Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is an inactive stratovolcano in northeast Tanzania, near the border with Kenya. At 5,895 m (19,340 feet) above sea level, Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest peak and the world's highest free-standing mountain. Aided by its relatively easy ascent, Kilimanjaro has become a major destination for mountaineers and trekkers from around the world. It's also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The smaller Mawenzi summit of Kilimanjaro

Although positioned 330 km south of the Equator, Mount Kilimanjaro is famous as Africa's snow-capped mountain looming over the plains of the savannah. The snows have been fast disappearing. Kilimanjaro National Park protects the area above 2,700 m (8,850 ft), on the mountain and includes the moorland and highland zones, Shira Plateau, Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. The Park also has six corridors or rights of way through the Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve. The Forest Reserve, which is also a Game Reserve, was established in 1921; the park was established in 1973 and opened in 1977.


It is commonly said that Queen Victoria of England gave her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Mount Kilimanjaro as a birthday present. However, this is not the case. In fact, Karl Peters, a German traveller in Africa and one of the founders of today's Tanzania, sneaked into Tanganyika and persuaded various Chagga chieftains to sign treaties in which they agreed to cede their territories to his Society for German Colonization.

During the First World War there was a campaign in German East Africa and the Germans fortified parts of Kilimanjaro.


The mountain has snowy peaks, which are well renowned, although they are quickly disappearing.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Wildlife is abundant on and around Mount Kilimanjaro, much of which is unique to the region. The mount Kilimanjaro has five main vegetation zones from the lowest to the Arctic ice region on top: Lower slopes, montane forest, heath and moorland, alpine desert, and summit. The whole mountain including the montane forest belt is very rich in both animal and plant species like giant lobelias, everlasting flowers and mammals, many of them endangered species. For this combination of features but mostly its height, its physical form and snow cap, and its isolation above the surrounding plains, Mount Kilimanjaro is considered an outstanding example of a superlative natural phenomenon. The climb feels like walking from the tropical equator to the North Pole in a matter of days. Although there are not many animals on the mountain itself, you will be able to see wild buffaloes, leopards, and even elephants while traversing through the Lemosho Route. Armed rangers accompany climbers on the first day of the trek who are going via the Lemosho Route.


Due to Mount Kilimajaro's proximity to the equator, this region does not experience the extremes of winter and summer weather, but rather dry and wet seasons. January and February are the warmest months, April and May are the wettest months, June and July are the coolest months, and August and September are the driest months. January, February, and September are considered to be the best months to climb Kilimanjaro in terms of weather.

The journey from the gate to the peak is like travelling from the equator to Antarctica in a matter of days. This is because the routes to the Uruhu peak cross different ecological zones. Throughout the climb, temperatures vary considerably with the altitude and time of day. Mount Kilimanjaro has five major ecological zones, each approximately 1,000 m (3,280 feet) in altitude. Each zone is subject to a corresponding decrease in rainfall, temperature and life as the altitude increases. At the beginning of the climb, at the base of the mountain, the average temperature is around 27-32°C (70°F to 80°F). From there, the temperatures will decrease as you move through Mount Kilimanjaro's ecological zones. At the summit, Uruhu Peak, the night time temperatures can range between -18°C to -26°C (0°F to -15°F). Due to Mount Kilimanjaro's great height, the mountain creates its own weather. It is extremely variable and impossible to predict. Therefore, regardless of when you climb, you should always be prepared for wet days and cold nights.

Get in[edit]

Map of Mount Kilimanjaro

The closest International Airport is Kilimanjaro (JRO IATA) and, if coming from Europe, KLM (Delta Air Lines) has a daily non-stop flight from Amsterdam to JRO.

If you are coming from Nairobi, Kenya, you can fly with Kenya Airways[dead link], which works with Precision Air, and that would cost you about USD$400/person for a return ticket. Alternatively, you can schedule shuttle buses, which are daily at 08:00 and 14:00, for about USD$25/person, one way, and it's a 5-6 hour bus ride.

If coming from Dar es Salaam, you can fly into JRO for USD$320/person return; or take a 7-8 hr bus ride for USD$20/person one way to Arusha or Moshi.

In addition, Ethiopian Airlines has nonstop flights from its hub in Addis Ababa Airport.


It is required to have a licensed guide to climb Kilimanjaro. The guide can either be hired upon or before arrival. Park entry and camping/hut fees are over USD$100 per day.

