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Kilimanjaro Routes

Several different routes can be used to ascend and descend Mount Kilimanjaro. All have their advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice for any given individual depends largely on their priorities. Consider, for instance, whether your sole priority is to summit the roof of Africa, or is it equally important to maximise 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 (five days and four nights), 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) in order to get away from the crowds? Whatever your requirements, the following notes will help isolate the route that best meets them.

aerial view of mount kilimanjaro

Marangu Route

Starting at the Marangu Gate near the small town of the same name, this is by far the most popular route up Kilimanjaro. Advantages are that it is significantly cheaper 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 added 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).

maranda huts olong the marangu route climbing mount kilimanjaro

The ascent and descent of Marangu usually takes 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 is customary to start the final ascent before 1am in order to reach Gillman’s Point at sunrise, 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 additional night at Horombo Hut before climbing into the alpine zone.

Machame Route 

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, but overall the ascent is gentler and it allows for a longer period for acclimatisation prior to 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 on the cusp of the forest and moorland zones. The second might is spent in the moorland at Shira Hut (3,840m), where it is 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), then a midnight start is required to reach Stella Point on the Kibo rim at sunrise.

hiking the machame route in mount kilimanjaro credit machame camp Credit: Machame Camp

Mweka Route

The fastest ascent route to the summit of Kilimanjaro starts at Mweka Wildlife College and involves two steep day hikes to spend the first night at Mweka Hut (3,100m) and second at Barafu Hut (4,600m), neither of which is actually habitable, so you will need to camp. In theory, you could summit at Stella Point on the third morning and could be back at the base of the mountain on the afternoon of the forth day. However, this option is viable only for supremely fit hikers with sufficient experience to know they don’t require much acclimatisation. In practise, it is most often used as a quick descent route by people who ascended along the the Machame or Shira route.

Umbwe 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.

umbwe route climbing mount kilimanjaro credit travel rural Credit Travel Rural

Shira Route

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 that is studded with volcanic rock sculptures and which 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 be no bad thing in the rainy season) but it also means you spend far longer above the 3,500m contour before starting to summit. It also tends to be very uncrowded, at last until it converges with the Machame Route prior to summiting at Stella Point. It is normal to descend through the forest zone following the Mweka Route.

Lemosho Route

This relatively new and very 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.

lemosho route climbing mount kilimanjaro

Northern Circuit

The newest, most remote and longest route on Kilimanjaro, the Northern Circuit is a thrilling variation on the Shira and Lemosho Routes that starts in the west 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 summiting successfully, as well as 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 means it is the most expensive option.

Rongai Route 

The only ascent route to approach Kilimanjaro from the north, Rongai is widely regarded to be the route of preference during the rainy seasons (late March to early June and November to December) since it is sheltered from the rain-bearing southeasterlies that drench the southern slopes. It is worth considering at other times of year, too, since it is reasonably gradual, offers some lovely views over the Tsavo Plains, and offers 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 converging with the Marangu Route at Kibo Hut.


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Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Climbing Kilimanjaro in January

Extreme weather conditions are a likelihood at all times of 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 is quite 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, and this…

Climbing Kilimanjaro in January

snow caps on mount kilimanjaro

Extreme weather conditions are a likelihood at all times of 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 is quite 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, and 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in February

February is an optimum month for climbing Kilimanjaro. Tourist volumes are lower than during the main hiking season of August to September, and the weather is quite dry and relatively cool, which improves the likelihood of extensive snow on the peaks. That said, it gets extremely cold at higher altitudes throughout the year, and hikers should be prepared for subzero temperatures and high winds.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in February

kilimanjaro to mount meru climb

February is an optimum month for climbing Kilimanjaro. Tourist volumes are lower than during the main hiking season of August to September, and the weather is quite dry and relatively cool, which improves the likelihood of extensive snow on the peaks. That said, it gets extremely cold at higher altitudes throughout the year, and hikers should be prepared for subzero temperatures and high winds.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in March

Early March, like February, is a great time to climb Kilimanjaro the weather is quite dry, relatively cool, and very quiet. Nocturnal temperatures drop below freezing at higher altitudes, as is the case all year though, and the risk of rain increases as the month progresses.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in March

lengai landscape

Early March, like February, is a great time to climb Kilimanjaro the weather is quite dry, relatively cool, and very quiet. Nocturnal temperatures drop below freezing at higher altitudes, as is the case all year though, and the risk of rain increases as the month progresses.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in April

