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WHICH ROUTE?

WHEN TO GO?

Best Route

Best route on climbing Kilimanjaro is most important this is an adventure of a lifetime, and one of the most important choices to make when planning to summit Africa’s highest mountain is what the best route to take is. To get a sense of what route might work best for you, please read through our list below.

 

Machame route

The Machame route is also called the “Whiskey Route“ (a reference to the “Coca Cola Route” Marangu)

The Machame route is not technically difficult, it is more strenuous. The trail is often steeper and it involves many ups and downs, crossing a succession of valleys and ridges. For people who have never done any longer hikes and are not well prepared it can be demanding and tiring.

There is also the Barranco Wall to cross, a very steep but short climb that will require you to occasionally use your hands for balance (It sounds and looks a lot more difficult than it actually is).

You also have to camp all the way. If you go with a budget operator that alone can be demanding, especially if the weather turns sour.

As for scenery, the Machame route is absolutely spectacular and includes beautiful places including the Shira Plateau, the Lava Tower, the Barranco Wall, and many others.  You start from the west, circle Kibo on the southern side, and then descend on the Mweka route in the south east. The variety of scenery is exceptional.  Machame is considered the most scenic Kilimanjaro climbing route.

For these reasons the Machame route has become the most popular climbing route on Kilimanjaro. A predictable disadvantage is that the Machame route is somewhat busy.

Marangu route

The Marangu Route is whimsically referred to as the “Tourist Route” or “Coca-Cola Route.”  It is called “Tourist Route” mainly due to it its popularity.   This route is the only one 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 (at least until you reach the last camp). This gave the Marangu route a reputation as an “easy” climbing route.

Another reason for the name “Tourist Route“ is that 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. The Marangu route is the only Kilimanjaro climbing route that offers hut accommodation. Camping is not allowed.

A climb on the Marangu route is comparatively cheap as you need no camping equipment, and you can do the climb in a relatively short five days/four nights.

But make no mistake: the Marangu route is NOT easy and it is NOT for tourists! It is a serious climb with relatively low success rates. Only a quarter to a third of the climbers on this route reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. The reason?

  • The “tourists” on this route are usually exceptionally  unprepared.
  • A five day climb does not allow for sufficient acclimatization, many climbers have to turn around because of altitude sickness. (With Karibu you can add an optional acclimatization day.)
  • The last day before the summit attempt is a long one and covers 1000 m of altitude change. There is not much time to recover or acclimatize before setting out again at midnight to climb another 1200 m.

Add to that the lack of scenic variety compared to the other routes, some wonder why anyone would want to climb Kilimanjaro via the Marangu route.

Well, even if not as scenic as other routes, it is still a spectacular experience with great views all along.  There are two reasons why you may want to climb Kilimanajaro on the Marangu route:

  • You absolutely can not, under no circumstances, imagine sleeping in a tent for five nights or more. (But don’t think those huts offer luxury accommodation or that there are any amenities. There aren’t. You get a mattress and pillow – no linen – on a bunk bed, and you get to eat in a crowded dining hall. No less and no more.)
  • The other reason to select Marangu is if money is your main consideration, before everything else.  And you don’t care about scenery, aren’t worried by big crowds, and are willing to accept a reduced chance of summitting, Marangu is the cheapest option available. (But please do yourself a favor and take that optional extra acclimatization day.)

Rongai route

The six day version of the Rongai route (via the Mawenzi Tarn hut) is the route of choice for those looking for an easy climb with excellent success rates and that is away from the crowds, with great scenery and a wilderness feel to it.

The Rongai route is the only climbing 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.

The extra transport cost makes the Rongai route climb slightly more expensive. It is also more pricey because there is less demand, and fewer low cost operators.

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, and there aren’t any exceptionally steep climbs involved.

The camps are staggered much better than on Marangu. On your last day before the summit attempt you only ascend a few hundred meters, and you have all afternoon to rest and acclimatize.

If you have some trekking experience your chances to make it to the summit could be as good as 95%. (The remaining 5% 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, particularly in the shoulder seasons are excellent. If you climb Kilimanjaro during one of the wetter periods of the year, using Rongai may be an excellent choice.

Shira route

The Shira 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 Shira route.

There are several variations to the Shira route.  The better tour operators will time their departure and stagger their camps in a way that avoids the heaviest traffic on the Machame route.  It can be done in six days but most operators also offer a longer version of it.  That and the added transport cost can make Shira a more expensive option.

The first day on the Shira route is different than 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 option not only means thatyou skip the first stage of the climb, the rainforest zone, but 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 near sea level and you only flew into Tanzania the day before, this may be somewhat punishing.

Overall, Shira has excellent success rates if the schedule involves a night at Karanga Valley (making for a short and easy day before the summit day).

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 you should be confident about the way you will react to the altitude on the first day.

Lemosho route

The longer route and becoming very popular route a good route for climbers who wish to acclimatize over a longer period than most other routes.

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.

The length, the remoteness and the added transport cost make Lemosho a rather expensive option.

It is a route for people who are confident in their ability to hike in difficult terrain and camp out for extended periods, who want a superb wilderness experience and for whom cost is not the main consideration.

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.

The Umbwe 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, which illustrates how much steeper Umbwe is.

Parts of the Umbwe route on the first day are so steep that they can only be considered because the tree roots provide something like steps. The tree roots also serve as holds to haul yourself up where needed.  The second day on the route is also steep and unremittingly uphill.  The exposed ridge is not for people uncomfortable at heights.  There is one pitch called Jiwe Kamba (“Rope Rock”) for a reason…

Umbwe 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 route!

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