How to climb Kilimanjaro
How to plan your Kilimanjaro trek
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. (This is especially true if you’ve had to do all the organising on behalf of their friends, a job akin to herding cats.)
This page has therefore been created to show you to prepare for your Kilimanjaro climb. 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 we have given below are very general. Many, indeed the majority, of people will 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 preparing for your Kilimanjaro climb:
Decide whether you really want to…
To be done: at anytime
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 preparing for the trek. Plus, of course, we love the feeling of achievement and satisfaction (bordering on smugness) that we carry with us for weeks after every climb.
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 Kilimanjaro 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
To be done: 12 months before you plan to climb
It’s one thing to say you’re going to climb Africa’s Highest Mountain, but quite another to actually do it. So about a year before you plan to set foot on the mountain you really need to start planning your Kilimanjaro climb.
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 when planning your Kilimanjaro climb, you also need to consider the conditions on the mountain 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 for the rainy season, well it’s entirely possible, if the rains fail (as they sometimes do) 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 rain and snow, it can make for a soggy trek for the first few days. Then a freezing, slippery and exhausting one as you wade through snow to the top.
For a more thorough examination of the difference between the seasons and when to climb, visit our When to climb Kilimanjaro pages.
Choose the right route too
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.
Choose your companions
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 if you want to have a successful and enjoyable trek, it’s important to get it right.
Sort out your vaccinations; maybe look at visas too?
To be done: at least six months prior to the start of your trip
It may seem perverse getting inoculated for a trip before you’v even bought your flights or booked your trip! But you do need to leave time to get your vaccinations. It may surprise you, but certain inoculations require you to wait six months between the first and second doses. The Hepatitis A vaccine is one example.
You can find a list of the sort of inoculations you may need on our vaccinations page. But in brief, inoculations for Typhoid, polio, tetanus (which you should have already) and meningococcal meningitis should all be considered. Some people may need a rabies jab too if they’re planning on coming into close contact with any animals.
A yellow fever inoculation may also be necessary. Indeed, if you’re coming from a country – or travelling via one – where yellow fever is endemic, you will need the inoculation. And you’ll also need a certificate to prove that you’ve had the jab too.
Follow this link to find out the latest on whether you need a yellow fever inoculation and certificate.
By the way, if you’re coming from a country which doesn’t have a ‘normal’ diplomatic relationship with Tanzania, now is a good time to look at securing a visa. Most people can pick a Tanzanian visa up at any time – even on arrival at the airport. But citizens of countries such as Iran, for example, may be required to do a lot more work to secure their visa for Tanzania.
Book your trek!
To be done: About six months (at least) before you plan to trek
Choosing the right company to climb Kili with is perhaps the most important decision you make. In the guide book we go into great detail looking at the major trekking agencies and ground operators. But you can follow this link to get a few pointers for booking your trip; just make sure you select the right one for you.
Sort out flights
To be done: At the same time as you book your trek
It’s important to sort out your flights at around the same time as you book your trek, for you don’t want to book your trek, then find you can’t get any flights out there at that time – or vice versa.
Do follow this link for details on the best time to buy your Kilimanjaro flights – it could save you several hundred dollars.
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
To be done: 3 months – 1 year
When readers write to me to ask how to prepare their Kilimanjaro climb, this is often what they actually mean: how should they prepare physically for their trek.
Well, your doctor will tell you that you should always be planning to climb Kili, whether you are actually going to climb it or not. But I’m no doctor. So my advice is this:
When you begin your fitness regime for Kili depends to a large degree on how fit you are to begin with.
If you have a reasonable level of fitness already then you can begin your fitness regime three months beforehand. Unfit and/or overweight, however, and you really need to start six months, and maybe a year at least before the start of your trek.
For most people, because you don’t need to be that fit for Kilimanjaro, so you don’t need to go overboard with your training. So I think that starting 3 months before your trek should be ample. But you need to be realistic when it comes to fitness.
In particular, you need to evaluate honestly whether you are fit enough to climb Africa’s Highest Mountain as you are, bearing in mind that you don’t need to be super-fit to climb Kili. Or whether you need to undertake some sort of exercise regime.
Perhaps the first thing to do is to visit our Fitness for Kilimanjaro section. This won’t only tell you how fit you need to be, but also what kind of exercise you need to do to get your body Kili-ready. Consulting with your GP, gym, trainer etc will also undoubtedly prove useful.
Work out what you need to buy and what you can rent for your climb
To be done: from 6 months before the start of your trek
I love shopping for a forthcoming trek. To me, it’s one of the joys of the whole experience. Choosing stuff, trying it on, walking around in it, imagining you’re on the mountain wearing it – it’s all great.
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 we’ve said that 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. (Top-end items are often the ones that go on sale, because they are often over the budget 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. Still, you should be able to find something online.
Contemplate renting some of your kit and clothing
Before splurging on expensive kit, however, remember that you can probably rent a lot of stuff from your trekking company.
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. Instead, it’s 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 it 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 of what to wear and bring for your Kilimanjaro trip, visit our What to take page.
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 and work out your budget
To be done: (Usually) 60-30 days prior to the start of your trip
The deadline for paying the final balance for your trek varies from company to company but it’s usually around 1-2 months prior to departure.
This is also a good time to sort out your budget for the trip, because some expenses won’t be included in the price of your trip. Items such as tips for your crew, meals when not on the mountain, souvenirs, transport, extra nights’ accommodation etc.
Just make sure you have enough money to cover all of them – plus a bit more besides. Just in case.
Check everything; get visas and insurance
To be done: At least 30 days prior to the start of your trip
When the final invoice arrives read through everything carefully 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!
Thankfully, securing a visa is easy for most nationalities. Most people can pick one up at Kilimanjaro Airport or the border when they arrive in Tanzania. The online visa system is said to be very efficient now too. But do please ensure it will be straightforward for you to get your visa too.
To be done: A day or two after you arrive in Tanzania (unless you’ve bo0ked a safari or something for before the trek)
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. You only get one 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.
Don’t forget to enjoy it, too. You’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money getting to this mountain, so 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!