Kilimanjaro changed the way people thought of Africa. The first European missionary to see a snow-capped mountain this close to the equator in Africa was regarded as crazy and sent home in 1848.
Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcanic mountain in Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania. It’s the highest peak in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
People have been climbing it for more than a century, the first successful attempt by German geologist Hans Meyer in 1889. Today there are seven trekking routes on Kilimanjaro – six up to the summit and one called Mweka, which everyone uses for the descent.
Enjoy unforgettable scenic views and wildlife sightings
Protects the largest free standing volcanic mass
Where to go in Kilimanjaro
Highlights of Kilimanjaro
A dormant volcano that rises to 4,566m (14,980ft) some 50km (31mi) west of Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru is Africa’s fifth-highest massif.
The three-day hike to its summit could be viewed either as a budget alternative to Kilimanjaro or a tempting aperitif for hikers who want to acclimate to high-altitude conditions.
Protected within Arusha National Park, Meru supports a similar sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones to Kilimanjaro. Wildlife is far more prolific, and hikers regularly see the likes of elephants, buffalo, and giraffes.
There’s less risk of altitude-related health issues, and the spectacular scenery includes views of snow-capped Kilimanjaro.
For those who aren’t keen on an overnight hike, it’s also possible to undertake a day walk into Meru’s partially-collapsed caldera and stand below the spectacular 1,500m (4,921ft) high cliff that forms its western wall.
Kinukamori and Kilasia Waterfalls
Measuring about 15m (49ft) and 30m (98ft) high respectively, these two waterfalls can easily be visited on foot from the small town of Marangu, which forms a popular overnight stop prior to climbing Kilimanjaro.
In addition to offering an excellent opportunity to acclimate to medium-altitude hiking, the waterfalls are enclosed by forests that harbor a wealth of birds, troops of blue monkeys, and black-and-white colobus.
The pool at the base of Kilasia Waterfall is considered safe for swimming.
One of northern Tanzania’s most underrated scenic gems, Chala lies nestled within one of the subsidiary volcanic cones that stud the eastern foothills of Kilimanjaro. Invisible until you stand on the crater rim, the near-circular lake has a diameter of 3km (2mi).
Its translucent turquoise water is hemmed in by towering cliffs draped in tropical vegetation.
A steep footpath leads down to the shore, which is filled with birdlife. Swimming is inadvisable due to the presence of crocodiles.
There’s also an excellent opportunity to photograph elephants, giraffes, and other wildlife below its snow-capped peak.
Amboseli is well-known for its outsized tuskers, the subjects of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. The project was established in 1975 and retains exhaustive records of most births, deaths, and relationships within an extended community of around 50 families.
Other wildlife includes lions, cheetahs, hippos, and large numbers of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle.
Two permanent swamps, fed by underground streams that rise on Kilimanjaro, support many aquatic birds, including long-toed lapwing, great white pelican, and grey-crowned crane.
The wedge of Tanzania land that divides the northwest base of Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park comprises several blocks of Maasai community land that recently amalgamated as the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area.
Generally referred to as West Kilimanjaro, this 1,800km2 (695 square mile) tract of dry savanna is one of Tanzania’s most underpublicized and exclusive safari destinations, serviced by two small upmarket tented camps. A major attraction is the in-your-face views of Kilimanjaro.
It also offers good wildlife viewing. You’ll see wildebeest, zebra, eland, impala, Grant’s gazelle, hartebeest, the remarkable stretch-necked gerenuk, and low densities of cheetahs and lions.
The resident elephant population is dominated by lone bulls, except over June and July, when large matriarchal herds cross through en route between Amboseli and the forests of Kilimanjaro.
Kilimanjaro is most popular for climbing the great mountain and is not primarily a wildlife destination.
However, the national park supports four different vegetation zones, each with its own distinct flora and fauna.
