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The Ultimate Guide to Kilimanjaro

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To put it simply, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a life-changing experience! It is an adventure that many now take on, with around 40,000 attempting the summit every year. 

In fact, the Kilimanjaro trek is becoming so popular that it is sometimes known as ‘Everyman’s Everest’ due to its accessibility. 

If you’ve been thinking about embarking on a Kilimanjaro trek, why not go for it?! Technically speaking, Africa’s tallest mountain is the easiest among the big summits as you don’t need ropes, special mountaineering equipment or any previous mountain climbing experience. 

There are many reasons why people set out to climb Kilimanjaro, whether it be for the sense of freedom, personal accomplishment, or to raise money for charity. If you’re thinking about joining their ranks, discover everything you need to know about the trek in our ultimate guide. 

Contents

Location and History

The People

Environment

Choosing a Route 

Difficulty Level

Guides

Travel and Cost 

Equipment and What to Pack

Insurance and Health Considerations

The Location and History of Mount Kilimanjaro 

A group trekking towards Kilimanjaro

Despite many studies into the etymology of the name ‘Kilimanjaro’, no one is sure where the origins of the name comes from or what it actually means. 

The most widely accepted explanation is that the word comes from the Chagga people who live in the foothills of the mountain. ‘Kilima’ is derived from the Chagga term ‘kililema’, which translates into ‘difficult or impossible’, while “jaro” could have come from the word ‘termsnjaare’ (Bird) or ‘jyaro’ (caravan). 

This translation would mean something close to ‘impossible for the bird’ or ‘which defeats the caravan’ – a clear reference to the sheer scale of the mountain!

Other theories posit that the name ‘Kilimanjaro’ could come from either Swahili or Masai dialects. 

Where is Kilimanjaro? 

Kilimanjaro sits on the northern border of Tanzania and also overlooks Kenya, lying just over  200 miles south of the equator. 

From the top, you will realise it doesn’t reside in a mountainous environment at all; in fact, the nearest mountain to Kilimanjaro is Mount Meru, over 60km to the southwest.

How Tall is Mount Kilimanjaro?

Mount Kilimanjaro is 5,895 metres above sea level. 

It is one of the world’s ‘Seven Summits’ and the world’s highest free-standing mountain.

The People that Live Near Kilimanjaro 

A group of people who live near Kilimanjaro

The area of Mount Kilimanjaro has been inhabited by African peoples for several hundreds of generations. 

The Chagga 

Today, the Chagga people are the main African tribe to inhabit the Kilimanjaro region. The Chagga people are agriculturists and make good use of the fertile lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to grow bananas, tea, coffee, and corn.

The Chagga people are the most intimately connected people with the great mountain. They have occupied the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro for centuries, and the mountain has also held a special significance to the Chagga people. Kibo – the highest peak of the mountain – is a great landmark and focus of their culture.

Kilimanjaro’s most popular routes – Marangu and Machame – take their names from their trailhead towns that are named after the Chagga tribes that first settled there.

The Maasai 

The Maasai people occupy a total land area of about 160,000 square kilometres with a population of two million people. They live mainly in northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley on semi-arid and arid lands.

The Environment of Mount Kilimanjaro 

Kilimanjaro and ice fields

Kilimanjaro has five major ecological zones, each approximately 1000 meters apart. Rainfall, temperature, and life decrease as the altitude increases.

What is the Weather Like on Mount Kilimanjaro? 

Questions about the weather are always difficult to answer because the range is so big. The temperatures on Kilimanjaro will go from hot to bitter cold in an instant. Depending on your route choice, it will feel like you have travelled from the equator to Antarctica in no time at all!

At the Park gate and for the first few days of trekking you can expect temperatures of 21-28 degrees Celsius. From this point, the temperature will start to drop. At Uhuru Point (the summit), you can expect temperatures from 0 to 27 degrees Celsius. As Kilimanjaro is a free-standing mountain that’s 5895m high, it creates its own weather patterns.

The Ecology of Mount Kilimanjaro 

The environments you’ll find along the trek include:

  • Rainforest 
  • Heath
  • Moorland
  • Alpine Desert 
  • Arctic

Animal and Plant Life on Mount Kilimanjaro 

Two lions on grass

You’d have to be quite lucky to see any animals on Kilimanjaro as they prefer to shy away from the 40,000 annual trekkers. 

