Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, A Guide For First Time Trekkers

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Mount Kilimanjaro, standing tall above the roof of Africa, is the highest freestanding mountain and one of the closest points to the sun. The dormant volcano is a global attraction that approximately 12,000 people worldwide attempt to reach its mighty summit each year. Kili is also home to various unique species found only along its slopes. This page is your ultimate guide to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, especially if it is your first time planning a trekking trip in Tanzania. 

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania, is an African icon, rising to an incredible height of 5,895 meters (19,336 feet) above sea level. She towers over the Amboseli plains and covers an area of about 750 square km (290 square miles).

One can see Kili's majestic snow peak from 150 kilometres (93 miles) away on a clear day. Uhuru Peak, Kili's highest peak, is a magnet to thousands of climbers yearly. Still, only 64% officially make it to the summit. The lower summits of Stella Point at 5,745 meters (18,848 feet) and Gilmans' Point at 5,681 meters (18,638 feet) apologetically get the other 36% for trying. Nevertheless, all trekkers earn a certificate from the Kilimanjaro Parks Authority for having a go on the African giant.

The origin of the Kilimanjaro name is not clear and has differing interpretations. "Mountain of Greatness," some say, while others interpret it as the "Mountain of Caravans." There's a word, Kilima, in Swahili, which means "top of the hill" and could be the origin. But also, the Chagga community that lives on its slopes have a word, Kilimanjaro, which means "impossible journey." Whatever Kilimanjaro means, it is one tongue-twisting word that makes an impression on any listener.


Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is best during the warm, clear days between mid-December through February or September to October. June to August is also superb for trekking, but evening temperatures tend to be colder.

The wettest months are November, early December, and March to the beginning of June, which brings some snow.

Daytime temperatures on Kilimanjaro range between 28˚C (85˚F) to 38˚C (100˚F) in the lower forest but drop to sub-zero between −2˚C (28˚F) to −16˚C (3˚F) at the summit. Almost always, with every 200 meters ascended, the temperature drops one degree.


KLM, Turkish Airlines, and Qatar Airlines have direct flights to Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO); Kenya, Ethiopian, British, SAA, and other airlines have several daily flights to Nairobi, where you can easily connect to Kili by road. Local airlines have daily flights between Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro Airport.

You can also fly direct between Zanzibar and Kili. Kilimanjaro Airport is about 50 km (31 miles) from Arusha and 45 km (28 miles) from Moshi. Arusha is a standard connection with many travellers bound for safaris in northern Tanzania. It may be a cheaper option.

There's an overland shuttle from Nairobi, which takes a five to six-hour drive, and the one from Dar es Salaam to Arusha or Moshi is seven to eight hours.

Trekking Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the few high peaks you can climb without technical gear. Many climbers trek up its inviting slopes with a pair of trekking poles, while others prefer their photography gear.

However, altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation may hit you before fatigue stops you in your tracks. Oxygen levels at the summit can drop to very uncomfortable levels that even rolling up a sleeping bag can wear you out. You must walk and ascend slowly to help your body adapt to diminished oxygen levels.

Kili has quite the crowd; about 12,000 adventurers arrive in Tanzania to take on the climbing challenge each year. Each climber is usually accompanied by an entourage of four to six people, including guides, porters, and a cook.

Park fees will cost around $70 per person, with an additional $20 rescue fee, excluding VAT. Make sure the trekking company includes these fees in your trekking fees.

Quick Kilimanjaro Climbing Tips

  • Plan your Kilimanjaro climbing trip with a licenced operator who has registered local guides, is empathetic to porters, and has a sustainable travel policy.
  • Make sure your operator understands your health problems and can work with them to keep you safe before you go.
  • Choose your trekking route according to what you want: challenge, scenery, type of accommodation, and size of the group.
  • Do some physical training a couple of weeks before the trip—aside from training your muscles, it also prepares your mind for a challenge. Squats, endurance, and many hours of walking uphill with a pack will be beneficial.
  • Altitude sickness and its symptoms are a big concern for many climbers; prepare yourself by getting the right advice and carrying the necessary medication. You can also spare a day or two at the foothills to get acclimatised or consider climbing the nearby Mt. Meru first.
  • Carry enough drinking water; drink 3–5 litres of water a day. The general rule is to drink 1 litre per 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) ascent.
  • Take only photos; leave only footprints.

Where To Start The Adventure

Most Kilimanjaro trekking parties begin from Moshi, a bustling small town at the mountain's base where tourist stalls, restaurants, tailors, and banks, line up the streets.

You'll find your registered guides and licensed trekking companies that will lead your climb here.

Try Kiliworrior Expeditions; they offer excellent personal service and are involved in the big Kilimanjaro Cleanup, a project that hauls thousands of pounds of waste off the mountain each year.

Kilimanjaro Trekking Routes

Kilimanjaro has eight common routes to the summit: Marangu, Rongai, Shira, Lemosho, Machame, Umbwe, Mweka, and the Northern Circuit—all have long-drop toilets.

The shortest and most popular climbing route is Marangu, which takes about five days to the summit. It has accommodations in huts equipped with bunk beds, public dining areas, and flush toilets. Some huts even have solar-heated showers. The other routes, which take at least six trekking days, require camping.

Rongai (or Loitokitok) is the quietest as it runs close to the Kenyan border, a fair distance from Moshi. Along with Marangu, experts classify Rongai as an easier route.

Shira, Lemosho, and Machame are steep and demanding but more scenic as they head through the distinct geographical zones: forest, shrub land, alpine desert, and snowfields.

Umbwe is the steepest but also the most direct ascent to the summit, and Mweka can only be used as a descending route from the western side.

The Northern Circuit takes eight or nine days through the park's wilderness, and there's little foot traffic. It's also the only route to cross the northern face.

Kili's Geology and Terrein

Mount Kilimanjaro has five different types of terrain you'll encounter while trying to reach the summit.

Cultivated Farmlands: Around the outskirts of Moshi near the base of the mountain are endless subsistence plantations of maise and bananas. Small villages line the routes up to the various starting points on Kilimanjaro, and small children play in the fields.

Forests: The forest zone spreads around the base of the mountain; it's hot, humid, and generally wet. The forest starts at about 1,798 meters (5,900 feet) and reaches 2,800 meters (9,186 feet). It is home to many small creatures and primates, including the black-and-white colobus monkey. 

Tall trees reach for the sunlight, their feet firmly anchored into a maze of roots on which cling mosses and brightly coloured flowers. Here you'll find the rare and exotic impatiens Kilimanjaro flower, unique to this mountain. Lichens hang in sheets, and small birds dart to and fro.

Shrubland or Heath Zone: At the edge of the forest zone, the vegetation suddenly changes to shrubland full of flowers, shrubs like the 6-meter-high (20-feet-high) Erica arborea, and daisy bushes that grow as big as pompoms. This zone extends to about 3,800 meters (12,467 feet), where the landscape turns into an alpine desert.

Alpine Desert: As the heath zone's shrubs diminish, one enters the alpine desert, full of gnarled volcanic lava rock. Small burrows shelter the hyrax and field mice that eke a living in this desert moonscape. Large white-naped ravens scavenge among the sand and stone.

Glaciers and Summit: As the desert rises to 5,000 meters (16,404 feet), the summit of the mountain looms above, her flanks covered in ashen scree. Massive age-old glaciers, hanging as though suspended in time, are slowly receding as the planet warms. Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro, is among these towering blocks of ice at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet).

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