The #1 Kilimanjaro Climbing Guide – everything you need to know to prepare for your trek 2018-11-07T19:18:49+00:00

CLIMB MOUNT KILIMANJARO

Unbiased, comprehensive – and the #1 Kilimanjaro guide since 2001

KILIMANJARO: THE ESSENTIAL FACTS

The most widely accepted figure for the height of Kilimanjaro is 5895m (19,341ft). This is the figure you will find printed on the certificates handed out to those who successfully reach the summit, Uhuru Peak. Surprisingly, however, there is significant evidence to say it’s wrong. In 1999 a team of specialists from Karlsruhe University in Germany, using GPS technology, revised it down to 5892.55m (19,332.5ft). And in 2008 a team of 19 boffins from 6 countries, using GPS and gravimetric observations, revised it down still further, to 5890.79m (19,326/5ft)

But let’s stick with the original of 5895m. That’s the figure that the cartographers of the Ordnance Survey came up with when they surveyed the mountain in the 1950s, and has been the accepted figure ever since.

Incidentally, Kilimanjaro does have two other main peaks. Mawenzi, the ‘second summit’ on Kilimanjaro, is 5149m high (16,893ft); while the third ‘summit, Shira Ridge, is 3962m high (12,999ft). 

You can find out more about the mountain’s appearance by following this link: What does Kilimanjaro look like>>

Kilimanjaro’s main claim to fame is that it is the highest Mountain in Africa. For that reason, it is one of the so-called Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. It is also said to be the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. In other words, it’s not part of a mountain range but stands all by itself in the heart of the East African plains. It is also one of the world’s highest ‘walkable’ mountains, where no technical climbing skills are required to reach the summit. 

Kilimanjaro is in northern Tanzania, right against the border with Kenya, in East Africa. Don’t make the mistake, as many people do, of thinking it’s in Kenya. It’s not: it is wholly within Tanzania. Though it’s an easy error to make. After all, some of the best photos of the mountain were taken from a vantage point in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. (I’m thinking in particular of those images of Kili with elephants in the foreground.) The Kenyan Tourist Board is not above putting pictures of Kili in its brochures either – a practice which infuriates the Tanzanians.

I’ve even read a children’s book about a well-travelled koala bear called Bingo that places Africa’s highest mountain in Kenya. But suffice to say, it isn’t. So don’t fly to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and expect to climb Kili from there; if you do, you’ll just have to buy yourself an onward flight or take a 6-8 hour bus ride to take you across the border into Tanzania. (That said, fly into Tanzania’s main airport, Dar es Salaam, and you’ll find yourself even further away from the mountain than if you flew into Nairobi – a bus from Dar to Moshi or Arusha, the two main towns near Kilimanjaro, takes pretty much the whole day, leaving around 6am and arriving late afternoon in Moshi or at dusk in Arusha.)

Which does, of course, then beg the question: What airport should you fly into for Kilimanjaro….

Kilimanjaro has it’s own airport (Kilimanjaro International Airport, IATA airport code JRO). Currently around seven airlines fly into JRO, including KLM, Kenya Airways, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian, Qatar Airways, Flydubai (partners with Emirates) and Rwandair. Your trekking company will then transfer you to a hotel in Moshi or Arusha, and from there (usually the next day) will take you to the mountain to begin your trek. (If you arrive without booking your Kilimanjaro trek, then a taxi from the airport to Moshi/Arusha is US$50.)

You can also arrive overland, of course, with the mountain town of Arusha connected by bus to Kampala in Uganda and Nairobi in Kenya, as well as Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam (from where buses travel to/from other neighbouring countries).

For details on how to travel to the mountain, please visit our Getting to Kilimanjaro section.

The latest figures that have been released by the park authorities show that, in 2016, there were 47,232 people who tried to climb Kilimanjaro. The table below summarises how the visitor numbers have changed since we wrote the first edition of the book back in 2001: 

Kilimanjaro visitor numbers

YearNo of climbers on Kilimanjaro
200121,025
200434,530
200740,701
201257,456
201647,232
Number of people visiting Kilimanjaro per annum over the past 20 years

As you can see, there has been a fall in visitor numbers of approximately 20% since the heyday of 2012; but over 47,000 climbers per annum on any one mountain is still a significant figure.

So where are all these people coming from? Well, we’ve written a post about just that: which nationality climbs Kilimanjaro the most?

The percentage of people getting to the summit varies according to the route, the duration of the climb and the trekking company that they used, but we reckon that, as a rough guide, about 75% of people make it to the summit. Some companies claim a success rate well above 90%, and for some routes that may be true. It’s worth noting, however, that KINAPA, the park authorities, reckon that actually only 65% of people make it to the summit, with about a third more making it to the Crater Rim. (Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Kilimanjaro, is the highest point on the rim of Kilimanjaro’s crater, but you actually reach the rim at Stella Point or Gillman’s Point, which are slightly lower, and about 45 minutes/90 minutes away from Uhuru Peak respectively).

