The Machame Route has, over the last few years, overtaken the Marangu Route to become Kilimanjaro’s most popular trail.
It is also the regarded by many of the local guides as more enjoyable than Marangu, though it is longer and, according to most, more arduous.
Despite this, the success rate on this trail is higher than on the Marangu Route. This is possibly because Machame is a day longer at six days and five nights. The upshot of this, of course, is that it gives trekkers more time to acclimatize.
An extra acclimatization day can – and usually is – taken in the Karanga Valley. The Machame Route also gives you the option of taking the Western Breach / Arrow Glacier Routeto the summit. We briefly mention this alternative below, but for the moment assume we are talking about the regular Machame Route – in other words, the Machame Route that every other website and agency describes.
WHERE DOES THE TRAIL GO?
It is not difficult to see why the Machame Route is so popular with everyone. Beginning on the south-western side of the mountain, this 40.16km trail passes through some of the mountain’s finest features. These include the cloud forest of Kili’s southern slopes and the dry and dusty Shira Plateau.
To reach the actual summit you have a choice of two paths, with the split happening at Lava Tower, at the foot of Kibo. We’ll describe the two options now:
The regular route
The first option, and the one the vast majority of people take, is to head south-east via the Barranco Campsite.
The next day they start off by tackling the Barranco Wall (also known as the Breakfast Wall), a section of scrambling and perhaps the steepest section of any trail on the mountain. But don’t worry, it’s not particularly scary. Indeed, most people actually enjoy the chance from the deliberately slow, ponderous walking you’ll be doing the rest of the time.
After descending from the Barranco Wall it’s a lengthy, long-winded climb up the Barafu trail.
The climb to the actual summit is, as always, conducted at night. Nearing the summit, the Rebmann Glacier will constantly edge into your field of vision on your left as dawn breaks behind Mawenzi behind you.
For the descent on the Machame Route you come down via the Mweka Route. This is a steep but very pretty descent that encompasses inhospitably dry mountain desert and lush lowland forest in a matter of a few hours.
The Western Breach option
The second and more adventurous option is to go on the Western Breach Route. Note that this option shortens the trek from 40.16km to 36.7km. The trail departs from the regular trail at Lava Tower, on Kibo’s western side, before heading up to chilly Arrow Glacier Campsite.
From there you press on to the crater floor, gaining access to the crater at a point near the Furtwangler Glacier. Many people will spend a night here at the Crater Campsite. From there, they will push up the crater’s southern rim to Uhuru Peak. Note that less than 5% of Machame trekkers will take this option.
The Machame Route is widely reckoned to be harder than the Marangu Route (and is thus nicknamed the Whiskey Route, in opposition to Marangu, which is often called the ‘Coca Cola trail’).
That said, the proportion of trekkers who reach the top using this route is marginally but significantly higher. This must be because the Machame Route allows people to acclimatize better, because it’s longer, and because it has a better altitude profile.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
The Machame Route via Barafu traditionally lasts for six days and five nights. Having said that, it is becoming more common for trekkers to opt for an extra night during the ascent, usually above the Karanga Valley.
The extra day not only aids acclimatization but also halves the number of hours walked on the day preceding the exhausting midnight ascent to the summit. This allows trekkers more time to recover their faculties at Barafu Camp, relax and prepare themselves for the final push to the top.
The book has a thorough day-by-day description of the Machame Route.
(Note that if you’re taking the Western Breach Route, again this can be done in six days though you would be foolhardy to do so – seven is a much more sensible length.)
IS MACHAME TOO BUSY?
It’s a question we get asked a lot and, to be honest, in the high season, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Indeed, a lot of magic is lost because of the huge crowds that file along the trail in August and September in particular.
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The busiest trail on the mountain, the Machame Trail’s popularity is justly deserved, with many porters and guides also naming it as their favourite.
The Machame Route takes in some of the finest parts of the mountain. These include the atmospheric Shira Plateau and the lunar landscape near Barafu Campsite. And compared to the Marangu Trail, statistics show that the Machame Route offers a higher chance of reaching the summit too!
The following itinerary is for six days; those on a seven-day trek will, more often than not, spend a night at Karanga at the end of Day 4 (see below).
DAY 1: MACHAME GATE TO MACHAME HUTS/CAMP
Distance: 10.75km Altitude Gained: 1210m
Our adventure begins after breakfast at around 8am when our car arrives to pick us up from our hotel and take us to Machame Gate (1828m), where we must register.
The first day of the trek takes us into the forest bearding Kilimanjaro’s lower slopes. It’s quite a sweaty uphill walk of 10.5km or so. Thankfully, there is plenty to distract us as we look out for some of Kilimanjaro’s unique flora. We hope to also see colobus and blue monkey, and possibly other creatures of the forest. We will also break for lunch while in the forest.
At the day’s end we reach the upper limit of the forest and the Machame Camp (3032m), with views over the treetops to the plains below. Our porters will already have our tents erected and will be busy preparing dinner.
DAY 2: MACHAME CAMP TO SHIRA CAVE
Distance: 5.3km; Altitude Gained: 818m
The second day involves a steepish hike as we leave forest behind to plough through Kilimanjaro’s second vegetation zone, the heath and moorland. (There are four of these zones on the mountain. This is why some people say that the climb is like walking through four different seasons in a week.)
