WHY IS IT KNOWN AS THE ‘COCA-COLA TRAIL’?
This trail is popularly called the ‘Tourist Route’ or ‘Coca Cola trail’. Why? Well, it actually started because the rangers on this route used to sell soft drinks at the huts on the way up.
The name ‘Coca Cola Route’ soon stuck. But then some agencies started to use this nickname against the Marangu Route. These agencies were mainly based in Moshi, and wanted to promote the nearby Machame Route ahead of the more distant Marangu, where some of their rivals were based.
So they started to call Machame the Whiskey Route. By doing so, they were promoting Machame as a hard, ‘macho’ route. But it also had the added advantage of implying Marangu as a ‘soft’ trail; one for children, perhaps, rather than fully grown adults.
Both reputations are, of course, entirely rubbish.
Want proof? Well, let’s look at the figures. On the Machame Route, for example, you start at 1828m and aim for the summit at 5895m. While on Marangu, you start just a little higher at 1860m and also aim for the same, 5895m summit. Both are just walking routes, too, with no actual climbing involved.
Simple logic, therefore, should tell you that Marangu can’t be that much easier.
If you require more evidence, then consider that a greater proportion of people fail on this route than on any other.
So please don’t be misled by its nickname as the Coca Cola Route that this trail is easier than any other. It’s certainly not.
ACCOMMODATION ON THE PATH
Those agencies that still like to suggest that the Marangu Route is for softies point to the fact that it is the only route where you sleep in huts, rather than under canvas.
There are three huts along the trail. The first is Mandara Huts, with room for 70 trekkers. There are more than double that number at Horombo Huts, and just 58 beds at Kibo Huts. (The extra beds at Horombo, by the way, are necessary because this hut is also used by those descending from Kibo.)
The fact that you do sleep in huts makes little difference to what you need to pack for the trek, for sleeping bags are still required. The huts have pillows and mattresses but that’s all. But you can dispense with a ground mat for this route.
The fact that there’s no tent to carry, however, means you can probably get away with just two-three porters per person, or fewer if you carry your own bag, (This, however, is something of a false economy, as we believe it increases your chances of suffering from AMS. Please follow this link for our thoughts on carrying your own luggage on Kilimanjaro.)
Regarding the sleeping situation, it does help if you can get to the huts early each day to grab the better beds. This doesn’t mean you should deliberately hurry to the huts. This will just reduce your enjoyment of the trek and increase the possibility of AMS. But do try to start early each morning. That way you can avoid the crowds, beat them to the better beds, and possibly improve your chances of seeing some of Kili’s wildlife too.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF THIS ROUTE
The biggest drawback with Marangu is the fact that it is one of the shorter routes on the mountain. This means it often does not give trekkers enough time to acclimatiseIt. This in turn means it has one of the worst ‘success rates’ for getting people to the summit.
Most agencies will counter this problem by taking a ‘rest day’ at Horombo Huts on day 3. In other words, instead of ploughing on to Kibo Huts, trekkers spend two nights at Horombo. Trekkers will then spend that third day marching up the slopes of Mawenzi. This undoubtedly aids acclimatisation, and also gives trekkers the chance to savour some lovely views of snowy Kibo. On the way up you also pass the curiously striped Zebra Rocks.
In summary, therefore: though Marangu can be completed in five days, most sensible people will take six.
Seeing the same things twice
Another potential drawback of the Marangu Route is that it is the only one where you ascend and descend via the same path. As such, you essentially see the same scenery twice.
However, there are a couple of arguments to counter this perception.
Firstly, between Horombo and Kibo Huts there are two paths and it shouldn’t take too much to persuade your guide to use one trail on the ascent and a different one on the way down.
Secondly, we think that the walk back down the Marangu Route is one of the most pleasurable parts of the entire trek, with splendid views over the shoulder. It also offers you the chance to greet the crowds of sweating, red-faced unfortunates heading the other way. For this reason, I usually wear a very smug expression on this descent. One that gets across, without words, the fact that any physical pain is largely behind me, and that my immediate future is filled with warm showers and cold beers…
WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER THE MARANGU ROUTE THEN?
I can’t deny it: for most people, for most of the year, there are better routes on Kilimanjaro.
But you shouldn’t dismiss it altogether.
For one thing, the forest on this south-eastern side of the mountain is beautifully lush. According to the theory of the weather on Kilimanjaro, this is not surprising. During the main rainy season the monsoon rains smash into the mountain on this south-eastern corner. As a result, waterfalls cascade down the slopes and streams criss-cross the path year-round.
Other advantages? Well there is plenty of wildlife that take advantages of the forest’s fecundity. Colobus and blue monkeys crash through the canopy, while tree hyraxes bounce and scamper on the hut roofs at night. Towards the top of the forest, Maundi Crater, which you pass on the second morning, is a flower-filled delight.
While the wind-blown high-altitude desert of the Saddle provides wonderful views of the snowy Kibo summit.
As the only trail where you sleep in huts rather than under canvas, the Marangu Route also comes into its own in the rainy season. Much better to sleep in a solid-walled hut, methinks, than a damp, sodden tent night after night.
So don’t dismiss the Marangu Route out-of-hand. The forest is glorious, the scenery interesting, and the views terrific.
Furthermore, the trail gets such bad press these days that it won’t be long before nobody will be on it at all. And a quiet trail is always a thing of absolute joy on the mountain…