We, however, are sceptical about these figures from KINAPA. Fo a start, they also say that less than 1% (0.53% to be precise) fail to get to the Crater rim, which just seems ludicrously low, as anyone who has been on Kili, and has seen people being taken off the mountain without reaching the rim, can testify. We also know that some unscrupulous guides and companies will tell KINAPA that someone got to the top even when they didn’t, in order to:

a) boost their ‘success rates, which look good when it comes to advertising their climbs;

and b) secure a certificate for their client saying they got to the top, which may persuade the client to give a bigger tip at the end of the trek and to leave a more positive review online as well.

So while KINAPA may be the park authorities, we think that their statistics for people reaching the summit are anything but ‘authoritative’.

We estimate that there are approximately 6-7 deaths every year on Kilimanjaro. Figures are never released by the authorities for fear of the bad publicity they will generate. But extrapolating from the only academic study done on this subject, we estimate that there are about half a dozen deaths per annum. Note that this is only the number of ‘tourists’ who die on Kili; in addition to this, we reckon that about the name number of porters and other mountain crew die on the mountain each year too.

You can read our post on this subject here: Deaths on Kilimanjaro>>

The first person to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro is believed to be Hans Meyer, a geology professor from Leipzig in Germany, who climbed with his friend Ludwig Purtscheller and reached the summit on October 6th, 1889. It was Meyer’s fourth attempt to reach the top; however, it should also be mentioned that Meyer did not begin his walk on the mountain, as today’s visitors do, but in Mombasa, a 14-day walk away!

You can read about his exploits on our Kilimanjaro conquered page , part of the Kilimanjaro History section of this website.

You need to be at least ten years old to climb Kilimanjaro. (Incidentally, there are huge discounts on the park fees for under 16s – amounting, for example, to over US$700 for a six-day Machame trek. Make sure these are passed onto you. Many companies don’t pass on all of the discount. If you want to know how much your discount should be, just contact us.) That said, there are currently one six-year-old and three seven-year-olds who have climbed to the summit – all of whom needed special permission from KINAPA. 

At the other extreme,  there is no upper-age limit on Kilimanjaro, and the oldest person ever to make it was 88 when he made it to the top.

You can find out about more record holders by following this link to our Kilimanjaro Records page.

All the main routes up the mountain are really just walking routes. I really need to emphasise this point: you do not need any technical climbing or mountaineering skills to get to the top of Kilimanjaro. So you don’t need to be a mountaineer. Sure, there are a couple of places on some routes where you may need to use your hands to steady yourself. Occasionally you may also need to haul yourself over a rock or two. But overall, it’s just a walk. Indeed, there are a couple of people who’ve climbed up the mountain in wheelchairs, so the ability to walk isn’t even a pre-requisite. Blind climbers have felt their way to the top and amputee victims have hobbled and crawled up to the top.

And don’t be worried about the (negligible) amount of scrambling (ie, using your hands to haul yourself up) that you need to do either. I am not in any way a technical climber. I am a bit of a wimp too, if I’m being honest. But I’ve climbed the mountain over 30 times now, on every route. With no problems. It’s all straightforward. And if you’re with a half-decent company, there will always be a guide around to help you if you’re having difficulty.

Even the walking is not particularly exhausting. After all, just do the maths. For example, the most popular route is the Machame Route, which is 60.76km (37.75 miles)  in length in total from gate to summit and back to gate. Do it in six days and that’s only a fraction over 10km per day (ie just over 6 miles); do it in seven days and it’s only around just 8.5km per day (a little under 5.5 miles per day). (You can follow this link to find a table showing the total distances of each route .)

So it’s not really the walking that makes any Kilimanjaro hike  so taxing. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that getting to the top is easy, however. You still have to battle against the lack of oxygen that’s available to breathe, and the complications (altitude sickness etc) that follow. This is what defeats most climbers. Which is why we go into great detail in the book and on this site about altitude sickness, its symptoms – and how to prevent it, and what to do if you get it.

It also helps if you can go with a decent company, which is why we spend a lot of time on this site advising you on how to choose a company, whether to book with an overseas agent or directly with the Tanzanian ground operator, and the pros and cons of booking before you arrive versus booking once you’ve landed in Tanzania.  We also provide advice on how to make your trek cheaper without reducing your chances of making it to the summit. And it is also why, in the book, we provide reviews of over 80 of the most prominent companies working on Kili, as well as their overseas agents – many of whom will try to tell you that they run the treks themselves. In the book, we show you which overseas companies use which ground operators.) Plus, of course, if you can’t be bothered to read all that, then we do have our own trekking company which we believe ticks every box when it comes to being a decent, fairly priced and ethical operator.

Other factors that will help you get to the top? Well, you should take as many days as you can to climb to the summit, pack some warm clothes and decent boots, stick to a training regime for Kilimanjaro before you leave, eat and drink plenty when you’re on the mountain. And to help you negotiate the whole process of preparing for your trek, we’ve compiled a Kilimanjaro Countdown – a schedule that takes you step by step through the process of booking and paying for your trek.

