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#1 Kilimanjaro Climbing Guide – everything you need to know to prepare for your trek

WELCOME TO CLIMB MOUNT KILIMANJARO!

BY THE TIME YOU GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE, YOU’LL BE READY TO CLIMB AFRICA’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN!

Welcome to the website that, for more than a decade the most complete and trustworthy guide to climbing Africa’s Highest Mountain. By visiting this website, you have taken the first step on your journey to the Roof of Africa.

A journey that will take you from your favourite armchair all the way to Uhuru Peak – at 5895m (19,341ft) above sea level, it’s the very highest point on the entire African continent.

As you may know, Africa’s Highest Mountain is also a ‘walkable’ mountain. That is to say, no technical climbing skills are required to reach the summit.

But that’s not to say it’s easy. An iron will and calves of steel are just two of the attributes you’ll need to make it to the top – for this is a mountain that truly tests your mettle.

If you’re in a hurry, you’ll find all the essential information you need to plan your Kilimanjaro climb on this page. Just read on to find essential facts on the mountain, together with answers to the questions I get asked most often by climbers  in my capacity as the author of the bestselling guide to the mountain.

THE ESSENTIAL FACTS:

The most widely accepted figure for the height of Africa’s Highest Mountain 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, the mountain does have two other main peaks. Mawenzi, the ‘second summit’, 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 the mountain look like>>

The mountain’s main claim to fame is that it is the highest Mountain in Africa. For that reason, it is often called the Roof of Africa. This also means 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 highest 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. 

Africa’s highest mountain 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 the mountain with elephants in the foreground.) The Kenyan Tourist Board is not above putting pictures of the mountain 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 the mountain 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 at the foot of the mountain , 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….

The mountain 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 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 Travelling to the mountain 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 Africa’s Highest Mountain. 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 the mountain 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 summiting 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 the mountain, is the highest point on the rim of the 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 the mountain, 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 Kili. 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 the mountain; 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 the mountain>>

There’s plenty of wildlife on the mountain, 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. Click on this link to find out more about the Wildlife on the mountain>>

You need to be at least ten years old to climb Kili. (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, and the oldest person ever to make it was 88 when he made it to the top.

Click on this link to find out about more Kilimanjaro record holders and their amazing feats by following this link.

The first and most important thing I need to say on this matter is as follows:

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 summit. 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 .)

Challenges you might face on your trek

So it’s not really the walking that makes any hike on the mountain 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 guidebook, we provide reviews of over 80 of the most prominent companies working on the mountain, 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  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 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 is five. The park authorities won’t allow you on any of the routes for fewer days than this. The Marangu Route, Machame, Rongai and Umbwe routes all can be done in just five days. That said, 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 – particularly those that go via the Northern Circuit. 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.

The first person to reach the summit 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 Roof of Africa conquered page , part of the History section of this website.

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

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

Booking your climb >

How to reduce the price of your trek – and how not to >

What should be included in my trek package? 

A wooden sign at the start of the Machame Trail

Which is the best route to the summit?

Six official routes lead you up the mountain to the top – but which one is the best route? 

Two men trudging through the snow at the top of The Roof of Africa

When should you climb?

The mountain has two main trekking seasons and you can climb the mountain any day of the year – but when is 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?

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

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

What should I take for my climb?

From water bottles to walking boots, sleeping bags to champagne – what to bring with you for your climb.

Two cyclists biking on a dusty road 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….

Ideally, we say that you should book at least six months in advance – and preferably a year before you want to trek. On this website you can find our timetable for booking and preparing for your trek.

By booking early you give yourself more time to prepare and train for your trek. It also increases your chances of getting exactly the trek you want, with the route you want, the dates you want and your preferred choice of hotel too. That said, when we were booking climbs we often had people who booked their trek just a few days before it was due to start. If you are fit enough and have the right gear, there is nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you are fully aware of the challenge that awaits you and know about the dangers too.

Not any more. In 1991 the park authorities made it compulsory for all climbers to sign up with an agency. They in turn will provide you with a crew (consisting of a guide and his assistants, a cook and several porters). You can thus no longer turn up at the foot of Africa’s highest mountain with a rucksack of food and clothes and hope to climb all by yourself. The choice of which agency to sign up with is thus the most important decision you’ll have to make. Which is why we provide a lot of advice on this website about finding the right company for your trek – and an extensive review of all the major ones in the guide book.

It’s a good question, particularly if you want to reach the summit on an important day such as your birthday. The easy way to work it out is this: you will normally reach the summit at dawn on the penultimate morning of your trek. So, for example, for a seven-day trek you would reach, after a very testing summit night, the Uhuru Peak at dawn on the sixth day. The rest of that day – and the morning of the last day – will be spent descending back down the mountain to the exit gate.

Here’s an example. Your birthday is on the 10 March and you want to do a seven-day trek on the standard Machame Route. So you need to book a trek running 5-11 March. That way, you’ll spend five days (5, 6, 7, 8, 9 March) walking to Barafu. You will then walk through the night (beginning at about midnight), reaching the summit at dawn on the 10 March. You then spend the rest of the 10th March walking down to Millennium or Mweka Campsite. The final day is then spent walking to Mweka Gate, from where you’ll be transported back to your hotel.