Montane Forest Zone
The most biodiverse vegetation zone is the lush evergreen rainforest that dominates from altitudes of 1,800m (5,906ft) up to 3,000m (9,843ft).
The Montane Forest Zone is the wettest part of the mountain, with the southern slopes receiving up to 2,000mm of rain annually. It looks and feels like the archetypal tropical jungle – hot, humid, colored in infinite shades of green and alive with bird song.
More than 1,200 vascular plant species have been recorded in these forests, many endemic to this one mountain.
Common forest trees include the towering East African camphorwood Ocotea usambarensis, Yellowwood Podocarpus latifolius, and various wild figs Ficus.
There is also as well as the wild olive Olea Africana, macaranga Macaranga kilimandscharica and, at higher altitudes, fragrant Hagenia Hagenia abyssinica draped atmospherically in old-man’s beard lichens, and African pencil-cedar Juniperus procera.
Seasonal flowers include the stunning tuba-shaped red-and-yellow Impatiens kilimanjari and various violets and epiphytic orchids. Another feature of the higher forest zone is large stands of towering bamboo forest.
The most frequently seen forest mammals are monkeys. Troops of black-and-white colobus leap acrobatically between the trees, long white tails in tow, while a habituated troop of the lovely blue monkey frequents some of the overnight huts.
Buffalo and elephants are present but seldom seen, though you might well notice their fresh spoor on the forest trails.
Predators such as leopards and servals are even more elusive, but you might catch a glimpse of the beautifully marked bushbuck or one of three recorded species of duiker.
The largest of these, the elusive Abbott’s duiker, is an endangered species now regarded as endemic to a quintet of montane forests in eastern Tanzania due to environmental loss and poaching elsewhere in its natural range.
After dark, the night air is frequently shattered by the banshee wail of the otherwise unobtrusive tree hyrax.
The forest birdlife is sensational, perfect for a birding safari. You’re almost certain to see a silvery-cheeked hornbill, a massive and rather comical bird that reveals its presence with a raucous nasal call and heavy wingbeats.
There’s also the stellar Hartlaub’s turaco, a green and purple bird with deep red underwings, the noisy but elusive emerald cuckoo, and a host of colourful robin-chats, drab but cheerful greenbuls, and nectar-loving sunbirds.
Other wildlife includes plentiful butterflies (including at least four endemic species), the hulking foot-long Jackson’s three-horned chameleon, the slightly smaller Kilimanjaro two-horned chameleon, and numerous small but colourful tree frogs.
Semi-Alpine Moorland Zone
The dominant vegetation zone between the 3,000m (9,843ft) and 4,000m (13,123ft) contours is a heath-like cover studded with abundant wildflowers.
It’s resident species include the exquisite yellow-flowered alpine sugarbush Protea kilimandscharica and alpine red-hot poker Kniphofia thomsonii.
Though less biodiverse than the forest zone, the pastel-shaded moorland has an ethereal beauty, particularly in the morning when it’s often shrouded in mist.
This zone is notable for the presence of two most distinctive plants: the giant lobelia Lobelia deckenii and the giant groundsel Dendrosenecio kilimanjari.
The giant lobelia Lobelia deckenii grows to 3m (10ft) high and is capped by a massive whorled rosette, and the giant groundsel Dendrosenecio kilimanjari, grows up to 5m (16ft) high and is capped by a spike of yellow flowers.
Aside from small rodents such as the ubiquitous four-striped grass mouse, mammal densities are low in the moorland zone. But look out for the endearing rock hyrax and pairs of klipspringer that sometimes stand sentinel on rocky outcrops.
Birdlife is limited to a few species adapted to high-altitude environments. The star among these is the scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird, a beautiful iridescent green bird often seen feeding on proteas and red-hot pokers.
It’s run a close second by the spectacular but scarce lammergeyer (bearded vulture).
Other birds of the moorland zone include Augur buzzard, Mountain buzzard, Alpine swift, Alpine chat, and Streaky seedeater.
