The Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro
If reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro isn’t already at the top of your bucket list, it should be. This African gem, located in Tanzania, is the highest peak of the entire continent, and climbing to the top of its staggering 19,341-foot-high summit is guaranteed to take your breath away and make your jaw drop.
To have the best Mt. Kilimanjaro climbing experience, you should be fully aware of the conditions, seasonal climates, costs, and requirements to prepare yourself for this challenge.
To prepare you with everything you need to know for your trip to Kilimanjaro, we have created this detailed guide to take you through each stage of getting you up to the summit. Keep reading to learn more about the essentials of climbing up the world’s tallest, free-standing mountain.
Requirements for Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
Although the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro is accessible to almost all tourists, there are a few requirements you need before you can join a tour or attempt a trek up the mountain.
The following requirements are primarily for the safety of yourself and others traveling with you and can make a big difference in the kind of experience you have during your climb to the summit.
Skill Level and Age
If you are new to mountain climbing or tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro, there’s no need to worry. Although the climb to the mountain’s summit is a multi-day, high-altitude trek, you do not necessarily have to be trained in climbing to get to the top, especially with a tour guide helping you. At the right time of year, the terrain and trail conditions are smooth enough for most committed hikers to reach the peak.
One of the few restrictions you’ll find for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is age. Only those over the age of 10 can embark on this climb.
Having quality gear you can rely on for dramatic weather changes will be essential on your trek. You can expect extreme heat, followed by heavy rains (depending on the time of year you travel), and nighttime temperatures dropping to below freezing—often experienced within a single day.
With that said, having lightweight, weatherproof, and water-resistant gear is highly recommended for your Mt. Kilimanjaro climb.
Some examples of equipment or gear you may need to bring with you include:
- -20 Degree Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Trekking Poles
- Insulated Trekking Gloves, Pants, and Winter Jacket
- Hiking Boots
- 70 Liter Main Rucksack
- 30-40 Liter Day Pack
However, one of the most challenging things about doing long distance, multi-day treks is having to lug around your gear. That extra weight can begin to take a toll on hikers of all experience levels—especially when reaching high-altitudes.
This is why most tour guides will take it upon themselves to carry a lot of the equipment necessary for the trek, such as tents, chairs, and tables. Be sure to check with your tour guide operator before your trip about the necessary equipment you’ll need to supply on your own.
Booking a Kilimanjaro Guide
If you want to successfully climb up one of the world’s tallest mountains—especially on your first try—it’s worth booking a local tour agency to help guide you along the way. Climbing to an altitude of nearly 6,000 meters is no picnic but can be accomplished by most hikers with the assistance of a guide that knows the terrain and local environment.
Here is some knowledge you can expect your guides to be well equipped with:
- Terrain: The terrain and trail conditions of multi-day treks vary—especially on Kilimanjaro. That is why having a guide who knows how to approach each evolving landscape will assure you that you are prepared for anything.
- Weather: As will be mentioned below, the weather on Mt. Kilimanjaro will vary. Having the insight and experience to approach the contrasting conditions on your way up to the summit will be vital.
- Safety Checks: You can count on professional guides to give you and each individual on your tour consistent safety checks throughout the expedition. This is to monitor health-risks such as altitude sickness, fatigue, and other mountaineering protocols.
Finding a reliable tour agency can be a challenge, with many tour operators having a summit success rate of a mere 50%. This is due to a lack of responsibility and care provided by lackluster tour agencies, with their goal being to make quick profits instead of guaranteeing customer satisfaction.
So, make sure you do your research and book with a trusted and professional tour operator with a high summit success rate. When you book with a reliable tour operator, you can count on their guidance on your trek every step of the way; they will provide you all the support you need to make it to the summit.
With that said, look for a guide from a professional tour operator that is a certified Wilderness First Responder (WRF). They will go out of their way to make sure you are safe and are enjoying your journey.
