ClimbingWhat is the Best Route On Mount Kilimanjaro

May 21, 2024by awesafari

Trails on Mount Kilimanjaro – Best Route on Mount Kilimanjaro For You

Choosing the best trekking route to the summit of Kilimanjaro is a personal decision, but we aim to provide you with comprehensive information to help you make an informed choice.

As noted in the introduction, the park authorities have established six official paths leading up the slopes of Kilimanjaro to Uhuru Peak. To assist you, we’ve included a map of these routes.

To view the map of the Kilimanjaro routes, please click on the image below.

Just to recap, the main routes are:

  • Marangu Route
  • Machame Route
  • Rongai Route
  • Umbwe Route
  • Lemosho Route
  • Shira Route
  • Northern Circuit Route

In addition to these official trails, there are a few ‘unofficial’ routes up Kilimanjaro, such as the Alternative Lemosho (also known as the Northern Circuit Route) and the Full Circuit Umbwe. These routes have been created by combining segments of the official trails, offering some of the best hiking experiences with high success rates and fewer crowds.

Routes On Mount Kilimanjaro Descriptions

Descriptions of each of the six main trails up Kilimanjaro can be found below and on the subsequent pages in this section. Our guidebook provides comprehensive, day-by-day descriptions of each route, including detailed sketch maps for every stage. Note that while we give an estimated trek duration for each route at the beginning of its description, it’s always advisable to add an acclimatization day if possible to increase your chances of reaching the summit.

Route Duration (ascent and descent combined) Distance (ascent only)* Descent Route Total distance (ascent & descent)* Western Breach option available? No. of people climbing each year**
Machame 6-7 days 40.16km Mweka (20.6km) 60.76km Yes 20,339
Marangu 5-7 days 36.75km Marangu (36.75km) 73.5km No 12,289
Lemosho & Shira Routes (including Alternative Lemosho) 6-9 days 46.26km Mweka (20.6km) 66.86km Yes 9927
Rongai 5-7 days 37.65km Marangu (36.75km) 74.4km No 4088
Umbwe 6-8 days 27.71km Mweka (20.6km) 48.31km Yes 589

* Figures assume the Barafu Route is taken to the summit rather than the Western Breach
** Latest figures available

Marangu Route

The Marangu Route is the oldest and second-most popular route up Kilimanjaro. It is unique for being the only route where climbers sleep in huts rather than camping in tents. While it is a very scenic route, it does have two notable drawbacks:

  1. Repetitive Scenery: The Marangu Route is the only trail where climbers descend along the same path they ascended, meaning you see the same scenery twice. While our guidebook suggests ways to vary the descent route slightly, it is still unfortunate that you won’t experience as much of the mountain as you would on other routes, especially considering most climbers only attempt Kilimanjaro once.
  2. Lower Success Rate: Statistically, the Marangu Route has the lowest success rate for reaching the summit. Several factors contribute to this. It is one of the shorter routes, offering less time for acclimatization, and some climbers attempt to complete it in just five days. Additionally, the altitude profile may hinder acclimatization. Furthermore, the comfort of sleeping in huts may attract individuals who are less accustomed to outdoor adventures and may be more likely to give up on the climb.

Machame Route

The Machame Route, starting on the southern side of Kilimanjaro, is the most popular route on the mount Kilimanjaro. Its popularity stems from several factors: it offers a good chance of reaching the summit, is relatively affordable compared to some other routes, and provides a reasonably straightforward trekking experience. Moreover, the route is quite scenic and interesting.

However, if you value the quality of your trekking experience, you might want to consider other routes. The primary downside of the Machame Route is its heavy traffic. Around 20 years ago, it was known as the “Whiskey Route” because, unlike the “Coca Cola Route” (Marangu), where climbers sleep in dorms, Machame required sleeping in tents, making it seem more rugged. Despite this reputation, it has become very busy, partly due to travel agencies in North America and Europe marketing it as a tough, wilderness experience. The reality is that it often feels like a crowded trek, especially during peak times like the full moon.

While this route has its merits—proximity to Moshi reducing transport costs, beautiful scenery, and a high success rate for six-day treks—the notion of it being a quiet, challenging path is misleading. On the Machame Route, you may find yourself part of a long line of trekkers heading to Uhuru Peak, rather than enjoying a solitary wilderness adventure.

In summary, the Machame Route is a cost-effective and scenic option with a high success rate, but it’s far from the remote, rugged trek it is often advertised to be.

