CLIMB MOUNT KILIMANJARO
Welcome to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro! I’ve been writing the bestselling guide book to climbing the highest mountain in Africa since 2001, and running this website since 2006.
I still climb the mountain most years, either because I’m updating the guide or leading treks.
So at the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I know more about the mountain than anyone else on the planet!
The 21 Questions Every Climber Asks…
These are the questions I get asked most often about climbing Kilimanjaro – and my answers to them!
Let’s start by looking at the really big stuff. Just click on the questions below for their answers
The top-selling Kilimanjaro guide book, the most comprehensive website…. and now the best trekking operator too!
1. So how difficult is it to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
The first and most important thing I need to say on this matter is as follows:
All the main routes up the mountain are just walking routes.
I really need to emphasise this point. You do not need any technical climbing or mountaineering skills to get to the summit. So you don’t need to be a mountaineer. You just need to be able to walk.
Indeed, given the number of paraplegics and those in wheelchairs, even that skill is not essential. Blind climbers have felt their way to the top and amputee victims have hobbled and crawled up to the top.
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, ie 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 why do people fail to reach the summit?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that getting to the top is easy. You still have to battle against the cold and exhaustion. Most importantly, there’s the lack of oxygen that’s available to breathe at altitude and the complications (altitude sickness etc) that follow. This is what defeats most climbers. Which is why we go into detail on this site (and even more so in the book) about altitude sickness, its symptoms, how to prevent it – and what to do if you get it.
I would say that over 90% of people fail because of altitude sickness. The rest: well, injuries or other illnesses undoubtedly cause others to stop before they reach the top: upset stomachs can be common on Kilimanjaro. A lack of fitness counts for a few people, though not that many.
But I have to say that, after altitude sickness, the most common reason as to why people fail to get to the summit is attitude sickness. In other words, people just give up. Which is why it’s important to understand just how hard it can be to climb Kilimanjaro, and to be aware of all the hardships and privations – the cold, the possible lack of sleep, the nausea and headaches etc – that you’ll suffer on the mountain.
If you’re aware of them, you’ll be prepared for them – and, as such, you’ll be less likely to give up on the mountain.
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2. So how do I improve my chances of making it to the summit?
It is only logical, therefore, that if you manage to avoid altitude sickness, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting to the top. (The actual summit of Kilimanjaro, by the way, is known as Uhuru Peak.)
So how do you do that? Well, reading our advice about altitude sickness on this site and in the book will help.
It also helps if you can go with a decent company, which is why we provide a lot of information on this site about how to choose a trekking company. It is also why, in the guide book, we provide reviews of over 80 of the most prominent companies working on the mountain (as well as the overseas agents that use them). Or if you can’t be bothered to read all that, then we do have our own trekking company, Kilimanjaro Experts, which we believe ticks every box when it comes to being a safe, fairly priced and ethical operator.
Other factors that will help you get to the top?
- Take as many days as you can afford to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, on a route with a high success rate. Treks typically last 5-8 days, though we consider five days to be too short – and dangerous! – and so should you. Remember: the longer you spend on the mountain, the greater your chances of getting to the summit.
- Pack some warm clothes and decent boots,
- Stick to a training regime 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 schedule that takes you step by step through the process of preparing for your trek. And you can follow this link for advice on how to maximise your chances of reaching the summit.
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!
DID YOU KNOW…?
Strange but true facts about the Roof of Africa
- The crater of Kilimanjaro, which lies about 5730m above sea level (18,799ft), has been the venue for both the world’s highest cricket match and the world’s highest football match too! The football match was between two teams of women, including several ex-international players. The pitch was marked out with flour to prevent any permanent damage to the crater floor. As for the cricket match, they managed to play only ten overs each side before the weather closed in.
- In 2016, Pizza Hut delivered a pepperoni pizza to the top of Kilimanjaro to celebrate opening a branch in Tanzania. It set a record for the highest altitude pizza delivery. The delivery took four days to reach the summit.
