The Machame Route now vies with – and indeed over the last few years has overtaken – the Marangu Route as the most popular trail. It is also the regarded by many guides as the most enjoyable, 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, possibly because Machame is a day longer at six days and five nights (assuming you take the Barafu Route to the summit) which 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 Route to the summit.

Machame Route map

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 (36.7km if trekking via the Western Breach) passes through some of the mountain’s finest features, including the cloud forest of Kili’s southern slopes, the dry and dusty Shira Plateau and the delightful senecio-clad Barranco Campsite. To reach the actual summit you have a choice of two paths: most people head for the lengthy, long-winded climb up the Barafu trail, with the Rebmann Glacier edging into your field of vision on your left as dawn breaks behind Mawenzi behind you. Alternatively, the more adventurous can go on the Western Breach Route, departing from the regular trail at Lava Tower on the  western side of Kibo before heading up to chilly Arrow Glacier Campsite, then pressing on from there 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, before pushing on up the crater’s southern rim to Uhuru Peak.

Unlike the Marangu Route, on the Machame Route you don’t use the same path to descend as you took to climb up the mountain, but instead you come down via the Mweka Route, a steep but very pretty descent encompassing inhospitably dry mountain desert and lush lowland forest in a matter of a few hours.

IS IT HARD?

Curiously, though the Machame Route is widely reckoned to be harder than the Marangu Route (and is thus nicknamed the Whiskey Route, in opposition to Marangu’s softer soubriquet of the ‘Coca Cola trail’), the proportion of trekkers who reach the top using this route is marginally but significantly higher. Whether this is evidence that the Machame Route allows people to acclimatize better because it’s longer, particularly if you opt to take the Barafu Route to the summit, or whether this higher success rate is merely an indication that more experienced, hardened trekkers – ie the very people who are most likely to reach the summit – are more inclined to choose this route, is anyone’s guess.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

The Machame Route via Barafu traditionally lasts for six days and five nights, though it is becoming more common for trekkers to opt for an extra night during the ascent, usually above the Karanga Valley. Not only does the extra day aid acclimatization but this also reduces from almost six to three the number of hours walked on the day that precedes the exhausting midnight ascent to the summit, thereby allowing trekkers more time to recover their faculties, relax and prepare themselves for the final push to the top. The book has a thorough day-by-day description of the Machame Route.

If 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 THE MACHAME TRAIL TOO BUSY?

It’s a question we get asked a lot and, to be honest, in the high season, the answer is undoubtedly yes. And a lot of magic is lost because of the huge crowds that file along the trail in August and September in particularly. Indeed, we’ve written a whole post about it – please visit this link for details on whether the Machame Route is too crowded these days.

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THE MACHAME ROUTE ITINERARY

Machame Route map

Click on the above icon for a Machame route map

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. Also known as the Whiskey Route to distinguish it from the Marangu path (which is known as the Coca Cola Trail), the Machame Route takes in some of the finest parts of the mountain, including 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).

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DAY 1: MACHAME GATE TO MACHAME HUTS/CAMP

Distance: 10.75km Altitude Gained: 1210m

Machame Gate to Machame Huts

Our adventure begins after breakfast at around 8am when our car arrives to pick you up from your hotel and take you to Machame Gate (1828m), where you must register.

The first day of the trek takes you into the forest bearding Kilimanjaro’s lower slopes. It’s quite a sweaty uphill walk of 10.5km or so, though there is plenty to distract you as we look out for some of Kilimanjaro’s unique, endemic flora, as well as colobus and blue monkey and other creatures of the forest. We will also break for lunch while in the forest.

Machame Route day 1

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. Your porters will already have your tents erected and will be busy preparing dinner.

DAY 2: MACHAME CAMP TO SHIRA CAVE

Distance: 5.3km; Altitude Gained: 818m

Machame Huts to Shira Caves

Once again the second day involves a steepish trek as we leave the forest behind and plough through the heath and moorland – Kilimanjaro’s second vegetation zone. (There are four or so vegetation zones on the mountain, which is why some people say that the climb is going through four seasons in four days.) During today, and fairly early on, we will also 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.

Machame Day 2

About an hour after lunch, the gradient levels out slightly as we approach the Shira Plateau, with more celebrated Kilimanjaro flora such as groundsels and weird lobelias.

Our final destination on this second day is the Shira Cave Campsite (aka New Shira Campsite), with views up the plateau towards Kibo as well as westwards towards Kili’s little-known third summit, Johnsell Point. As with every campsite on the route, your tent will be erected and snacks will be served upon arrival, followed by a main meal later in the evening.

DAY 3: SHIRA CAVE TO BARRANCO CAMP/HUTS

Distance: 10.75km; Altitude Gained: 147m (788m up to Lava Tower, then a descent of 641m)

Shira Caves to Barranco Huts

The morning begins with a lengthy crossing of the plateau as we head due east toward Kibo. It’s a long walk but a very photogenic one with the snowy summit of Kilimanjaro a constant looming presence ahead; most people, I find, say that this is their favourite part of the walk.

Machame Route day 3

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 prettiest campsite on the route, set amongst a grove of senecio hard against the south face of Kibo. 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

Barranco Huts to Barafu Huts

This long day begins with the steepest section of the entire trek as you spend the first hour or so climbing the Breakfast Wall. From here the path meanders down across valleys and scree slopes as you traverse the southern slopes of Kibo, before a steep drop brings you to the floor of the flora-rich Karanga Valley (4034m above sea level and 5.1km from Barranco Campsite). Though your destination for lunch shares its name with this beautiful valley, it actually lies a stiff 20- minute climb up the opposite side of the valley.

At the Karanga Valley Campsite you will have lunch while enjoying the views north towards the southern face of Kibo, which hopefully will distract you from any ill effects you may be feeling because of the altitude. A short afternoon follows (3.4km) as you traverse the southern side of Kibo, walking through a spectacular lunar landscape quite bereft of life as you go. Don’t be fooled, however, for the initial walk from the camp is almost entirely uphill and quite relentless.

Machame Route Day 4

Climbing onto a ridge, you reach chilly Barafu Camp (4662m) on the south-eastern shoulder of Kibo. Here you will rest, take both lunch and dinner, and try to get some sleep before the rigours of the night ahead….

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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.

Barafu Huts to Uhuru Peak

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 your endurance – this is where you’ll earn your Kilimanjaro certificate. Nevertheless, providing you have avoided altitude sickness and have acclimatized well, there is no reason why you 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!

Group of trekkers and guides in front of Kilimanjaro's summit sign - the old green metal one

After a rest at the top, we continue back down to Barafu Camp – 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. Today’s 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). There, amongst the trees, we find the Mweka Campsite (3106m), our final stop on the trek. We should arrive there at about 4pm – and you 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!

Uhuru Peak to Mweka Huts

DAY 6: MWEKA CAMP/HUTS TO MWEKA GATE

Distance: 9.1km; Altitude Gained: 1473m

Mweka Huts to Mweka Gate

It’s just a couple of hours further now from the campsite to Mweka Gate (1633m), where those who made it to the summit or Stella Point will collect their certificates. A car will be waiting to take you back to your hotel, and a land of warm showers and cold beers. Your 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.

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