​​Animals are more numerous down in the forest zone than anywhere else on the mountain. Civets, leopards, olive baboons, mongooses, and servals are said to live in the mountain’s forest, though again, sightings are extremely rare.

Plantlife on Kilimanjaro is kaleidoscopic, including everything from the dense canopies of green plants in the tropical rainforest to the fine wisps of lichen that are scattered across the highland desert. In a typical ascent up the mountain, you’ll encounter biodiversity beyond the wildest imagination.

The Geology of Mount Kilimanjaro 

Rising 4,800m above the East African plains, 270km from the shores of the Indian Ocean and measuring up to 40km across, Kilimanjaro is a bizarre geological oddity. 

The mountain was formed, shaped, eroded and scarred by twin forces of fire and ice. It is actually a volcano – or rather, three volcanoes! 

What is the Best Route to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

Kilimanjaro from a distance

Choosing a Kilimanjaro route is an important aspect to consider when planning your expedition. It is important for you to select a route that will satisfy your personal requirements as well as a route that contributes towards your eventual summit success.

There are seven established routes to summit Mount Kilimanjaro: 

  • Machame
  • Lemosho
  • Marangu
  • Shira
  • Northern Circuit
  • Rongai
  • Umbwe

The Machame, Marangu, and Umbwe routes approach from the south of the mountain. The Shira, Lemosho, and Northern Circuit routes approach from the west, while the Rongai route approaches from the north.

The following breakdown gives an idea of the popularity of each route:

  •  45% of climbers use Machame route
  •  40% of climbers use Marangu route
  •  8% of climbers use Lemosho route
  •  5% of climbers use Rongai route
  •  1% of climbers use Shira route
  •  None (0%) of the climbers use the Northern Circuit and Umbwe routes. 

The two routes we offer here at The Bucket List Company include the Lemosho trekking route and the Marangu trekking route.

The Lemosho Route 

​​The Lemosho route offers a remote and beautiful route up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. This route is one of the few where trekkers may be accompanied by an armed ranger on the first day, as the forests around the Lemosho Glades are inhabited by wild animals such as buffalo and elephants.

Day 1: Londorossi Gate (2,100m) – Mti Mkubwa Camp (2,821m)

Your first day will start early with breakfast, followed by a 2-hour drive from Moshi (910m) to

the Londorossi Park Gate (2,100m). 

After your registration at the park gate, you will continue by vehicle a further 12km on a forest track that leads to the Lemosho starting point (2,244m). 

  • Trekking time: 3.5 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 5.4km 
  • Habitat: Montane forest

Day 2: Forest camp (2,821m) – Shira 2 Camp (3,875m)

On the second day, you will trek to the end of the forest and then to the giant heather moorland zone.

After about 8.1km of hiking, you will reach the Shira 1 camp (3,504m), which is located on the Western edge of the Shira Plateau. After lunch, you will hike across the Shira plateau for another 7.5km to the Shira 2 Camp, located on the moorland meadows (3,875m). 

  • Trekking time: 8 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 15.6km 
  • Habitat: Moorland

Day 3: Shira 2 Camp (3,875m) – Lava Tower (4,642m) – Barranco Camp (3,984m)

On day three, you will trek from Shira 2 Camp to the Lava Tower (4,642m). Shortly before

reaching Lava Tower, the Lemosho route links up with the Machame route. 

Generally, climbers consider the last part of the trek just before reaching Lava Tower the toughest part of their trek.  

After your lunch, you will then descend by almost 680m to the Barranco camp. The descent to Barranco camp takes about 2 hours (3.3 km), and you will have opportunities to take some beautiful photographs of the Western Breach and the Breach Wall.

  • Trekking time: 8 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 10.3km 
  • Habitat: Semi-desert

Day 4: Barranco Camp (3,984m) – Barafu Camp (4,681m)

After spending a night at the Barranco camp, you will climb to the top of the awe-inspiring obstacle that is the great Barranco Wall. Then you’ll head down through the Karanga Valley. 

From Barafu Camp, the summit is now a further 1,214m higher, and you will commence with your final ascent attempt the same night.

