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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Duration (ascent and descent combined)
Distance (ascent only)*
Total distance (ascent & descent)*
Western Breach option available?
No. of people climbing each year**
Lemosho & Shira Routes (including Alternative Lemosho)
* 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.
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 tworainy 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 .
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).
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.
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!
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, we at Kilimanjaro Experts can arrange a trek with just a day or two’s notice. If you are fit enough and have the right gear, there is nothing wrong with booking so late, 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 provide you with a crew (consisting of a guide and his assistants, a cook and several porters).
The choice of which agency to sign up with is perhaps 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: normally you will reach the summit at dawn on the penultimate morning of your trek. So, for example, for a seven-day trek you would reach Uhuru Peak at dawn on the sixth day. You then spend the rest of the day, and the next morning, descending 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 – your birthday.
You then spend the rest of our birthday 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. But, usually, if you are injured or suffering from altitude sickness, the head guide will make plans for you to descend. Usually, this will be to the previous campsite, though the guide may decide that it may be prudent to evacuate you off the mountain altogether.
If it’s necessary, your crew may strap you into a stretcher and carry you down. But usually trekkers can walk down the mountain unaided. On your descent, one of the assistant guides will accompany you. He will be carrying some oxygen as a precaution. (All treks should be equipped with oxygen, 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. So by the time you reach the exit gate, there should be a car waiting 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. But you will have to pay for any extra nights of accommodation.
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?
The latest figures that have been released by the park authorities show that 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 Kilimanjaro guide back in 2001:
Kilimanjaro visitor numbers
No of climbers on Kilimanjaro
Number of people visiting Kilimanjaro per annum over the past 20 years
As a rough estimate, about 75% of people make it to the summit. The percentage of people getting to the summit varies according to the route, the duration of the climb and the trekking company they used. Some companies boast of having success rates over 90%.
Unfortunately, yes, they are still pretty terrible. 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 if anything the toilets are worse than ever. Broken doors, flooded floors and poo everywhere. The stench, moreover is overpowering too. I don’t consider myself particularly squeamish – the opposite, in fact – but I can understand why people make 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 feel vulnerable 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.
The national language of Tanzania is Swahili. Pretty much everyone in Tanzania speaks Swahili. But round the mountain, the local Chagga people have their own language called Kichagga. Kichagga 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. And I certainly don’t recommend taking up the tobacco habit to increase your chances of getting to the summit. But this rumour has been hanging around for years now, and there could be something to it. A few 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 suffered less than the others from the altitude.
Is it because their bodies are used to less oxygen? Or was it just a coincidence? Who knows? But I’d love to find out if smoking is indeed beneficial for coping with high altitude – and why!
Yes you can. 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. The network you’re with or the quality of the phone you’re carrying, for example. But we do think the situation is improving. The last time we were round the northern side of Kibo our group was, on the whole, able to get reception for two whole days. 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 need to be at least ten years old to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. (And there are huge discounts on the park fees for under 16s – thought some unscrupulous companies don’t pass on all of the discount. If you want to know how much your discount should be, just contact us.)
Understandably, the authorities are reluctant to release figures on the number of people who die on Kilimanjaro every year. But extrapolating from the only academic study done on this subject, we estimate that there are approximately 6-7 deaths every year. Follow this link for an extensive article on the number of deaths on Kilimanjaro each year.
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 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 blog yet, which has all the latest news from the mountain and lots of useful advice.