Daniel Dawson
Sep 02, 2022

Mount Kilimanjaro towers above the surrounding savanna and Great Rift Valley in northeastern Tanzania

Rising to 5,895 metres (19,341 feet) in elevation, Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and the continent’s tallest volcano.

Since no technical abilities are required to reach its highest summit, the dormant stratovolcano is also widely considered to be the easiest of the Seven Summits to climb. 

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As a result, it is undoubtedly Africa’s and one of the world’s most popular mountaineering destinations, with hundreds of guides offering expeditions up the mountain's six main routes: the Machame, Marangu, Rongai, Shira/Lemosho, Northern Circuit and Umbwe. 

Since the only prerequisites to climb the mountain are a high level of physical fitness and an appetite for adventure, the next question becomes: which route is the best one for you?

Kilimanjaro routes at a glance

RouteLength (km)Duration (days)Avg Daily Length (km)Avg Daily Elevation Gain (m)
Machame656 to 79700
Marangu705141,000
Rongai70.55 to 611.75790
Shira726 to 810630
Lemosho787 to 89.75530
Northern Circuit96910.75700
Umbwe5167860

Note: Altitude and distances are approximations. Different sources provide different figures.

Machame

Photo: Africa Natural Tours.

The Machame Route is one of the most scenic routes that lead up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and is easily the favourite of low-budget operators on the mountain. As a result, it is one of the cheapest ways to climb the mountain and the most crowded.

Starting from the Machame Gate (1,830 m/6,000 ft), located just southwest of the mountain, the Machame Route can be done in 6 to 7 days. It is slightly tougher than the Marangu or Rongai Routes but boasts a higher success rate than either of them.

The toughest part comes on the third day when adventurers must hike up the steep Barranco Wall. While the name is a slight misnomer, with the most difficult part requiring only a bit of scrambling and no rock climbing, the trail is long and steep. 

Overall, trekkers should expect to walk an average of 9 kilometers (5.7 miles) and gain 700 metres (2,300 feet) of altitude per day on the way up. There are some short days and a few much longer ones. Most summit attempts take palace on the sixth day.

Summit day will generally begin with a predawn start in order to watch the sunrise over Kilimanjaro's summit crater. After enjoying the roof of Africa for a bit, adventurers descend via the Mweka Route and eventually return to the Machame Gate. 

Marangu

Approaching the glacier on Kilimanjaro via the Marangu Route. Photo: African Love Birds Adventure

Before the arrival of budget operators, the Marangu Route was the most popular way to climb Kilimanjaro and still remains the second most popular. 

The Marangu Route is the oldest trail up Kilimanjaro and is said to be the easiest in terms of logistics – it is the only one with mountain huts, and camping is not allowed – and physical difficulty. As a result, it is also very crowded.

However, the route has the lowest success rate of any of the main ones up the mountain. This is most likely because it is widely advertised as the easiest and many unprepared adventurers attempt it as a result. 

The route begins from the Marangu Gate (1,860 m/6,100 ft), located southeast of the mountain, and requires 5 to 6 days, depending on whether climbers have acclimatised before beginning the ascent.

Compared to the Machame Route, the Marangu Route is more abbreviated, requiring trekkers to hike for longer periods each day and gain elevation more rapidly. Overall, adventurers should expect to walk an average of 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) per day with an average elevation gain of 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) per day during the ascent. 

As with every route up Kilimanjaro, the highlight of the trip comes on summit day, which is either the fourth or fifth on the itinerary, depending on the time taken to acclimatise. 

Once again, climbers will get a pre-dawn start to watch the sunrise from the summit before spending the last 1.5 days of the itinerary returning to the Marangu Gate along the same route.

Rongai

On the way back down from the Rongai Route. Photo: Spider Tours.

Unlike the Marangu Route, the Rongai Route is actually the easiest one to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and boasts one of the highest success rates. 

The route used to be the most remote wilderness trail, but this has changed in recent years as the trail has become more popular. Still, it is usually less crowded than the Machame or Marangu Routes.

The Rongai Route is the only one to climb Kilimanjaro that approaches from the north of the mountain. Furthermore, most guides opt to descend via the Marangu Route, giving trekkers the opportunity to see both sides of the volcano.

Since it starts from the less populated northern side of the mountain, climbing Kilimanjaro from this route is generally a bit more expensive than the Machame or Marangu Routes. Due to the arid climate on the northern slopes, some people also consider it to be a slightly less scenic route than some of the others. 

The ascent begins from Nalemoru (1,950 m/6,400 ft) and generally takes 6 days to complete. Overall, adventurers should expect to walk an average of 11.75 kilometres (7.3 miles) each day with an average elevation gain of 790 metres (2,600 feet) per day during the ascent. 

Summit day takes place on the fifth day of the trip and requires a pre-dawn start to reach the top for the sunrise before beginning the descent down the other side of the mountain. 