Classified as a semi-desert because of its low rainfall, the alpine zone – roughly between 4,000m (13,123ft) and 5,000m (16,404ft) – also experiences dramatic daily temperature contrasts.
Plant life is restricted to around 55 hardy species of grass, lichen, and moss. The common eland – Africa’s largest antelope – occasionally strays up into this zone, and elephants have been recorded upon occasion, but essentially there is no wildlife at these heights.
Above the 5,000m (16,404ft) contour, rainfall is practically non-existent, and permanent life forms are restricted to a few masochistic lichens.
As for large wildlife, a pack of African wild dogs was observed here in 1962, and a frozen leopard was discovered in 1926.
Furthermore, two superb game-viewing destinations lie in the shadow of the great mountain itself.
Kenya’s famous Amboseli National Park is where most iconic photographs of elephants crossing the dusty plain, or giraffes nibbling on an acacia below the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro, were captured.
Rather more obscure is Tanzania’s West Kilimanjaro, a wedge of dry savanna protected as a wildlife management area in collaboration with local Masai pastoralists.
It’s notable not only for offering superb in-your-face views of Kilimanjaro but also for its plentiful wildlife, which includes elephants, lions, cheetahs, and typical dry-country antelope.
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When is the best month to travel to Kilimanjaro National Park?
Climbing Kilimanjaro in January
Extreme weather conditions are a likelihood at all times of the year, especially at higher altitudes, where subzero nocturnal temperatures are often exacerbated by wind. But January is usually a good month to climb Kilimanjaro in climatic terms.
It’s pretty dry and relatively cool, which reduces the impact of humidity on the lower slope and improves the likelihood of extensive snow on the peaks.
There is a slight risk of late rains extending into the first week or two of January. This fortnight is also an extension of the secondary peak season associated with Christmas and New Year, so it can be relatively busy. The second half of January is quieter.
May is very wet, and although rainfall is lower than in April, the ground may be soggy, and forest trails will still be very slippery. Climbing Kilimanjaro is best avoided in May, though it does have the advantage of being uncrowded.
If you hike this time of year, it’s best to choose the Rongai Route, which ascends the drier northern slopes. Arctic temperatures exacerbated by wind are normal at night on the upper slopes.
Early June is the tail end of the wet season, and even though rainfall is unlikely to be too high, post-rain conditions on Kilimanjaro may be slippery and soggy underfoot.
It gets dryer towards the end of the month, which is usually a pretty good time to climb Kilimanjaro before the main high-season tourist influx. As is the case throughout the year, be prepared for extreme cold and possibly high winds at night in the alpine and arctic zones.
Although extreme weather conditions – subzero nocturnal temperatures and chill winds – are a likelihood at higher altitudes, July is a relatively dry and warm month and a perfect time to climb Kilimanjaro.
It also marks the start of summer holidays in the northern hemisphere and the busiest tourist season. Avoid the crowds by using the less popular Shira, Rongai, or Mweka Route.
As is the case at all times of the year, it will be freezing cold at night in the alpine and arctic zones. Still, assuming climatic conditions are your main consideration, August is probably the driest and warmest month and ideal for climbing Kilimanjaro.
However, as summer holidays in the northern hemisphere are in full flow, it is also usually one of the two busiest months. The Shira, Rongai, or Mweka Routes will be less crowded than Marangu or Machame.
Dry and relatively warm weather can be expected, making September ideal for climbing Kilimanjaro in climatic terms. However, extreme cold and possibly high winds are normal in the alpine and arctic zones.
September coincides with the summer holidays in Europe and North America, so the mountain tends to be very busy. Avoid the Marangu or Machame Routes in preference for the quieter Shira, Rongai, or Mweka Routes.
Subzero nighttime temperatures are normal throughout the year at higher altitudes, often exacerbated by wind. Nevertheless, October is an excellent month to climb Kilimanjaro, with relatively dry and warm weather, and it is generally less busy than August or September.
