best route up Kilimanjaro

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KILIMANIA advice on the best routes to climb Kilimanjaro

The routes to climb Kilimanjaro offer a variety of options for adventurous trekkers. From the southern side, the Machame, Western Breach, and Umbwe routes provide challenging yet rewarding paths to the summit. For those approaching from the west, the Lemosho and Shira routes, as well as the Northern Circuit, present stunning vistas and a more gradual ascent. Heading in from the east, the Marangu route is a classic choice, while the northern Rongai route offers a unique perspective. Each route has its own charm and level of difficulty, allowing climbers to choose the experience that best suits their skills and preferences. Whichever path you select, the journey to the top of Kilimanjaro is sure to be an unforgettable adventure.

Our primary criteria for assessing which of these are the best routes to recommend are the published summit success rates. Customers consistently tell us that getting to the top is their number one priority and recommending routes with the highest summit success rates seems like the best way to meet this goal.  Following this principle, we generally recommend three routes all of which, if climbed over 7 or more days, offer you a very good chance of summiting successfully.

Selecting a route is a tough choice for most. To find the best Kilimanjaro route for you, considerations should be taken for the route’s scenery, difficulty, foot traffic and its altitude acclimatization characteristics, as depicted in the table below. Kilimania adventure has assigned overall ratings to each route.

Kilimanjaro RouteMin. DaysRec. DaysDifficultySceneryTrafficRating
Northern Circuit99highexcellentvery low****
Lemosho Route68highexcellentmedium****
Rongai Route67mediumvery goodlow****
Machame Route67highexcellenthigh***
Shira Route67highexcellentmedium**
Marangu Route56mediumgoodhigh**
Umbwe Route57very highvery goodvery low**

It is estimated that tourists climb Kilimanjaro using the routes in the following percentages: Machame (45%), Marangu (40%), Lemosho (8%), Rongai (5%), Shira (1%), Northern Circuit (0%), Umbwe (0%). In contrast, Kilimania adventure clients use Lemosho (77%), Northern (10%), Rongai (6%), Machame (6%) and Marangu (1%). The reason for the difference in route popularity is that we favor the best Kilimanjaro routes – those with the most favorable combination of high success rates, excellent scenery, and low foot traffic.

Our recommendations are the Machame, Lemosho and Rongai routes

MACHAME ROUTE.
If you have just 9 days and want to have the best chance of going home and saying “I climbed Kilimanjaro” the Machame route is the one for you. Starting to the south-west of Kilimanjaro it circuits south before climbing to Uhuru Peak via Stella Point. With excellent acclimatisation and varied and interesting scenery every day it is a great choice for the novice climber.

LEMOSHO 11 DAYS
Approaching from the west, the Lemosho route is one of our highly recommended routes. The first three days of the ascent are quiet and relatively untravelled, then one day four it joins the busy Machame route. A wonderful route in terms of scenery, it offers unequalled views over the majestic Shira plateau. The success rate for this route is comparable to the Machame route. 

THE RONGAI ROUTE
The Rongai route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the north east, near the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Its main attraction is that it is very quiet and traverses virtually untouched wilderness. Ascent is via the scree path to Gilman’s Point with a traverse round the rim to Uhuru Peak. Descent is along the Marangu route.

 THE NORTHERN CIRCUIT
The Northern Circuit route is the newest officially approved route up Mount Kilimanjaro, and one of the few ways to see its quieter, more remote northern slope. This is an extended, nine day climb which offers excellent acclimatisation time and provides views of the rugged and highly varied countryside on all sides of the great mountain.

Choosing between our recommended best routes
Even when you have eliminated the routes with poor success rates, choosing a route is still probably the hardest decision to make when you are planning to climb Kilimanjaro and that isn’t  helped by the fact that there is so much conflicting advice available on the internet. Ultimately the choice of route will be personal and while we don’t pretend to own the oracle on this our advice is based on climbing all the routes ourselves. 
Please do remember that when you look at the choice of climbing routes, nearly every person in the world starts with a checklist that the best route to climb Kilimanjaro should be really quiet, that it shouldn’t be too expensive, that it would have a great success rate and offer great scenery. This holy grail of routes sadly does not exist: all the routes with great scenery are busier, as are all the routes with a high success rate, so whichever route you choose it will always be a compromise of these factors.
Bearing that in mind, these are our key recommendations for choosing between the three routes we recommend as the best to climb Kilimanjaro.