- For most people, just getting to the summit of Kili is achievement enough. But others just like to do that little bit more. In 1994 Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, reached the top while wearing an 8ft rubber rhinoceros costume. There’s an Irishman conquered Kili with a washing machine strapped to his back. And there’s the story of the man who walked backwards to the summit in order to get into the Guinness Book of Records – only to find out, on his return to the bottom, that he had been beaten by somebody who had done exactly the same thing just a few days previously.
- The tallest trees in Africa can be found on Kilimanjaro’s western slopes. The trees measure up to 81.5m tall. In addition to being the biggest tree in Africa, the tree is also a contender for being one of the oldest: it is estimated that the trees are all around 500-600 years old!
3. Which is the best route up the mountain?
As you may know, there are six official paths leading up the slopes of Kilimanjaro to the summit (which is called Uhuru Peak).
Just to recap, the routes are:
The trails up Kilimanjaro
MARANGU ROUTE: The oldest and prettiest route, and the only one where you sleep in huts and not tents. But it does have its drawbacks…. Marangu >>
MACHAME ROUTE: The most popular route on the mountain… but is it too popular? Machame >>
RONGAI ROUTE: Hidden away by the Kenyan border and thus often overlooked, this is a terrific route! Rongai >>
UMBWE ROUTE: The quietest, and least popular route on the mountain. Which is just one reason why we love it! Umbwe >>
LEMOSHO ROUTE: Great forest, wonderful views, breathtaking scenery, and a great chance of making the summit! Lemosho >>
SHIRA ROUTE: Included here just for completeness sake, though it’s a road now for emergency vehicles Shira >>
To see a map of the Kilimanjaro routes please click on the image below.
|Route||Duration (ascent and descent combined)||Distance (ascent only)*||Descent Route||Total distance (ascent & descent)*||Western Breach option available?||No. of people climbing each year**|
|Machame||6-7 days||40.16km||Mweka (20.6km)||60.76km||Yes||20,339|
|Marangu||5-7 days||36.75km||Marangu (36.75km)||73.5km||No||12,289|
|Lemosho & Shira Routes (including Alternative Lemosho)||6-9 days||46.26km||Mweka (20.6km)||66.86km||Yes||9927|
|Rongai||5-7 days||37.65km||Marangu (36.75km)||74.4km||No||4088|
|Umbwe||6-8 days||27.71km||Mweka (20.6km)||48.31km||Yes||589|
* Figures assume the Barafu Route is taken to the summit rather than the Western Breach
** Latest figures available
In addition to these trails there are a few ‘unofficial’ trails up Kilimanjaro. These include our own Alternative Lemosho (aka Northern Circuit Route) and Full Circuit Umbwe (note both of these links will take you to the Kilimanjaro Experts website). These unofficial paths have been constructed by the more creative agencies and can be some of the best hiking trails around, with high success rates and fewer crowds.
So which path should you choose?
It’s a question I get asked an awful lot. The first thing to say is that all routes on Kilimanjaro are beautiful. So if you have been booked on a trek, and had no say in what path you will be taking, then don’t despair. Because you should have a great time on a lovely route, whatever trail you end up taking.
That said, there’s no doubt that some trails seem better than others. Now I could go into a great detail about the relative advantages and disadvantages of each route. But to keep it simple, this is what I usually say:
Of all the trails in the park, my favourite route is possibly the 8-day Alternative Lemosho. (Note that some companies call this the Northern Circuit but be careful, as this name can refer to several quite different routes.) It is, in my opinion, the route with the best forest for the first day or so. It also has the best views and scenery once you leave the forest. It takes you away from the crowds that are on some other trails, choosing instead to opt for quiet paths away from the crowds and the noise. And because it is the longest route, so it gives you more time to acclimatise – which it also has the highest success rate of any on the mountain.
If you can’t find a company that deals with this route specifically, then the standard Lemosho Route is good too, though this does have more crowds on it and the success rate is slightly lower.
Look at our own Full Circuit Umbwe Route too – it’s great!