The policy on this varies from company to company and on the severity of the injury/illness. However, usually the injured/unwell party will be accompanied down the mountain by an assistant guide while the rest of the party continue their ascent.

Usually, if you’ve had to descend, you will return to the previous campsite before deciding on a suitable rendezvous point to meet up with your fellow trekkers on their descent. However, the guide may decide that the most appropriate action would be to evacuate you off the mountain altogether. If this is the case, you will accompanied on your descent either by one of the assistant guides, a summit porter or, if he deems it necessary, by the guide himself. In order to ensure your safety, the guide will probably want you to descend as quickly as possible without risking injury.

As extra insurance, any decent company will also provide every trek with a couple of oxygen bottles. Do note, however, that once you’ve been administered oxygen it is no longer safe for you to continue to ascend as the 99% oxygen inspiration de-activates the body’s triggers which accelerate its Haemoglobin production. In other words, oxygen is there to help you get off the mountain safely – it should never be used as a means of assisting a climber to the summit.

While you are descending, the guide will contact the base in Moshi or Arusha to update them on the situation. As such, by the time you reach the exit gate there should be a car waiting for you to take you back to your hotel. Usually your transfer back from the mountain to the hotel will be included in your package, even if you have come off the mountain early. However, you will still need to pay for any extra nights accommodation you require.

There is no law that says you must buy insurance for climbing the mountain. But some companies will certainly insist that you have some of insurance for your trek. And even if they don’t, it’s certainly a good idea to have some, and not just for the mountain either. North Tanzania isn’t particularly crime-ridden, but thefts, pickpocketings and muggings do happen. But even if you don’t have anything worth nicking, you’ll still want medical cover: there are several diseases you can catch when you’re not on the mountain, and plenty of ways to injure yourself when you are. 

For more information on what insurance is suitable, including links to several UK and US companies that offer cover for the mountain, please visit our What insurance do I need for my trek?

Unfortunately, yes, they are still pretty terrible. Time was when many toilets were so full they started to develop their own geological formation. Neither stalagmite nor stalactite, but stalagshite. Then, when researching for the last edition of the book, we noticed that the park authorities were starting to tackle the problem. They built some state-of-the-art eco-toilets at the major campsites, and improved the state of many others.

Alas, things have once more declined, and the last time we trekked – earlier this year – there were smashed windows, broken doors and, well, crap everywhere. The stench, moreover, was overpowering in many of them. I don’t consider myself particularly squeamish – the opposite, in fact – but for the first time I really understood why people made such a big issue of this.

Thankfully, many of the better trekking companies now provide their clients with their own private toilets. I’m not a fan of these either: I always find it strange sitting on what is essentially a box with my trousers round my ankles in the middle of a busy campsite, separated from the outside world by nothing more than a flimsy bit of canvas that flaps furiously in even the slightest breeze. But at least it gives you an option if the public toilets are simply too disgusting to contemplate. While I condemn strongly those people who think it’s OK to crouch behind a bush and crap there, given these other options I can see why they do it.

The national language of Tanzania is Swahili. But in addition to Swahili, which just about everyone in Tanzania speaks, the local language around the mountain is Kichagga, spoken by the Chagga people, which has several dialects. English is widely spoken, at least amongst the guides and more educated members of the mountain crews. Click on this link to find out more about the Chagga people>>

There’s very little science to suggest that smokers actually perform better than non-smokers on Kili, and I certainly don’t recommend you take up the tobacco habit to increase your chances of getting to the summit. But this rumour has been hanging around for years now. And I have to say that, in my experience, there could be something to it. Around five years ago I led a party of 12 Scottish guys up the Machame Route. All of them made it, but my distinct memory is that the two smokers in the group merrily skipped their way to the summit. The others all suffered from the altitude to some degree. Is it because their bodies are used to less oxygen? Or was it just a coincidence? Who knows? I’d love to find out if it’s true – and why!

Yes. But I would say that, overall, reception on the mountain remains patchy. There are several variables that can affect your ability to get a phone signal, including the network you’re with and the quality of the phone you’re carrying. But we do think it’s improving. The last time we were round the northern side of Kibo, on the Alternative Lemosho Route, the group we were leading were, on the whole, able to get reception pretty much all the way. This is certainly an improvement from the situation a few years ago. That said, it’s highly possible that you may have to go for a day or two without being able to communicate with the outside world, whatever route you take.

In the book we provide details of where we’ve found reception on the mountain for each of the routes.

You can read all about what you eat and drink on the mountain – as well as much else – by reading our On the Mountain section which describes the kind of experience you can expect to face on your trek.

WHAT TO DO NOW

Read through the above? Still want to climb Africa’s Highest Mountain? 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. You’ll find that it’s divided 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: 

Colobus tinyBackground information

Information about the history, geography, geology, flora and fauna of the mountain. Not essential, but (hopefully) interesting.

Sunglasses tiny Preparing for your trek

Vital information for anyone planning a trek, from when to go to the best route to take and what to pack.

On the mountain tinyOn the mountain

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?

Baby baboon, TanzaniaTravel in Tanzania

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.

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 news blog yet, which has all the latest news from the mountain.

And if you still can’t find the information you require, then just email us at henry@climbmountkilimanjaro.com or henry@kilimanjaroexperts.com and I’ll be happy to help in whatever way I can.