For a really good chance of success, good scenery and a reasonable budget check check out the Machame route over 7 days

For great scenery, a quieter start and a more relaxed daily schedule, the 8 day Lemosho route is a great choice

For a quieter route that is ideal in the rainier months of the year then have a look at the Rongai route

Without complicating these recommendations too much these are some of the other factors you should think about.
What is the experience of your group?  You need to carefully assess the fitness and experience of everyone in your group as a route that would be fine for experienced mountaineers will not be suitable for novices. Nothing will put a damper on your summit success more effectively than having friends with you who didn’t make it. If you have weaker walkers in your group the 8 day climbs are best.

Are you limited by the number of days you can take? Ideally you need at least 7 days to climb and with travel days this means a 9 day trip. If you haven’t got this time, we would recommend the Machame route but the success rate will be lower

Is your budget a restriction? Partly because of the number of days and partly because of the access issues on some routes there is considerable variation in costs. The 8 day Lemosho and the Rongai routes are more expensive for these reasons.  Don’t though be tempted to reduce the chance of success to save money: the most expensive trip to climb Kilimanjaro is one where you don’t summit and have to descend with altitude sickness.

How challenging do you want to make the climb? For most climbers getting to the summit is a big enough challenge but we do operate Kilimanjaro routes that are even more challenging, like the Crater Camp options. Think carefully about just how tough you want to make your climb.

How important is the scenery? With routes starting from different locations the views and scenery are very different and in the rain shadow to the north of Kilimanjaro the climate is distinctly different.  The most varied scenery is on the South and West of the mountain but this is also the wettest.

What is the motivation for climbing? Of course everyone wants to summit but if you are climbing in a group for charity or doing the climb as a team-building event then reaching the summit should be the highest priority and this should determine your route.
When do you want to do your climb? Because your choice of route is always a compromise between how attractive a route is and how busy it will be the time of year can be a major factor. Even the most popular routes are quiet in the two rainy seasons and the Rongai route is much drier all year round

If you are unsure which route to climb Kilimanjaro will be best for you, ring and talk to one of our consultants (saby) who is experience guide.

KILIMANJARO ROUTES: MORE BACKGROUND INFORMATION

MACHAME ROUTE 
Of all the routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the Machame route is the most popular. Its popularity reflects its high success rate, the  impressive views it offers and the fact that the trail takes you up through a variety of habitats. Also because it is readily accessible from Moshi it is one of the cheaper routes. About half of all those climbing Kilimanjaro choose the Machame route.  The Machame route is known locally as the Whiskey route, and is recognised as the tougher more challenging option than the Marangu route, which is known as the Coca Cola route. 

While it is possible to climb Kilimanjaro by the Machame route in six days (five nights) it is much better to choose a 7 day option. This allows for better acclimatisation overall and a shorter pre-summit day which allows you time to rest before heading for the top.  The success rate on 7 day climbs is significantly higher.

The Machame route begins at Machame Gate, located in the south of the mountain, a short drive from Moshi or Arusha.  The first day is spent in the rainforest with lots of opportunities for bird and animal spotting.  This region gets a lot of rainfall so you will need to be careful as the trail is often slippery. As the route climbs up towards the Shira Plateau, the jungle thins and the trees give way to low, scrubby bush. 

On day 3 you climb to what is volcanic plug, Lava Tower, where you stop for lunch and acclimatisation before descending down to Barranco camp.

The next day has you scaling the famous Barranco Wall which is nowhere near as forbidding close up as it appears from a distance. From there you traverse East towards Karanga effectively circling the southern part of the mountain.

From Karanga there is a short but steep climb up to base camp, Barafu where you will have a short sleep before starting for the summit in the very early hours of the next day. Summit night is very tough with over 1500m of ascent which can take 7-8 hours as progress is very slow at this altitude. The trail is a series of switchbacks on loose scree.
The first main goal is Stella Point on the rim of the crater and from there the route is quite flat to the summit although this still takes over an hour. The quick descent follows the Mweka trail.

THE LEMOSHO ROUTE
Lemosho best route to climb Kilimanjaro offers a high summit success rate as its longer approach to the summit helps to improve acclimatisation. The first couple of days are generally quieter but it then joins up at Shira camp with the popular Machame route.
KINAPA only recently introduced the Lemosho route as an improved version of the original Shira route. The Lemosho route offers better acclimatisation as it starts lower than the original Shira route which started at 3600m. The high altitude start on the Shira route is not recommended as climbers may experience symptoms of altitude sickness on their first day. The Lemosho and Shira routes merge after day 1.