Do all of the above and, with a bit of luck, you’ll be fine. But even if, after all our advice, you still fail to get to the top, well at least you’re in good company. Famous people we know who failed to reach the summit include tennis ace Martina Navratilova, tycoon Roman Abramovic and, so it has long been rumoured, mountaineer and conqueror of Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary!

The minimum number of days to climb Kilimanjaro is five. The park authorities won’t allow you on any of the routes for fewer days than this. Many agencies will not sell you a trek for five days as it doesn’t really give you enough time to acclimatise safely. We don’t recommend you take just five days either – it is simply too dangerous. At the other extreme some groups trek for 9-10 days. Most treks, however, are 6-8 days in length.

The Golden Rule to remember is this: the longer you spend on the mountain, the greater your chances of getting to the summit.

There’s plenty of wildlife on Kilimanjaro, though your chances of seeing much are slim. This is largely because the animals prefer to avoid those parts of the mountain where more than 45,000-plus people tread every year. For this reason, you’ll be lucky to see anything larger than a monkey or a mouse. That said, every so often a reader will write in to say that they saw a buffalo, eland, leopard or elephant on the trail. Wildlife>>

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  • …And a lot less expensive than you’d think!

THE BIG QUESTIONS: Want to climb Kilimanjaro? This is what you need to know….

What company should I choose?

They can help you reach the summit – or they can kill you! Check out our advice on choosing a climbing company.

Booking your trek >

How to make your trek cheaper – and how not to >

What should be included in your trek >

The routes up Kilimanjaro - a wooden sign at the start of the Machame Trail

 What’s the best route to the top?

Six official routes lead to the summit – but what’s the one you should take? 

Two men trudging through the snow at the top of Kilimanjaro

What’s the best time to climb?

Kilimanjaro has two main trekking seasons and you can climb it any day of the year – but what’s the best time to climb?

A Tanzanian guide with a red backpack walking in the Umbwe Route's mossy forest

How much does it cost to climb Kilimanjaro?

Take a look at why it’s is such an expensive mountain to climb – and how you can take measures to make it cheaper.

Porter in an orange T-shirt on the Machame Route with a bag on his shoulders

What should I take for my Kili climb?

From underpants to iphones, sleeping bags to champagne – what to bring with you for your climb.

Two cyclists biking on a dusty road round Kilimanjaro past Maasai goat herders

How fit do I need to be?

The more exercise you do down here, the more you’ll enjoy it up there! Check out our fitness page to find out how you can get ‘Kili ready’. 

THE SLIGHTLY SMALLER QUESTIONS: Other stuff that people often ask….

THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE ONLINE KILIMANJARO GUIDE…

This website is divided into four main sections, which together provide you with pretty much all the basics you need to know to plan and prepare properly for your trek. Hover over the images below to see what you can find in each section:

… AND THE BEST GUIDE BOOK TOO!

The front cover of the fifth edition of the Kilimanjaro guide bookFor over 16 years our guide has been considered the Bible for anyone wanting to climb Kilimanjaro. It is used by everyone from porters to park rangers, trekking agencies and tourist offices.

Plus, of course, tens of thousands of trekkers just like you.

‘Stedman’s wonderfully down-to-earth, practical guide..’ Longitude Books (New York)

‘A model of what a guidebook should be’ David Dean

‘A top pick. It covers everything… Any travel collection needs this’ California Bookwatch

‘Comprehensive and informative….’ Wanderlust magazine

‘Contains almost everything you could possibly want to know’ Strider magazine

‘You wouldn’t want to be without this book if heading for Kili’ Backpack magazine

‘Stedman is a Kili obsessive…and that shows on every page’ Trek & Mountain magazine

What people are reading at the moment…

What’s been happening…

New record for youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro

October 26th, 2018|

A six-year-old boy has become the youngest person ever to climb Kilimanjaro. Coaltan Tanner, [...]

The best times to climb in 2019? Lunar eclipses and other astronomical phenomena that you can see from Kilimanjaro

October 15th, 2018|

Looking to climb Kilimanjaro next year, but having trouble settling on a date. One [...]

Scottish woman with no hands or feet reaches summit of Kili

October 9th, 2018|

A Scottish woman is believed to have become the world's first quadruple amputee to [...]

Altitude sickness…

Silhouette of two men walking on the summit of Kilimanjaro in a blizzard

Acute mountain sickness, altitude sickness, AMS, mountain fever  – whatever you call it, it’s the main reason why people fail to reach the summit.

It’s Kili’s number one killer too!

Read on to find out how to avoid altitude sickness, how to spot it – and what to do if you get it!

Follow us! 

Henry Stedman covered in a frosting of snow standing at the summit with the iconic sign in the background and someone celebrating with arms aloft next to it

Just ask! 

  • What’s the best trekking company for my budget?
  • What safari should I go on after my Kilimanjaro trek?
  • Will my dietary requirements be catered for on Kili?

Whatever your question, JUST ASK – I’m happy to help!

And don’t worry, I promise in response I won’t try to sell you one of our treks!