Mount Kilimanjaro is unquestionably one of the most famous mountains in the world. Revered by travellers, climbers, and experienced hikers, Mount Kilimanjaro represents a monumental, yet achievable task.
In this article, we’ll give you everything you need to know about this notorious peak. We’ll start with an outline of its geography and history, then give you a prospective climber’s guide to Kilimanjaro.
About Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world – standing at 5895 meters above sea level (and 4900 meters above its base).
Mt. Kilimanjaro is not part of a mountain range and stands on its own – thus “Free-standing.” There are many other mountains within mountain ranges that are higher than Kilimanjaro.
As Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro is a member of the seven summits. The seven summits are each continent’s highest mountain.
Kilimanjaro is situated in Northern Tanzania, roughly 80km from the popular city of Arusha. Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. Tourists generally access the mountain by flying into Kilimanjaro International Airport.
Mount Kilimanjaro is especially popular among climbers. It’s open to climbers of all-skill levels, from beginners to experienced mountaineers. You will still require a guide and good fitness level. We’ll explore these topics in more detail below.
Scaling the mountain does not require traditional technical mountain-climbing skills, such as harnesses, ropes or special equipment. It’s considered a hiking or walk-up peak, not a traditional mountaineering mountain.
Things to Know About Climbing Kilimanjaro
Now that we’ve given you some background information on this famous peak, let’s get into the practical information.
In this section, we’ll give you everything you need to know about actually setting your plan into motion and climbing Kilimanjaro. Let’s start with the various routes up the mountain’s face:
There Are 7 Main Climbing Routes
There are various routes that climbers take to scale Kilimanjaro. These routes range in both difficulty and time required. They include:
Lemosho Route: The Lemosho Route is considered a slightly easier route for reaching the summit. But note that it’s only easy in comparison to the other routes. All routes require extensive physical exertion and mental dedication.
The Lemosho route generally takes eight days to complete (seven for more experienced climbers). It allows climbers to acclimatise to the elevation gradually, with camps at various elevations.
The Lemosho route is one of the newer Kilimanjaro routes. It’s gained popularity as some of the other routes have become more crowded.
Machame Route: The Machame route is likely the current most popular route for climbing Kilimanjaro. The Machame route provides excellent views of all of Kilimajaro’s ecosystems (more on that below).
It’s considered an ideal route for acclimatizing, as three of the camps are at roughly the same altitude. It generally takes climbers seven days to finish. The one drawback with this route is that it is very popular, so can become quite crowded.
Northern Circuit: The Northern Circuit route is generally considered among the most laid-back methods of scaling Kilimanjaro. It’s a nine-day hike, which means that it is less strenuous on each individual day. However, you’ll also spend more time on the mountain overall, which can be difficult for some.
Shira Route: The Shira Route is an eight-day route which takes climbers through the Shira Plateau. The one downside of this route is that the starting point is much higher up the mountain and must be accessed by car.
This can be a big altitude shock for many people, especially if they are not yet adjusted to the base elevation in Northern Tanzania.
Rongai Route: The Rongai Route is meant to be completed in six days, although some climbers will take seven or even eight days. Despite the fact that it is shorter than other paths, it’s actually considered one of the easier and more gradual routes.
You start on the opposite side of the mountain from many of the other routes, closer to Kenya. As a result, you’ll experience a very different set of scenery.
Marangu Route: The Marangu Route is considered among the most popular routes, closely rivalling the Machame Route. It is the oldest and easiest route for climbing Kilimanjaro.
This is because of the gradual ascent and also because the route is lined with huts, so camping is not necessary. Due to its relative ease and popularity, the route can get quite crowded, so you will have to be sure to book well in advance.
Western Breach – The Western Breach is considered the most hazardous route for climbing Kilimanjaro, due to the potential of falling rocks, which have actually killed climbers in the past.
The route is closed to the public, and experienced climbers can ascend by signing a legal waver. It is the steepest route, and there is also no defined path up the mountain (must be ascertained based on daily conditions.) This is a route that would be best suitable for experienced mountaineers.
Choosing a Route: As you can see, the routes up Kilimanjaro are vast and varied. No two routes are the same, and all offer their unique blends of sights, difficulties, gradient, lodgings, and much more.
Choosing the route you take up Kilimanjaro will perhaps be the most important decision you make in your entire journey. We highly recommend that you do not make this decision alone.
It is best to consult with an experienced tour operator, who will be able to match your blend of physical skills, experience, and preferences with your ideal hike.
.These operators know the mountain inside and out and are in a much better position to help you make this decision.
You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, especially when you may have an entire group of people depending on you.
Booking Your Climb
Organizing the logistics for a Kilimanjaro climb can be the most difficult part (well, except for the actual climb of course). There are many tour guides and trip-planners who organize hikes and climbs up Kilimanjaro. You are best to do your research and choose a trusted tour operator for the route your desire.
Generally speaking, Kilimanjaro tours can be separated into two categories:
Fixed Departure: Fixed departure tours leave at a fixed date and time, and you sign up to scale the mountain with a group of people and a guide.
Prices range depending on the route taken and the company offering the tour, but you can expect to pay around $3000 per person for tours that are approximately 1 week long. Fixed departure tours are a more economical option if you are travelling with a small group.
Private Tour: You can also book a private tour with an experienced guide, where you can have more influence over the time of departure, and can pick among the routes available.
