This page covers three very different options all witinin the same broad area. But that’s where the similarity ends. One is the adventure of climbing Kilimanjaro. The others are the scenic delights of Western Kilimanjaro and the Arusha area.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. And at 5895 metres, it’s also the highest summit in the world which can be climbed by people without mountaineering experience. It towers an incredible 5km above the acacia-filled plains. Alluring glimpses of the magnificent snow-capped summit of Kilimanjaro from these plains contradicts its unique reality.
Part of the fascination of the Kili climb is the mix of eco-climatic zones that you’ll hike though on your way to the summit. It begins with lush rainforest and then moves into montane forest, heath and moorland, alpine desert. And finally, bare snow and ice.
It’s been too many years since I climbed this peak, using the original Marangu Route. But during the intervening time, the number of routes, the duration of the climb and even the comfort levels are all aspects that you can now choose.
What remains the same, however, is the overwhelming sense of exhilaration and achievement at the summit. As well as the unique challenges of hiking at altitude with its attendant discomfort. Climbing Kilimanjaro is hard and your fitness levels are only one part of the challenge.
Different Kilimanjaro Routes
Nowadays there are at least six routes to choose from. The original and still popular Marangu Route is considered too busy for many. But it does offer hut accommodation, running water and the shortest route up, though we recommend the six day version for better acclimatisation.
The other routes all have fewer people, use camping gear instead of huts and are thus more of a wilderness experience. The scenic Machame Route climbs up the southwest of Mount Kilimanjaro. In parts, it is more challenging but this is offset by the extra day taken on the climb. The Rongai Route – from the north-east – is also scenic and possibly the easiest route taking five or six days. The Umbwe route is not often used by commercial operators, even though it is possibly the most scenic, as it is very steep in parts and some rock climbing is needed towards the end. Finally the Lemosho and Londorossi routes are eight day hikes which allow for longer acclimatisation.
Extra day of acclimatisation
You can choose the length of the climb. Whether to do the climb over five or six days (Marangu and Rongai routes), six or seven days (Machame route) or the longer Lemosho route.
The extra day is spent acclimatising on the mountain, doing a longish walk, but not gaining much more altitude. It should help with achieving the summit, and with having a more pleasant final climb experience. But there are no guarantees. It’s just improving your odds.
And can also choose the level of comfort you want for the tour. For example, you can choose to hire state-of-the-art sleeping bags, opt for a better food experience, take a satellite phone, or have extra mountaineering insurance. Choose to go with a reputable operator (such as we use). This is not something to try to do on the cheap! It’s the case that you get what you pay for. (Do you really want to be cold and miserable in a sub-standard tent just to save a little money.)
We book-end the actual hike with a night at the base so a six day hike is a seven night itinerary.
As there are so many options, we don’t show a sample hike on this website but let us know what you want and we’ll send you an itinerary.
Kilimanjaro climbers should be fit and well exercised. The best months for the climb are July to September (cold but dry) and January to mid-March (clearer and warmer).
Close by lies Arusha, a bustling town in the foothills of Mount Meru. Arusha is the starting point for many Tanzania safaris, being close to Kilimanjaro International Airport about 40km to the east. Depending on your flight connections you may need to stay overnight near Arusha, either at the start or end of your safari. Popular Arusha hotels include Serena Mountain Village, Mount Meru Game Lodge, Arusha Coffee Lodge and other coffee plantations. Ten minutes drive from Arusha is the Lake Duluti Lodge on a scenic crater lake.
These country lodges often have a number of activities or excursions on offer from coffee tours, to guided hikes in the nearby small but scenic Arusha National Park.
Those who prefer to gaze up at the icy dome of Kilimanjaro from afar can admire the mountain across the plains of Western Kilimanjaro. This is an exclusive game concession of floodplains, hills and acacia woodland. Here you’ll find plenty of elephant and interesting antelope such as lesser kudu. It’s just across the border from Amboseli National Park in Kenya. But its a much less commercial experience. So the interaction with local people is a more authentic experience. Plus, as you are outside national park restrictions, you can take guided walks and enjoy night game drives, which might even yield sightings such as striped hyena.
Good lodges include Shu’mata Camp and Kambi Ya Tembo.