The Kilimanjaro Countdown
How to prepare for Kilimanjaro
Getting to the top of Kilimanjaro involves more than just doing the actual climb. Indeed, the trek itself is perhaps the least stressful part of it, especially for those who’ve had to do all the organising on behalf of their friends. This page has therefore been created to help you to prepare for your Kilimanjaro climb. Just follow these ten simple steps, in order, and they’ll take you from the comfort of your favourite armchair to the top of the Roof of Africa.
Note that the times awe have given below are very general and many/the majority of people diverge from this schedule in some way. Indeed, we have many clients who make their first contact with us just a few days prior to the start of the trek and still manage to reach the summit OK; and if you have the necessary level of fitness, and the money and means of getting to Tanzania sorted, then there’s no reason why you can’t either. But for those who like to take their time this, in our experience, is a reasonable – and unhurried – timetable for sorting out your trek:
Decide whether you really want to…
We love climbing Kilimanjaro, of course – we wouldn’t have done it as many times as we have if we didn’t! We love not only the walk itself, but also the preparation that goes into every trek and the feeling of achievement and satisfaction (bordering on smugness) that one carries with them for weeks afterwards.
But we also recognise that it isn’t for everyone; after all Kilimanjaro is not only a potentially dangerous activity, but it’s also an expensive and exhausting one.
To help you decide whether it’s really for you please visit our why you should climb Kilimanjaro pages; and also our page on why you shouldn’t climb Africa’s highest mountain too. It could save you a lot of time and effort in the long run!
Choose when you want to go, which route you want to take – and who you are going to take with you
It’s one thing to say you’re going to climb Kili, but quite another to actually do it. So about a year before prior to the desired start date of your trek you really need to start taking those first few steps that will lead, eventually, to the Roof of Africa. One of the first decisions to make is to decide when you’re going to trek. A lot of this will depend, of course, on when you can get time off from work/studies and other situations back home. But you also need to consider the conditions on Kilimanjaro too. For while the mountain is open all year round, there are definite high and low seasons. The high season may have the better weather, but it can also be very busy on the mountain. It is also possible to be too dry as this photo shows. As for the rainy season, well it’s entirely possible that it will be dry and beautiful at this time too. However, even if it’s not raining the clouds are likely to prevent you from getting glorious far-reaching views. While if it does snow, it can make for a soggy trek for the first few days, and a freezing one as you approach the summit, as this photo makes clear. For a more thorough examination of the difference between the seasons and when to climb, visit our When to go pages. At the same time as you decide when you’re going to go, you also need to read up about the routes up Kilimanjaro to choose the one that’s right for you. Each route has its own characteristics and it’s important you choose the one that’s right for you. Finally, at this time you need to decide whether you want to go by yourself – or climb with your friends. Again, it doesn’t sound much – but it’s important to get it right.
Book your trek!
About six months (ideally) before you want to climb is a critical time; for this is when you need to take a deep breath, hold your nerve – and book your trek. Choosing the right company to climb Kili with is perhaps the most important decision you make. In the book we go into great detail looking at the major trekking agencies and ground operators – and you can follow this link to get a few pointers as to how to book; just make sure you select the right one for you.
Sort out flights
Ideally this should be done around the same time as you book your trek. After all, you don’t want to book your trek, then find you can’t get any flights out there at that time – or vice versa. The number of airlines serving Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) has increased steadily over the past decade. Where once you had to rely on three major airlines – KLM, Ethiopian Airlines and Kenyan Airways – as they were the only ones to serve Kili, there are now over six airlines and the airport is busy every day. Remember that, if you can’t find something suitable to JRO, Nairobi Airport is only a six-hour bus journey away from Arusha (or an hour’s flight) and Dar es Salaam is another possibility too. See our Getting to Kilimanjaro pages for more information on how to travel to the region.
