The decision to hike up Kilimanjaro is not one that is made lightly. So we are here to help you prepare both mentally and physically for this epic adventure to the Roof of Africa. Kilimanjaro is no walk in the park. At 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above sea level, this freestanding mountain in Tanzania, East Africa, calls out to novice and expert hikers and climbers alike.
Before you embark on this adventure, make sure you know exactly how to answer these seven questions first.
When should you go hiking Kilimanjaro?
While you can technically hike Kilimanjaro any time of the year, there are two optimal seasons. The first one is from January to March – during this time, the temperatures tend to be cooler.
This first part of the year is also the first of Tanzania’s two dry seasons, so if you’re not fond of hiking in the wet, this period is a great choice. You might even encounter snow on the higher slopes, which while cold will likely not hinder your hike, and it will surely provide breathtaking vistas. The mountain also tends to be quieter around this period with fewer fellow hikers.
The second period is between June and October. This is the busier season as it tends to coincide with the Northern Hemisphere’s summer holidays. The temperatures during this time are warm and pleasant, while also dry.
Remember though that no matter the time of year, climbing Kilimanjaro entails traversing five different climate zones. So dress and pack accordingly: layering up is the best way to go.
Which Kilimanjaro hiking route would suit you best?
Trekking up Kilimanjaro is not as simple as starting at the bottom, and just heading up towards the summit. There are a total of seven routes available to ascend the mountain and one additional route called Mweka that is available for coming down only.
Which route you decide on should be determined by a number of factors, including the general fitness and experience of your hiking group, how much time you have as well as the time of year that you are hiking. Other considerations might include the amount of traffic on the routes, as well as the views. Some routes are more scenic than others. Here’s a quick summary of the routes:
Marangu Route – The Easiest Route
- This route is known as the classic Kili route and it starts in the southeast, goes through Gilman’s Point and up to Uhuru peak.
- It is considered the easiest of the routes, with a gradual slope; it offers communal sleeping huts along the entire route.
- It requires a minimum of five days to climb but more time is advised.
- This route is not generally recommended, as it’s crowded and not very scenic.
Machame Route – The Route with the Best Views
- This route is highly recommended for its great views. There is a six or seven day itinerary option. The seven-day itinerary is best suited for first timers.
- This route allows for good acclimatization as hikers can use the “climb high, sleep low” maxim, climbing back down between the base camps to sleep at a lower altitude.
- The Machame Route is the preferred choice for more adventurous climbers and it can get quite crowded. It is steeper but it offers a better success rate.
Lemosho Route – The Newer Route
- Lemosho is one of the newest routes available.
- It’s a lot less crowded and it offers panoramic views from all sides of the mountain.
- A minimum six days is required, but eight to nine is recommended, allowing lots of time to acclimatize, and as a result this route offers a high success rate.
Northern Circuit – The Most Remote Route
- This is the ideal route for hikers that are not pressed for time.
- Taking at least nine days, this route takes you virtually right around Kilimanjaro. It’s the longest route in time and distance.
- If you prefer a remote route, with scenic vistas including views into neighboring Kenya, this is a great choice.
Rongai Route – The Rarest Route
- The Rongai Route is the only one that approaches Kili from the north and as such is very rarely used.
- If hiking during the wet season, this route would be a better option as the northern face of Kilimanjaro sees the least rain.
- Descending is via the Marangu route, and this route should take six to seven days to complete.
Umbwe Route – The Toughest and Quietest Route
- This is the toughest of the Kilimanjaro routes and should only be undertaken by experienced climbers that are able to acclimatize quickly.
- The route consists of steep and difficult slopes that ascend rapidly.
- Summiting also happens in darkness, and as a result success rates are low.
- The route is the least crowded and has impressive views.
How much would it cost you to hike Kilimanjaro, and would your team be paid fairly?
Your bucket list summit up Kilimanjaro will by no means be a cheap trip, nor should it be. Apart from the obvious flight costs to get to Tanzania, you will most probably need a Tanzanian visa. A single entry visa is between $50 and $100. You can apply for your visa on arrival. Upon entry to Tanzania, you may need to prove you have been vaccinated for Yellow Fever. You may need other vaccinations as well. Budget about $150 for this.
Review the inclusions and exclusions of your climbing package carefully. In most cases, airport transfers, pre and post trek accommodation, and all “on mountain” expenses are included, such as food, porters, tents, guides, etc. Average group package will be about $2,500 per trek, but there are more expensive (private) and cheaper (local operator) offers out there. Check what travel insurance is included, if any. You may need to top up your cover.
