Climbing the Kilimanjaro: how to choose the best route

posted in: Africa | 4

(Last update: 3/09/2023)

When I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I knew nothing about it. I didn’t know it was a Natural Park with a very expensive entrance fee. I didn’t know no one lived there. And I also didn’t know its peak was the highest point of the entire African continent.

I had thousands of questions (some answers I now have and you can read them in this Q&A section). But when I started reading and researching, I got lost with all the tons of online information.

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. So, how can you choose which one is the best route for you, to conquer the the highest point of Africa and succeed in climbing Kilimanjaro?

Pinterest image for "Climbing the Kilimanjaro: how to choose the best route": a romantic sunset with the top of Mont Meru in the background

Which is the best climbing route for the Kilimanjaro?

It depends.

It depends mainly on how many days you have to dedicate to the hike, how fit you are and how much you want to spend.

There are 7 climbing routes: Marangu Route, Machame Route, Lemosho Route, Shira Route, Rongai Route, Umbwe Route and Northern Circuit. They all meet either at Stella Point or at Gilman’s Point, about 100 metres below the summit, Uhuru Peak.

I climbed on the Machame Route. The information you read on this page about the other routes has been collected by chatting with other climbers before, during and after my time on Kilimanjaro, and reading about it while preparing both the hike and this post.

Let’s see them one by one.

Map of the 7 routes to climb Kilimanjaro Mount: the camping places, the highest points and the routes. On paper, none is better the other ones!
The 7 routes to climb Kilimanjaro Mount *

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. Companies usually offer it in 6 or 7 days, depending on the approach of the 4th and the 5th. These two can be in fact joined in just one long run (madness!) or split in two more human-standard hikes. The 7-day 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, a lot of volcanic sand close to the summit.

The sign of Machame Gate at the entrance of the  Kilimanjaro National Park is the beginning point of Machame Route
Machame Gate: one of the entrances of the Kilimanjaro National Park

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 agencies 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%.

The top of the Kilimajaro, Uhuru Peak, from Karanga Camp
The top of Mount Kilimajaro from Karanga Camp

4. Lemosho Route

Lemosho Route starts 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 ways. For this reason, it doesn’t always appear in the agency’s offer, but it has one of the best scenery. The entire climb can be done in 7 or 8 days and the success rate to summit is very high, around 90% for the 8 days long version.

5. Shira Route

Shira Route, like Lemosho, starts from the west side of Kilimanjaro Mountain, and meets 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 to 3500 metres. When a climber hurts 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 affects the acclimatisation process, which is nonetheless very good, especially when Shira Route is walked in 8 days.

A toilet of Shira Camp and the cloudy view over the horizon
Shira Camp and the view over the clouds

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. Later it turns on a very quiet north path and keeps on clockwise reaching Uhuru Peak. Thanks to the 360-degree view, the Northern Circuit is 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 advised 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 it. Umbwe Route can be hiked in 6 days, with the 7-day version giving a little more chance 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.

 A surviving yellow flower in the dry rocky landscape
A surviving flower in the dry landscape

How to choose the best route for your trek

As I said, there’s no general “best ever” route to succeed in climbing 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 due caution)

Table containing data and information on all 7 routes to help choosing the best climbing route for your Kilimanjiaro climbing: days, difficulty, acclimatization, success, lengh, landscape, traffic, cost, sleeping places....
Download the table * in pdf format

Why did I choose Machame Route?

To choose my best route to the top of Kilimanjaro, I analysed time, prices, and my hiking and climbing skills.
I had exactly 7 days of free time: I could have spent 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. At that time, I was living in a very flat country. I could walk long hours but with no option of training on ascending paths, except maybe for 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, even though I soon realised that climbing Kilimanjaro is never cheap. You can save some money on certain things, but even if you’re spending several days 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 Kilimanjaro Mountain.

The Lady prooves her success with pictures at hight altitudes: The glacier seen from Uhuru Peak, Stella Point (5765 metres) and the top of the African continent: Uhuru Peak (5895 metres)
The highest points of Mount Kilimanjaro: The glacier seen from Uhuru Peak, Stella Point (5765 metres) and the top of the African continent: Uhuru Peak (5895 metres)

Have you climbed on another route?
Let me know your experience, I can add useful information to this page!!

* Disclaimer:
I’m no geographer, geologist, climbing guide, meteorologist or botanist.
The information you find in this post could be not 100% accurate.

All the images in this page are owned by the author and therefore protected by copyright.
Some can be bought on Shutterstock and Dreamstime

4 Responses

  1. francesca

    As I wronte in the last post, my headache would kill me if I dared to attempt something like that. You’ve got my unconditioned admiration!!! Really strong girl, brava!

    • The Lady

      Thanks!!!! 😀 It was hard but totally worthy!

  2. Josephat Mashehe

    The best time to climb Kilimanjaro is between July and September, pleasantly warm in the day with low rainfall. Trails are more crowded (less so in September) but it’s migratory season for wildlife, so great for adding on a safari afterwards. However Kilimanjaro can be climbed all year-round – even the short rainy seasons (March through to May, and November and December) don’t inhibit trekking, and brief showers can be refreshing on the trail. January to early March is another popular time. It still gets chilly in the mornings and evenings (Uhuru Peak’s nighttime temps are between -7 to -29°C), but that’s the case whatever time of year you go.

    • The Lady

      Thank you for your detailed insight. I went late October and it was already not too crowded and the temperatures were fine during the day (cold at night, but that’s always the case, I believe). I definitely preferred it compared to the busy season. It only rained once, and very briefly. I don’t necessary agree that rain can be refreshing on the trail, though 😄 I mean, it does refresh the air, but if it’s already cold-ish you won’t need it and rain is quite annoying while walking and it makes a mess at the camp! 😂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.