  • Trekking time: 8 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 9.4km 
  • Habitat: Alpine desert

Day 5: Barafu Camp (4,681m)-Uhuru Peak (5,895m)-Mweka (3,090m)

Today, you’ll make your summit attempt. You will get up around 23h20, and after some tea and biscuits, you’ll begin the ascent, making your way up through a heavy scree towards the Stella Point on the crater rim.

For many climbers, the 6-hour hike to the Stella point is the most mentally and physically

challenging part of the route. From Stella Point, you will normally encounter snow all the way to Uhuru Peak. The time you will spend on the summit will depend on the weather conditions. 

After a short while, you will walk back to Barafu; the descent takes about 3 hours. Once you

are at Barafu, you will have a short rest, and you will be able to collect the rest of your gear

before you descend back to Mweka hut (3090m).

  • Trekking time: 7 to 8 hours to reach Uhuru Peak, 6 to 8 hours to descend to Mweka Camp
  • Distance: Approximately 4.5 km ascent and 10.8 km descent 
  • Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit

Day 6: Mweka Camp (3,090m) – Mweka Gate (1,641m)

After your breakfast, you will trek back to the Park gate. At this place, some trekkers do experience knee problems which could make the descent longer than planned.

At the gate, successful climbers will receive their summit certificates. Those climbers who reached Stella Point (5,739m) are issued with green certificates and those who reached Uhuru Peak (5,895m) will receive gold certificates.

From the Mweka Gate, you will continue down into the Mweka village. Then you will drive back to Moshi for dinner and celebrations!

Remember to tip your guides and porters before departing. 

  • Trekking time: 4 – 6 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 8.5km 
  • Habitat: Forest

The Marangu Route 

A trekker walking up a mountain

Also known as the ‘coca cola’ route, this is one of the most popular routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

However, bear in mind that, with this route,  the ascent is exactly the same as the descent and therefore offers a less varied experience than other routes might. 

Day 1: Marangu Gate (1,860m) – Mandara Hut (2,715m)

On the first day of your trek, you will drive from Moshi to the Kilimanjaro National Park gate (about 50 minutes). You will pass through the village of Marangu, which is located on

the lower slopes of the mountain.

Once ready, you will leave the Park gate and ascend on a cleared ridge trail through the rain forest. Mandara hut is your first night stop; this camp consists of a group of wooden A-framed huts. 

Before dinner, your guides will give you the opportunity to trek up to the Maundi Crater. This is only a short walk but will assist in the acclimatisation process. 

  • Trekking time: 6 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 8.1km 
  • Habitat: Montane forest

Day 2: Mandara Hut (2,715m) – Horombo Hut (3,705m)

On the second day of your trek on the Marangu route, you will walk through the rainforest,

around the base of the Maundi Crater and then to moorland. 

The trek to Horombo hut is about 6 hours from here. Once you reach the Horombo hut, you will have an evening meal and huts to sleep in overnight.

  • Trekking time: 6 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 11.16km 
  • Habitat: Moorland

Day 3: Horombo Hut (3,705m) – Acclimatisation day for 6-day trekkers

The third day is the extra acclimatisation day at Horombo, a village comprised of a few huts perched on a small plateau. It is a place of adventure and excitement, bustling with trekkers, guides, and porters. 

Day 3 for 5-day Trekkers or Day 4 for 6-day Trekkers: Horombo Hut (3,705m) – Kibo Hut (4,730m)

For 5-day trekkers, after your breakfast, you will then continue your hiking into the Alpine desert habitat. From Horombo hut, two trails lead to an area between the peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo, called the ‘Saddle’.

Kibo hut is in the barren Alpine desert. It is a stone-built block house with 60 bunk beds for climbers. At Kibo hut, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is now a further 1,195m up, and the final ascent will be made the same night.

  • Trekking time: 6 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 9.6km 
  • Habitat: Alpine Desert

Day 4 or Day 5 for 6-day Trekkers: Kibo Hut (4,730m) – Uhuru Peak (5,895m) – Horombo Hut (3,705m)

All trekkers at Kibo hut will be woken around 23h30, with time for a quick cup of tea before you prepare for the final ascent.

A rocky path to the Hans Meyer Cave (5,150m) is the first section of the trail and is known to be a good resting spot. From there, the path zigzags up to Gillman’s point (5,681m), which is situated on the crater rim.

Normally, you will encounter snow all the way from Gillman’s Point to Uhuru peak (5,895m), which is the highest point in Africa and your goal!

