Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano, and Africa’s highest mountain. It rises to 5,895 meters, or 19,341 feet, above sea level at its highest peak. The volcano consists of three cones, two of which are extinct (Mawenzi and Shira peaks), and Kibo peak, which is considered dormant. The last eruption was approximately 360,000 years ago, though it has shown some activity in the last 200 years.The origins of the name Kilimanjaro are unclear, as parts of the name exist as words with differing meanings in various local languages. The most common explanation is that it means “little hill of Njaro” (Njaro being the nearest village). However, the irony implicit in this name is not a feature of the oral literature or poetry of the region from the time of the mountain’s naming.
It was first summited in 1889 by a large team consisting of trackers, guides, cooks and guards, as well as several highly experienced explorers and mountaineers. While the ascent is much more accessible, climbers are advised that this is not an easy or even moderately-challenging scenic walk. It is a highly intense, week-long journey that is difficult on all ascent paths, and only 30% of those who attempt any route actually make it to the top.
A warning is issued as follows: “Kilimanjaro summit is well above the altitude at which high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) can occur. All trekkers will suffer considerable discomfort, typically shortage of breath, hypothermia and headaches.”
When to Climb Kilimanjaro
Optimal climbing time is around 7 or 8 days, which allows for proper acclimatization. We mention this because some tour operators try to cut costs by reducing the number of days spent climbing, as the National Park charges visitors by the day.
Because Kilimanjaro is near the equator, the region doesn’t experience much variation in temperature, but rather only wet and dry seasons. Mud, ice, snow and rain will make climbing more difficult and impact your chance of a successful summit. However, going during the warmer, dryer months also means there will be much more traffic.
January through March is generally considered the best time to climb Kilimanjaro – morning and evening skies are clear, with some clouds and occasional showers during the afternoon. Traffic is highest, as is the success rate of summit attempts.
March to June enjoys heavy rain, low visibility and almost no crowds. Climbing is difficult, and summiting is generally not as rewarding due to low visibility.
From late June to August are some of the better months for climbing. The weather is colder but dry, and there are fewer clouds. The climb is more difficult, but the views are spectacular.
September and October are also high traffic months, but visibility declines quickly towards the beginning of November.
November and December is the short rainy season, which has similar conditions to January – March, but you’ll experience lower traffic and more frequent rains.
Routes up Kilimanjaro
There are six official routes up Kilimanjaro, all of which vary in intensity and accommodation styles, but all of which take roughly seven days. All routes are extremely challenging, though some have better views. Some have more difficult ascents, but easier summits, while for others the reverse is true. None involve technical climbing.
Marangu Route – The oldest and most popular trail, with dormitory huts along the way (shared accommodation). Presents extraordinary views from the dormitory, and many trekkers take an extra day here to acclimatize (highly advised)
Machame Route – Almost as popular as Marangu, and arguably more scenic – though more arduous. Success rates are higher on this route, possibly as it is a day longer than most routes.
Rongai Route – The only trail to approach Kibo summit from the North, this route doesn’t offer the best views, but is relatively un-crowded. It is relatively expensive compared to other routes.
Umbwe Route – Widely regarded as the most difficult, this route is for experienced hikers only. It involves a two day near vertical trek through jungle, often using tree roots as makeshift ladders (don’t bring a cooler box).
Shira Plateau and Lemosho Routes – Both of these routes cross the Shira Plateau, which is actually a caldera. The routes use similar trails which often cross, and can be switched between. The area is well known for its diverse wildlife.
Places to stay at the base of Kilimanjaro
There are a number of comfortable accommodation options at the base of Kilimanjaro, including:
AMEG Lodge Kilimanjaro – superbly located within easy reach of several routes. This lodge offers good value accommodation, excellent facilities and delicious local and international cuisine
Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort – A traditional colonial resort on the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Guests are advised to book one of the newer rooms if possible, as these are larger and fresher.
Several options of Kilimanjaro climbing trips are available, most of which offer a comfortable tent to sleep in, a bathroom tent, and a kitchen tent with staff.