Shira

Enjoy the stunning sky beneath the summit glacier. Photo: Altezza Travel.

Trekkers looking to spend a little bit more time in Kilimanjaro National Park and avoid some of the crowds on the main routes can take one of the variations of the Shira Route, named after the massive Shira Plateau.

Approaching Kilimanjaro from the west, the Shira Route is considered one of the most scenic and, at least for the first few days, is also one of the less traveled. Part of the reason for this is the extra cost incurred by traveling to the west of the mountain and the higher level of difficulty. 

The ascent begins from the Londorossi Gate (2,100 m/6,900 ft) and follows a wide path used by all-terrain vehicles. Hiking from the very start means the trek usually takes 6 to 7 days.

However, it is also possible to drive farther along the trail and start a bit higher up the mountain. Although, this option provides less time to acclimatise and results in a higher rate of trekkers succumbing to acute mountain sickness

Overall, adventurers can expect to walk an average of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) per day and gain an average of 630 metres (2,070 feet) of elevation per day during the ascent. 

After crossing the Shira Plateau, the route follows the same course as the Machame Route after the third day, meaning it gets a lot more crowded. Like the Machame Route, the Shira Route also follows the Mweka Route down the mountain before returning to the Shira Gate on the western side of the mountain.

Lemosho

Photo: Leken Adventure

The Lemosho Route (referred to by some guides as the Lemosho-Shira Route) is the most popular variation of the Shira Route and is widely considered to be the most scenic route up Kilimanjaro. 

Relative to other routes up the mountain, it is one of the newest but is quickly becoming quite popular. The route is also fairly demanding, based on its length, steepness and difficulty of the terrain in certain sections.

Like other variations of the Shira Route, the ascent begins from the Londorossi Gate. However, instead of following the all-terrain vehicle path, the Lemosho Route follows a forested path through the Lemoshio Glades and onto a separate camp.

On either the third or fourth day (depending on the guide), the Lemosho Route meets the Machame Route at the Lava Towers and follows it to the top. Once again, adventurers will descend via the Mweka Route and exit the park via the Lemosho Gate.

Overall, trekkers should expect to hike an average of 9.75 kilometres (6 miles) per day during the trip, with an average elevation gain of 530 metres (1,700 feet) each day during the ascent. 

Northern Circuit

Photo: Climbing Kilimanjaro.

Most climbers headed to Mount Kilimanjaro try to schedule the trek in order to take just a single week off of work. This means most treks run from Sunday to Saturday.

However, the Northern Circuit Trek is the newest and longest route up the mountain and is targeted at people with a bit more time to spare. Instead of 5 to 7 days, the trek lasts 9 days. Though it still covers plenty of ground each day and requires substantial ascents on several days.

One of the main reasons for trekkers to take this route is for all the diverse views, both of the volcano and its surroundings. Adventurers begin in the lush western valleys of the mountain before passing along the arid northern slopes and descending back through the tropical rainforest to the south of the mountain. 

The route begins from Londrossi Gate and follows the same path as the Shira Trek for the first two days and part of the third day. Before arriving at Lava Tower, the route veers to the north.

As trekkers circumnavigate Kilimanjaro, the route drops down to slightly lower elevations for a couple of days before meeting with the other main routes and ascending the peak from the east. From the summit, adventurers follow the Mweka Route out of the park.

Overall, trekkers should expect to walk for an average of 10.7 kilometres (6.6 miles) each day, gaining an average of 700 metres (2,300 feet) of elevation on the days of the separate ascents. 

Umbwe

Arriving at Lava Tower. Photo: Step to Kilimanjaro.

While no technical mountaineering abilities are required to climb the Umbwe Route, it is certainly the most challenging. 

The route is the shortest to climb Kilimanjaro but also the steepest, most direct, most exposed and crosses the most difficult terrain, including the Barranco Wall. As a result, few guides offer the route and those who do recommend having prior mountaineering experience.

The ascent begins from Umbwe Gate (1,600 m/5,300 ft), located directly south of the mountain, and usually takes 6 days. Climbers will trek steep rainforest paths before arriving at the moorland beneath the Barranco Wall.

On the second day, the route meets with the Machame Route at Barranco Camp and continues to the summit. From the summit, climbers will descend using the Mweka Route

Climbers should expect to hike an average of 7 kilometres (4 miles) each day of the trip and ascend an average of 860 metres (2,800 feet) on the way to the top.

Conclusion

Photo: Lappet Faced Safaris.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro should be at the top of any experienced trekker or mountaineer’s bucket list. However, plenty of preparation and thought should be put into which route and guiding company to choose.

Compare prices, trips and read verified reviews on ExpedReview for free. It’s never too early to start planning your next Kilimanjaro climbing adventure!

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