The short rains may kick in towards the end of the month, but after four months of dry weather, this shouldn’t be a major concern.
December tends to be wet and very cold. Expect slippery trails at lower altitudes and, as you approach the summit, subzero temperatures and howling winds at night. Towards the end of the month, the mountain experiences a secondary high season associated with the Christmas and New Year holidays. Best avoided.
The biggest costs associated with a Kilimanjaro climb are the high park fees and support costs. There is no way around these, but it will help keep things affordable to form or join a group of like-minded hikers rather than traveling solo or as a couple.
Stick to the very busy Marangu Route, the only one with mountain huts at every overnight stop. It poses fewer logistical complications than other routes.
If you shop around, you’ll find some variability in prices quoted by different operators, but beware of false economy, and don’t expect to get what you don’t pay for.
Choosing a cheaper operator will generally mean you get lower standards of guiding, poorer food, inferior camping, and other equipment, all of which reduce the likelihood of a successful summit.
High park fees and logistical costs mean there is no such thing as a cheap Kilimanjaro climb. The best way to keep down costs is to form or join a group of four or more like-minded hikers and to stick to the Marangu Route.
This route is more popular and busy than the other options but less logistically complicated.
Worthy of consideration as a more budget-friendly alternative, nearby Mount Meru, protected within Arusha National Park, is Africa’s fifth-highest massif.
The three-day hike to its 4,566m (14,980ft) summit is far cheaper and far less crowded. This option offers superior wildlife viewing, a lower risk of altitude-related sickness, and spectacular views of snow-capped Kilimanjaro.
Luxury is a relative term when applied to a Kilimanjaro climb. Overnight options boil down to hunkering down in a sleeping bag in a hiking tent or a basic mountain hut.
If you want to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, there is no escaping the steep uphill hikes, the cold on the upper slopes, and the likely effects of altitude.
In one sense, the most luxurious way to climb the mountain is to stick to the popular Marangu Route. It’s much busier than other routes but allows you to stay overnight in the relative comfort of mountain huts with washing facilities and bottled drinks for sale.
However, if you are looking for exclusivity rather than luxury per se, it’s far better to splash out and arrange to hike one of the lesser-known routes.
Depending on how much time and money you want to dedicate to the exercise, these range from the Machame and Rongai Routes to the slightly longer Lemosho and Shira Routes.
Another option is the wonderfully scenic and remote Northern Circuit, a new route that can be undertaken over 9-11 days, depending on whether you opt to overnight in the stunning Kibo Crater.
It’s also worth researching the amenities offered by different operators.
High-quality food and equipment, experienced English-speaking guides, and access to private ablution tents with pump-flush toilets all come at a price, but enhance the comfort of a climb and the likelihood of reaching the summit.
It’s essential, however, that couples who are not well matched in terms of fitness, pace, or stamina agree in advance whether the stronger partner will stick with the slower one or each will do their own thing, in which case you need to make sure two guides are on board.
A romantic alternative to climbing Kilimanjaro is to spend a couple of nights near the base of the majestic mountain soaking up the view.
Soaring 5000m (16,404ft) above the plains below, Kilimanjaro’s distinctive silhouette and snow-capped peak rank as of the most iconic sights on the African continent.
Remember that the upper slopes are usually swathed in a blanket of clouds that often clear at dusk and dawn.
There are plenty of good hotels dotted around the southern foothills in Tanzania.
A more attractive option – ensuring you have plenty to keep you occupied even when the clouds are unyielding – is to stay at a safari lodge in one of two superb conservation areas that lie in the shadow of Kilimanjaro.
The better-known of these is Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, which supports some of the continent’s most impressively tusked and most habituated elephants.
Its Tanzanian counterpart is West Kilimanjaro, an exclusive wildlife management area where traditional Maasai pastoral communities live alongside abundant wildlife.
