Mt. Kilimanjaro Routes…which one is the best?
We are often asked which is the best route on Kilimanjaro and the answer is it depends…
and it depends on you…
Kilimanjaro offers a range of routes to the summit, which vary in degrees of difficulty, scenic beauty and climber traffic on the route, so if you are considering taking up the challenge, carefully select the one that best suits you.
Marangu Route:Marangu is the original route on Kilimanjaro and it passes through very beautiful landscapes, including the awe-inspiring ‘Saddle’ between the peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi. The lower section starts in agricultural areas, before moving through the forest with wild orchids, Kilimanjaro impatiens, and blue monkeys. After you’ve passed around the base of the Maundi Crater, you enter the moorland area, from there you make a steep ascent through the barren alpine terrain. A rocky trail will lead you to the Hans Meyer Cave, and eventually to Gillman’s Point. From there, you continue on another 1-2 hours to summit.
Marangu is the most heavily traveled of all the routes. Considered the tourist route and is nicknamed the “coca cola trail” thanks to the camps selling soft drinks, mineral water and beer. It is the only route that offers sleeping huts with beds and mattresses. It’s popular for two main reasons: it’s one of the easiest routes up the mountain, and it’s typically the cheapest option. This route is best done in 6 days, although some will try to do it in 5 days. Even the six-day ascent can be risky in regards to acclimatization, and therefore the large numbers attempting to do Marangu in 5 days have led to the summit success rate on this route being around 40 percent.
With most of the other routes you descend down a different path, giving you a wider view of Kilimanjaro’s incredible landscapes, this is not the case with Marangu. You ascend and descend on the same path.
Rongai Route: Rongai starts just south of the Kenyan border. This rewarding route is the least traveled of the routes and usually drier. Many experienced guides consider this route to be both easier and more beautiful than the main Marangu trail.
Beginning in farmland and progressing into the lush rainforest forest, which offers you the possibility of wildlife viewing, Rongai passes through several different climatic zones, adding considerable interest to the trek. Typically done in six days, an additional day can easily be added to ensure maximum acclimatization and to give you more opportunities to view the magnificent scenery. The extra day can be used to enjoy a detour to the beautiful Mawenzi Tarn via a little-used trail through moorland. The final ascent uses the same section of trail as the Marangu route. As with all the routes, you will be rewarded with a stunning sunrise over the glaciers and ice cliffs of the summit and across the East African plains.
This route retains a sense of unspoiled wilderness, less climber traffic and offers a different perspective on Kilimanjaro by approaching it from the north.
Machame Route: The Machame route approaches Kilimanjaro through forest and moorland from the southwest, and eventually passes through volcanic desert. It joins the Shira route before traversing beneath the southern ice fields of Kibo, and leads you to the Barafu Ridge camp, from where you’ll trek to the summit along the Barafu route. Considering Machame passes through diverse vegetation and offers wide-eyed views, it’s no wonder it is now the most popular of the routes with more than 30% of the climbers using it. With tough trail through the rain and long, steep days of walking, Machame is physically more challenging than Marangu. There are also no huts – only tents. The trek on summit night tends to be about an hour shorter than if you came via Marangu as you reach the rim nearer to Uhuru Peak. You descend via the Mweka route.
Umbwe Route: Umbwe, is one of the toughest routes. Umbwe offers a direct two-day approach to Barranco Camp at 3940m from the south. From Barranco Camp you’ll head up to Barafu Ridge, before ascending to the summit up the Barafu Route. Umbwe is relatively easy as long as the climber is prepared to do some rock scrambling on the second day during the approach to Barranco There are fewer people on this route, and if you attempt to do it – without acclimatizing on Mt. Meru or elsewhere – you are less likely to summit.
Lemosho Route: The Lemosho route approaches Kilimanjaro through forest and moorland from the west, eventually crossing the caldera of the Shira Plateau as it heads to the visually dramatic southern aspect. This option takes you under the southern ice fields of Kibo, before spilling you out onto the Barafu route, on which you’ll make your final ascent to the summit. Barafu itself is not a complete route from base to summit, but rather a section of higher trail that connects the south circuit with Stella Point and Uhuru Peak. It is shared by several main routes: Lemosho, Shira, Machame and Umbwe.
Lemosho is a less traveled and unspoiled route. The rainforest is particularly beautiful on this part of the mountain. Lemosho offers the greatest wilderness experiences, especially on the first three days of the climb. Time spent walking across the wilderness of the Shira Plateau gives you a good chance to get used to the altitude before tackling the busy Barafu route to the summit. It’s not unusual to observe animals like elephants, buffalo and monkeys in the forest around the Lemosho glades. Itineraries on this route are longer, typically 8 to 9 days, which makes them more expensive. Lemosho is the best for giving you a great overview of Kilimanjaro as well as providing you with the maximum chance of reaching the summit. You descend via the Mweka route on Kilimanjaro’s southern flank, which means you see more of the mountain and its unique environment.
Shira Route: Shira, starts on the west side of the Kilimanjaro massif, Shira runs roughly parallel to the Lemosho route. Shira, begins on a 4WD track through tree plantations and heath, missing out on the spectacular rain forest that is part of the Lemosho route. A standard climb up Shira is usually done in seven days. This is possible as Shira starts at a higher elevation, using a vehicle to bypass much of the lowland rainforest that the Lemosho route embraces. The downside is that you’ll have less time to acclimatize, which may lead to problems with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). However, if you are in excellent physical shape, you’ll have an extremely good chance of reaching Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak on this route. Those climbing up Shira descend via the Mweka route.
Western Breach: The Western Breach is an alternative trail to the summit in place of the Barafu route. It can be used from Machame, Umbwe, Lemosho or Shira Routes. Often used by those wishing to stay or pass through the crater, it also used by those seeking a more technical and challenging route to the summit. The recent warming of the climate has led to an increased danger of rock fall due to the melting of the adjacent Arrow Glacier. KINAPA closed the route in 2006 after a tragic rockslide in which some porters and tourists were killed. It has since been reopened, though the route is open only to climbers with technical experience and with a qualified technical guide leading. Few companies use this approach and those that do are experts on the route and pay their crew extra for taking on the extra danger. The group must obtain special permits and carry ropes, ice axes and wear safety helmets.
Kibo Ciruit: The Circuit Climb is the best way to see the entire Kilimanjaro mountain, but it requires a minimum of 9 days and 8 nights on the mountain. The route follows the circuit trail that goes right around the mountain at a relatively high altitude, typically between 3000 and 4000m. As you get onto the remote north flank overlooking Kenya, there is always an element of excitement and risk present – rescue from this area takes longer and is more difficult. It is so remote that eland, adapted with long coats to deal with the cold Kilimanjaro nights – are often seen as are the occasional buffalo that has come to lick minerals from the natural caves high on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Lion tracks have also been seen along this remote route. However, there is one thing that you are unlikely to see up here – other climbers.
Kilimanjaro offers a route for everyone interested in taking on the challenge. Take the time to think about what you want out of your climb of a life time and then go for it!