Ensure you have the correct gear for the conditions according to when you are planning your summit attempt. If you are not a regular climber you may need to purchase additional items. Keep this in mind, but there will be items available for rent from your tour operator, so check before you purchase too much.
Since they are not paid nearly enough, the tipping of support staff is considered standard. The minimum rate is around $250-$300 per climber for the support team, but do count how many people are working towards helping you get to the summit and calculate accordingly, as the tips will have to be split.
How fit do you need to be and how much training is required to hike Kilimanjaro?
While you don’t need to be a seasoned mountaineer to tackle Kilimanjaro, good attitude and fitness will make the trip a lot more enjoyable. What will count towards your success is good mental stamina. Both mind and body need to be in it, to get to the top.
Aerobic training or cardio workouts build your cardiovascular system, which is important when oxygen is in limited supply as you ascend. Light to moderate intensity activities like cycling, jogging and swimming are great for building up your general fitness. It’s also a good idea to get a heart rate monitor and learn how to keep your heart rate lower to avoid being out of breath on the mountain.
Incorporate light strength training into your routine also. Strengthen your legs with lunges and squats. Make sure your back, shoulder and core muscles are strong, as you’ll be carrying your daypack for a good number of hours a day.
It’s best to include practice hikes in your training. At least two long distance hikes spanning over 5 hours would help you break in your hiking boots as well as test your endurance levels and other gear. Try doing this on consecutive days. It’s important that you know how all your gear works.
Your mental stamina is what will get you through when you need to dig deep and not give in. The best way to achieve this is by pushing your body hard. Participate in endurance events like a marathon run, or even a half marathon.
Will you be doing it for yourself or for a great cause?
While hiking and summiting Kilimanjaro is a feat of note and a great personal goal, you can add another dimension of philanthropy to your adventure by doing it for a cause. Not only will you be doing a good deed, raising funds for a charity of your choice will serve an additional motivating factor to keep you going when you need to dig deep.
There are a number of charities to choose from, and you’re sure to find one that resonates with you. By choosing a charity, you agree to raise funds for it. This also puts you in touch with other climbers doing the same thing.
The organization you choose will most likely have tips and fundraising ideas to share with you from previous intrepid adventurers, and some offer actual trip planning, group treks as well as fundraising support.
How to spot altitude sickness?
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or as it’s more commonly known, Altitude Sickness is a very real danger when climbing Kilimanjaro. AMS occurs as a result of a reduction of air pressure and lower oxygen levels as the altitude increases. The best way to avoid AMS is to ascend slowly, as this will allow your body time to acclimatize. A common trick used by experienced climbers is to “climb high, sleep low”. This simply means you have to descend to a lower altitude to set up camp to sleep.
While you can take some medication to prevent AMS, you should consult your doctor before taking any. Also, make sure you stay hydrated throughout your hike. While the temperatures at higher altitudes might be cooler, this often lulls the hiker into forgetting to drink water. AMS can affect different people at different altitudes; there is no firm rule. The symptoms of AMS are very similar to dehydration.
When mild symptoms first appear, it’s a good idea to hydrate. Make sure your hiking group is aware of any discomfort or symptoms you are experiencing. These can include persistent headaches, tiredness, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances and loss of appetite.
If left unattended these symptoms can worsen and if you continue to ascend, it can be fatal. Vomiting, loss of coordination or ataxia are signs that the AMS is getting worse and it is imperative that you descend at least 300 m (1,000 feet) or more and remain at that lower altitude until the symptoms subside completely.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema is a condition related to severe AMS. The brain tissue swells as a result of fluid build up in the cranium. This is a life threatening condition and no case of AMS should ever be allowed to escalate to this point. When in doubt, be safe. Descend to a safe altitude. Recover.
What are your chances of summiting safely?
It is almost impossible to predict with any certainty the success rate of a summit attempt. There are simply too many variables at play. There are also no recent and verified statistics around Kilimanjaro climbs and successful summits. What you can do to skew the odds in your favor though, is to do your homework:
- Ensure you find a well-experienced tour operator that holds safety in high regards.
- Choose a route that will ascend slowly. Do not rush your climb. If a “climb high, sleep low” option exists, opt for that, especially if you’re a first time high altitude trekker.
- Make sure your body and mind are ready for what lays ahead.
- Ensure you have the right gear.
- Train appropriately and give yourself enough time to prepare well.
- Be realistic.
I hope the tips above are helpful in planning for your Kilimanjaro adventure!
More about the author
Mark has trekked extensively in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. He founded Mountain IQ in 2014 with the sole aim to be the best online information portal to some of the most popular mountain destinations around the world. When not writing for Mountain IQ, Mark is out exploring the outdoors with his wife! You can also follow him on Facebook and Instagram.