The main advantages of a climbing Kilimanjaro solo are that you have total control over your route and walking pace. Also, there’s no risk of aborting a summit because a fellow hiker succumbs to altitude sickness or wants to turn back.
The disadvantages of a solo climb are that the price per person will be relatively high since many logistical costs of putting together a Kilimanjaro climb are relatively independent of the size of the party.
Bearing in mind that many guides and porters speak limited English, it might also be a rather lonely few days.
A Kilimanjaro climb is both physically and mentally demanding, and the experience is likely to be enjoyed only by reasonably fit and determined individuals who are genuinely motivated to reach Africa’s tallest summit.
If all members of a family or party of friends fit that description, a group hike should go well, and it will have several advantages in terms of keeping down the cost per person and the varied company on offer.
As with couples, it’s important that groups hiking together are either well-matched in pace and stamina or agree in advance whether stronger hikers will stick back with the weaker ones or split into slower and faster groups.
Not only is Kilimanjaro the highest peak in Africa, reaching an elevation of 5,895m (19,340ft) above sea level, but it’s also the world’s tallest freestanding mountain.
This long-dormant volcano towers almost 5km (3 mi) above the hot and dusty ash-strewn plains from which it rises.
Viewed from the base, Kilimanjaro’s distinctive silhouette is one of Africa’s most breathtaking scenic highlights, right up there with Victoria Falls. The snow cap that illuminates the jagged glacial peaks is all the more remarkable for lying 400km south of the equator.
Kilimanjaro is highly attractive to hikers for being the highest mountain anywhere in the world that ordinary tourists can ascend without specialized mountaineering experience or equipment. It’s an accomplishment that requires a fair level of fitness, some determination, at least five days, and reasonably deep wallets.
For most hikers, summiting snow-covered Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the continent, is a true bucket list dream and the main objective of the hike. But the ascent is also very scenic, and it climbs through a diverse series of vegetation zones notable for their rich flora and fauna.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But dedicated hikers are frequently drawn back to Kilimanjaro again and again, not least because there are many ascent and descent routes from which to choose. Each one offers a very different scenic perspective on the majestic mountain.
The world’s tallest individual mountain and literal highpoint of the African continent, 5,895m-high Mount Kilimanjaro straddles the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
For those who just want to admire the view of its snow-capped summit, this can be done from either country, with Kenya’s Amboseli National Park being perhaps the most popular option thanks to its prolific plains wildlife.
For hikers and climbers, however, the goal is invariably Tanzania, where the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro lie within a 756km2 (292 square mile) Kilimanjaro National Park gazetted in 1977 to protect all land above the 2,700m (8,858ft) contour.
A relative infant in geological terms, Kilimanjaro comprises three distinct volcanic cones whose formation is linked to the same tectonic process responsible for the creation of the more westerly Great Rift Valley.
The oldest cone, Shira, formed some 2.5 million years ago, but the taller peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo came into being less than one million years ago.
Mawenzi, like Shira, is now listed as extinct. By contrast, Kibo – which incorporates the 5,895m Uhuru Peak – is regarded to be dormant. However, it probably hasn’t experienced severe volcanic activity in the last 100,000 years, despite several fumaroles in the crater.
In addition, at least 250 parasitic cones can be found on the mountain’s flanks, the most famous being the one that hosts the gorgeous Chala Crater Lake on the eastern foot slopes.
The fertile, well-watered lower slopes of Kilimanjaro are home to the Chagga, an agriculturist people whose ancestors arrived in the region in medieval times.
The Maasai of the surrounding plains knew Kilimanjaro as Ol Doinyo Naibor (White Mountain). They believed it to be protected by evil spirits that froze anybody who tried to ascend it.
Despite several ambiguous allusions to a Kilimanjaro-like mountain in ancient texts, from Ptolemy’s Geography to a 12th-century account of a Chinese trader, Kilimanjaro remained unknown to the outside world until the mid-19th century.
