There are about 30,000 people climbing Mount Kilimanjaro every year using different Mount Kilimanjaro climbing routes. This therefore makes Mount Kilimanjaro one of Africa’s most popular attractions.
Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak and a member of the fabled Seven Summits. Uhuru, the summit is also one of the most challenging attractions to reach!
This Tanzania’s iconic mountain stands at 5895 meters but despite the height being intimidating, conquering it is entirely feasible. This comes with a good level of fitness and a decent amount of determination.
To climb Kilimanjaro, you’ll need both physical and mental strength, but that rewarding feeling and sense of achievement at the top will be completely worth it.
There are nine different Mount Kilimanjaro climbing routes of which seven are ascent routes and two are used for descent. Not all these Mount Kilimanjaro climbing routes are recommended, one is now shut and quite a few merge with each other, but they do have their own particular pros and cons. We will tackle 6 of the 9 Mount Kilimanjaro climbing routes.
Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes
There is no single best Mount Kilimanjaro climbing route. Which route up Kilimanjaro is the best for you depends on several factors: The time and money you have available, previous experience and fitness, the time of the year, personal preference…
Let’s look at the individual Mount Kilimanjaro climbing routes and who they are suitable for:
- Marangu Route: the only Kilimanjaro climb route that offers hut accommodation.
- Machame Route: the most popular climbing route up Kilimanjaro.
- Rongai Route: the easiest route on Kilimanjaro.
- Shira Route: this one catapults you to some serious altitude on the first day.
- Lemosho Route: hands down the most beautiful Kilimanjaro climb route, but expensive.
- Umbwe Route: the most difficult and demanding route on Kilimanjaro, and the most spectacular.
The Marangu Route
Marangu Route has often been referred to as the “Tourist Route” or “Coca-Cola Route.” This is for two reasons. The major reason is simply its popularity, it makes this climb route somewhat touristy.
The Marangu route is also the only climbing route that uses the same path up and down, which contributes to it being the most crowded climb route on Kilimanjaro.
The Marangu route is a comfortable walking path with a very steady, gradual slope this is until you reach the last camp. This gave the Marangu route a reputation as an “easy” climb route.
The other reason is because it is supposed to be “easy”, the Marangu route is used by many shockingly unprepared “tourists”, rather than trekkers.
The name “Coca Cola Route” stems from the sleeping huts along the route. You will easily find the coca cola soda being sold here. The Marangu route is the only Kilimanjaro climbing route that offers hut accommodation on this Kilimanjaro climbing route, camping is not allowed.
A climb on the Marangu route is comparatively cheap. You need no camping equipment therefore no cost for extra porters to carry the equipment. You can do the climb in five days/four nights. Also, many cut throat budget operators run treks on this route.
Please do not underestimate the trek: the Marangu route is NOT easy and it is NOT for tourists! It is a serious climb with very low success rates. It is only a quarter to a third of the climbers on this route reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. The reason being lack of proper preparedness and planning for mount Kilimanjaro climb. The “tourists” on this route are shockingly unprepared.
A five day climb does not allow for sufficient acclimatization. You will need to add an optional acclimatization day to increase your success level.
The Machame Route
The Machame route is also called the “Whiskey Route”. Machame is “tougher” than the Marangu route.
Machame is indeed a more difficult climb in some respects, but it does have much higher success rates than Marangu. This is especially if you choose the seven day version. According to estimates about 60% of the climbers on Machame make it to the summit, and over three quarters reach the crater rim.
The seven day version gives you a very short day before your summit attempt, which leaves plenty of time to recover, acclimatize and get ready. The six day version has the same problem as the Marangu route in that respect.
The Machame route is not technically difficult but is more strenuous. The trail is often steeper and it involves many ups and downs, crossing a succession of valleys and ridges. But that’s why it is also one day longer than Marangu.
Still, for people who have never done any longer hikes in their life and are not well prepared it can be demanding and tiring. There is also the Barranco Wall to cross, a very steep, one and a half hour climb that will require you to occasionally use your hands for balance. This makes it sounds and looks a lot more difficult than it actually is!
As for scenery, the Machame route is absolutely spectacular. There is the Shira Plateau, the Lava Tower, the Barranco Wall… You start from the west, circle Kibo on the southern side, and then descend on the Mweka route in the south east. The variety is hard to beat. Machame is considered the most scenic Mount Kilimanjaro climbing route.
For that reason the Machame route has become the most popular climb route on Kilimanjaro. The advantage of that is that prices have dropped and you can find many budget operators on it. The disadvantage is that the Machame route is very crowded.
If you are confident in your ability to hike in difficult terrain for days in a row and like camping and nature, but money is very tight, then Machame may be the Kilimanjaro climb route of choice for you. The down side is that you will have to put up with the crowds.
