
    • Day 2 (4.5 miles) – Machame Huts to Shira Hut
    • Day 3 (6.5 miles) – Shira Hut to Barranco Hut
    • Day 4 (5 miles) – Barranco Hut to Barafu Huts
    • Day 5 (12 miles) – Barafu Huts to Horombo Huts
    • Day 6 (12 miles) – Horombo Huts to Marangu Park Gate, alternatively the route can lead down to the Mweka Gate.
  • The Marangu (or “Coca Cola”) route (from the east) is the shortest route to the summit with huts all the way. It is heavily used, with crowded huts and a nose to bum slog at the end. Avoid if you can.
  • The Shira and Lemosho routes approach from the west and can be extended to create an almost leisurely ascent. The more direct Mweka and Umbwe routes from the South are also available, ascending steeply through the vast cliffs of the Western Breach. All these routes involve camping.

 

Possible problems, health, other warnings

  • Altitude: will affect everyone; potentially fatal. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases. The top of Kilimanjaro is unreasonably high. Altitude stops over half of those who attempt the summit and kills in most years. It is unpredictable and can strike the fit, tough and experienced. Get fit, be prepared, keep hydrated and obey your guide. If he tells you to stop/descend, do so. Watch your friends for signs of acute mountain sickness (AMS).
  •  Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
  • Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
  • Heights: can be dangerous.
  • Dangerous/harmful animals, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
  • This is a remote country: You will have to carry all your food, water  and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
  • Health risks: This is a relatively under developed country and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Problems in Tanzania include malaria. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

 

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved and get appropriate insurance. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

 

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.

 
 

Guided or independent?

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It is a requirement of the Kilimanjaro National Park that you have a guide – you can only book through approved tour agents, who usually offer a cook, porters and other support as well. Most people form or join an organised expedition, which is likely to give you more certainty and reduce worry, but will cost you more than if you fix things up locally. Expedition organisers include:

  • www.tourdust.com : We have travelled with Tourdust, and were delighted. They were very nice and flexible to deal with, and evidently cared about quality, as their walk was meticulously prepared and our support team were outstanding in every way. We are proud to be their partners.
  • The excellent Nature Discovery's long route (swinging round the empty northern flank) offered through Natural High Safaris (www.naturalhighsafaris.com)  looks an excellent option for those with time. We used them for Meru and Empakaai to Natron treks and were delighted.
  • www.greatwalks.net –the reputable Great Walks of the World.  Offer (2009) the Shira and Rongai routes.  They also do Kilimanjaro/Mt Meru and Kilimanjaro/Mt Kenya combinations.
  • www.themountaincompany.co.uk
  • www.kilimanjaroexpedition.com
  • Explore! - www.explore.co.uk- reputable and experienced organisers with several different options for trekking Kilimanjaro, as well as a Tanzanian 'Volcano trek', ideal for acclimatization.
  • www.walksworldwide.com – do both the Rongai and Shira routes - and a Meru/Kilimanjaro combo.

Important: Different operators can offer very different routes and experiences. Take time to understand what is involved, and compare carefully, to find what suits you best. It will be worth it.

 
 

Accommodation

On the mountain – huts or camping, depending on the route you decide. It is usual to camp rather than use the huts, which are in a poor and dirty condition, apart from those on the Marangu route, and these can be crowded and noisy. There are plenty of lodges and hotels in and around Marangu, Arusha, and Moshi.

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Other information and tips

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Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.

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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Other activities

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Kili as Earth Mother - her flanks support rain and cloud forest to 9,500ft - © Arabella Cecil

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Footsteps crunching across the solafluction - © Arabella Cecil...
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