Rongai Route

Also known as the Loitokitok Route, the Rongai Route is the only trek that starts from the northeast side of Kilimanjaro, near the Kenyan border. This route is charming and relatively peaceful, especially compared to the busy Machame and Marangu routes.

One drawback of the Rongai Route is its limited stretch of forest; you pass through it in about half an hour. This is mainly due to local activities on the lower slopes, where farming replaces much of the forested area. Additionally, the northern side of Kilimanjaro is the driest, resulting in less impressive forest scenery.

Despite these points, the Rongai Route is a fantastic choice, particularly if you include a diversion to Mawenzi Tarn. This detour adds a day or two to your itinerary but is well worth it for the stunning views and improved acclimatization.

Umbwe Route

We, Awe Safari team loves the Umbwe Route for its beauty and tranquility, making it truly special. However, its quiet nature is due to the route’s steepness during the first couple of days, which is not ideal for acclimatization. Gaining around a thousand meters in altitude each day to the top can increase the risk of altitude sickness.

Despite the challenging ascent, Umbwe, like the other trails, is just a walking route with no actual climbing involved. To enjoy its beauty and serenity without succumbing to altitude sickness, consider these strategies:

  1. Climb Mount Meru beforehand to pre-acclimatize before tackling Kilimanjaro.
  2. Take an acclimatization day at Barranco Camp, which you reach at the end of the second day. Spend two nights there, using the rest day to climb to Lava Tower and back. This approach closely mimics the altitude profile of the Machame Route, Kilimanjaro’s most popular path.
  3. Opt for the Full Circuit Umbwe Route if you have the time and budget. This option allows you to enjoy Umbwe and then transition to the serene northern side of Kibo. It offers a better chance for acclimatization and lets you see more of Kilimanjaro than any other route, making it an ideal choice.

With these adjustments, you can experience the Umbwe Route’s stunning scenery and peaceful atmosphere while minimizing the risk of altitude sickness.

Lemosho Route

The Lemosho Route, one of the longer path up Kilimanjaro, is also one of the best. Starting on the western side of the mountain, it traverses Kilimanjaro’s lushest forest. The route offers stunning scenery and wonderful views across the Shira Plateau to the snowy Kibo summit. Its high success rate for reaching the top is largely due to the trek usually being spread over eight days rather than six or seven.

However, the route is becoming busier, especially from the fourth day onward when it merges with the Machame Route. For a quieter experience, the Alternative Lemosho Route is preferred. It is less crowded and, in our experience, has an even higher success rate. Note that this alternative is not an official route, so details are not included in this section, but you can find more information on the Kilimanjaro Experts website.

The Lemosho Route is also more expensive than other routes, owing to its longer duration and higher transport costs to the trailhead. Despite these drawbacks, if you can invest the time and money, trekking the Lemosho Route (or the Alternative Lemosho Route) is a rewarding experience you won’t regret!

Northern Circuit Route

The Northern Circuit up Kilimanjaro is the newest and least-traveled route, encircling the north side of Kibo peak. It is widely regarded as one of the best routes on Kilimanjaro. Climbers using this route must connect with another to reach the summit. The trail follows the alpine desert band around the peak, offering stunning views over the lowlands below.

This route is excellent for acclimatization and can be customized into tailored trips. As one of the longest routes, its total length varies based on the chosen access point. The Northern Circuit offers a rewarding and challenging climb for those who opt for this path.

Duration: 9-10 days

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Scenery: Beautiful and varied Altitude

Profile: Gradual ascent with ample acclimatization opportunities

Traffic: Less crowded Success Rate: Highest success rate (around 98%)

Shira Route

The Shira Route is primarily utilized as a four-wheel-drive route for emergency vehicles descending from Shira II Campsite, and it is not commonly chosen by trekkers anymore. However, it is mentioned here because some agencies, often foreign ones with limited knowledge of the mountain, confuse the Lemosho and Shira Routes. To ensure you’re on the Lemosho Route (the preferred option) rather than the Shira Route, check your first-night camping location. If it’s at Mti Mkubwa, or Big Tree Camp, you’re on the Lemosho Route. Otherwise, you could be on the Shira Route.

Despite its dwindling popularity, there is one major tour operator that still offers treks on the Shira Route, claiming a high success rate for summiting. However, they begin each trek by driving directly up to the Shira Plateau, depriving climbers of the opportunity to experience some of the mountain’s best forest. This approach leaves me feeling disheartened.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Kilimanjaro Routes

Selecting the best route to climb Kilimanjaro depends on several factors that influence your overall experience and chances of success. Here are some key considerations and how they relate to different route options:

Fitness Level of Climbers

Climbing Kilimanjaro is physically demanding, so it’s important to choose a route that matches your fitness level. Routes vary in difficulty, with some requiring more physical strength and endurance than others. Beginners or those with limited physical ability might opt for less challenging routes like the Marangu route. Experienced hikers might prefer more demanding routes such as Machame, Lemosho, or the Northern Circuit.

