Are you climbing Kilimanjaro but don't know which route to pick?
This site will explain the differences between the routes and help you decide which is the best for you.
As the popularity of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro continues to increase, potential climbers are often uncertain as to which route to take. Choosing the wrong route can mean the difference between having a spendid, enjoyable experience and successful summit versus a harrowing, miserable climb and a failed attempt. We have successfully guided climbers on every route. Climbers have also failed on every route. Therefore, there is no "best" route for everyone - it is specific to the individual.
There are seven major routes used to climb Kilimanjaro. They are:
- Marangu Route
- Machame Route
- Umbwe Route
- Rongai Route
- Shira Route
- Lemosho Route
- Northern Circuit Route
Some operators will make blanket statements that a particular route is "good" or "bad" but the truth is that each route has its own advantages and disadvantages. There are situations when each route has merit. Here are some examples:
- Umbwe is steep and ascends quickly and most would be wise to avoid it if they have never done high altitude trekking. However those who are already acclimatized or know they can acclimatize well can climb this route without hesitation. We had three groups of eight active US Army veterans who were stationed in Afghanistan climb the Umbwe route. They had a 100% success rate.
- Marangu is usually quite crowded and most reputable operators do not operate on this route. However, because it is the only route that uses hut shelters instead of tents, during the rainy season Marangu is a fair choice. Additionally, there are no crowds during the rainy season.
- Northern Circuit is a phenomenal route - but a long one. Usually that is a good thing because the longer you spend on the mountain, the better you acclimatize. But if you have never camped before, it can be a struggle to spend nine days on the mountain.
When selecting the route, make sure it is the appropriate route for your desires, physical ability, aptitude and comfort level.
Things to Consider when Choosing a Kilimanjaro Route
To choose the best Kilimanjaro route for you, there are plenty of variables to be mindful of.
- Who: Who is climbing? The whole group's abilities must be factored into choosing a route. Are there novices in your group? Are there people who have never been to high altitudes? Pick a route that best fits everyone.
- What: What limitations surround your climb? Are you bound by a budget? Or the number of days on your trip? There are cheaper and more expensive routes, and shorter and longer itineraries. Get an idea of how much money and how many days people are willing to spend on the mountain.
- How: How do you see your trek? Do you want the most challenging route or a less strenuous one? Kilimanjaro can bring out a lot of discomfort and suffering. Some people don't want to be pushed too hard. These answers will affect which route is for you.
- Where: Where do you want to begin your climb? The routes start from all sides of the mountain. Where you begin affects cost, scenery and scenic variety. For instance, the western routes are more scenic because they cover more of the mountain.
- Why: Why are you climbing? Is it very important to summit? Then choose a route with a high success rate. Do you want to take the best photos? Then pick a scenic route. Do you just want to be there? Then choose a quick, inexpensive route.
- When: When are you climbing? If you are climbing during the dry season, great. But if you are climbing during the rainy season or the shoulder seasons, then the route you select can play into the climb's difficulty. Climbs around holidays and full moons are especially crowded.
There is no "best" Kilimanjaro route!
It all depends on you.
Kilimanjaro Routes Overview
Below are brief descriptions of the climbing routes on Mount Kilimanjaro, the distance roundtrip and the number of days.
- Cost: $ = low, $$ = mid, $$$ = high, $$$$ = very high
- Difficulty: ^ = low, ^^ = mid, ^^^ = high, ^^^^ = very high
|Marangu||Popular tourist route, approaches from southeast, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful rain forest section and moorlands, comfortable but basic hut shelter, poor acclimatization profile, descent on same trail. $/^||
|Machame||Most popular route, approaches from south, very scenic route with southern traverse, difficult route but very good for acclimatization, camping. $$/^^||
|Rongai||Long access drive to trailhead, approaches from north, remote, less frequented, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful alpine desert section, good alternative to Marangu, camping, fair acclimatization profile, camping. $$/^||
|Lemosho||Long access drive to trailhead, approaches from west, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic with southern traverse, camping, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization, camping. $$$/^^^||
|Shira||Almost same as Lemosho, approaches from west, long access drive to trailhead, trail starts at 11,800 ft, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic with southern traverse, camping, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization if ok at 11,800 ft, camping. $$$/^^^||
|Northern Circuit||Newest route, very few climbers, approaches from west, very scenic with northern traverse, nearly 360 degree traverse, best route for acclimatization profile, longest route, camping. $$$$/^^^||
|Umbwe||Least used trail, approaches from south, shortest and steepest route, spectacular ridge, scenic with southern traverse, difficult route with poor acclimatization profile, pre-acclimatization is recommended, camping. $$/^^^^||
Among the differences between these routes:
- The routes have starting points located on multiple sides of the mountain.
- The routes vary distance and accordingly so do the completion times.
- There are relatively easy trails, difficult routes, and even dangerous ones.
- Certain routes are favorable for altitude acclimatisation due to their route profile.
- There are routes that are better when climbing during the rainy season.
- One route offers hut accommodations while the rest are camping routes.
The map below shows the routes and the corresponding statistics:
Machame is the most popular route on the mountain, with an estimated 45% of all climbers using this route. Next is the Marangu route, with an estimated 40% of all climbers opting for this route. Lemosho and Rongai see far less use, but are the preferred routes for the more reputable (expensive) Kilimanjaro outfitters, and are thus growing in popularity. Shira, Umbwe and Northern Circuit barely have any foot traffic.
The known success rates for the abovelisted routes depends on the number of days rather than the specific route itself. The reported success rates are: 5 days (27%), 6 days (44%), 7 days (64%), 8 days (85%), all routes (45%).
Picking the wrong route can mean a unnecessarily difficult trek, a failed summit, or getting sick and/or injured. So it is necessary to compare the different elements that makes each route unique.
Remember: pick the kilimanjaro route that is right for you!
Here are some general helpful tips when climbing Kilimanjaro.
- Choose a longer route so that you have more time to acclimatize if you are unsure of your ability. Adding a day or two can increase your odds of success.
- Climb during one of the dry seasons (December - February and July - October). Nice weather makes the climb easier in many ways.
- Find a solid guide service. Their guides are better trained to deal with altitude sickness and other emergencies on the mountain. Your life is priceless, and certainly worth more than saving a few hundred dollars. Additionally, the good operators will serve better food and have better equipment - both of which keep you healthier and stronger on the mountain.
- Take training seriously. The summit and immediate long descent is very tough. Do not underestimate how tiring it is to come from 19,340 feet to 9,000 feet.
- Bring the right gear. You need apparel that will keep you warm and dry. You also need well broken in, comfortable boots. You will be spending a lot of time in them. Take care of your feet too.