All inclusive trips range from about USD$800 to USD$5,500. Hiring just a guide upon arrival may cost as little as USD$200 with the expectation that each carry their own food and equipment (i.e. guides carry their food and equipment and you do the same).

Over and above the amount you pay to the tour operator, one also needs to pay tips to the guides, and cooks and porters if those are used. Though there are no set guidelines as to how much you should pay, it is sufficient if you can pay around 10% of the amount you pay to the tour operators with the guide getting the major share and equal distribution of the remaining amount to the porters and cooks. It is not advisable to give the whole amount to one person and expect him to distribute it among the others. Chances are high that he may pocket the whole amount. It would be wiser to give tips directly to individuals. Also, the gear used by the porters is mostly substandard and in fact not at all fit for the trek, and many would be grateful if you could spare gear.

Get around[edit]


Down in the caldera of Kilimanjaro with the high point of the rim to the left just as the suns was rising
The snows of Kilimanjaro


Trekking routes[edit]

There are six routes sanctioned for climbing Kilimanjaro and two routes used for descent. These are:

  • Machame
  • Marangu
  • Rongai
  • Lemosho
  • Umbwe
  • Shira
  • Northern Circuit
  • Mweka (descent only)

Warning: These ~6 day schedules are common but too fast – there is a very high risk (75%!) of altitude sickness, and it is quite likely that you will not be able to summit the mountain on these schedules. In order to safely acclimatize, you should ascend more slowly than indicated.

Marangu Route Commonly called the Coca-Cola Route, because it is the easiest route and vendors sell Coca-Cola at some of the huts. Marangu is by far the most popular route to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Typical duration is either 5 or 6 days depending upon whether you elect to spend an extra day for acclimatisation to the altitude. This is the only route that offers huts versus tents.

  • Day 1: Marangu Gate (1980 m) - Mandara hut (2700 m). Hiking time: 5 hours
  • Day 2: Mandara hut (2700 m) - Horombo hut (3720 m). Hiking time: 6 hours
  • Day 3: Horombo hut (3720 m) - Acclimatisation day (if necessary)
  • Day 4: Horombo hut (3720 m) - Kibo hut (4700 m). Hiking time: 6 hours
  • Day 5: Kibo hut (4700 m) - Uhuru Peak (5895 m) - Horombo hut (3720 m). Hiking time: 8 hours to Uhuru - 6 hours to descend to Horombo
  • Day 6: Horombo hut (3720 m) - Marangu Gate (1980 m). Hiking time: 6 hours

Machame Route Some call this the most beautiful route up Kilimanjaro. Where accommodation on the Marangu route is in huts, the Machame route offers strictly tents only This makes Machame (also referred to as the "Whiskey route") better suited to the slightly more adventurous hiker, however rewarding him with a scenic splendour such as not seen on the Marangu route.

  • Day 1: Machame Gate (1490 m) - Machame camp (2980 m). Hiking time: 7 hours
  • Day 2: Machame camp (2980 m) - Shira camp (3840 m). Hiking time: 6 hours
  • Day 3: Shira (3840 m) - Lava Tower (4630 m) - Barranco camp (3950 m). Hiking time: 7 hours
  • Day 4: Barranco camp (3950 m) - Barafu camp (4550 m). Hiking time: 7 hours
  • Day 5: Barafu camp (4550 m)- Uhuru Peak (5895 m) - Mweka (3100 m). Hiking time: 8 hours to reach Uhuru Peak; 7-8 hours to descend to Mweka

Lemosho Route Little used and more remote than other routes. 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.

  • Day 1: Londorossi Gate (2100 m) - Mti Mkubwa camp (2750 m). Hiking time: 3 hours
  • Day 2: Mti Mkubwa camp (2750 m) - Shira 2 camp (3840 m). Hiking time: 6/7 hours
  • Day 3: Shira (3840 m) - Lava Tower (4630 m) - Barranco camp (3950 m). Hiking time: 7 hours
  • Day 4: Barranco camp (3950 m) - Barafu camp (4550 m). Hiking time: 7 hours
  • Day 5: Barafu camp (4550 m) - Uhuru Peak (5895 m) - Mweka (3100 m). Hiking time: 8 hours to reach Uhuru Peak 7-8 hours to descend to Mweka
  • Day 6: Mweka camp (3100 m) - Mweka Gate (1980 m). Hiking time: 3 hours

