Choosing a Route
None of the other summits provide the plethora of routes available to novice climbers as on Kilimanjaro. There are predominantly 6 key routes on offer, certain guide operations may have a ‘unique’ option, although it tends to be a slight variant on one of those listed below.. From the landscape & wildlife, to crowds and acclimatisation factors, each of these offers a different experience and perspective on your traverse up Kilimanjaro.
*Most guides and other experienced trekkers recommend at least 7 days to ensure you are fully acclimatised and don’t succumb to altitude sickness on the way up.
Below are the Kilimanjaro success rates as reported by Kilimanjaro National Park(2006):
- All climbers, all routes 45%
- All climbers, all 5 day routes 27%
- All climbers, all 6 day routes 44%
- All climbers, all 7 days routes 64%
- All climbers, all 8 day routes 85%
Marangu (5-6 days)
The most popular Trek on Kilimanjaro (often termed the ‘coca-cola’ route) it is the oldest and most well-established, offering huts at each of the 3 camps along the way. Due to it’s popularity and the relative ‘comfort’ provided by the huts, it is usually full of other trekkers no matter what season you go (it is also used as the descent route from several others such as Rongai).
It’s generally seen as the ‘easiest’ due to the gentle slope that gradually works its way towards the summit. It is also the quickest, not only being closest to the township, but also because it is generally done in 5-6 days. This has a downside however, in that it offers less chance of acclimatisation, resulting in a lower summit success rate than some of the longer routes. This may also be influenced by a larger number of unfit and unprepared climbers choosing this option.
-‘Easiest’ (least physically demanding slope)
-Dormitory style Huts (particularly useful during rainy season)
-Packed accommodation w/poor sanitation
-Not the most diverse scenery
Machame (6-7 days)
Known as the ‘whiskey route’ (as opposed to the easier ‘coca cola’ offered by Marangu) it is the second, if not now the most popular route up the mountain. It is well known as one of the most beautiful routes, offering a variety of landscape visages, flora and fauna on the ascent, as well as on the descent down the Mweka route.
It is harder than Marangu, being steeper with longer days. Recommended to those who are pretty confident of their condition and ability to handle long days and fairly quick acclimatisation.
-Cost-effective 6 day option
Shira (6-7 days)
Like the more popular Lemosho route, Shira kicks off on the western side of the mountains. It starts off as a 4wd track, with the option to drive right up to a starting elevation of 3,600m. This allows for the possibility of a shorter trek but often means problems with acclimatisation from day 1. From camp 2, it merges with the Machame route and also descends down Mweka. One of the less utilised routes, it means there are far less crowds
- Less crowded
- Great scenery
- Altitude problems
- More expensive
Lemosho (7-8 days)
One of the newer routes on the mountain and highly recommended from most guides and operators due a couple of key factors. Firstly, it requires a minimum of 7 days, meaning a slow & gradual ascent; great for acclimatisation. For this reason, it has the highest summit success rate out of any of the main options. Secondly, it is regarded as one of, if not the most scenic route on Kilimanjaro. Beginning in remote, wildlife filled rainforest, Lemosho slowly works up the west side of the mountain before descending south, offering great panoramic views of the mountain. However due to it’s location on the west side & the length of the trek, it is likely the most expensive option (probably another reason why guide operators love it).
- High chance of summit success (due to acclimatisation)
- Beautiful & diverse scenery
- Less crowded (mostly during first 2 days)
- Can be physically demanding (due to terrain and length of trek)
- More expensive
Rongai (6-7 days)
Rongai is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north, meaning a long drive from Moshi to get to the starting point. On the positive side, this has traditionally meant far fewer crowds, although that is starting to change. Still classed as more of a wilderness route, Rongai is also seen as one of, if not the easiest option, a fairly gentle slope for the duration up to Kibo hut, where it joins Marangu for the final summit push.
- The northern side sees less precipitation
- Easy climb
- Less crowded
- High summit success rate (due to ease and ‘climb high-sleep low’ dynamic)
- Seen as less scenic
- More expensive than other 6-day options
Umbwe (6-7 days)
Approaching from the south side of the mountain, Ubwe is viewed as the hardest route, usually attracting more experienced climbers seeking a challenge. Most guide operators recommend avoiding it after a rockfall killed 3 climber in 2006, but still list it as an option for those wanting to access the Western Breach, a dangerous approach requiring scrambling and a great deal of exposure.
- Spectacular views
- Far fewer climbers
- Very physically demanding
- Poor Acclimatisation (takes 2 days to get to the same point as day 3 on Machame)
Choosing a Guide
International or local?
Out of any of the 7 Summits, Kilimanjaro has by far the most options for choosing a guide. There are a truly incredible array of services to choose from, both locally operated and large international companies. Whichever you choose is a personal decision and dependent on the level of comfort you want on your trip. Generally, the foreign-run guide services provide extra comfort and a few additional perks to the local guides, such as a portable chemical toilet, newer equipment etc..