The first European to see Kilimanjaro was the German missionary Johan Rebmann, who published a description of it in 1849, only to be derided by European experts skeptical about the presence of snow so close to the Equator.
Its existence was confirmed independently by the geologist Baron von der Decken in 1861.
Oral tradition suggests that no local had successfully climbed Kilimanjaro – or at least returned to tell the tale – before Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller first summited in 1889.
Indeed, one theory has it that the mountain’s name derives from a Chagga phrase meaning ‘Impossible Journey’, the response made by a bemused local farmer to Rebmann’s query about walking to the peak.
More likely, perhaps the name Kilimanjaro was bequeathed on the mountain by Swahili-speaking traders from the coast – kilima is the Swahili word for hill, while ‘njaro’ might derive from the Chagga word for a trade caravan, or a Maasai word meaning water, or the name of a Swahili demon of cold.
Several different routes can be used to ascend and descend Mount Kilimanjaro. All have advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice for any individual depends mainly on their priorities.
Consider, for instance, whether your sole priority is to summit the roof of Africa, or is it equally important to maximize wildlife viewing potential and opportunities for scenic photography?
Are you looking to keep costs to a minimum by using the shortest and most popular ascent route? Or are you willing to splash out on a slower and more gradual ascent route, thereby reducing the risk of altitude sickness or exposure-related issues?
Would you prefer to stay in the relatively comfortable huts that service the most popular route, or are you willing to sleep under canvas (a potentially chilly prospect at higher altitudes) to escape the crowds?
Whatever your requirements, the following notes will help isolate the route that best meets them.
Starting at the Marangu Gate near the small town of the same name, this is the most popular route up Kilimanjaro. The advantages are that it is a much more affordable Kilimanjaro climb than other more obscure routes, less arduous than most, and has the best rescue facilities.
Marangu is also the only route where you can sleep in proper huts throughout, with the bonus of bathing facilities and bottled drinks for sale.
Unsurprisingly, the Marangu Route is to some extent a victim of its popularity. Trampled by a greater volume of tourists than all other routes combined, it can feel pretty overcrowded, especially in peak seasons (late July to early October and mid-December to mid-January).
The ascent and descent of Marangu usually take five days and four nights.
Hikers spend the first night at Mandara Hut (set at 2,700m in the forest zone and frequented by blue monkeys) and the second at Horombo Hut (situated at 3,720m in a valley studded with giant lobelia and groundsel).
The third night starts at Kibo Hut (4,703m), from where it’s customary to start the final ascent before 1 am to reach Gillman’s Point at sunrise.
You then continue along the rim of Kibo Caldera to Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa, before returning to Horombo Hut for the fourth and final night.
This is a demanding itinerary, and the risk of altitude-related illness is greatly reduced by adding a full day and an additional night at Horombo Hut before climbing into the alpine zone.
Requiring at least six days and renowned for its spectacular scenery, Machame is the second most popular route up Kilimanjaro.
A few short sections are slightly tougher than anything along the Marangu Route. Still, overall the ascent is gentler, allowing for longer acclimatization before summiting.
There used to be mountain huts along the Machame Route, but these are now in ruins, so camping is the only option. The first night is spent at Machame Hut, which stands at an altitude of 2,890m (9,482ft) on the cusp of the forest and moorland zones.
The second night is spent in the moorland at Shira Hut (3,840m), where it’s possible to sleep in a cave. The most usual options for the third and fourth nights are Barranco Campsite (3,950m) and Barafu Hut (4,600m).
A midnight start is required to reach Stella Point on the Kibo rim at sunrise.
The fastest ascent route to the summit of Kilimanjaro starts at Mweka Wildlife College. It involves two steep day hikes to spend the first night at Mweka Hut (3,100m) and the second at Barafu Hut (4,600m), neither of which is habitable, so you’ll need to camp.
In theory, you could summit at Stella Point on the third morning and be back at the mountain’s base on the afternoon of the fourth day.
