Mount Kilimanjaro

Hazy Baobab tree silhouettes sit in the foreground of Tanzania's iconic, snow-capped equatorial summit.

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Standing alone from any mountain range, Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

Driving through the wild grasslands sitting in Kilimanjaro’s mountain shadow is a quintessential African experience.

As you ascend Africa’s highest peak, burgeoning rainforest gets traded for desolate, lunar trails that overlook the expansive Kilimanjaro National Park.

This dormant, stratovolcano has three separate cones, Mawenzi, Shibo and the highest, Kibo, and countless ways to get to the top.

It’s not guaranteed that your first attempt will be successful, however, the better prepared you are and the more time you commit to acclimatisation, the higher your chances are of making the summit.

Craft your Kilimanjaro adventure from our range of itineraries with the best local and ethical operators.

Marangu Route

This trail approaches the summit from the south-east and approaches Uhuru Peak via Gilman’s Point. This is the most popular route up Kilimanjaro and has since gained the name ‘the Coca-Cola route’. It’s a steady, gradual and accessible climb, however, many try to complete the route in five days without allowing any time for acclimatisation meaning this route has a lower average success rate. It’s also the only route that offers hut accommodation, and camping is not allowed.

The Marangu also uses the same path up and down meaning slightly less scenic variety. We would recommend this route to those who aren’t keen on camping and are on a budget. We would also recommend taking an extra acclimatisation day to increase your chance of reaching the summit.

Machame Route

The Machame Route is similarly popular and is referred to as the ‘Whiskey Route’, a hat-tip to the ‘Coca-Cola Route’. It’s harder but arguably more enjoyable, depending on your tastes. The route is more strenuous but has a higher success rate than the Marangu route due to better-prepared trekkers. This route is usually completed over seven days in order to lower the risk of altitude sickness.

You’ll ascend from the western side, circle the Kibo volcanic cone and descend the Mweka route on the south-east, passing the Shira Plateau, the Lava Tower and the Barranco Wall on the way. It’s for this reason that the Machame route is considered one of the most scenic ways to climb Kilimanjaro.

Rongai Route

The Rongai Route is an excellent choice for those looking for an easier hike that is further away from the crowds. Although the scenery is less varied than the Machame, the camp beneath the Mawenzi Peak is one of the most stunning on the mountain.

You’re more likely to spot wildlife on the Rongai Route due to fewer crowds. You ascend the mountain from the north which is a fair bit drier than alternative routes, and the careful staggering of the camps mean that this route also has one of the highest success rates. This route is generally tackled over six days, but you can choose to add an acclimatisation day if you wish.

Shira Route

On the Shira Route, you’ll ascend from the west of the mountain before joining the busier Machame Route. There are many variations of the Shira route, and the best guides will stagger your ascent so you don’t coincide with the other crowds ascending the mountain.

The first section of the hike will take you through African rainforest, where you’ll have a high chance of spotting African game. You can opt to skip the rainforest zone by taking a four by four, but be aware you’ll ascend to 3,500 metres quickly, increasing the chance of altitude sickness. You’ll then cross the expansive Shira plateau from west to east, with views of Kilimanjaro’s southern ice field above. This route is normally done over eight days.

Lemosho Route

One of the newer treks, this route is often used as an alternative to the Shira Route, which starts at a higher altitude and is, therefore, more challenging. The Lemosho Route starts from the west before joining the Machame Route. The highlight of the Lemosho route is the starting point, the remote Lemosho Glades, where you may spot buffalos, antelope, elephants and monkeys.

This route will then join the Shira Plateau, one of Africa’s most renowned hiking sections. Although the Lemosho Route is more expensive, it’s ideal for experienced hikers who want to combine their Kilimanjaro summit attempt with a real African bush experience.

Umbwe Route

The Umbwe Route is the toughest route up Kilimanjaro. It’s steep, exposed and some parts can only be negotiated because the tree roots operate as steps. As the route is so steep, it is the most direct route to the Southern Glaciers, the Western Peak and the Uhuru peak.

You approach the summit from the south. You know you’ll have reached the Barranco base camp when black volcanic rock changes to high alpine desert land. The trail then traverses the southern ice field of Kilimanjaro, (otherwise known as the Southern Circuit) before summiting from Barafu. You then descend down the Mweka Route. The Umbwe Route is normally done over six or seven days, with acclimatisation days at Barranco Camp. This route has one of the lowest success rates due to its difficulty, but you’ll be rewarded with sensational views and next to no crowds.

Northern Circuit

The Northern Circuit is the newest and the longest route on Kilimanjaro. Starting from Londorossi Gate, you’ll follow the Lemosho route for the first two days. After crossing the stunning Moorlands of the Shira Plateau, the route veers north near the unique Lava Tower, a stunning rock formation that is a relic of Kilimanjaro’s volcanic history. The rest of the route will take you up the dry, uncrowded northern banks of the mountain, and via Gilman’s Point on the crater rim, which is a fantastic spot to see the sunrise.

This route is usual done over eight or nine days. The slower ascent and longer time on the mountain results in a higher success rate. The circular nature of the route means you get a 360-degree view of the surrounding Kilimanjaro National Park. This route is ideal for fit hikers looking to get the most in-depth Kilimanjaro experience on offer.