Best Kilimanjaro Routes to Climb – Easy Guide (But Complete)

All Kilimanjaro routes in a nutshell
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23 September 2020

Kilimanjaro National Park Authority has seven official routes for Mount Kilimanjaro. This guide outlines our favorite four routes in detail to help climbers choose which best fits their interests and fitness level. Every route differs in its specific draws, from scenic views to difficulty level and most importantly - acclimatization profiles.

Kilimanjaro hikers

Acclimatization

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 six days or more have a distinctively higher success rate in reaching the summit than treks that cover 5 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.

Beginners

Due to the various acclimatization profiles of every route in Kilimanjaro, Altezza 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 Altezza office.

Hikers with more experience may consider other routes on Kilimanjaro, such as Machame 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.

Scenery

After acclimatization profile, 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 and 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, including a different approach to the final ascent.

This Kilimanjaro Route guide will help you choose the trek that is right for you.

Kilimanjaro Routes Map and Topography

Western

The western slope of Kilimanjaro offers several trailheads; Lemosho, Shira and the Northern Circuit. The first two routes converge at Barranco Wall, which can have crowded overnight camps, where they meet with two other routes as they head south. Trekkers will stay at Barafu Camp before attempting the summit. However, the Northern Circuit avoids this and heads north at Lava Tower to the unique School Hut summit camp. This is the only route to offer a full 3600 view of Mount Kilimanjaro. All of the Western Routes descend by the Mweka trail down the southern side of Kilimanjaro to allow climbers another view of Tanzania on the return.

Southern

Machame and Umbwe routes ascend via the southern side of Kilimanjaro and meet at Barranco Camp, which as previously mentioned, is usually crowded. They also overnight at Barafu Camp prior to the summit, and descend by Mweka, which means climbers return by the same southern side of the mountain, but along a different trail.

Northern

The only route we offer up the Northern side of Mount Kilimanjaro is Rongai, which is a less-utilized (and therefore more quiet) option. The Rongai route is singular for a great deal of the ascending trek, eventually merging with Marangu for descent.

Western Breach Route

The seldom-visited Western Breach Route is only for climbers with a great deal of experience, professional climbers and those with much prior acclimatization. The western approach up Kilimanjaro is very difficult and a quick ascent, making it the preferred route for those attempting to break world records.

Western breach panorama
Morning panorama in the summit area

Marangu Route One of the most popular, and therefore busiest routes. Sleeping accommodations are in dormitory-style huts.

Rongai Route Often considered one of the easiest routes, but is the least visited and one of the quietest treks up Kilimanjaro.

Lemosho Route An incredibly scenic route with ideal acclimatization, this route has one of the highest success rates for successful summits.

Umbwe Route The most beautiful things are not easily obtained: this is one of the most spectacularly-scenic routes, but it is also the difficult climb offered on Kilimanjaro.

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 determines your preparedness, 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.

Kilimanjaro team climbing the Northern Circuit route

The only quantifiable factor focuses on a route’s acclimatization profile: a good route has well-placed overnight camps and daily hikes that prepare for the final summit, as compared to climbs which rapidly ascend and result in a lower successful summit record. We at Altezza Travel are passionate about climbers having a great and safe experience, and encourage trekkers to choose routes and itineraries with the highest successful summit attempts, instead of the least expensive and fastest approaches that all-too often end without reaching the peak.

There is no ‘best’ route on Kilimanjaro, only routes that better fit individual preferences

We encourage prospective climbers to consider the following questions:

  • Does the route in question have a good acclimatization profile?

    • Placement of overnight camps (climb high, sleep low)?
    • Acclimatization hikes?
    • 5 days or more ascending Kilimanjaro?
  • What is your team’s overall fitness level? And, are you training in preparation?

    • The routes vary in level of difficulty
    • Your team may consider prior acclimatization by summiting Mount Meru before attempting Kilimanjaro
  • Your budget

    • Routes have various costs
    • Some routes have the option for ‘extras’ that make camping more comfortable, such as portable showers and sleeping cots
  • Accomodations

    • Marangu has sleeping huts (dormitory-style)
    • All other routes offer tent camping which means more privacy for groups
  • Dates/Weather

    • Trekking in the dry season allows for more route options
    • Some routes are not available in the rainy season. A rainy season climb is particularly green and lush, and hut accommodations may be prefered
  • Social Aspects

    • Climbing in seclusion with your own team on a quiet route, such as Lemosho
    • Trekking with a bigger crowd on a popular route like Machame or Marangu
The more days you prepare for the high altitude, the better your chances of success
The rocks of Kilimanjaro
Morning panorama in the Kilimanjaro camp

As you can see, each individual’s preferences play a big role in selecting the “perfect climb” up Kilimanjaro. There are many options to choose from, however one factor that should not be overlooked is the total time climbing up Kilimanjaro. We recommend a 7 or 8-day route over shorter options for the highest chance of completion. This is a mountain climb, not a race, and the more days you have preparing your body for the high altitude, the better your chances of successfully reaching the summit and watching the sun rise from the highest point of Africa.

