The Marangu Route is the oldest and traditionally the most popular trail, and the one that comes closest (though not very) to the trail Hans Meyer took in making the first successful assault on the summit. It is the only trail where camping is not necessary, indeed not allowed, with trekkers sleeping in dormitory huts along the way. From the Kibo Huts, trekkers climb up to the summit via Gillman’s Point.MARANGU-ROUTE

In terms of duration, the trail is one of the shorter trails, taking just five days. Many people, however, opt to take an extra day to acclimatize at Horombo Huts, using that day to visit the Mawenzi Huts Campsite at 4538m. From a safety point of view this is entirely sensible and aesthetically such a plan cannot be argued with either, for the views from Mawenzi across the Saddle to Kibo truly take the breath away; assuming, that is, that you have some left to be taken away after all that climbing.

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WHY IS IT KNOWN AS THE ‘COCA-COLA TRAIL’?

Because this trail is popularly called the ‘Tourist Route’ or ‘Coca Cola trail’ (Coke being a soft drink, of course, as opposed to the Machame Route while is sometimes called the Whisky Route), some trekkers are misled into thinking this five- or six-day climb to the summit is simply a walk in the (national) park. But remember that a greater proportion of people fail on this route than on any other. True, this may have something to do with the fact that Marangu’s reputation for being ‘easy’ attracts the more inexperienced, out-of-condition trekkers who don’t realize that they are embarking on a 35-kilometre uphill walk, followed immediately by a 35-kilometre knee-jarring descent.

But it shouldn’t take much to realize that Marangu is not much easier than any other trail: with 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 have the same goal. So simple logic should tell you that it can’t be that much easier.

ACCOMMODATION ON THE PATH

The main reason why people say that Marangu is easier is because it is the only route where you sleep in huts, rather than under canvas. There are 70 spaces at Mandara Huts, 148 at Horombo – the extra beds are necessary because this hut is also used by those descending from Kibo – and just 58 at 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) though you can dispense with a ground mat for this route. You may also need some small change should you give in to temptation and decide that the exorbitant price of sweets and drinks that are available at the huts is still a price worth paying. 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 – something of a false economy we’ve found, as we believe it increases your chances of suffering from AMS.

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, which will 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 – and thus, has one of the worst ‘success rates’ for getting people to the summit, as it does not give trekkers enough time to acclimatise. Most agencies will counter this by taking a ‘rest day’ at Horombo Huts on day 3 where, rather than plough on to Kibo Huts, trekkers spend two nights at Horombo and that third day marching up the slopes of Mawenzi, thereby aiding their acclimatisation. Thus while Marangu can be completed in five days, most sensible people will take at least six. 

Below you’ll find the five-day Marangu itinerary; to make it six days, most companies organise an ‘acclimatisation day’ on Day 3 and take their clients up the lower slopes of Mawenzi via Zebra Rocks. This is entirely sensible.

Another aspect of the Marangu Route that could be seen by some as a drawback is that it is the only one where you ascend and descend via the same path. 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; and 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.

Furthermore, it offers you the chance to greet the crowds of sweating, red-faced unfortunates heading the other way with the smug expression of one for whom physical pain is now a thing of the past, and whose immediate future is filled with warm showers and cold beers.

THE MARANGU ROUTE ITINERARY

Ever since tourism expanded on Kilimanjaro the Marangu Route has been the most popular trail, and with a path that takes in such glorious features as the deep rich forest of the south-eastern slopes, the flower-filled Maundi Crater and the wind-blown high-altitude desert of the Saddle, it’s not surprising. The Marangu Trail is also the only trail where you sleep in huts rather than under canvas. Do not, however, be misled into thinking this route is easy – indeed, many people fail to reach the summit on this route because they have failed to acclimatize properly. For this reason, we have included a ‘rest’ day in our itinerary, where we spend two nights at Horombo Huts in order to increase our chances of acclimatizing properly – and making it to the summit safely!

Marangu Route map

Click on the image for an overview map of Marangu

Note that the following itinerary is for just five days. Those sensible folk who opted for a six-day climb will in all probability take a ‘rest day’ (or, more accurately, an ‘acclimatization day’) on day 3. This point needs emphasising: a five-day trek is not recommended as it does not give your body sufficient time to acclimatize. This means that you are less likely to reach the summit – and are endangering your health too. For this reason we – and several other companies – do not arrange five-day treks.

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* Fully fledged KPAP partners
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DAY 1: MARANGU GATE TO MANDARA HUTS

Distance: 8.3km (8.75km if taking the Nature Trail Loop):
Altitude Gained: 818m

Marangu to Mandara Huts

Our trek begins at Marangu Gate (1905m), the home of the park authorities and the busiest gate on the mountain. We put particular emphasis on being as early as possible at the gates, for many reasons. For one thing, it means we don’t waste time queuing up to register but can be processed immediately  – which means we can get trekking sooner!

This first day takes us deep into the jungle bearding Kilimanjaro’s lower slopes. Being one of the first on the trail means we have the path ‘to ourselves’, enabling us to appreciate the mountain more and increase our chance of spotting wildlife on this first day, before they are frightened off by the noise of other groups. So we’ll be keeping an eye out for the beautiful colobus monkeys as well as blue monkeys, as well as some of the flowers for which Kilimanjaro is famed, and in which the Marangu Route excels, such as the vivid red Impatiens kilimanjarii and Gladiolus Wastonides.