Starting from Londorossi Gate at 2360m on the far west of Kilimanjaro, the Lemosho trail traverses through rainforest, where wild game may be seen, continuing up to Shira Ridge, Kilimanjaro’s third summit. From here you will ascend and cross the expansive Shira Plateau with fantastic views of Shira Cathedral. The Lemosho route starts at 2360m on the far west of Kilimanjaro. It then joins the Machame route at Shira camp on day 3. The descent on both Lemosho and Shira routes is, like on the Machame route, by the Mweka trail so you never have to back track.

Most climbers who are fit and well-acclimatised take 7 days to climb Kilimanjaro by the Lemosho route. However, for those who have not trekked at altitude before it is wise to add an additional day to make it an 8 day trek. This then allows the pre-summit day to be split into two shorter days trekking prior to the summit ascent to improve the chances of summiting.

RONGAI ROUTE
The only northern approach route to Kilimanjaro, the starts from Rongai route very close to the Kenyan border so there is a relatively long transfer to the start. Because of this, and for a number of other reasons, the Rongai route is generally quiet, offers the closest to a wilderness experience and for those looking to get away from the crowds on Kilimanjaro’s popular routes it is therefore a good choice
The trek in is through a remote and barren landscape where the rainforest has sadly been lost to agriculture.

There is a variation of the Rongai route that offers better acclimatisation: the “Rongai Route Variation”. This starts with the traditional route but then traverses to the east to meet up with the Machame route at Barafu. The biggest attraction of the Rongai route is that it is quiet and because it is quiet you have a much better chance of seeing wildlife than on the Machame route. If though you really want to see wildlife we would recommend the Lemosho route.

NORTHERN CIRCUIT ROUTE
The newly introduced Northern Circuit route deserves its billing as the “grand traverse” of Kilimanjaro from west to east and if you have the time it is our favourite route.  It is by far the most quiet and remote route taking you on a circumnavigation of Kilimanjaro far away from the crowds. It offers a very high summit success rate due to its longer walk in which helps to improve acclimatisation. 

The Northern Circuit route starts at 2360m on the far west of Kilimanjaro. It traverses through rainforest, following the start of the Lemosho path as far as  Shira Ridge, Kilimanjaro’s third summit. From here the route ascends further on the Lemosho route across the Shira Plateau underneath Shira Cathedral.  It then turns north and works around the remote northern slopes of Kilimanjaro overlooking Kenya and the famous Amboseli National Park. 
As it circles clockwise around the mountain you travel from Moir Hut to Buffalo Camp to School Hut, before summiting from the east on the same trail as the Rongai route. Unlike the Rongai route, the descent is via the Mweka route.

CRATER CAMP
Just shy of the summit, there is a little used campsite known as Crater Camp (18,800 feet/5,750 m). It is called Crater Camp because it is a short distance from the source of Kilimanjaro . Additionally, the campsite is next to one of Kilimanjaro’s last remaining glaciers, Furtwangler Glacier. Staying at Crater Camp gives climbers an opportunity to climb to the crater rim, and to get up close to the glaciers. Crater Camp can be used the night before or preferably after a summit attempt. Kilimania adventure operates private climbs using Crater Camp on the 9 day Lemosho route and 10 day Northern Circuit route.

WESTERN BREACH – CLOSED

An alternative route to the summit approaches Uhuru Peak from the west, called the Western Breach. The strenuous Western Breach ascends 2,800 ft (850 m) in about 1.25 miles (2 km), and requires some scrambling (climbing on hands and feet) at certain points. This path is very beautiful but also very challenging due to its rocky, steep slope. The Western Breach was gaining popularity by climbers using the Umbwe, Lemosho, Shira and Machame routes until rockfall claimed the lives of three climbers in January 2006. In response, Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA) closed the Western Breach.
The Western Breach re-opened in December 2007. However, the route is still considered by prominent Kilimanjaro operators to be unsafe and to carry an unreasonable degree of risk. Kilimania no longer utilizes the Western Breach approach due to safety concerns for clients and staff.

MT MERU
Fifty miles (80 km) west of Mount Kilimanjaro lies is an often overlooked, but spectacular volcano. Mount Meru is 14,980 feet (4,565 m) high, and serves as a great warm up before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft/5,895 m). In fact, it is ideal for altitude acclimatization and you may elect to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a lower number of days after climbing Meru.
On the mountain, there is a good chance of seeing wildlife, and the crowds that can be seen on Kilimanjaro are non-existent here. Many people who climb both mountains have a quiet preference for the humble Mount Meru.

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