Climate Zones of Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is made up of five major ecological climate zones. They are as follows; Cultivation Zone, Forest Zone, Heather-Moorland Zone, Alpine Desert Zone and Arctic Summit climate zones. Below we will look at each zone and what makes them unique. You will pass through all of these zones on your ascent of the tallest mountain in Africa. Kilimanjaro National Park is home to a variety of different animals, birds and vegetation.

The five distinct climate zones on Kilimanjaro, from the tropical forest to the arctic tundra of the summit has been compared to walking from the equator to the North Pole.

Each climate zone has it’s own unique characteristics, both in terms of vegetation and animal life.


Climate Zones on Kilimanjaro

1. Cultivation Zone:

Alt. Range: 2,600 to 6,000 ft (792 to 1,800 m)
Temperature Range: Days: 70-90 F / 21-32 C
Nights: 40-60 F /4-15 C

As you leave Arusha or Moshi to head to the park gates to begin your climb, you’ll see plenty of evidence of human activity. From grazing of livestock, to small farming operations. This has changed the native vegetation patterns, which would once have been scrub land and lowland forest. The southern side of the mountain has more rainfall and coupled with the fertile volcanic soil makes it ideal growing conditions.

Kilimanjaro Climate Cultivation zone

2. Rain Forest Zone:

Alt. Range: 6,000 to 9,200 ft (1,800 to 2,800 m)
Temperature Range: Days: 70-90 F / 21-32 C
Nights: 40-60 F /4-15 C

Encircling the whole of the mountain is a montane or tropical rain forest. Dense and damp, this forest is home to many different bird and animal species. Due to the increase in human activity, it’s rare to see any big game these days, but monkeys and birds abound.

The trees are covered in ‘old man’s beard’, orchids grow on the branches of ancient trees. Black and white Colobus monkeys live in the treetops and sometimes there are troops of Baboons. Though difficult to spot, small antelope, rodents and bush pigs make this their home.

Forest Zone Kilimanjaro Climate

3. Heath and Moorland Zone:

Alt. Range: 9,200 to 11,000 ft (2,800 to 3,350 m)
Temperature Range: Days: 50-80 F / 10-27 C
Nights: 30-60 F /(-1)-15 C

The forest seems to stop abruptly as you enter the heath and moorland zone, and suddenly you’ve got magnificent views. Characterized by the scrubby shrubs, giant heathers and tussok grasses, the lower part of this zone is sometimes compared to the Scottish Highlands.

As you ascend, and average temperatures drop, you’ll see the giant lobelias and senecios. These plants have developed unique characteristics to allow them to thrive in the drastic temperature swings. As the senecios grow taller, their leaves die and stay on the plant, forming a fur-like insulation around the trunk. Lobelias close their leaves at night, covering their central core for warmth.

Very few animals live here. Sightings of eland, small antelope and occasional elephants have been reported, mostly on their way to somewhere else. Small rodents make their home in tiny caves carved out of the volcanic rock. Keep an eye out for soaring raptors

Heath Moorland Zone

4. Highland Alpine Desert:

Alt. Range: 13,200 to 16,500 ft (4,020 to 5,030 m)
Temperature Range: Days: Days: 10-60 F / (-12) -15 C
Nights:10-40 F /(-12)-4 C

Intense rays of the sun beat down during the day and at night it’s below freezing. There is very little water in this area, and only the hardiest plants can exist. It’s barren and inhospitable. You’ll come across small hardy plants, very few flowers and the odd tussoky-grass.

The landscape is dominated by rugged rock formations, and panoramic views. If you look closely, you’ll see mosses and lichens, which cover the rocks, avoiding the soil altogether. They may look inert, but these are the plants that thrive in this barren environment.

Highland Desert Kilimanjaro Zones

5. Arctic Summit zone:

Alt. Range: 16,500 to 19,340 ft (5,030 to 5,895 m)
Temperature Range: Days: 10-40 F / (-12) -4 C
Nights: -15-20 F /(-26)-(-7) C

Also known as the Arctic zone, this area is dry, freezing cold at night and subject to intense sunshine during the day. With half the available oxygen as sea level, the area is dominated by huge glaciers, and large boulders. There is no resident animal or plant life, except for a few very hardy lichens, slow-growing and probably ancient.

It’s very cold here, with blustery winds and nighttime temperatures well below freezing. As you set off for your summit attempt, there may be ice and snow underfoot, it’s bitterly cold, even at midday and the sun’s radiation is harsh.

Sunscreen is essential on any exposed parts of your body, the dry air will dehydrate you quickly, and you’ll need warm layers to keep your core temperature up.

Read more about Kilimanjaro altitude here.

Arctic Summit kilimanjaro Zone