Having taken lunch in a small clearing known as Kisamboni, we continue up the slopes past small waterfalls alongside a babbling stream, to the Mandara Huts, our accommodation for the first night. Another advantage of setting off early on this first day is that you can choose the best spots in the dormitory before the other trekkers arrive, and you can be sitting enjoying the popcorn served by your crew whilst other trekkers are still struggling up the slopes. Those with the energy can join me for a brief stroll to the Maundi Crater, home to some of the lesser-known flowers on Kilimanjaro, and a place that offers stunning views east towards Mombasa and the Indian Ocean. Or, alternatively, you can simply sit, relax and reflect on the first day while your crew, as they will on every day of the trek, cook your evening meal.

DAY 2: MANDARA HUTS TO HOROMBO HUTS

Distance: 12.5km
Altitude Gained: 998m

Mandara Huts to Horombo Huts

Today is an important one in your Kilimanjaro trek: a day when you not only climb above the treeline and leave the forest behind, but also catch your first sight of both the Mawenzi summit, Kilimanjaro’s second summit, but also its snow-covered bigger brother, Kibo – your ultimate destination!

Today is also the day that we start to really pace ourselves, taking each step slowly, to help us acclimatize to the increasingly rarified air. We are now in the heath and moorland zone, Kilimanjaro’s second vegetation zone, with such unusual plants as the giant groundsel and Lobelia deckenii decorating the path.

Our destination on this second day is the Horombo Huts (3721m), a chilly but welcoming set of A-Frame huts offering glimpses of Kibo to the west. Popcorn and a hot drink will be served to you upon arrival, followed by dinner in the evening.

DAY 3: HOROMBO HUTS TO KIBO HUTS

Distance: 9.5km (10.3km on the Mawenzi Alternative)
Altitude Gained: 993m

Horombo Huts to Kibo Huts

If we were sensible and opted for a six-day climb, the third day will be a ‘rest day’ – though that doesn’t mean we actually rest! Instead, today’s walk takes us up the southern slopes of Mawenzi, to get some of the best views of Kibo to be had anywhere, as well as a gorgeous panorama overlooking the wild and inhospitable desert of the Saddle. We also visit places such as the strange Zebra Rocks – rocks streaked over the centuries by water until they resemble the flanks of a zebra.This day is not just about sightseeing, however, for the rest day serves a more important purpose than that: helping your body to acclimatize fully, to make the rest of the trek easier – and hopefully help you to reach the summit too!

For those who are continuing straight to Kibo, the scenery once again changes to day as we leave just about all vegetation behind to enter the windswept wilderness of the Saddle, the high-altitude desert separating Kilimanjaro’s twin peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi. That doesn’t mean that the day is not without interest, however, for the beauty of the desert is undeniable, the light is usually wonderfully clear, meaning that you’ll be wanting to get out your camera every few seconds to photograph Kibo; and there are enough features on the way, including some weird and wonderful parasitic craters, to take your mind off the exhaustion you may now be feeling.

Our goal on this third day are the Kibo Huts, set at the foot of the summit of the same name. Attractively built in stone, and with the occasional mountain buzzard soaring overhead for company, you’ll spend the rest of the day sleeping and eating in preparation for the night ahead…

NIGHT 3/DAY 4: KIBO HUTS TO SUMMIT AND DESCEND TO HOROMBO HUTS

Distance: 6.25km to Uhuru Peak; plus 15.75km back to Horombo Huts (16.55km for Mawenzi Alternative)
Altitude Gained/Lost: 1181m to Uhuru Peak, then 2174m descent from Uhuru to Horombo Huts

Kibo Huts to Uhuru Peak

Rising at around midnight, we begin our slow march up to Gilman’s Point (5719m) on the edge of the Kibo crater, past such features as Hans Meyer Cave (5259m). 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 Gillman’s. This we reach, all being well, at around 5am, though it can be much later depending on both your condition and the conditions on the mountain.

Our work is not yet over, however, for it’s around another hour and a half to Uhuru Peak. The gradient on this last section, especially by the standards of this night, is relatively flat – but at this altitude, every step can be exhausting. It is also a glorious walk, however, with glaciers and snowfields on one side and with views over the Kibo Crater on the other. At the end of the trail lies our ultimate destination, Uhuru Peak, 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!

Uhuru Peak to Horombo Huts

After a rest at the top, we continue back down to Kibo Huts – a walk that is considerably quicker than it was on the way up! At Kibo we take breakfast and relax for an hour or so, before continuing our march down the mountain, through the Saddle, heath and moorland zones before stopping, finally, at the Horombo Huts once more. 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!

DAY 5: HOROMBO HUTS TO MARANGU GATE AND RETURN TO HOTEL

Distance: 20km (20.75km on the Nature Trail)
Altitude Gained/Lost: 1816m

Horombo Huts to Marangu Gate

And so we come to the last day of our trek, as we march back through the forest to Marangu Gate, smiling smugly at all those coming up the slope the other way. Stopping at the Mandara Huts for lunch, we continue heading down until we once more reach Marangu Gate, where those who conquered the mountain – or at least made it to Gillman’s Point – collect their certificates. A jeep will be waiting to take everyone back to their hotel – and the land of cold beers and warm showers. Your adventure of a lifetime is at an end – and civilization will rarely have felt so good!

MARANGU ROUTE GPS

For a file of 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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