The Marangu Route
Marangu Route statistics:
Durations: 4-5 days ascent only; total including descent: 5-7 days;
Distance: 36.75km/22.75 miles ascent and the same for the descent; total walking 73.5km/45.5 miles)
The Marangu Route is the oldest and, once upon a time, was the most popular trail. It is also the one that comes closest (though not very) to the trail Hans Meyer took in making the first successful assault on the summit.
We have shown the route on the map above in green.
It is the only trail where camping is not necessary, indeed not allowed. Instead, trekkers sleep in dormitory huts along the way. From the Kibo Huts, trekkers climb up to the summit via Gillman’s Point.
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. Aesthetically such a plan cannot be argued with either, for the views from Mawenzi across the Saddle to Kibo truly take the breath away.
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…
THE MARANGU ROUTE ITINERARY
As we mention above, many people fail to reach the summit on this route because they have failed to acclimatize properly.
Just because you can do the Marangu Route in five days doesn’t mean you should!
For this reason, we have included a ‘rest’ day in our itinerary below. We spend two nights at Horombo Huts in order to increase our chances of acclimatizing properly.
DAY 1: MARANGU GATE TO MANDARA HUTS
Distance: 8.3km (8.75km if taking the Nature Trail Loop):
Altitude Gained: 818m
Our trek begins at Marangu Gate (1905m), the home of the park authorities and the busiest gate on the mountain.
It’s a good idea to get to the gates as soon as possible. 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’. This will increase our chance of spotting wildlife on this first day, before they are frightened off by the noise of other groups. So keep an eye out for the beautiful colobus monkeys, as well as blue monkeys. We’ll also see some of the flowers for which Kilimanjaro is famed, and in which the Marangu Route excels. Flowers such as the vivid red Gladiolus Wastonides and the mountain’s most famous flower, the delicate Impatiens kilimanjarii.
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 we can choose the best spots in the dormitory before the other trekkers arrive. So we can be sitting enjoying the popcorn served by our crew whilst other trekkers are still struggling up the slopes.
Those with the energy can take a brief stroll with our guide to the Maundi Crater. This is home to some of the lesser-known flowers on Kilimanjaro, and a place that offers stunning views east towards Mombasa and the Indian Ocean. Alternatively, we can simply sit, relax and reflect on the first day while our crew, as they will on every day of the trek, cook our evening meal.
DAY 2: MANDARA HUTS TO HOROMBO HUTS
Altitude Gained: 998m
Today is an important one in your Kilimanjaro trek. It’s a day when we climb above the treeline and leave the forest behind. It’s also the day when we catch our first sight of both Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second summit, and its snow-covered bigger brother, Kibo – our 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. We’ll see 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 us upon arrival, followed by dinner in the evening.
DAY 3: HOROMBO HUTS TO HOROMBO HUTS
Distance: 9.2km (4.6km up to the viewpoint, and 4.6km back down again)
Altitude Gained: 0m (632m ascent, followed by a 632m descent).
Just because we call this a rest day 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. This rocky ridge has been coloured over the centuries by water and now resemble a zebra’s flanks.
This day is not just about sightseeing, however, for the rest day serves a more important purpose than that: helping our bodies to acclimatize fully, to make the rest of the trek easier – and hopefully help us to reach the summit too!
DAY 4: HOROMBO HUTS TO KIBO HUTS
Distance: 9.5km (10.3km on the Mawenzi Alternative)
Altitude Gained: 993m
The scenery once again changes today as we leave just about all vegetation behind to enter the windswept wilderness of the Saddle. This is 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. The beauty of the desert is undeniable. The light is usually wonderfully clear, too, and we’ll be wanting to get out our cameras every few seconds. There are also enough features on the way, including some weird and wonderful parasitic craters, to take our mind off the exhaustion we may now be feeling.
Our goal on this third day is 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, we’ll spend the rest of the day sleeping and eating in preparation for the night ahead…
NIGHT 4/DAY 5: 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
Rising at around midnight, we begin our slow march up to Gilman’s Point (5719m) on the edge of the Kibo crater. On the way you’ll pass such features as Hans Meyer Cave (5259m). It’s a steep, slow, cold march and a test of our endurance – this is where we’ll earn our Kilimanjaro certificate.
Nevertheless, providing we have avoided altitude sickness and have acclimatized properly, there is no reason why we shouldn’t make it up to Gillman’s. This we reach, all being well, at around 5am. That said, it can be much later depending on both our 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.
If we can enjoy it, then we might find it quite a wonderful walk. There are glaciers and snowfields on one side, while on the other are extensive views over the Kibo Crater.
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. We can also take photos, and take a breather too!
Getting back down again
After a rest at the top, we continue back down to Kibo Huts. It’s 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. We then continue our march down the mountain, on the same path that we took to ascend. Crossing the Saddle, heath and moorland zones we stop, finally, at the Horombo Huts once more.
We should arrive there at about 4pm. We have been walking for around 16 hours, less breaks! We’ll probably be utterly exhausted but, if we made it to the top, I know we’ll think it was worth it.
DAY 6: HOROMBO HUTS TO MARANGU GATE AND RETURN TO HOTEL
Distance: 20km (20.75km on the Nature Trail)
Altitude Gained/Lost: 1816m
And so we come to the last day of our trek. Today 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. Here those who conquered the mountain – or at least made it to Gillman’s Point – collect their certificates.
A jeep or van will be waiting to take everyone back to our hotel.
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.