During today, and fairly early on, we will catch our first glimpse of Kibo, Kilimanjaro’s famed, snowy summit – and our ultimate destination. Mount Meru, Kilimanjaro’s nearest neighbour, is also visible during today’s trek.
You will notice, too, that we will be setting a deliberately slow pace from today onwards, to help everyone acclimatize to the thinning air.
About an hour after lunch the gradient levels out slightly as we approach the Shira Plateau. Celebrated Kilimanjaro flora such as groundsels and weird lobelias adorn the plateau.
Our final destination on this second day is the Shira Cave Campsite (aka New Shira Campsite). There are views across the plateau towards Kibo as well as behind us towards Kili’s third summit, Johnsell Point. As always on arrival at camp our tent will have been erected and snacks served, with a main meal to follow.
DAY 3: SHIRA CAVE TO BARRANCO CAMP/HUTS
Distance: 10.75km; Altitude Gained: 147m (788m up to Lava Tower, then a descent of 641m)
The morning begins with a lengthy crossing of the plateau as we head due east toward Kibo. It’s a long walk but a photogenic one, with Kilimanjaro’s snowy summit a constant presence ahead. Most people, I find, say that this is their favourite part of the walk.
Lunch this time is taken near the Lava Tower, at the foot of Kibo. We are now heading into some serious altitude, with Lava Tower standing at 4530m above sea level. For this reason, it is normal for people to have a slight headache when they finally reach our campsite for the evening, Barranco Camp, following a steep descent to 3986m. This is entirely normal, and only worrying if the symptoms persist.
By way of compensation, Barranco is the most interesting campsite on the route, set amongst a grove of senecio hard against the south face of Kibo. It is, however, also very busy. Snacks and then dinner is served in the evening.
DAY 4: BARRANCO CAMP TO BARAFU CAMP/HUTS VIA KARANGA VALLEY
Distance: 8.5km; Altitude Gained: 676m
This long day begins with the steepest section of the entire trek as we spend the first hour or so climbing the Breakfast Wall. From here the path meanders down across valleys and scree slopes traversing the southern slopes of Kibo. A steep drop then brings us to the floor of the flora-rich Karanga Valley (4034m above sea level and 5.1km from Barranco Campsite). Though yur destination for lunch shares its name with this beautiful valley, it actually lies a stiff 20- minute climb up the opposite side.
At the Karanga Valley Campsite we will have lunch while enjoying the views north towards the southern face of Kibo. This, hopefully, will distract us from any ill effects we may be feeling because of the altitude.
A short afternoon follows (3.4km) as we traverse the southern side of Kibo, walking through a spectacular lunar landscape quite bereft of life. Don’t be fooled, however, for the initial walk from the camp is almost entirely uphill and quite relentless.
Climbing onto a ridge, we reach chilly Barafu Camp (4662m) on the south-eastern shoulder of Kibo. Here we will rest, take both lunch and dinner, and try to get some sleep before the rigours of the night ahead….
NIGHT 4/DAY 5: BARAFU CAMP/HUTS TO SUMMIT AND DESCENT TO MWEKA CAMP/HUTS
Distance: 4.86km to Uhuru Peak; then 11.5km descent to Mweka Camp; Altitude Gained: 1233m to Uhuru Peak, then a descent of 2789m.
Arising at around midnight, we begin our slow march up to Stella Point (5745m) on the edge of the Kibo crater. It’s a steep, slow, cold march and a test of our endurance: this is where we’ll earn your Kilimanjaro certificate.
Nevertheless, providing we have avoided altitude sickness and have acclimatized well, there is no reason why we shouldn’t make it up to Stella Point. This we reach, all being well, at around 5am, though it can be much later depending on your condition.
From Stella Point it is a mere 45 minutes further on, past glaciers and snowfields and with views over the Kibo Crater, to Uhuru Peak – at 5895m the highest point in Africa! Here, if we’re on time, we can watch the sun rise over the African continent, take photos – and take a breather too!
After a rest at the top, we continue back down to Barafu Camp. It’s a walk that is considerably quicker than it was on the way up! At Barafu we take breakfast and relax for an hour, before continuing our march down the mountain, this time on the Mweka Trail.
The walk takes us back down through the alpine desert, heath and moorland zones until we once more enter the forest zone via Millennium Camp (3827m). Further down, amongst the trees, we find the Mweka Campsite (3106m), our final stop on the trek. We should arrive there at about 4pm – and we have been walking for around 16 hours, less breaks! Exhausting but, if you made it to the top, you’ll think it was worth it!
DAY 6: MWEKA CAMP/HUTS TO MWEKA GATE
Distance: 9.1km; Altitude Gained: 1473m
It’s just a couple of hours further now from the campsite to Mweka Gate (1633m). At the gate, those who made it to the summit or Stella Point will collect their certificates. A car will be waiting to take us back to your hotel – a land of warm showers and cold beers. Our trek is at an end.
MACHAME ROUTE GPS
For a file of GPS waypoints for all our routes, please click on the following link GPS Waypoints. This will take you to the relevant page on the website of Trailblazer Publications, who publish the Kilimanjaro guide. The file is in .gpx format, so you can download it straight onto your GPS.