Kilimanjaro, by any name, is a metaphor for the compelling beauty of East Africa. When you see it, you understand why. Not only is this the highest peak on the African continent; it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland – elevation around 900 metres – to an imperious 5,895 metres (19,336 feet).
Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most accessible high summits, a beacon for visitors from around the world. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing and determination. And those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman’s Point on the lip of the crater, will have earned their climbing certificates.
And their memories.
There are six established routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro – Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai and Umbwe.
Affectionately known as the “Coca-Cola route”, Marangu is by far the most popular route to the summit of Kilimanjaro. This could partly be as a result of the fact that the Marangu is the least expensive route, but more so, perhaps the fact that it is possible to do the Marangu route in 5 days, thereby getting to the summit one day earlier than on the Machame route. This is not always the best way due to a shorter acclimatisation period. The Marangu route does however offer you the option of spending an extra acclimatisation day on the mountain. This extends the route to a 6-day march, greatly increasing your chances of success. Hut accommodation on the Marangu route forms one of the main differences, compared to the other routes. It offers you the relative luxury of being able to sleep in huts along the entire route. Mineral water, soft drinks, chocolates and beers are also sold at all the camps on this route. All your equipment and supplies are portered and a cook prepares all your meals.
This is probably the most beautiful route up Kilimanjaro. All your equipment and supplies are portered and a cook prepares all your meals. Where accommodation on the Marangu route is in huts, the Machame route offers strictly tents only. This makes Machame better suited to the slightly more adventurous hiker, however rewarding him with a scenic splendour such as not seen on the Marangu route. From late afternoon sunsets at Shira, to the misty revelations of Kibo at the great Barranco Wall, the Machame route offers the adventurous hiker a stunning scenic “slide show” over 6 days. The Machame route is normally completed in a minimum of 6 days. There is an added benefit to this, as you are afforded the most valuable commodity on the mountain – acclimatisation. The Machame route takes you high to Lava Tower (4630m) on the day 3 and brings you down by nearly 700m for an overnight at Barranco camp (3950m). This is the secret to successful acclimatisation.
The Rongai route is the only easy route starting from the North and offers great views of the Kenyan savannahs. It wasn’t used for a while as the border was not deemed safe, but now the trail is open again. It is much drier than the other routes and you might even encounter an elephant on the way.
The Lemosho Route is an unspoilt, remote, little used and beautiful way up to the Shira Plateau. It can either be used to gain the Western Breach route or followed by the Kibo South Circuit to ascend by the easier Barafu Route. The route is one of the few where groups may be accompanied on the first day by an armed ranger, as the forests around the Lemosho Glades are rich in buffalo, elephant and other big game animals.
The Umbwe route is one of the shortest routes to the Southern Glaciers and the Western Breach. It is probably the most scenic, non-technical route on Kilimanjaro. It is quite taxing, primarily due to the relatively fast ascent to higher altitude, but the rewards are plentiful. Fewer people, pristine forest and shorter walking distances make it a great option for fit hikers.
The Shira route is another path that approaches Kilimanjaro from the west, and it is nearly identical to the Lemosho route. In fact, Shira was the original route and Lemosho is the improved variation. While Lemosho starts at Londorossi Gate and treks through the rain forest to Shira 1 Camp, the Shira route bypasses this walk by using a vehicle to transport climbers to Shira Gate, located near the Shira Ridge. On the first day on the mountain, climbers begin their hike from 11,800 feet (3,600 m) and spend their first night at the same elevation at Simba Camp. Then, the route merges with Lemosho and follows the southern circuit route. Although Shira is a varied and beautiful route, Lemosho is recommended over Shira due to the high altitude of Shira’s starting point. It is possible that climbers will experience altitude related symptoms on the first day due to failed acclimatization. Climbers using Shira should be confident of their ability to acclimatize.
Huts and campsites on the mountain.
Several hotels and campsites outside the park in the village of Marangu and town of Moshi.
|Marangu||Very popular tourist route, approaches from southeast, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful rain forest section and moorlands, comfortable but basic hut shelter, poor acclimatization profile, descent on same trail||72 km||5-6|
|Machame||Second most popular route, approaches from south, very scenic route with southern traverse, difficult route but very good for acclimatization, camping||62 km||6-7|
|Rongai||Long access drive to trailhead, approaches from north, remote, less frequented, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful alpine desert section, good alternative to Marangu, camping, fair acclimatization profile, camping||73 km||6-7|
|Lemosho||Long access drive to trailhead, approaches from west, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic with southern traverse, camping, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization, camping||70 km||7-8|
|Shira||Almost same as Lemosho, approaches from west, long access drive to trailhead, trail starts at 11,800 ft, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic with southern traverse, camping, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization if ok at 11,800 ft, camping||56 km||7-8|
|Umbwe||Least used trail, approaches from south, shortest and steepest route, spectacular ridge, scenic with southern traverse, difficult route with poor acclimatization profile, pre-acclimatization is recommended, camping||53 km||5-6|