Trekking

Which route to climb Kilimanjaro?

12 Sep , 2011  

Choosing which route to climb Mount Kilimanjaro by is one of the most significant choices you will make when planning your successful Kilimanjaro climb. There is a massive amount of conflicting opinion, but we have compiled this easy, one-stop guide to the best routes to climb Kilimanjaro by.

Marangu Route (Tourist or Coca-Cola Route)

This is the original and, because of the low cost, still one of the most popular routes. Accommodation is in huts, and you ascend and descend by the same route. Unless you are really pressed for cash, this route is to be avoided as the three-day ascent does not give enough time for acclimatisation and the success rate is low.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • No camping (if you don’t like camping)

Cons: 

  • Not enough time for acclimatisation
  • Low success rate
  • Very busy
  • Shared huts (if you don’t like sharing huts)

Machame Route

The Machame route is a popular route on Kilimanjaro as it doesn’t involve a long drive, ascends and descends by different paths, enjoys beautiful campsites, passes many of Kilimanjaro’s most beautiful features, and the overall success rate is excellent. If you have the time, it is best to do this climb in 7 days as this will give you the best chance of acclimatisation and thus the greatest chance of summiting.

Pros: 

  • Scenic, western ascent.
  • Least expensive camping route.
  • Varied scenery.
  • Easy access to the trailhead.

Cons: 

  • Most popular camping route. (Apparently now more popular than Marangu)

Lemosho Route (Also known as Shira Plateau Route)

Kilimanjaro’s Lemosho Route gives an exclusive experience of Kilimanjaro as, although it joins the more popular Machame Route on day three the first two days are spent on tranquil trails, and it can sometimes feel like you have the whole mountain to yourself. (It joins the Machame Route shortly after Shira Camp.

The guides often say that this is their favourite route not least because of the beautiful views of Kilimanjaro as you approach from the west, the excellent chances of seeing wildlife on your walk and the experience of crossing the Shira plateau.

We offer the Lemosho Route over eight days climbing as this gives you an extremely high chance of success as acclimatisation is helped by the additional time spent on the mountain.  It is also possible to do the trail in 7 days if you are short of time.

Pros

  • Scenic, western ascent.
  • Fewer climbers.
  • Beautiful views of Kilimanjaro.
  • Crossing the scenic Shira plateau.
  • High success rate.
  • Possibility to see wildlife.

Cons

  • More expensive as there is an extra day and permit fees are higher.
  • May not be possible to access the trailhead in the wet season.

Rongai Route

The Rongai route is the least crowded route on Kilimanjaro because of the long journey to the gate where your climb begins. It retains a sense of unspoilt wilderness and offers a different perspective on Kilimanjaro. As there are fewer people, this also gives you the best chance of viewing wildlife. The fauna is quite different on these Northern slopes, you will see juniper and olive trees.  You don’t miss out on the Lobelias and the Giant Groundsels tho as you will see these on your route down.

Although the journey to the trailhead from Arusha is much longer it passes through a rural Chagga heartland allowing you to see village life. If you are short on time it is also people to complete this trail in 6 days but, this does not allow you as much time for acclimatisation.

Pros

  • Remote Eastern route.
  • Fewer climbers.
  • Ideal during rainy season.
  • Possibility to see wildlife.
  • Probably the easiest route in terms of physical exertion.

Cons

  • Less  dramatic scenery than Western routes.
  • Long drive to trailhead.
  • Little forest hiking.
  • Descends via crowded Marangu route.

Other routes that you may come across include: 

Umbwe Route 

Very rarely used by western trekking parties as this is a tough slog straight up  the mountain and unless you are already acclimatised it is a non-starter.

Western Breach Route

The most challenging and potentially most dangerous this is a great route for the more experienced mountaineer looking for a challenge. Branching off from the Machame, Lemosho and Umbwe routes at Lava Tower Camp it ascents to the crater via a breach in the crater wall. It is a steep and challenging ascent and climbers have been killed by rockfall in the past. Crampons and iceaxe will probably be required and you should choose a highly reputable trekking agency.

Variations:

You will of course find numerous variations on the number of days taken to complete each route and other variations such as summit camps or slightly different camp sites.  The general rule is to try and maximise the time you have available for acclimatisation.

Which route to choose?

That’s all very well but which route should you choose?

My personal opinion is that the 8 day Lemosho Route offers the very best experience and chance of success on Kilimanjaro. The combination of the first few days being quieter, great views and the variation of the scenery over the length of the trip make this a winner.

If you are stuck for time and cash the Machame Route over seven days is a great route and the success rate very high.

If you really don’t like busy trails and prefer easier walking days then the Rongai over seven days is a good choice.

If you are a keen mountaineer looking for a bit more of a challenge and are already acclimatised (perhaps with a Meru Climb) then the Lemosho Route finishing via the Western Breach won’t disappoint.

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Avatar By
Founder and Chief Adventure Officer of Macs Adventure. With a passion for adventure and active travel, I firmly believe that the very best way to discover a country, its landscape, culture and people is under your own steam. I have travelled extensively in Southern and East Africa, Australasia, Europe and Asia and spend my time walking, climbing, mountain biking and kite-surfing in Scotland and around the world. I love living in Glasgow with my wife, son and daughter, although I am trying unsuccessfully to convince them to move closer to my favourite kite surfing spot in Troon.