Take your photos and bask in the glory of the summit before heading back down the 3-hour descent back to Kibo hut. From here, it’s back to Horombo hut in time for dinner and a well-earned sleep. 

  • Trekking time: 7 to 8 hours to reach Uhuru Peak, 6 to 8 hours to descend to Horombo
  • Distance: Approximately 5.4km ascent and 15km descent 
  • Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit

Day 5 or Day 6 for 6-day Trekkers: Horombo Hut (3,705m) – Marangu Gate (1,860m)

In the morning, after your breakfast, you will continue your descent. You will pass the Mandara hut down to the Marangu gate – it takes about 6 hours. 

Once you get to the gate, you can collect your summit certificates and tip your guides. 

  • Trekking time: 6 hours 
  • Distance: Approximately 19.7km 
  • Habitat: Moorland

How Difficult is it to Climb Kilimanjaro? 

Trekker at the Kilimanjaro summit

The answer to this question varies from one climber to another. This is because some climbers don’t train as much as they should before they arrive at Kilimanjaro, while others engage in a disciplined training programme.

Some climbers describe climbing Kilimanjaro as the hardest thing they’ve ever done, while others consider their climb as being relatively easy. 

The best thing to do is train adequately and prepare for the unexpected – you won’t know with certainty how you’ll react until you get there. 

Who Will Guide You Up Mount Kilimanjaro? 

Happy trekker posing for the camera

There are several Kilimanjaro guide companies on the mountain and selecting the outfitter that provides the best experience is a very important aspect that contributes to the success of your climb. 

Things to Consider Before Choosing Your Kilimanjaro Guide

The three most important factors in selecting your Kilimanjaro guide should be certification, reviews and price. Beyond that, you need to consider the services they offer – important questions include: 

  • Do they provide a hotel room before/after the climb? 
  • Do they help with transportation/visa?
  • Can you customise your trip (extra days, no porters, hike to the ash pit, etc.)?
  • Do the guides speak English/any other languages?
  • Are the guides certified?
  • Are they trained in first aid?

Kilimanjaro Guides and Porters

Your guides and porters will be employed by your tour operator, and they are there to ensure you have a safe and memorable experience on the Roof of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Guides and porters are usually Tanzanian citizens; from the small towns that are dotted around the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. They are employed based on their knowledge of the mountain, its animals and plants, and also because they have lots of high altitude trekking experiences.

Tipping Your Kilimanjaro Guides 

Tips are paid at the end of your climb after you have reached your final checkpoint. You can either pay your guides and porters individually in separate envelopes, or you can pay your lead guide, who will then redistribute the money.

The average recommended tip amounts per group per day are:

  • Chief guide – US $ 20 per chief guide per day from the group
  • Assistant Guide – US $ 12 per assistant guide per day from the group
  • Cook – US $ 8 per cook per day from the group
  • Porters – US $ 6 per porter per day from the group

This adds up to be around $200 per trekker for one of our groups.

Travel and Cost Considerations for Your Mount Kilimanjaro Trek 

A group on Kilimanjaro with the Milky Way behind them

Booking your trip is the most significant cost of your holiday in Tanzania. Once you’re on the mountain, you won’t need to pay for anything else throughout your trek, except for the occasional chocolate bar or beer available at the rangers’ huts on the way.

You have three options when booking your Kilimanjaro trek:

  1. Book your trip with a company based in your home country. This option is great if you want everything organised for you. They will organise your flights, transfers, accommodation, trek costs, food and any additional activities.
  1. Alternatively, contact a Tanzanian provider and get everything booked in the UK prior to your departure. The company will look after your transfers, accommodation, and the trek itself. Depending on the type of provider, they may also be able to book your additional safaris.
  1. You fly to Tanzania and have nothing pre-booked. Once you have arrived in-country, you can then shop around in Moshi or Arusha and find an operator that suits your needs. 

Costs will vary depending on which option you decide to take. Option one will be the most expensive but most convenient, and option three will be the cheapest.

When is the Best Time to Travel and Climb Mount Kilimanjaro? 

Deciding on the optimum time for your trip will largely depend on the weather and your ability to withstand the elements. 

The optimum month to climb Kilimanjaro in is September. The mild, dry weather makes it the best month to attempt the trek. 

June, July and August are also good climbing months as the temperature and rainfall become steady.