The Rongai Route
The six day version of the Rongai route is the route of choice for those looking for an easy climb with excellent success rates, but away from the crowds. This Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing route comes with great scenery and a wilderness feel to it. It is slightly more expensive.
The Rongai route is the only climb route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north. The descent is in the south-east via the Marangu route, so you get to see both sides of the mountain.
Because the climb starts from the North there is an extra transport cost which makes a Rongai operators who use this route .
The Rongai route has a reputation of being less scenic, but even if there is not quite as much variety as on Machame, it is still a spectacular route, especially on the later days. The camp beneath Mawenzi Peak is one of the most scenic on the mountain.
Rongai is also one of the routes where seeing wildlife on Kilimanjaro is still possible.
The Rongai climb has the same easy, gradual climb profile as the Marangu route. It rises very steadily; there aren’t any steep climbs involved, no major ups and downs.
However, the camps are staggered a lot better than on Marangu. On your last day before the summit attempt you only ascend a few hundred metres, and you have all afternoon to rest and acclimatize.
With a good tour operator you have an 80 – 90% chance to make it to the crater rim, and 70 – 80% will make it to Uhuru Peak.
With some trekking experience your chances to make it to the summit could be as good as 90%. The remaining 10% come down to weather, individual preparation, individual altitude tolerance and unforeseen mishaps.
The Rongai route has another important advantage: the northern side of Kilimanjaro is a lot drier than the other side. Your chances NOT to get soaked on the first days are excellent. Especially if you climb Kilimanjaro during one of the wetter periods of the year, using Rongai route makes a lot of sense.
The Shira Route
The Shira route approaches Kilimanjaro from the west and then joins the Machame route, thus everything that has been said about the Machame climb route also applies to the Shira route.
There are several variations to the Shira route. It can be done in six days but most operators also offer a longer version of it. A really good operator will also time their departure and stagger their camps in a way that avoids the heaviest traffic on the Machame trail.
However the variation, the staggering and the added transport cost can make Shira a more expensive option.
The first day on the Shira route is different to other climb routes: It follows a four wheel drive route. So you either walk on the road for most of the day (not very attractive) or you opt to drive as far as possible.
The latter not only means you skip the first stage of the climb, the rainforest zone. It also means that you catapult your body to a height of over 3500 m/11500 ft without time for proper acclimatization. If you live at low altitude near sea level and you only flew into Tanzania the day before, this may hurt.
Overall, Shira has excellent success rates if the schedule involves a night at Karanga Valley. This will make for a short and easy day before the summit day. However, the good success rate is partly due to the operators on this route being higher level than on the more crowded routes.
Like the Machame route, the Shira route is for people who are confident in their ability to hike in difficult terrain and camp out for extended periods. It has less traffic but it is a more expensive option. You should also be confident about the way you will react to the altitude on the first day.
The Lemosho Route
Like the Shira route, the Lemosho route approaches Kilimanjaro from the west and then joins the Machame route. Hence everything that has been said about the Machame climb route also applies to the Lemosho route.
The first two days on the Lemosho route take you through beautiful and very remote rainforest, with good chances of seeing wildlife. The start of the trail is also known as the Lemosho Glades.
Lemosho is usually a longer trek, seven or eight days, and there are many variations of it. Which one you take depends on the operator. A really good operator will also time their departure and stagger their camps in a way that avoids the heaviest traffic on the Machame trail.
The length, the remoteness and the added transport cost makes Lemosho a rather expensive option. However, the longer itinerary and the fact that there are no budget operators, you can’t do this route Kilimanjaro climb on a budget. This lead to excellent success rates on this route and it has become quite a popular one.
It is a route for people who are confident in their ability to hike in difficult terrain and camp out for extended periods. This is for those who want a superb wilderness experience and for whom cost is not the main consideration.
The Umbwe Route
The Umbwe route is not a technical route, but it is a very direct, very steep, very tough, and in parts very exposed route. This Mount Kilimanjaro climbing route joins the Machame route near the Barranco Camp on the second night.
On the other routes Barranco Camp is reached on the third or fourth night. Goes to show how much steeper Umbwe is…
Parts of the trail on the first day are so steep, they can only be negotiated because the tree roots provide something like steps. The tree roots also serve as handle bars to haul you up where needed…
The second day is also steep and uphill all the way. The exposed ridge is not for people uncomfortable at heights… And have a guess why the “Rope Rock” (Jiwe Kamba) is called “Rope Rock”…
This is the most difficult and demanding of all Kilimanjaro climb routes. Don’t even think about it unless you have experience climbing mountains.
Having said that, it is a spectacular Mount Kilimanjaro climbing route and worth trying!