April is by far the wettest month on Kilimanjaro and should be avoided at all costs. If that isn’t possible, use the Rongai Route on the dryer northern slopes. Whichever route you use, extreme weather - temperatures way below freezing and high winds - is likely at higher altitudes.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in April

uhuru peak summit

April is by far the wettest month on Kilimanjaro and should be avoided at all costs. If that isn’t possible, use the Rongai Route on the dryer northern slopes. Whichever route you use, extreme weather - temperatures way below freezing and high winds - is likely at higher altitudes.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in May

Credit: Modern Day Marco May is very wet and although rainfall is lower than April, the ground may be waterlogged and forest trails will still be very slippery. Climbing Kilimanjaro is best avoided in May, though it does have the advantage of being very uncrowded. If you do hike at this time of year, best to choose the Rongai Route, which ascends the dryer northern slopes. Even then, arctic temperatures exacerbated by wind are normal at night on the upper slopes.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in May

mount kilimanjaro in april credit modern day marco Credit: Modern Day Marco

May is very wet and although rainfall is lower than April, the ground may be waterlogged and forest trails will still be very slippery. Climbing Kilimanjaro is best avoided in May, though it does have the advantage of being very uncrowded. If you do hike at this time of year, best to choose the Rongai Route, which ascends the dryer northern slopes. Even then, arctic temperatures exacerbated by wind are normal at night on the upper slopes.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in June

Credit: andBeyond 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 waterlogged 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in June

sunset mount kenya credit andbeyond Credit: andBeyond

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 waterlogged 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in July

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 very good time to climb Kilimanjaro. It also marks the start of summer holidays in the northern hemisphere, and of the busiest tourist season. Avoid the crowds by using the less popular Shira, Rongai or Mweka Route.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in July

shira route kilimanjaro

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 very good time to climb Kilimanjaro. It also marks the start of summer holidays in the northern hemisphere, and of the busiest tourist season. Avoid the crowds by using the less popular Shira, Rongai or Mweka Route.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in August

As is the case at all times of year, it will be freezing cold at night in the alpine and arctic zones, but 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in August

dawn on the mweka route

As is the case at all times of year, it will be freezing cold at night in the alpine and arctic zones, but 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in September

Credit: Bookmundi Dry and relatively warm weather can be expected, making September ideal for climbing Kilimanjaro in climatic terms, though extreme cold and possibly high winds are normal in the alpine and arctic zones. September coincides with 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in September

climbing mount kilimanjaro credit bookmundi Credit: Bookmundi

Dry and relatively warm weather can be expected, making September ideal for climbing Kilimanjaro in climatic terms, though extreme cold and possibly high winds are normal in the alpine and arctic zones. September coincides with 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in October

Subzero nocturnal temperatures are normal throughout the year at higher altitudes, often exacerbated by wind. Nevertheless, October is a very good month to climb, with relatively dry and warm weather, and it is generally less busy than August or September. The short rains may start to kick in towards the end of the month, but after four months of dry weather, this shouldn’t be a major concern.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in October

kibo climbing mount kilimanjaro

Subzero nocturnal temperatures are normal throughout the year at higher altitudes, often exacerbated by wind. Nevertheless, October is a very good month to climb, with relatively dry and warm weather, and it is generally less busy than August or September. The short rains may start to kick in towards the end of the month, but after four months of dry weather, this shouldn’t be a major concern.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in November

November is a wet month, even by Kilimanjaro’s soggy standards, so it isn’t an optimum time for climbing. As is the case throughout the year, ground temperatures drop below freezing at night at higher altitudes, but November is colder and windier than average. Avoid if possible.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in November

mount kilimanjaro clouds

November is a wet month, even by Kilimanjaro’s soggy standards, so it isn’t an optimum time for climbing. As is the case throughout the year, ground temperatures drop below freezing at night at higher altitudes, but November is colder and windier than average. Avoid if possible.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in December

Credit: Nuvo Magazine 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.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in December

mount kilimanjaro credit nuvo magazine Credit: Nuvo Magazine

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.

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The people, the culture, the diverse scenery, the wildlife and of course the food & wine.

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