Traveling to Mt. Kilimanjaro
The first step to getting you to Mt. Kilimanjaro’s top is to fly into Tanzania, Africa. While there are several different airports in the country, the most direct and practical airport that will get you closer to your destination is Kilimanjaro International Airport. This is particularly convenient if your sole purpose for flying into Africa is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, as the airport was essentially established for easy access to the mountain.
If your journey happens to entail several stops around Tanzania, flying into the country’s largest airport, Julius Neyere International Airport, is a good alternative. Once you have arrived, you will likely need a place to stay near Kilimanjaro—before and after your trek. Luckily, there are some great accommodation options within the area to choose from.
You may also find that many tour operators will go out of their way to make your trip to Kilimanjaro as comfortable and hassle-free by offering to give you transportation to and from the airport.
When It’s Best to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
One of the great things about climbing Kilimanjaro is that it is open all year-round, making it a versatile destination for your next big hike. However, you should bear in mind that certain times of the year are much more suitable for climbing than others, which will result in a safer and more comfortable experience.
Here’s what you can expect your climbing experience to be like during different times of the year:
January – Early March
If you want to stay dry as you make your way to Mt. Kilimanjaro’s summit, booking a tour during this time of year is ideal. Not only is the weather agreeable, but you’ll find that there’s less trail traffic as well.
June – September
You can expect to find some of the most stable weather conditions during this time of year, which is a major reason it tends to be the most popular time to take on the mountain among tourists.
If you don’t mind some extra foot traffic on your way up to the summit, this is still a fantastic time of year for trekking up Mt. Kilimanjaro. We recommend booking your tour closer to June, as the likelihood of rain increases the closer you book toward the fall season.
The gaps between the seasons mentioned above are considered the “off-season months” of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (April-May and October-November). However, the trails are still technically open for use should you decide to make the journey to the mountain’s summit during these times of the year.
With that said, here are some things you should keep in mind when climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro during the off-season:
- Weather: Rain will be more prevalent on your journey to the summit, so be prepared to get wet on your way up to the top and pack accordingly.
- Trail Conditions: The heavy—and often lengthy—rains during the off-season damage the trails, creating mud that amounts to a more strenuous trek.
- Visibility: For many people, a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro is about seeing the magic of its natural beauty and scoring some grade-A social media photos. If you climb the mountain during this time of year, the weather conditions can hinder the views.
Although you can expect a few more obstacles in an off-season climb, many climbers don’t mind the trails’ extra ruggedness. However, if you’re a beginner, we highly recommend touring Mt. Kilimanjaro during January-March or June-September seasons.
Note: Regardless of the time of year you visit Mt. Kilimanjaro, you should be prepared for extreme weather changes from day to night—with polarized daily climates often transitioning from intense heat to below-freezing cold.
Mt. Kilimanjaro Routes to Take to the Summit
When you choose Mt. Kilimanjaro as your next destination, you will find you have a handful of different routes to pick from to climb to the peak. All paths available will give you the incredible breathtaking views you hope to see on the mountain but can differ in terrain, difficulty level, and comfortability. You will find tours for each route can also vary in cost.
Let’s dive into your trail options for reaching the summit:
The Marangu Route—sometimes referred to as the Coca-Cola Route—is the oldest path to Mt. Kilimanjaro’s top. The Marangu Route is a six-day roundtrip trek that differs from every other route option, as your sleeping arrangements for each night will be in designated dormitory huts.
The Marangu Route is the easiest and most comfortable, so if you are not feeling confident in your trekking skills or physical abilities or are climbing the mountain for the first time, we highly encourage taking this route to ensure a safe and successful climb to the summit.
You can expect to cover 50 miles on the Marangu Route, which generally costs around $2,450 with a reputable tour guide.
This route up to Mt. Kilimanjaro’s summit has earned the title Whiskey Route, as it is a step-up in difficulty from the Coca-Cola Route and tends to be the most popular way to reach the mountain peak. This is an excellent option if you want a more rugged experience during your climb.