A variation on the Lemosho Route inserts two to four extra days in the itinerary for acclimatization and also to avoid having to climb up to the summit in the dark

  • Day 4: Barranco (3950 m) to Karranga Valley (4000 m). Hiking time: 4 hours. This segment takes you up the infamous 'Barranco Wall'
  • Day 5: Karranga Valley (4000 m) to Barafu camp (4550 m). Hiking time: 3 hours
  • Day 6: Barafu camp (4550 m) - Uhuru Peak (5895 m) - Crater Camp (5640 m). Hiking time: about 8 hours
  • Day 7: Crater Camp (5640 m) - Mweka (3100 m). Hiking time: 7/8 hours to descend

You can also sleep in Shira 1 camp (3610m) and climb Shira Peak (3872m) with great view of Shira Plateau the next day.

  • Day 2: Mti Mkubwa camp (2750 m) - Shira 1 camp (3610m). Hiking time 4 hours
  • Day 3: Shira 1 camp (3610m) - Shira Peak (3872m) - Shira 2 camp (2840m). Hiking time 5 hours

Rongai Route The Rongai route ascends Kilimanjaro from the northeastern side of the mountain, along the border between Tanzania and Kenya.

  • Day 1: Rongai Gate (1950 m) - 1st Caves camp (2600 m). Hiking time: 5 hours
  • Day 2: 1st Cave (2600 m) - Kikelewa Cave (3600 m). Hiking time: 6/7 hours
  • Day 3: Kikelewa Cave (3600 m) - Mawenzi Tarn camp (4330 m). Hiking time: 3/4 hours
  • Day 4: Mawenzi Tarn camp (4330 m) - Kibo hut (4700 m). Hiking time: 4/5 hours
  • Day 5: Kibo hut (4700 m) - Uhuru Peak (5895 m) - Horombo hut (3720 m). Hiking time: 8 hours to reach Uhuru - 6 hours to descend to Horombo
  • Day 6: Horombo hut (3720m) - Marangu Gate (1980 m) . Hiking time: 6 hours


The various food requirements are met by the cooks and porters who come along with you on the mountain. However, the quality of the food depends on the reputation of the tour operator you use. The quality of the food tends to decline towards the end of the trek due to the food becoming stale and the rations carried by the porters being reduced. It is recommended to carry some high energy food like nuts and chocolate in order to survive and successfully complete the trek. It would be worthwhile to carry some ready-made noodle packets and similar easy-to-cook meals, which can be cooked and eaten at the conclusion of the trek.


A lot of water. Also, a lot of oral rehydration salts (ORS) are recommended for preventing dehydration while trekking on the mountain.



Lodging options on the mountain are limited to designated camp sites. It is prohibited to sleep in the caves. There are huts available, but are generally not recommended. Pre-climb lodging is generally found in the cities of Arusha and Moshi.


It is permitted to camp on Mount Kilimanjaro for as many days as you want by paying the designated fees to the Kilimanjaro National Park authorities. You are allowed to camp in any of the nearby camps including the Machame Hut and Mweka Hut.


Stay safe[edit]

Caution Note: There is a high risk of altitude sickness on the standard 6-day ascent schedule, which has a high failure rate and some argue is too fast for safety. In order to safely acclimatize, you should ascend more slowly, taking as much as 4 additional days.

Kilimanjaro is a high risk destination for altitude sickness due to its height, technical ease and usual rapid ascent. There are seven main factors that affect the incidence and severity of Kilimanjaro altitude sickness:

  1. Rate of ascent
  2. Altitude attained
  3. Length of exposure
  4. Level of exertion
  5. Hydration and diet
  6. Inherent physiological susceptibility
  7. Use of oxygen systems or drugs

Always be prepared and use a tried and tested kit list. Make sure that you do your homework and that you have all the essentials. Keep up to date on the weather on Kilimanjaro. Conditions can be extreme and a well planned trip has to take the weather patterns into consideration.

Stay healthy[edit]

Several immunizations are recommended for yellow fever, tetanus, typhoid, polio, and hepatitis. An anti-malaria prophylactic is also needed.


GSM mobile phone coverage is available on the summit of the mountain. Various networks like Vodacom, Tigo and Airtel operate in the region and can be accessed from various high points on the mountain. Airtel seems to have the best signal. However, with no electric supply on the mountain, it is advised to carry portable mobile travel chargers along for accessing the mobile services atop the mountain.

Go next[edit]

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