Generally speaking, these tours are more expensive, but it depends on the size of your group. If you are with a large group, the cost may be comparable to a fixed departure group.
If you are alone, it will be much more expensive. These tours offer the added convenience of choosing your own departure date (depending on conditions and availability).
When to Climb Kilimanjaro?
Choosing the best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro is an important consideration. Precipitation and weather conditions vary quite significantly in Tanzania throughout the year, and choosing the time of year for your climb will have a heavy influence over your experience.
Generally speaking, the best time to climb Kilimanjaro is from July to October. This is considered the dry season in Northern Tanzania.
There is much less precipitation and a better chance of clear skies, which offers the best visibility during your hike. This visibility is especially important at the summit, where you’ll want that breathtaking view of the African expanse.
The rainy season in Tanzania occurs from March to May, and is not an ideal time to climb Kilimanjaro. It is still done, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend it for anyone except an experienced mountaineer.
From November to December, Tanzania experiences a milder rainy season. People do climb Kilimanjaro during this time. While it’s not as ideal as peak season, it is still doable, and you can score some deals on guided treks.
How Long Does it Take to Climb Kilimanjaro?
The time required to climb Kilimanjaro depends primarily on the route you choose to reach the summit. The routes range in length from four days on the short end, to nine days on the long end.
Most routes take between six to eight days to complete. Some routes are longer than others, and some are also more gradual in ascent.
Of course, it also depends on your level of fitness and climbing experience. Experienced climbers can reach the top faster, especially if they have prior experience with the route. It also depends on your ability to acclimatize to the elevation.
Kilimanjaro is accessible for all levels of climbers, but what exactly does that mean? Just how “in shape” do you need to be to climb Kilimanjaro?
If you’re attempting to climb Kilimanjaro, you should be in great physical shape. Although many of the routes don’t require climbing equipment or mountaineering skills, it is still a serious feat of endurance, stamina, and mental fortitude.
Many tour operators will actually request that you receive a physical check-up before attempting to climb. This is for both liability purposes, but also to be sure that you won’t be an undue burden on the tour group. After all, you’ll want to be able to keep up so you don’t lessen the experience of other climbers.
Bottom to Top – What to Expect
Kilimanjaro is a fascinating climbing experience because it traverses several different environments (or “biomes”) throughout the ascent. The exact sights will depend on the route you choose, but there are four distinct areas that make up the height of Kilimanjaro. Here is what you can expect to experience:
1000-2800 Meters – Tropical Forest: The first stage of your Kilimanjaro trek consists of dense, lush tropical forest. This thick forest is usually foggy and wet. Expect shrubs, trees, moss, and dense vegetation throughout this part of the trek. There are also several flowing rivers and streams.
This area is full of both plant and animal life. Expect many small mammals, and a wide variety of tropical birds.
2800-4000 Meters – Moorland: After the tropical forest ends, you have wide expanses of moorland. This area is filled with smaller vegetation, plants and shrubs that you may not see anywhere else.
This area is truly a sight to behold, and rests above the cloud line on most days. This means that views are clear and endless. This is also the area that you will likely start to notice the effect of the thinning air. Breathing becomes more difficult for most, and the pace slows as you continue the ascend.
4000-5000 Meters – Alpine Desert: Above 4000 meters is an alpine desert. It is comprised mostly of sandy earth. Most plant species can’t survive at this altitude, with the exception of certain mosses and lichens. It almost feels like an alien planet, and the air is so thin that the pace slows even more.
This area is also where the weather starts to become more unpredictable, experiencing quick swings and flashes of precipitation and heavy winds.
5000-Peak – Arctic Ice Cap: At this height, the temperature begins to drop, and you’ll experience the sharp rocks and glacial conditions approaching the summit.
The air is thin and conditions are harsh, with drastic shifts in temperature between the day and night. This is the toughest part of the climb, but there is also the impending sense of achievement and satisfaction to keep you trekking.
Reaching the top of Kilimanjaro will probably the most earned sense of accomplishment you will ever feel.
Thanks for reading our detailed guide to Africa’s most legendary peak. Kilimanjaro is a popular ascent among climbers and non-climbers alike, but don’t expect it be easy.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a daunting physical task that you need to approach with respect and preparation. It may be one of the most accomplished feelings of your life, but you will need to work extremely hard for that accomplishment.
For more on Tanzania’s top tourist attractions, check out our guide to the Serengeti.
How hard is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?
Even though Kilimanjaro does not require extensive mountaineering experience or technical skills, it is still an extremely daunting physical experience. You need exceptional stamina, and a high level of fitness before attempting. You also need to prepare yourself mentally for the challenges that lie ahead.
Is it dangerous to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
Climbing Kilimanjaro is not considered exceptionally dangerous if you do so with the assistance of a reputable tour operator, and you have the fitness required for the climb. These operators will ensure that you have adequate food and shelter, and will not venture into dangerous territory.
How expensive is climbing Kilimanjaro?
It depends on the tour operator you hire, the route you take, the time of year, and whether you opt for a private or a fixed-departure tour. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay around $3000 USD for a week long full-tour.
What are the “seven summits”?
The seven summits are the highest peak in each of the seven continents. Kilimanjaro is a member of the seven summits because it is Africa’s highest peak.