Traveling this route will take seven days to reach the summit alone—longer than the Marangu Route’s six-day roundtrip. However, you’ll be surprised to find that the Machame Route is actually shorter in distance than the previous trek.
The significant factor that creates this difference is the difficulty level. To help climbers acclimate to the challenges they may face on the Machame Route, tour guides will add additional time for traveling. Each night, you can expect to stay in a tent to sleep and rest until the next leg of your trek.
The cost for this seven-day trek is usually around $2,540.
The Lemosho Route is one of Kilimanjaro’s newer routes and offers you the opportunity to get contrasting views of other trails. This route is more challenging than the previous two options but has been praised as the most beautiful way up to the summit. So, if you are feeling up to the challenge of facing one of Kilimanjaro’s more strenuous trails, you can expect to be rewarded with stunning scenery.
In total, you’ll cover a distance of 43 miles in your choice of seven to eight days. Because this is a more challenging route, it is encouraged that beginners opt for the eight-day trek. You can expect to pay about $2,590 to travel with a guide for the Lemosho Route.
This path to Kilimanjaro offers the opportunity to get off the “beaten track” in many ways, as you will be approaching your trek from the opposite side of the mountain from all the other routes.
The Rongai Route has the appeal of being a less wandered path and has significantly less foot traffic on it, which is often a calling card to those who are coming to Kilimanjaro for a second trip. Because this trail is more remote, you are more likely to find undisturbed nature and wildlife. However, previous climbers have claimed that its scenery does not quite live up to the expectations of other trails on this list.
The route is 44 miles in length and usually takes seven days to complete. Its remoteness makes it the most expensive trail to travel, costing approximately $2,630.
If you feel ambitious and want a real trekking challenge, the Umbwe Route is the perfect choice for you. It is the most challenging way to the summit, so be prepared for a tough journey that requires you to be in the best shape to guarantee you can make it to the top.
Due to this route’s difficulty level, many people avoid choosing this option, meaning fewer crowds are on the trail (regardless of the season).
For this 32-mile, six-day trek to the top, you can expect to pay around $2,590.
Final Safety Tips for Climbing Kilimanjaro
Even if you have all the gear and meet all the requirements for starting your climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, you still need to know a few safety protocols to ensure you have a safe journey.
This is why having an experienced tour guide by your side on your first climb is encouraged; they’ll have all the necessary equipment on hand—such as emergency oxygen, pulse oximeters, etc.—should an emergency occur. They can also perform regular safety checks and make sure you’re doing well as you climb higher up the mountain.
However, personally looking after your safety is just as crucial; keeping yourself aware and alert throughout the trek will be just as essential to ensure the safety of you and everyone on your trip. Here are some vital safety tips to keep in mind on your journey:
- Pace Yourself: When you are hiking, especially on multi-day, high-altitude treks, you should remember that it is a marathon, not a race. Taking your time and not being in a rush can help you avoid fatigue. Remember, it is the journey, not the destination!
- Take Frequent Breaks: It’s much better to stop, take a breath, and relax throughout the day to keep yourself from burning out in the long run. This becomes increasingly important as you get closer to the summit, where the air becomes thinner and the chances of altitude sickness increase with each step.
- Acclimate: If you can acclimate to higher altitudes before beginning your trek, you will feel more fit and prepared for what’s ahead on your way up the top. An excellent way to do this is to arrive at your destination a couple of days earlier and condition yourself with some day hikes.
- Hydrate: There is probably nothing more important than staying hydrated on your Kilimanjaro climb. Frequently drink water throughout the day and while resting in the evening.
Following these safety tips can amount to having a safe and enjoyable experience on any hike (big or small), especially when dealing with long-distance treks that reach an altitude as high as Mount Kilimanjaro’s.
If you are interested in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, you will be happy to hear that the experience is open to just about everyone. You just have to be prepared. By following the tips offered above, you’ll be ready to cross climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro off your bucket list in no time!