What Equipment Do You Need on the Mount Kilimanjaro Trek?

Twi trekkers at the Kilimanjaro summit

Trekking on Mount Kilimanjaro involves passing through four climatic zones. To ensure you are safe and comfortable in each of the zones, it is important for you to understand the concept of layering clothing. 

Layering only works if each layer allows moisture to pass from one layer to the next. Layers should therefore hug the skin.

Mount Kilimanjaro Trek Checklist 

Aside from all those layers, what else will you need for the trek? Find out everything you’ll need from our equipment checklist. 

Documents: 

  • Visa
  • Valid passport
  • Travel and medical insurance 
  • Money (including tips)
  • Yellow fever card (depending on which country you are transiting from)

 Footwear: 

  • Trainers
  • Thermal socks
  • Hiking boots 
  • Sock liners
  • Gaiters

Clothes: 

  • T-shirts x6
  • Fleece jumper
  • Hiking trousers 
  • Poncho or raincoat 
  • Outer jacket
  • Outer trousers
  • Underwear x6
  • Thermal underwear

Headwear: 

  • Sunglasses
  • Hat with neck cover
  • Scarf or balaclava 
  • Thermal beanie
  • Headlamp 
  • Clear goggles

Sleeping: 

  • Sleeping bag 
  • Inflatable pillow

Bags: 

  • Daypack
  • Duffle bag
  • Waterproof bag cover

Hands & Walking: 

  • Set of trekking poles 
  • Outer gloves
  • Inner gloves

Medication: 

  • Imodium
  • Paracetamol 
  • Insect repellant
  • Plasters
  • Lip balm
  • Diamox

Other: 

  • Toilet roll and sanitary products
  • Water purification tablets x50
  • Water bottle x2
  • Sunscreen
  • Small lock 
  • Zip lock bags
  • Energy bars x20
  • Energy drink 
  • Sweets and nuts 
  • Ear plugs 
  • Sack liners
  • Camera 
  • Spare batteries 

Insurance and Health Considerations for Your Travel Holiday 

A horizon view looking out over the Kilimanjaro Glacier

Climbing this mountain, even in the best conditions, is still a test of your health, fitness, and endurance. That is why it is so important for you to invest in travel insurance before you leave. 

With travel insurance, you get yourself covered for any potential bills, from losing your possessions to getting injured whilst abroad. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a real challenge, so to set yourself up for successful climbing, you need to invest in travel insurance.

It is best to seek insurance policies that cover: 

  • Trip cancellation, trip interruption, missed connection, travel delay, and baggage delay.
  • Hurricane and weather.
  • Cover for damaged, lost, stolen or delayed activity equipment, including gloves, helmet, thermals, boots and ropes.
  • Cover for the loss of personal belongings, cash and travel documents and much more.
  • Repatriation cover in the event of a medical emergency, illness, accident or injury.

Health Considerations for Your Kilimanjaro Trek 

You don’t need to engage in excessive and unnecessary exercise to sufficiently prepare for climbing Kilimanjaro. The best preparation is trekking! Try to trek as much as possible on mountains or hills to simulate ascension on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Once you are able to hike for about four to six hours in a day, with moderate elevation changes while carrying a 6-8kg pack, you are probably ready to climb the tallest mountain in Africa. 

Trekking at high altitudes such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is potentially dangerous. Some

medical conditions, including heart and lung condition, may complicate matters on your trek. Certain medications can also put climbers at greater risk.

We always recommend you manage this risk by seeking medical advice from your doctor to make sure you are clear for the trip.

Acute Mountain Sickness

This is something you may face as you reach higher altitudes. The best way to minimise the severity of the illness is by maintaining a slow, steady pace from day one of your trek. 

The symptoms can also be mitigated by adding an extra day of acclimatisation at a high altitude and by drinking at least 3-4 litres of clean water every day throughout your trek. 

There are also preventive medicines available, such as Diamox. 

So, what now? Book your trek, of course! If you’ve reached the end of our ultimate Kilimanjaro guide and have got the itch to climb Africa’s tallest mountain, we can help make it happen. 

For an adventure holiday unlike any other, get in touch with us on 01769 309007.

If you need a bit more convincing, head over to our Instagram to see some of the stunning sights from our Kilimanjaro treks and other destinations!

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