Work on your fitness
This should be ongoing, of course, but when you begin your fitness regime depends, of course, on how it you are to begin with. If you have a reasonable level of fitness already then you can begin your fitness regime a couple of months beforehand. Unfit and/or overweight, however, and you really need to start six months at least before the start of your trek. As to what fitness regime you should undertake, visit our Fitness section >>
Sort out your vaccinations and visas
Leave time to get the inoculations – some need to be done a couple of months before you arrive in East Africa. Hepatitis A, typhoid, polio, tetanus (which you should have already) and meningococcal meningitis should all be considered, and even rabies if you’re planning on coming into close contact with animals during your trip. The yellow fever inoculation is a tricky one. Sometimes the authorities demand that you have one if you’ve come from or travelled via a country where the disease is endemic. Read about the latest situation here. Thankfully, securing a visa is easy for most nationalities and most people can pick one up at Kilimanjaro Airport or the border when they arrive in Tanzania. Do check to make sure that you can do this too.
Work out what you need to buy and what you can rent for your climb
You can begin to buy your stuff as soon as you’ve committed yourself to going – the earlier you start, the more likely you are to pick up some bargains, so let’s say it’s good to start shopping at least six months before. Never miss the chance to check out the sales in the shops – top quality stuff is often knocked down at these times (as the top-end items are often the ones that go on sale due to the fact that they are out of the price range for most people when they’re at full price). Remember, however, that often cold-weather gear – which is what you’ll require for the upper reaches of Kilimanjaro – is often harder to come by during the summer months when high street retailers are more interested in selling warm-weather camping gear for festivals etc; though you should be able to find something online. How much kit you buy and what you decide to rent from your trekking company depends on several factors: Firstly, are you planning on doing anything like this again in the future? There’s no point spending the best part of a week’s wages on a super-warm sleeping bag if you are only going to use it for one week during your lifetime; better to pay your company a few dollars a day to hire theirs – after all, if they’re hiring out kit, you can safely assume that their kit is suitable for the mountain. Secondly, your company may supply much of what you require anyway; sleeping mats are often provided by the agencies, for example and sometimes sleeping bags too. Make sure you know exactly what they will be supplying as part of your package and what you need to bring yourself. For a complete list, visit our What to take pages.
One last thing: don’t leave buying your boots until the last minute. These will be your most important bits of kit, of course, and they will need to be broken-in thoroughly before you set foot on the mountain. If you followed the advice given in the Fitness section, above, you’ll hopefully be doing plenty of walking already – wearing your new boots on those exercise walks is a great idea to make sure they provide maximum comfort on the mountain.
Pay for your trek
The deadline for paying the final balance for your trek varies from company to company but it’s usually around 30 days prior to departure. This is also a good time to sort out your budget for the trip, with expenses such as tips for your crew, meals when not on the mountain, souvenirs, transport, extra nights’ accommodation etc.
When the final invoice arrives read through everything carefully – preferably at least a month before in order to give your agency time to make any amendments should they need to. Just a few things to look out for include: Is everything you’ve paid for included on the itinerary?(For an example, here is a list of what we include – and exclude – in the price of our treks.) Do you know how you’re going to get to your hotel from the airport? Do you have accommodation for every night? Are all the timings correct? In other words, go through everything really thoroughly to make sure you’re not missing something – it could save you a lot of stress later on!
Lift-off! Many people say you’ve done the hard part already. But you don’t get a certificate for merely preparing for a Kilimanjaro trek. Only for getting to the summit. So there’s nothing to it now except tying your laces, picking up your daypack – and climbing that mountain. See our On the Mountain pages for details of what it’s like and how to make the most of your time on Kili.
Don’t forget to enjoy it, too. You’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money getting to this mountain, so make sure you savour every single moment. Stop to smell the flowers, pause awhile to observe the behaviour of the colobus monkeys as they crash from tree to tree, and make sure you fill several memory cards with photos; you’ll only regret it later on otherwise. And besides, the slower you go, the more time you give your body to acclimatise – and thus increase your chances of making it to the summit. GOOD LUCK!