Things to consider when
choosing a route to climb Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro National Park Authority has seven official routes for Mount Kilimanjaro. This guide outlines each one in detail to help climbers choose which best fits their interests and fitness level. Every route differs in its specific draw, from scenic views to difficulty level, and most importantly - acclimatization profiles.
Acclimatization to high altitude is different on each route due to the overnight camp locations, steepness of the trail, and daily trekking distance. The summit is the final test for acclimatization: climbs that take seven days or more have a distinctively higher success rate in reaching the summit than treks that cover six days or less. Acclimatization has a stronger influence on reaching Uhuru Peak than any other factor, including age or even fitness level. For example, a group of older trekkers on a seven-day Lemosho program (one of the best acclimatization profiles) has a more likely chance of summiting successfully than a team of young athletes on a five-day variation on the Marangu Route. The best acclimatization transition is available on the 7-day variations of Lemosho, Machame, and Rongai routes. If you are strapped for time, 6-day Lemosho and Marangu variations are good picks.
Due to the various acclimatization profiles of every route on Kilimanjaro, Alpine chat adventure recommends Lemosho (7 and 8-day itineraries), or Machame (7-day) for beginners. Northern Circuit is also a fantastic trek with good acclimatization; trekkers interested in more information about this route please contact the Alpine chat adventure office.
Hikers with some experience may consider other routes on Kilimanjaro, such as Marangu and Rongai. However, we strongly suggest preparing with prior acclimatization for the highest chances of success. Climbers can spend a significant time at higher altitudes in their home country or summit Tanzania’s second-highest peak, Mount Meru, for prior acclimatization before attempting Kilimanjaro.
After acclimatization profile and experience level, the next biggest factor to consider for a Kilimanjaro route is often scenery. While it may seem trivial at first, this aspect has a huge influence on the full climbing experience: the overall trek, photographs, and day-to-day hikes on the mountain are all influenced by scenery. The first days of a Lemosho trek are spent climbing the famous Shira Plateau with its splendid panoramas. Machame route, on the other hand, starts in a dense rainforest with unique flora and fauna and ascends to an alpine climate, with trekkers climbing the Barranco Wall. Each route offers a unique viewpoint of the beauty of Africa to climbers.
Some routes are more popular than others. It is not for the reason that these routes are better - it is simply because their trailheads are closer to the tourist center of Moshi, and many tour operators prefer starting their treks from there. Hikers who love to be in the middle of a motley crowd will certainly enjoy them, but those who want a quieter experience are advised to opt for a more remote trek.
The busiest routes on Kilimanjaro are:
Marangu route - the busiest of all, it receives about a half of all Kilimanjaro trekkers.
Machame route - the second most popular, it is chosen by about a third of all tourists.
NOTE: this applies to the busy season only. Together with others, these routes are nearly free from the trekking groups during the rainy season.
The weather in Kilimanjaro and in Tanzania at large is an important thing to consider. In contrast to Europe or America, this country does not have “winter”, “spring”, “fall” and “summer” in our traditional understanding. Instead, there are two “dry” and two “rainy” seasons. Their timespan is roughly the following:
The hot dry season is from late December till early March. For many hikers this is the best time - it is very warm, and the chances of rain are pretty slim. Coupled with the fact that it coincides with the Christmas holidays, this time becomes especially attractive for the hike. It is also the time when Marangu and Machame routes are notably crowded.
In mid-March the hot rainy season begins and it lasts until the beginning of June. Kilimanjaro trails on certain routes become blurred, and the road to Lemosho is often inaccessible. However, Rongai, which is on the northern side, is known to get less moisture, and Marangu, which offers hut accommodation as opposed to tents, are very good alternatives for this period.
The dry season returns in mid-June and lasts till early October. This dry season is remarkably colder than late December - early March, but the difference is not so noticeable on the hike. This is when the routes become busy again.
In the middle of October, the rains begin again and last until the end of November, completing the annual cycle.
Overall, late December - early March and mid-June - early October are the times when Machame and Marangu routes are quite busy. Lemosho, Rongai, Umbwe and Northern Circuit may have some groups on the route, but otherwise offer some privacy while trekking Kilimanjaro.
NOTE: depending on the itinerary, the Lemosho route converges with Machame in the Barranco Camp on the 3rd or 4th day of the trip, and from there the routes share the same path to the summit. Therefore, one should expect the route to become busier than at the very beginning of the adventure.
Northern Circuit uses Kibo summit camp for the final part of the journey, and the hikers will share the path with those climbing Kilimanjaro via the Marangu route.
So, how to choose Mt Kilimanjaro climbing route?
An ideal climbing route is based on each climber’s personal preparedness and preferences. Prior acclimatization and experience on other mountains determine your readiness, while preferences have to do with your interest in a longer, more scenic route versus tackling a busier trail and meeting other climbers.
There is no “best” route; operators advertising that are providing misleading information. Which climbing route to use for trekking Kilimanjaro is an individual decision, and our managers are always here to help you make the right choice.
At the same time, judging by the experience of our previous trekkers, we can confidently say that our most recommended routes are:
For the dry season climbs (late December - early March and early June - early October) we recommend the following:
Scenic, least crowded and with excellent acclimatization
- Lemosho route 8-day and 7-day trips
- Rongai route 7-day trip
Scenic, popular among the hikers, and featuring excellent acclimatization profile:
- Machame route 7-day
trip (please note that 6-day Machame variation has a much worse acclimatization
The Northern Circuit is also a great choice, but only if you are ready to walk more miles than on the other routes and spend more time on Kilimanjaro- it is about 19 miles (or 30 km) longer than Lemosho, and for this reason it takes one more day.
For rainy season climbs we recommend the Marangu 6-day route because the huts provide better protection against rain, and also because Marangu is not as busy with other hikers during the rainy season.
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