When I decided to climb the Kilimanjaro, I knew nothing about it. I didn’t know it is a Natural Park with a very expensive entrance fee, I didn’t know no one lives there and I didn’t know the rules to be able to enter park and reach the top as a tourist.
I had thousands questions (some answers I now have, you can read in this Q&A section) and I started reading and researching and I got lost with all the information I’ve found. One of the most confusing choices I had to make, was about the route to reach the summit. There are 7 routes, plus one used exclusively to come down, and each of them has pros and cons, and it is unique and different in many ways.
Which is the best climbing route for the Kilimanjaro?
It depends mainly on how many days you have to dedicate to the hike, how fitted you are and how much you want to spend.
I climbed on the Machame Route.
The information you read in this page about the other routes have been collected by chatting with other climbers before, during and after my time on the Kilimanjaro, and reading about it while preparing both the hike and this post.
The climbing routes are: Marangu Route, Machame Route, Lemosho Route, Shira Route, Rongai Route, Umbwe Route e Northern Circuit. They all meet either at Stella Point or at Gilman’s Point, about 100 metres below the summit, Uhuru Peak.
Let’s see them one by one.
1. Marangu Route
Nicknamed CocaCola Route, Marangu Route is very busy, due to the fact that it is short, cheap and used both to go up and come down. It’s usually done in 5 days and it’s a constant hike uphill, which doesn’t help acclimatisation. If you know nothing about high altitude, it might be logical to climb a little higher every day. But actually the “walk high, sleep low” technique helps the body to get used to the lack of oxygen. For these reasons, Marango Route has the lowest success rate, around 50%.
2. Machame Route
Machame Route is the most chosen way. It’s usually offered in 6 or 7 days, depending on the approach of the 4th and the 5th: they can be joined in just one long run (madness!) or split in two more human-standard hikes. The 7 days version has a high success rate, around 90%. The climb becomes every day a bit harder, starting with an easy walk in the forest on the first day, and facing the vertical Barranco Wall on the 4th. The scenery changes continuously: from forest to moorland, from alpine desert to rocks and sand, LOTS of volcanic sand close to the summit.
3. Rongai Route
Together with Marango, Rongai Route is the easiest way up. It’s the only one starting on the north side of the mountain, where the weather is dryer and gives more chance for a mild no-wind no-rain hike. It’s fairly expensive, partially due to the necessary transport to the starting point, and not all the agency offer it. It uses Marangu Route as a descendant Route, so to have a very different scenery during the entire walking time. The success rate is around 75/80%.
4. Lemosho Route
Lemosho Route start from the west side of the mountain with two days in the forest. On the 4th day, it meets Machame Route at Lava Tower, where the vegetation is already rare. Lemosho is one of the most expensive way, it doesn’t always appears in the agencies offer, but it has one of the best scenery. The entire climb can be made in 7 or 8 days and the success rate to summit is very high, around 90% for the 8 days hike.
5. Shira Route
Shira Route, like Lemosho, starts from the west side of Kilimanjaro Mountains, and meet Machame Route at Shira II Camp. It’s usually done in 7 days, but also possible in both 6 and 8 days. On the first day, the path runs next to the emergency road, where cars can reach up till 3500 metres. When a climber hurt himself, he is taken to this road on a one-wheel metal cart, and then from here driven to the closer hospital. It is therefore technically possible to start the climb directly at 3500 metres, skipping the forest area. This possibility affect the acclimatisation process, which is nonetheless very good, especially when Shira Route is walked in 8 days.
6. Northern Circuit
Northern Circuit is the longest way, usually done in 8 or 9 days. It offers the best acclimatisation process and it has the highest success rate, which reaches nearly 100%. It starts from the west side of the mountain, sharing the first two days with Lemosho Route, then turns on a very quiet north path and keeps on clockwise reaching Uhuru Peak. Because the 360 degrees route, it’s considered the one with the best scenery.
7. Umbwe Route
Umbwe Route is rarely offered by any agency. It’s very hard, it has little acclimatisation and it is advise against unless the climber is already used to high altitudes and physically very well trained. For these reasons Umbwe is also the less beaten track: only 1% of the 35.000 visitors per year choose this way. Umbwe Route is usually offered in 6 days, with the 7 days version giving a little more chances of success. The first two days are particularly hard, climbing from 1800 to 4000 metres. The route is doable thanks to the tree routes that offer some kind of grip and natural step. The best thing about this route is obviously its quietness.
How to choose the best route for your trek
As I said, there’s no general “best ever” route to succeed in climbing the Kilimanjaro Mountain. It depends on many factors.
In the following table I’ve summed up all the main points to consider when choosing.
(Keep in mind that “beauty” and “fatigue” are very personal concepts and therefore should be understood with the due caution)
Why did I choose Machame Route?
I had exactly 7 days of free time: I could have spend one to rest in the hotel pool, so my choice was between the routes offered in 6 or 7 days.
I was pretty much unprepared and I was very afraid to fail acclimatisation: I could walk long hours but I was living in a FLAT country with no option of training on ascending paths… except for the a sad walking machine at the gym.
It was the end of the dry season, so there was little problem of traffic on any route.
Last but not least, I was definitely not swimming in gold back then, but I soon realized climbing the Kilimanjaro is not cheap. You can save some money on certain things, like choosing the agency but even though you’re spending several days in a camping with no running water and no electricity, getting to Uhuru Peak is expensive!
I successfully reached the summit and therefore I can say I made a good choice. This doesn’t mean Machame is the best route, but it has been so for my own personal experience climbing the Kilimanjaro Mountain.
Have you climbed on another route?
Let me know your experience, I can add useful information to this page!!
I’m no geographer, geologist, climbing guide, meteorologist or botanist.
The information you find in this post could be not 100% accurate.