Selecting The Best Kilimanjaro Trek For You! (Part 2 of 2)

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Kilimanjaro sign at the Marangu Gate - Photo Credit: hyperfocaldiscance

Written by:  Jonathan Lee

Part 1 of this post provided a high level overview of the factors to consider when selecting the best route for you to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. A quick guide to the seven Kilimanjaro routes was also provided highlighting why you would want to select a particular route. In Part 2 of this post, we examine each route in more detail and provide more information to help inform you in making your decision.

While each Kilimanjaro route is unique in it’s own way to help guide the conversation I have organized the seven routes into following three categories: Machame route variations, southern approach routes and northern approach routes.

Variations of the Machame Route

The following routes are all variations of the Machame route (the most popular route up Kilimanjaro). The only difference between the three routes that they have different starting points and ultimately merge together after the second or third day.

Machame (Whiskey Route) - The Machame route aka Whiskey Route starts on the south side of Mount Kilimanjaro. This route is appropriately nicknamed the Whiskey Route in contrast to the Coca Cola Route (Marangu Route) due to it’s more adventurous personality. The Machame route is known for is diverse scenery. One of the highlights of this route is climbing up the famous Barranco wall (my personal favorite part of the Kilimanjaro climb!). While this route has a more varied ascent profile than the Marangu route the climber benefits from climbing high to Lava Tower at 15,180 ft on Day 3 of the climb and then sleeping low at 13,000 ft at night which help in getting climbers to acclimate to the altitude in preparation for summiting Mount Kilimanjaro.

See elevation profile

Duration: 6-7 days

Good for: Trekkers that are up for a more challenging route looking for scenery variation and ok with a more crowded route.

Authors note: Overall a great route for Kilimanjaro which is why its now the most popular route up the mountain.

 

Lemosho - Starting on the west side of Mount Kilimanjaro, the first two days of this climb are spent in the rain forest where there is greater opportunity to see wildlife. Some climbers report seeing Colobus Monkeys while in the rainforest. This route eventually merges with Machame route after day 2 at the Shira Camp so you get all of the acclimatization benefits of climbing high to Lava Tower at 15,180ft and sleeping low at 13,000 ft at the Barranco Camp along with the scenery variation that is offered along the Machame route. The Lemosho route is a great choice for climbers considering the Machame 7 but looking for a slightly varied start.

See elevation profile

Duration: 7-8 days

Good for: Trekkers that have extra time for 1-2 days days of acclimatization.

Authors note: This is an excellent climb for those that have 1-2 extra days and want to maximize their opportunity to see wildlife.

 

Shira - Similar to the Lemosho route, the Shira route also starts from the west side of Kilimanjaro. This was the original route from the west until the Lemosho route was introduced. In contrast to the Lemosho route, most of the first section of this route is traversed by vehicle instead of hiked. As a result, trekkers will not spend much time trekking in the rain forest as compared to other routes. The beginning of the Shira route starts high at around 10,000 ft. whereas most of the other routes start at around 6,000 ft. Climbers choosing the Shira route should be well acclimatized to altitude prior to starting their climb. This route merges with the Machame route after day 1 at the Shira 2 camp.

See elevation profile

Duration: 7-8 days

Good for: Trekkers that have already had a chance to acclimate to high altitudes prior to starting the trek. Some trekkers climb Mount Meru prior to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and thus already have had a chance to acclimate to high altitudes.  

Author’s note: This route is very similar to the Lemosho route with more aggressive starting altitudes. I would only recommend this route to those that are well acclimated to high altitude prior to starting the trek.

 

Southern Approach Routes

Marangu (Coca Cola Route) - The Marangu route starts on the southeast side of Kilimanjaro and is the shortest (as little as 5 days) and the lowest cost route up the mountain. It’s often marketed as the ‘easiest’ route up Mount Kilimanjaro which is a very misleading statement. While this route has a very gradual ascent up the mountain, it’s short duration and lack of opportunities to ‘climb high and sleep low’ to aid in acclimatization resulting in this route having one of the lowest summit success rates (~35%).  This is the only route with mountain huts and as a result the porters need to carry less equipment allowing for the cost to be reduced. The camps along the Marangu offer Coca Cola to the climbers and thus how the route inherited it’s nickname as the Coca Cola route. The same route is used for the ascent and descent which reduces the amount of scenery variation for climbers. Several years ago this was the most popular route up Mt. Kilimanjaro. In recent years it’s popularity has been surpassed by the Machame route.

See elevation profile

Duration: 5-6 days

Good for: Trekkers with limited time and/or budget and/or climbing during the rainy season and not wanting to sleep in tents.

Authors note: Recommend not choosing this route due to it’s low climbing success rate and low scenery variation unless you have budget or timing constraints. Many tour companies will market very low cost Kilimanjaro climbs and often it will be on this route. Make sure to always check which route your tour company is using.

 

Umbwe- The Umbwe route is known to be the most difficult route up Kilimanjaro due to its aggressive consistently steep ascent profile and is thus also the least traveled route up to the summit of Africa. This route is great for climbers that want the ultimate challenge and physically up for the challenge for a constantly steep ascent towards the highest point in Africa.

See elevation profile

Duration: 6-7 days

Good for: Advanced climbers who are well acclimatized and looking to take on the most challenging route up the mountain.

Author’s note: The Umbwe route should be avoided by most climbers except for advanced climbers or those truly looking to take on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro’s most difficult route and have trained well for the challenge.

 

Northern Approach Routes

Rongai - The Rongai route is the only Kilimanjaro route that starts on the north end of the mountain near the Kenyan border. The route up the Rongai route is very gradual and steady. One of the biggest benefits of the Rongai route is it’s remoteness which is in large contrast to the more crowded Marangu and Machame route variants. This route also passes through large regions of wilderness where it’s sometimes possible to see wildlife. The Rongai route is generally more expensive to climb due to the starting gate being further away from Moshi and Arusha than the start of other climbs. Due to the route’s northern trail, it typically receives less rain than other routes which can make it a good route to climb during the rainy season.

See elevation profile

Duration: 6-7 days

Good for: Trekkers looking for a quieter route preferring to take the road less traveled and/or climbing during the rainy season and looking for a drier route.

Author’s note: The Rongai route is a great option for climbers and is one of the most underrated routes up Kilimanjaro. This is an especially suitable route for those that like to avoid the crowds and really experience the mountain in all its natural glory.

 

Northern Circuit - This is the newest and longest route up Mount Kilimanjaro which makes it the best route for acclimation. The route starts on the West side of Kilimanjaro following the same route as the Lemosho route for 3 days until the route starts taking a northern approach to summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro eventually merging with the Rongai route. This route almost traverses the entire mountain starting from the west, the summiting from the north and then descending to the south of the mountain. Due to the Northern Circuit’s long duration it has one of the highest summit success rates when compared to the other routes.

See elevation profile

Duration: 8-9 days

Good for: Trekkers looking to spend more time on the mountain and wanting to take a unique ascent approach up Kilimanjaro.  

Authors note: Great route for those that enjoy backpacking and have the time to spend 8-9 days trekking on one of the most unique routes up Mount Kilimanjaro.