As most of you will know, there are six main routes leading up to the summit of Kilimanjaro (plus one route that is for descent purposes only). The question is: which one is the most popular?
It’s an important question, of course, because few people want to trek on an over-crowded route. And indeed, on some of the more popular routes during the high season, the trail can become little more than a queue of people snaking up the mountain – which does rather detract from the whole ‘wilderness experience’.
Well, thanks to the Kilimanjaro Park Authorities, KINAPA, we have the latest figures for each route. They are as follows:
Machame 20,339 trekkers per year
Marangu 12,289 trekkers per year
Shira/Lemosho 9927 trekkers per year
Rongai 4088 trekkers per year
Umbwe 589 trekkers per year
The thing that leaps out at you about these figures is that Machame is still, quite significantly the most popular route, a position it has held since 2006/7 when it first knocked Marangu into second place. This won’t surprise anybody who’s trekked on this trail for the past few years – but will come as a blow to those many foreign agents who still try to hype the ‘Whiskey Route’ as a wild and untrammelled path. Remember, too, that the Marangu Route gets trekkers all year-round, because people on this route sleep in dormitories in huts rather than under canvas so it still gets trekkers during the rainy season, while the Machame Route is virtually deserted at that time; which means, of course, that during the rest of the year they must get many, many more people than the Marangu Route.
Other points to note? Well, it’s interesting how much the Lemosho/Shira Route has grown in popularity to become the third busiest route (from 7807 in 2012); indeed, of all the routes it’s the only one that has seen its numbers rise since 2012. That may have something to do with our guide book, which has always sung its praises. It may also be due to an increasing awareness amongst trekkers that a longer route is better for acclimatisation. We’re pleased it’s doing so well – but there’s a part of us, of course, that doesn’t want it to get too popular – that just leads to overcrowding and a decrease in the magic that made it so special in the first place.
Finally, I do find it a little surprising to see how unpopular the Umbwe Route continues to be. It’s a beautiful route and, being close to Marangu, a convenient one for the agencies to use. But its reputation as the ‘hardest’ route seems enough to deter most people from taking it.