What if you can’t afford an 8-day climb
The big disadvantage with the above trails is that they are best done over eight days rather than seven. And as a result, they are a little more expensive than the other trails.
So if you can’t afford the time or money for an 8-day hike, then my favourite seven-day path is Rongai. Again, this has some spectacular views and is quieter than many other routes. Once again, it also has a very high success rate.
Finally, if even a seven-day adventure is too expensive, then the best six-day option is Machame. It’s overcrowded at times but it’s cheaper and has, for a six-day hike, a good success rate for getting people to the summit. (Though not as good as the seven- or eight-day choices, of course.)
Of course, this is just my personal opinion and there are advantages with all the routes. If you don’t want to sleep under canvas, for example, then the Marangu Route is the best choice. Why? Well, because it’s the only one where you sleep in dormitories. Or if you want a more adventurous experience, I think the Umbwe trek is perfect: quiet, steep and spectacular.
You can read a whole lot more about the paths on Kilimanjaro on this site, including descriptions and itineraries of each. Just follow this link to our Kilimanjaro routes section. You can also get in touch if you are having trouble deciding on a suitable route for your trek. I’ll do my best to help.
4. When should you climb Kilimanjaro?
The mountain is open every day of the year. There are two rainy seasons, April-May (known as the ‘Long Rains’) and November-mid December (the ‘Short Rains’). Few people climb Kilimanjaro during these seasons.
The main trekking seasons, therefore, coincide with the mountain’s two ‘dry’ seasons: January to mid-March and June to October.
Note that rain will probably still fall on your trek during these months too. Because it’s rare to climb Kilimanjaro without getting rained on at least once .
You can read more about the mountain’s seasons by visiting our trekking seasons and weather pages.
So when is our favourite time to climb?
We like trekking at any time on Kili. But if I was pushed into saying what two months I like best, I would have to say March and October. There are two main reasons for this:
1) The weather is usually good and the skies are often clear during these months.
2) Because they both fall just before the rainy seasons, they tend to be quieter than at other times. Trekkers tend to be worried that the rains will come early, so avoid these months. But in our experience, the rains are more likely to fail altogether than arrive early. As a result, the mountain is usually emptier and quieter – yet the weather is still lovely.
Of course, occasionally the rainy season does arrive early, such as in October 2019, when the weather was dreadful. But these are the exceptions.
5. How much does it cost to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
The cheapest way to organise a climb is to just turn up at the airport, get a taxi to Moshi or Arusha, and negotiate with the companies there. But you need to have confidence in your bargaining skills, and – at the risk of sounding like a salesman! – it’s a good idea to have a copy of our book. In it we tell you what to look out for, and what should be in the contract that you sign. Read it, and you’re in a better position when you haggle.
If you book in Moshi then you can, just possibly, get a Kilimanjaro trek starting at about US$1000. Of course, at this budget I cannot guarantee the reliability or honesty of the company concerned. But I can guarantee that their treatment of porters will be terrible, and the wages they pay desultory. So we urge you to think of the bigger picture, and spend more on your trek, to stop this exploitation. Because most decent companies will charge at least double the price above – ie around US$2000 for a standard trek on the Machame Route.
And it’s not unusual for some companies to charge US$3000, or even US$5000 per person for a trek!
What do I get for my money?
Included in this price should be the following:
- Airport transfers at the start and end of your trip
- A couple of nights in a hotel, usually one either side of the trek
- Transport to and from the mountain at the start/end of the trek
- All park fees, rescue fees, conservation fees and camping fees
- Food and drink on the mountain, as well as camping equipment
- Wages of your guides, assistant guides, cook and porters
Other items to look out for? Well there may be some sort of financial failure insurance (so, if the company goes bankrupt, your money is safe. All UK companies – indeed, I believe all European companies – have to have this.) Oxygen on the mountain should also be issued as standard. And some foreign agencies may also include flights.
Which begs the question:
What isn’t usually included in a trek package?
