A mention of Tanzania is incomplete without mentioning the magnificent Kilimanjaro. Standing at 5,985 meters (19,341 feet), it cuts an imposing figure and is a joy to behold whether you climb or just gaze at it. Known as  ‘KilemaKyaro’ meaning ‘that which cannot be conquered’ in the local language, the snow-covered peak is the highest free-standing mountain on earth.

Given its status as the tallest mountain in Africa it should be difficult to climb, right? Contrary to perception, it’s not beyond a person with good physical condition. The ascent of the formidable mountain is through five distinct routes, each representing different degrees of difficulty, climate, and vegetation.

Most popular, least difficult, economical and the shortest way to the summit is the Marangu Route. Known as “Tourist Route” or the “Coca Cola Route”, it’s a busy route and attracts nearly half the climbers. Not the most scenic, it has provision for accommodation along the route and takes five days to reach the top.

The extremely scenic but physically demanding,  six-day Machame Route is a favourite of adventurous hikers. Known as “Whiskey Route” for the level of difficulty it poses, it has become crowded in recent past with its growing popularity.

The five-day Lemosho Glades Route is not for the faint-hearted. The challenging route has a very high success rate and will take you through some stunning scenery accompanied by sightings of some of Africa’s popular wildlife attractions.

If you are strapped of time and budget, then Rongai Route is the most ideal. Second easiest route after Marangu, Rongai offers a chance to experience varied climatic conditions along with spectacular wilderness.

If you are looking for an adrenaline fix then Umbwe Route is cut out for you. Arguably the least frequented, this five-day trail is most demanding and recommended only for experts.

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Marangu Route
5 – Day climb + 2 Days in hotel

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Rongai Route
6 – Day climb + 2 Days in hotel

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Machame Route
6 – Day climb + 2 Days in hotel

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Lemosho Route
5 – Day climb + 2 Days in hotel

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Umbwe Route
5 – Day climb + 2 Days in hotel

Kilimanjaro Facts

Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, rises dramatically from the Great Rift Valley and stand 5985m above sea level- that’s the official height of the mountain. The figure remains debatable as different surveys have pegged the height at 5892.5 m. ( Karlsruhe Institute along with UCLAS in 1999) and  5890.8 m. in 2008. No matter what, it’s still the highest point in Africa.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, standing 5985m above sea level. It is also the highest freestanding mountain in the world. With a 750,000 years old vintage, the dormant volcano is an agglomeration of three volcanic cones-of three cones – Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. The journey to the glittering peaks of the plateau is a trek through five distinct habitat zones and varying altitudes. The ascent is a veritable equator to the arctic experience as you go from cultivated land> rain forest> heath moorland> alpine desert and finally arctic summit. The non-technical nature of the climb which doesn’t require any special equipment makes is accessible to one and all. Nearly 50,000 trekkers flocking to the mountain annually in the hope of living a dream.

Mount Kilimanjaro is approximately 200 miles south of the Equator in the East African country of Tanzania.  The exact location of Kilimanjaro is 3.0674° S, 37.3556° E. Its proximity to the border of Kenya and Tanzania is a source of confusion but it falls entirely within Tanzanian soil near the northern border of Tanzania. The mountain sits astride the Kilimanjaro National Park in the northern circuit and is a huge attraction for tourists worldwide.

Tanzania is well served by its airports which have become a hub for national and international flights. To get to the Kilimanjaro you need to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) which is situated 46km east of Arusha. If you can’t get a flight to KIA, or its too pricey for you then you can fly to Kilimanjaro airport via Dar Es Salaam or Nairobi (Kenya). Kilimanjaro is much closer to Nairobi than it is from Dar es Salaam. Nairobi receives a lot more air traffic than Kilimanjaro Airport, so you can benefit from the competitive prices.

Of the roughly 50,000 trekkers who start the trek every year nearly 60-70% enjoy the glory of summiting the peak. Besides decent fitness levels, the vital ingredient for a successful summit is better acclimatization. And a longer duration trek offers better acclimatization opportunities and increases the chances of a successful summit.

The recommended minimum duration trek is 7 days and the below averages are based on that

Marangu route -Success Rates: around 50%

Machame route-Success Rates: between 70%-85%

Lemosho route- Success Rates: between 80%-90%

Rongai route-Success Rates: between 65%-80%

Umbwe route- Success Rates: between 70%-85%

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 meters. It is, in fact, a dormant Stratovolcano and lies just 200 miles of the equator. From its base rises approximately 4,877 meters and the summit is called Uhuru Peak. There are 140 different species of mammals that live on Mount Kilimanjaro. In 1889, German geographer Hans Meyer and Austrian mountain climber Ludwig Purtscheller were the first to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. There are five climatic zones on Kilimanjaro. The last volcanic activity of Mount Kilimanjaro occurred 200 years back. There are six official routes on Mount Kilimanjaro, six of which are used for ascent (Machame, Umbwe, Marangu, Shira, Lemosho, Rongai), and one of which is used for descent only (Mweka). Marangu route is the oldest and only route on Kilimanjaro that has hut accommodation. Kilimanjaro glaciers are receding due to climate change. The highest cricket match in the world was played on Kilimanjaro’s crater in September 2014. The highest Pizza delivery was recorded by Pizza Hut in May 2016.

Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb but does require a high level of fitness and endurance levels. Having said that, the youngest person to reach the summit was six years old, and the eldest to ever make the summit was 87-year-old Frenchman Valtee Daniel. South African Bernard Goosen, born with cerebral palsy scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro twice in a wheelchair. So if you have the zeal and plan and prepare well it’s not beyond you. Anybody can do it.

The answer is pretty straightforward- depends on the choice of your route. It’s anywhere between 6-9 days on different routes with longer treks having higher success rates as they allow for acclimatization and rest. There are 6 established routes to reach the summit. Each route has its own unique offerings and presents varying degrees of challenges and sceneries. Pick the one that is best suited to your body and itinerary.

Rongai route has a 5-6 day itinerary. It’s gradually growing popularity and is moderately challenging

Lemosho route is a minimum 6-day trek. The trail is dotted with great views and accords maximum success rates

Machame route is a 6-7 day trek and is a popular draw for its sceneries

Marangu route offers a 5-6 day trek. There are limited sceneries on offer as the ascent and descent are on the same trail. The shorter trek duration makes acclimatization difficult

Umbwe route is a hard steep trek. Even the 6-8 day itinerary doesn’t precious little to temper the challenges.

Animals, as a rule, avoid humans. Continuous human traffic on Kilimanjaro means they have been forced to find sanctuary in deeper recess. Also, the fact that animals can’t survive on higher reaches means there is limited wildlife on view. Nonetheless, there 140 different species of mammals that live on Mount Kilimanjaro including 7 primates, 25 carnivores, 25 antelopes and 24 different species of bats. Larger mammals like buffalo, red duiker, grey duiker, bushbacks and tree hyrax are also visible. In the montane rainforest regions, you can spot the blue monkeys and the elusive colobus monkeys besides the tree-hyrax. At lower elevation, you might catch an aardvark or the tenacious honey badger. In the upper echelons of – Heather-Moorland/Alpine Desert/Arctic Summit- only animal that has managed to survive is the four stripped grass mouse. There are plenty of birds to see on the Kilimanjaro.  Malachite Sunbird can be spotted in Karanga valley. On the slopes, you can see Mountain buzzards, crowned eagles, white-necked raven and the rare Lammergeyer giant vultures.

The guides and porters that accompany you all the way to the summit and down on Kilimanjaro speak the language of Swahili with the guides having English speaking proficiency. The porters also have English languages skills as it is widely spoken in Tanzania. One Swahili word you will constantly hear on the trek is ‘pole-pole’ meaning ‘slowly –slowly’ is the way to the top. Chagga tribe inhabit the foothills of Kilimanjaro and speak the language of Kichagga. They can also speak Swahili. It’s mandatory that you hire a local guide outfitter to climb Kilimanjaro. Tip the porters and guides generously. Kilimanjaro is a ‘Leave No Trace’ area, and you are required to take your waste back with you. Avail acclimatizing opportunities, observe the principles of climb high/sleep low, hydrate generously, heed your guide, make friends, ‘pole –pole’ your way up the mountain.

On Kilimanjaro, you will need a Large Duffel bag (33lb or 16kg) to carry most of your luggage items. It should be durable, lightweight and waterproof and the load in it shouldn’t exceed 15kgs as there are weight restrictions to observe.

A 15-25L Hiking Pack will be on your shoulders to carry your essentials that you need immediate access to on the trek (clothes, food water etc). It should be durable, lightweight and waterproof. Sleeping bag- Kilimanjaro is chilly even in hotter months with wicked variations of temperature. Temperatures can drop to freezing point at night. Ensure your sleeping bag is for cold weather and thicker with more padding has a sleeping bag liner.

While ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro, overnight accommodation is always in the tents at designated camps which are erected every afternoon and dismantled the next morning as the trek resumes. Unless you have chosen the Marangu route which is dotted with rustic huts and climbers get to sleep in huts in dormitory style accommodations. You might be lured by the thought of spending a night under the caves en route to the top but bear in mind staying in bivouacs or caves is strictly prohibited.

Summiting on Kilimanjaro is a daunting challenge so chose the right route which gives enough scope for acclimatization and integration of climb high sleep low principles. Longer the trek, better the chances of making the summit. A minimum 7-day trek is recommended. Machame, Lemosho, and Rongai are safer bets as far as routes are concerned. Undertake high altitude training and improve your fitness. Get the right clothing and equipment. Have sun and wind protection. Hydrate well and ensure a good diet and rest. Heed to your guide, let him set the pace. Smile, make friends and ‘pole- pole’ your way to the summit.

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I was part of a big group which Lifetime Safari planned a trip for and they absolutely nailed it. Also superaccomodating with everything and managed to please everyone in a group of 55 people. I mean, that is a very hard thing to do but everything went smooth - which means that they planned everything to the tee. Everyone working at Lifetime Safaris are also incredibly nice and genuine. If I ever go back to Tanzania I will for sure use Lifetime again!

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