Kilimanjaro Routes FAQ

Which route is the best for Kilimanjaro?

We get this question all the time, and we cannot say the answer enough: there is no ‘best’ route, as each ascent has its own advantages and disadvantages. It all boils down to each individual’s preferences: scenery, social aspects, time of year, and accommodation-type. If you need more direction, please reach out to a specialist team for individual advice; they are happy to help!

Which Kilimanjaro route has the highest success rate?

The 7 and 8- day Lemosho trek in particular has one of the highest success rates with our climbers. Overall, all itineraries on Kilimanjaro routes that span 7 days or more have much higher success rates than their counterparts.

If reaching the summit is your number-one priority, consider a Lemosho trip. For hikers that have a tighter budget, consider a 7-day Machame program, which also has a very good success rate.

Altezza Travel keeps stringent records of our climbs and records our own data for rating purposes. The official data provided by the National Parks Tanzania is more than 10 years old, and is based on trekkers climbing with out-dated equipment and fewer safety protocols. We believe our data is some of the most up-to-date and accurate available Kilimanjaro climbs.

How difficult is the Kilimanjaro climb?

This depends on many factors; namely each individual’s personal fitness level as well as the difficulty of the chosen route. More importantly, it depends on the acclimatization profile of a given route. Some routes have strenuous, long daily treks, while some save all the difficulty for the final summit (Marangu, specifically). Others take a longer route and more gradually reach the summit, such as Lemosho. In reality, the perceived difficulty of climbing Kilimanjaro depends less on one’s individual fitness level and more on the acclimatization. Many trekkers of average physical fitness are able to successfully summit Kilimanjaro on routes that have a good acclimatization profile and are 7 days or longer.

Don’t ignore physical training to prepare, though! This is still important and Mount Kilimanjaro is a true mountain, the highest point in Africa and one of the Seven Summits and should not be underestimated. Climbing Kilimanjaro does not require special skills or alpine training; instead, it is a long, multi-day trek with some particular physical challenges along the way. Regular hiking is great preparation for Kilimanjaro.

In summary, it takes a combination of personal determination and respect to acclimatization to reach the top.

How long is the Kilimanjaro climb?

Again, this depends on the chosen route and can vary anywhere from 5 to 9 days to complete a Kilimanjaro climb. Daily trekking distance is anywhere from 8 to 12 kilometers (5-7 miles), while the final summit requires a longer trek of 15 to 20 kilometers. Overall, trekkers will cover a distance of around 60 to 90 kilometers (37-56 miles) over the course of their climb, which shows why some treks require more days than others.

We cannot reiterate this enough: longer routes are better for acclimatization transition and result in higher summit successes.

Which Kilimanjaro route is the easiest?

There is no particularly ‘easy’ route, as each presents its own unique challenges. And in some ways, having small challenges every day during the ascending treks prepares your body for the final summit. However, from the perspective of ‘challenging’, the least challenging route, in our opinion, is the 8-day Lemosho trek, followed by the 7-day Lemosho itinerary. This route is ideal for climbing novices and is also appropriate for climbers more advanced in age.

Which Kilimanjaro route is the fastest?

The Marangu route allows the travellers to summit Mt Kilimanjaro in just five days. This is the shortest duration allowed by the Kilimanjaro National Park Authorities. However, with an understanding of acclimatization, this is only appropriate for experienced climbers with prior acclimatization to high altitudes and could be unsafe to attempt without appropriate preparedness. This faster itinerary is more physically challenging, no matter your fitness level.

Record-breaking athletes have completed each route in less than a day, however they are in a select category called “Sky Runners” and some live at higher altitudes for weeks in order to prepare for the elevation before returning to the base and literally racing to the top. Altezza Travel has organized several world-record climbs, please contact our office if you are interested in completing such a challenge.

Which Kilimanjaro route is the hardest?

Umbwe 6-day, Machame 6 and Marangu 5-day trek are often described to be the most challenging routes to the Roof of Africa. All have poor acclimatization transition and difficult terrain, making them particularly challenging to reach the top.

Should YOU climb Kilimanjaro?

Yes! The challenge is real, but absolutely worth it.
Over the course of several days, you and your team journey through a tropical rainforest and transition to an Alpine Desert, ending in an Arctic climate, while still in Africa. Camping along scenic routes overlooking Tanzania, while you trek the famous volcano Kilimanjaro is the experience of a lifetime. Finally, you can stand on Uhuru Peak and watch the sun rise up over the curve of the earth from the highest point in all of Africa.

You can join a pre-scheduled climb or plan your own itinerary for your climbing team. Contact us today!

Rating:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dima is a Tanzania-based travel expert with multiple Kilimanjaro hikes under his belt. He contributed his knowledge and skills to many notable expeditions, including Wings of Kilimanjaro 2019, BASE-jump trip with Red Bull, National Geographic trips and many other adventures.

At Altezza Travel Dima is the Kilimanjaro Expeditions Coordinator. Every year he supervises the departure of over 1500 Kilimanjaro trekkers, appoints the guides and makes sure that everything goes as planned before, during and after the expedition.
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