These items are, typically, not included in your trek package so you’ll need to budget for them:
- Tanzanian visas (US$50 for most people, US$100 for American passport holders)
- Meals when you’re not on the mountain (other than breakfast).
- Travel insurance
Need more info? Well do check out our pages on How to book a Kilimanjaro trek.
6. What should I pack for my trek?
Your trekking agency will provide you with a list of clothes and other items that you need to bring for your trek.
Typically, they will provide a tent and cooking equipment – so you don’t need to bring them.
The ground operator may also supply sleeping mats and, in some instances, sleeping bags too. So check with them what they provide and what you need to bring. They may also rent out certain items, too, such as head, torches, walking poles and clothing. Hiring various items for your trek makes a lot of sense, particularly if you don’t plan to do any trekking or camping after you’ve finished with Kilimanjaro.
We have provided a comprehensive packing list for Kilimanjaro.
7. How fit do I need to be to climb Kilimanjaro?
While it is always good to get fit, there’s no need to go overboard with fitness preparations for climbing Kilimanjaro.
Some guidebooks and websites go into extraordinary detail about fitness regimes. But there’s no need. Why? Simply because the main reason why people fail to reach the summit is due to altitude sickness rather than lack of necessary strength or stamina.
So just remember: you don’t need to be very fit to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
It’s more that you need to be ‘not unfit’ (if that makes sense).
If you’re out of shape on the mountain, then you’ll find it a struggle tackling the gradients each day, may fall behind your friends (even though you should all be going very slowly), and will generally have a fairly unpleasant time – which is not what any of us want.
Besides, on the final push to the summit, and the descent that follows, people typically walk for 16 hours. So try to get into some sort of shape before your climb – it may increase your chances of reaching the summit only slightly, but at least you’ll enjoy the trip much more.
How to get fit for climbing Kilimanjaro
So what sort of training should you do? Well, there is no substitute for following a structured anaerobic and aerobic training regime for at least 12 weeks in the run up to your trek. Running, jogging, swimming, cycling – all of these are good exercises to follow.
The best thing you can do, however, to prepare for your walk – is to go for a walk!
For more information on preparing mind and body for Kilimanjaro, please visit our fitness for Kilimanjaro page.
THE SLIGHTLY SMALLER QUESTIONS: Other stuff that people often ask….
WHAT TO DO NOW
Read through the above? Still want to climb Kilimanjaro? Don’t know where to go from here? Then read on..
If you’re looking to organise your own African adventure, then the next thing to read is our Countdown; this is our step-by-step guide to planning for your trip. This tells you exactly what to do when planning your own expedition – and when.
After that, you may want to go through our site in greater detail. We have divided it into four main sections, which together provide you with all the basics you need to know to plan and prepare properly for your Mount Kilimanjaro trek:
Information about the history, geography, geology, flora and fauna of the mountain. Not essential, but (hopefully) interesting.
Vital information for anyone planning a trek, from when to go to the best route to take and what to pack.
What’s it like on the mountain? What do you eat? Where do you sleep? Who’s in your crew? How much should you tip?
Information for those looking to explore the country in greater depth, with plenty of useful info for Kili trekkers too.
In addition, you’ll also find details of our own climbing outfit, Kilimanjaro Experts, where all my favourite guides, cooks and other mountain crew staff that I’ve climbed with over the past two decades have been gathered into one great value, ethically-minded company.
Don’t forget the book!
Still want more info? Well you can’t beat our bestselling guide book, which provides comprehensive advice on climbing, including REVIEWS OF ALL THE MAJOR TREKKING COMPANIES. You’ll also find guides to the towns and cities that will act as the base for your trek, plus, of course, detailed descriptions of all the routes on both Kili and Meru, written by somebody who has climbed them all. Many times. The book has now been published since 2001 and is currently in its fifth edition.
Oh, and I don’t think we’ve mentioned our Kilimanjaro blog yet, which has all the latest news from the mountain and lots of useful advice.
And if you still can’t find the information you require, then just email us. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and I’ll be happy to help in whatever way I can.