However, this option is viable only for supremely fit hikers with sufficient experience to know they don’t require much acclimatization.
In practice, it is most often used as a quick descent route by people who ascend along the Machame or Shira route.
Connecting the village of Umbwe to Barranco Campsite (3,950m), this is possibly the most scenic official route up Kilimanjaro, but also the steepest and the most dangerous since it involves one short stretch of genuine rock climbing.
It is occasionally used as a descent route, but many operators prefer not to take the risk.
This most gradual of the ascent routes up Kilimanjaro starts at Shira Gate (3,590m) on the western flank and is ideally covered over six, seven, or eight days.
It crosses the scenic Shira Plateau, a tract of open Afro-alpine moorland studded with volcanic rock sculptures and often hosts large mammals such as eland, elephant, and buffalo.
A disadvantage of this route is that it omits hiking through the forest zone (which might not be bad in the rainy season), but it also means you spend far longer above the 3,500m (11,483ft) contour before starting to summit.
It also tends to be uncrowded until it converges with the Machame Route prior to summiting at Stella Point. It’s normal to descend through the forest zone following the Mweka Route.
This relatively new and beautiful six- to eight-day route starts in the west and runs roughly parallel to and south of the Shira Route before converging with it on the second day.
The main advantage over Shira is that it starts at a significantly lower altitude, which means you get to hike through the forest zone and are less likely to experience altitude-related issues on the first day or two.
The newest, most remote, and longest route for climbing Kilimanjaro, the Northern Circuit is a thrilling variation on the Shira and Lemosho Routes.
The circuit starts in the west and then does a three-quarter circuit around the northern slopes of Kibo before summiting from the east on the penultimate day.
The circuit requires at least nine days and can be extended to 10 or 11 days by adding a night camping within Kibo Crater, the ultimate high-altitude Kili experience.
Because the ascent is so gradual, allowing a full week before you tackle Uhuru Peak, it offers the best possible chance of successfully summiting and exploring several off-the-beaten-track parts of the northern slopes covered on no other route.
The long duration and logistics of arranging an extended hike to more remote areas also mean it is the most expensive option.
This is the only ascent route to approach Kilimanjaro from the north.
Rongai is widely regarded as the route of preference during the rainy seasons (late March to early June and November to December) since it’s sheltered from the rain-bearing south easterly winds that drench the southern slopes.
It’s also worth considering at other times of the year since it is reasonably gradual, offers some lovely views over the Tsavo Plains, and provides a better chance of encountering large wildlife than other routes.
Five-, six- and seven-day variations are offered. All tend to be very uncrowded until they converge with the Marangu Route at Kibo Hut.
Most people expect it to be very cold at night, and it’s also important to bear in mind it might be very wet and drizzly at lower altitudes, while the tropical sun can be very fierce at high altitudes.
Bring plenty of warm clothes, including at least one windproof and waterproof jacket, plenty of layers to wear underneath it, insulated vests and undergarments.
Also included must be hiking trousers, two pair of waterproof gloves (one heavy and one lightweight), a balaclava or beanie, one change of inner socks and thick hiking socks per day, a scarf or neck gaiter, and a wide hat that offers good protection from the sun.
Hiking boots should be 100% waterproof, ideally have good ankle support, and be properly worn-in. Carry a second pair of lighter waterproof shoes for the evenings.
Luggage and Bedding
It is customary for operators to allocate one porter to every client to carry up to 15kg of gear. This is ideally carried in a large, solid waterproof duffel bag or rucksack to protect clothing and other items from getting wet.
Porters usually hike separately from their clients, so you also need a waterproof day pack to carry all items you might need access to during a day’s hiking.
All reputable hiking companies will supply tents as required and arrange porters to carry them, but you will need to check whether sleeping bags and ground mats are supplied in advance.
You’ll need a four-season sleeping bag designed for temperatures of -20°C/-4°F, and you should also bring a high-quality ground mat.