Previous Hiking Experience

Your previous hiking experience should also influence your choice of route. For those who have never climbed a mountain, a less demanding route is recommended. Marangu, Rongai, or Shira routes are suitable for beginners. Intermediate hikers can choose the Lemosho or Machame routes. The Northern Circuit and Umbwe routes are best for experienced hikers.

Time Constraints

The duration of different routes varies, so you should select a route that fits your schedule. Routes like Marangu, Rongai, or Shira are shorter and suitable for those with limited time. If you have more time, consider the longer Lemosho, Machame, or Northern Circuit routes.

Budget Considerations

Climbing Kilimanjaro can be costly, so your budget is an important factor. More affordable options include the Marangu, Rongai, or Shira routes. If you have a higher budget, consider the Lemosho, Machame, or Northern Circuit routes, which offer more extensive experiences.

Scenery and Wildlife

Personal preferences for scenery and wildlife can also guide your choice. For varied and stunning scenery, consider the Lemosho, Machame, or Northern Circuit routes. If you’re interested in unique wildlife sightings, the Lemosho, Machame, or Rongai routes are excellent choices.

Acclimatization

Acclimatization is crucial to minimize the risk of altitude sickness and increase your chances of reaching the summit. The best routes for acclimatization are the Machame and Lemosho routes, which follow the principle of “walk high, sleep low.”

Summit Night Challenges

The summit night is particularly tough on the Marangu and Rongai routes, which reach the crater rim on the north side, requiring more than two hours to reach Uhuru Peak. To avoid this longer summit push, consider the Machame and Lemosho routes, which reach the crater rim at Stella Point, less than an hour from the summit.

Accommodation Options

All Kilimanjaro routes offer fully catered camping accommodations, except for the Marangu Route, which provides basic hut accommodations. If you prefer not to camp in tents, the Marangu route is the best choice for you.

By considering these factors, you can select the Kilimanjaro route that best suits your preferences and increases your chances of a successful and enjoyable climb.

 

Pros And Cons Of Popular Kilimanjaro Routes

Different popular Kilimanjaro Routes, their unique features, challenges, and highlights are summarized in the table below.

Name of Kilimanjaro Routes PROS CONS
Marangu Route Well-established and easy to follow, Has hut accommodations and Can be completed in 5-6 days. Least scenic route. High traffic and crowded.   Lower success rate due to fast ascent and limited acclimatization time.
Machame Route Scenic route with diverse landscapes.  Good acclimatization profile. Higher success rate due to longer climb and slower ascent. Well-established and popular route. Higher traffic and can be crowded. Challenging ascent to Barranco Wall. Strenuous and requires a good fitness level
Lemosho Route The longest and most scenic route. Good acclimatization profile. Higher success rate. Remote and uncrowded. Chances to spot wildlife Longer and more expensive routes. Can be challenging due to higher altitude
Rongai Route Quiet and less crowded. Beautiful alpine desert scenery. Limited views and less scenic. Less time for acclimatization. Fewer route options for descent
Northern Circuit Route Longest and most scenic routes. Low traffic and uncrowded. Good acclimatization opportunities. Crater Camp option for an extra night. Chances to spot wildlife With the longer and more expensive route. Less established and fewer amenities. Some sections can be challenging
Umbwe Route Steep and direct ascent. Beautiful rainforest scenery. Quiet and uncrowded Least established and has fewer amenities. The Shorter route with less time for acclimatization. Steep and challenging ascent

 

Few Words To Wrap Things Up On Choosing The Best Kilimanjaro Routes

Choosing the right Kilimanjaro route is crucial for a successful and memorable climb. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a challenging and physically demanding endeavor, and the right route can significantly impact your success and enjoyment.

Take your time to research and select a route that maximizes your chances of reaching the summit. Consult with our highly trained and certified safety experts and guides who provide the best possible climbing experiences on four of the most famous Kilimanjaro routes. For more information on these routes and our exclusive Kilimanjaro Climbing Packages, contact our team at African Scenic Safaris.

Remember, the journey to the summit is just as important as reaching the top, so choose your route wisely and savor the experience!

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