These of course, come with a price and international services tend to charge a lot more, sometimes double the amount of those operating at the base of the mountain. If you are looking for a comfortable but basic service that provides everything you need to get you to the top at a reasonable price, you will do fine going with a local service such as one of the ones listed below.
* The Kilimanjaro Porter Assitance Project (KPAP) is a good feature to look out for, indicating that the guide takes good care of there porters and provides adequate pay and conditions. They are after all, going to be looking after you so it is nice to know they aren’t being taken advantage of.
Standard Inclusions for guided services (any additional services, or standard services which are not included, will get a mention in the guide reviews below.)
– Park Fees
– Transfer to & from hotel from Kilimanjaro airport
– Hotel accommodation 1 night before and 1 night after climb
– Transport to and from trailhead
– All support staff on route (guides, porters & cooks)
– All food and water on the mountain.
– Emergency oxygen supply
Out of the hundreds of expeditions operating on Mt Kilimanjaro, it can be a royal pain the ass narrowing it down to the 1 which best suits your needs. I’ve listed several guide services below, from all different price ranges and included a little info about what they offer and what sets them apart. These services have consistently received high reviews and ratings on various sites on the web. I’ve linked to their own websites so you can do a little more research and choose one which best suits your needs.
International Guide Services
- Price est: $2375 for 6 day Rongai, $3,025 for 8 day Lemosho
- Member of Kilimanjaro’s Porter Assistance Project (KPAP)
- Includes portable toilet tent
- Prices est: $2,316 for 6 day Rongai, $2,952 for 8 day Lemosho
- Offer ‘lite’ options for climbers who want to be more self-sufficient (at a reduced cost)
- 707 mountain staff, offers a huge range of options and flexibility
- Cost est: $2,230 for 7 day Machame, $2,490 for 8 day Lemosho
- Welcome package w/journal, tips etc.. (nice perk)
- Portable chemical toilets
Local Guide Services
- Price est:$1,778 for Rongai 6 day, $2,468 for Lemosho 8 day (8 person group)
- Doesn’t include accommodation before & after climb
- Price est: $1575 for 6 day Rongai, $1,999 for 8 day Lemosho
- Provide Sleeping bag, trekking poles & other necessary gear such as down jacket, water bottles etc.. at no extra cost
- Twice a day health check up (pulse & oxygen monitoring)
- Price est: To be determined..
*If you’re willing to take a bit of a risk and save yourself a few dollars, you can always book in the town of Moshi itself. Not only is this a far cheaper option, you can meet and talk to the crew before you climb with them, always an advantage. There is always the risk of not finding someone suitable when you intend to go, but most are fairly flexible.
Training & Preparation
The object of this training program is to ensure you can handle trekking for multiple hours a day for several days in a row over relatively steep terrain.
*Note- This routine below assumes you have a decent base level of fitness, as it starts 4 months out from the expedition. You should have been doing some moderate physical activity at least 3-4x per week prior to commencing this. If not, spend 2 months prior building up to training 4 days a week and get comfortable with that proposition.
#Climbing/hiking at altitude will be the best possible type of training. The below program assumes you live at sea level and don’t have access to any significant elevation gain.
|Example Training Schedule
||4 MONTHS OUT
||3 MONTHS OUT
||2 MONTHS OUT
||1 MONTH OUT
||CARDIO: 1 hour
||CARDIO: 1 hour
||HIKING: 3 hours
||HIKING: 4 hours
||HIKING: 5 hours
||HIKING: 5 hours
Strength– Weight training focused around the key muscles used in a Kilimanjaro climb. The primary areas are quads, calves, back and core. You won’t be carrying a lot of weight in your pack but back and core strength will help with balance and improve power generated through the hips and legs. Look to add reps or weight to each exercise every time you’re in the gym. Keep workouts to an hour or less.
Sample Strength Workout
Squats- 3 x 12-15
Step Ups- 3 x 12-15
Pullups- 2 sets max reps
Dips- 2 sets max reps
Rows- 2 x 10-12
DB Press- 2 x 10-12
Ab Circuit- 3 sets
Fitball Planks- 1:00
Fitball Bridges- 1:00
Med Ball Double Crunch- 20
Russian Twists- 50
Cardio– Cardio is your aerobic fitness, your bodies ability to effectively utilise oxygen taken in. At altitude, the oxygen levels available for the body to absorb are a great deal less than at sea level. As such, it is necessary to get your heart and lungs in adequate condition to handle the rigours of altitude upto 5,895m and trekking uphill for 6-7 consecutive days.
The best form of cardio you can do (besides hiking up mountains) is on stairs or a stairmaster at the gym. Alternate between running up and down and using a 10kg pack.
For variety, incorporate running and swimming to keep it enjoyable and prevent boredom.
Hiking– Aimed at getting you accustomed to trekking for multiple hours a day over varying terrain. Ideally this will be amongst mountainous terrain at altitude, however not everyone lives in close proximity to such landscape in which case a hilly path will do. If even that is hard to find, try a beach (walk up and down sand dunes along the way).