Essentials include high UV sunglasses to protect your eyes from the tropical sun and a head torch to use around camp at night.
Light sleepers might like to carry earplugs. A pair of adjustable trekking poles will not only reduce the risk of slipping and injuring yourself but also reduce the impact on your knees during steep descents.
Bring a waterproof bladder or water bottle with a total capacity of 2 liters to carry with you during the day. Disposable water bottles are banned on Kilimanjaro.
Binoculars are often essential for identifying birds and getting a close look at other wildlife, but they do add to the weight. Bring twice as many batteries as you need, as they tend to lose charge quickly in freezing conditions.
You will either need to carry surplus camera gear yourself or entrust it to a porter. Be aware that there’s a risk of it getting wet or receiving rough treatment. The better option is to leave excess camera gear locked up somewhere safely for the duration of the hike.
A good medical kit is essential.
It should include painkillers (for instance, paracetamol), an anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen, more plasters than you could need (a few foot blisters are de rigueur on a Kili hike), high factor sunblock, a chapstick for your lips, and plenty of wet wipes.
Acetazolamide can be prescribed to reduce the risk of altitude-related problems.
Food and Snacks
It’s customary for meals to be included in a Kilimanjaro tour, but these should be supplemented by a stash of light and portable energy-rich snacks.
These might include energy bars, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, biscuits, glucose powder, and the like. These items are sometimes available at the huts on the Marangu Route but at vastly inflated prices.
The ascent of Kilimanjaro should only be attempted by reasonably fit people, and inexperienced hikers might consider embarking on a training schedule to improve the chances of a successful climb. This needn’t be too arduous.
Running and cycling will improve your aerobic fitness, and weightlifting might help build core strength, but the best like-for-like training for climbing Kilimanjaro is hiking, ideally in hilly terrain and/or at altitude.
Aim to build up to the point where you can comfortably hike for four to five hours with a light pack on your back.
Use these training hikes as an opportunity to break in the hiking boots you intend to wear on Kilimanjaro and to get used to the day pack you plan to carry.
The main health risks on Kilimanjaro are related to altitude and, to a lesser extent, exposure exacerbated by exhaustion.
Uhuru Peak stands at a higher altitude than the base camps on Mount Everest, but the ascent involves a very rapid transition from below 1,000m (3,281ft) to above 5,000m (16,404ft).
Some people – particularly those who typically reside close to sea level – will have difficulty acclimating in the space of a few days.
Indeed, almost everybody who attempts the climb experiences altitude-related symptoms, ranging from shortness of breath, headaches, and sleeplessness to nausea and swollen hands or feet.
If these symptoms become severe, the sufferer starts coughing up saliva or blood, displaying loss of coordination, or experiencing disorientation or hallucinations, the potentially fatal conditions called pulmonary or cerebral edemas are indicated.
Experienced guides will recognize these conditions. The only (and usually highly effective) remedy for these is immediate descent.
The risk of altitude-related illness is greatly reduced by extra acclimatization, allowing an additional day or two for the ascent, and by walking at a relaxed, steady pace.
Many people feel a loss of appetite at high altitudes, but eating properly is vital, concentrating on easily digested foodstuffs, especially carbohydrates and fruit.
Drink at least three liters of water daily. A drug called Acetazolamide can be prescribed to help prevent or reduce symptoms of altitude sickness.
Prolonged exposure to the cold and wet conditions often experienced on Kilimanjaro can result in hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 35°C (95°F) and usually results in uncontrollable shivering before progressing to more severe symptoms if neglected.
Hypothermia can be avoided by carrying plenty of warm, waterproof clothing designed for sub-zero conditions and by dressing in layers so you can regulate your body temperature and sweat by removing or adding clothes as required.
Severe hypothermia can be fatal, so if you experience heavy shivering, you should change into warm, dry clothes and huddle up in a sleeping bag until the symptoms dissipate.