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Where is Kilimanjaro & How to Get There

Mount Kilimanjaro is located on the northern border of Tanzania, East Africa, formerly known as Tanganyika in colonial times. The highest freestanding mountain the world and the highest point in Africa, Kilimanjaro is approximately 200 miles south of the Equator.

One of the Seven Summits, Mount Kilimanjaro stands at 19,341ft, 5895m above sea level at the highest point, Uhuru Peak. It was formed around 750,000 years ago at around the same time as the Great Rift Valley. The last major eruption is said to be around 360,000 years ago.

Unlike Everest, which is part of a mountain range, formed by the earth’s tectonic plates moving towards each other, Kilimanjaro is a volcano, one of the largest in the world. Kilimanjaro’s summit is not a “peak”, it is the highest point on the crater rim of Kibo, the largest of the volcanic cones. The crater rim runs around the outside of the center of the volcano.

It’s possible to go inside the crater, to see the Ash Pit, where sulfurous fumes belch out, a reminder of the now-dormant, volcanic past. Camping on the crater floor, amongst the glaciers, is sometimes an option for adventurous, well-acclimatized climbers.

There are two other volcanic cones: Mawenzi, a technical climb, and the Shira plateau, now a flat area formed by the former peak collapsing.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kilimanjaro National Park was established in 1973 to protect and conserve the delicate flora and fauna of the area. The National Parks Authority is responsible for issuing permits to climb Kilimanjaro.

Where do the Kilimanjaro Climbs Begin?

The Tanzanian towns of Moshi and Arusha are the main starting points for any Kilimanjaro adventure. Bustling with activity, most tour operators have their base in one of these towns, and there are plenty of good accommodation options, restaurants, shops, and markets.

Moshi is closer to the international airport, about 40 minutes by road, where Arusha is around 90 minutes.

How do I get to Kilimanjaro?

The closest major cities to Kilimanjaro National Park are Arusha and Moshi. The closest international airport is Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) which is served daily by many airlines. Depending on where you are traveling from, you can usually fly direct to JRO via the Gulf (Qatar airlines, Emirates) or via Europe (KLM).

Alternatively, you can fly into Tanzania’s capital, Dar-Es-Salaam (DAR), for a short internal flight, or to Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International (NBO) airport for a connection to JRO (Kenya Airways, Precision Air).

It’s also possible to travel by road from Kenya. There are numerous bus and shuttle options to take you to Moshi or Arusha, though the roads can be quite rough at times; you might consider this if you’re feeling adventurous, trying to save money and have sufficient time.

Other Considerations For Mt Kilimanjaro Travel

  • Check your Visa & Passport requirements well in advance of your booking, including any visa requirements for transit countries.
  • Make sure you are up to date with vaccinations, including Yellow Fever, particularly if you have a layover in a country at risk (eg. Kenya)
  • Arrive a couple of days ahead of your trek. This allows for any unexpected delays and gives you an opportunity to be properly rested before the start of your climb.

We arrange accommodation before and after your climb in one of our excellent options, so you’ll have a chance to rest and relax, and maximize your success and enjoyment on the mountain.

We’re here to help. We can help you plan your travel itinerary, book local options and any questions you’ve got!

More about Mt Kilimanjaro

Climate Zones, Flora & Fauna

Kilimanjaro National Park is home to a variety of different animals, birds and vegetation. Comprising five major climate zones, from the tropical forest to the arctic tundra of the summit, it’s 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.

Cultivation Zone: 2500ft – 5800ft (approx)

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 scrubland and lowland forest. The southern side of the mountain has more rainfall and coupled with the fertile volcanic soil makes it ideal growing conditions.

Forest Zone: 5800ft – 9200ft

Encircling the whole of the mountain is a montane or tropical rainforest. 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.

Heath & Moorland Zone: 9200ft – 13,000ft

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

Highland Desert: 13,000ft to 16,500ft

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.

Summit zone: above 16,500ft

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.

Discovery and Early Attempts to Climb Mt Kilimanjaro

As early as the second century AD, the Greek mathematician Ptolemy mentioned a “great snow mountain” on the African continent. Later, Oriental traders spoke of a “great mountain West of Zanzibar”.

It was only in 1848 that Johann Rebmann traveled to the interior to see the mountain for himself, and officially “discovered” Kilimanjaro in Western eyes.

Obviously, those who lived near the mountain knew perfectly well that it existed! Today, Kilimanjaro is home to the Chagga people, who are said to have arrived and settled in the area some 400 years ago. Moshi and Arusha are now busy, modern towns, but in the more rural areas, traditional tribal customs are still alive and well.

First Official Mount Kilimanjaro Summit

On the 6th October 1889, Hans Meyer and his guide Yohani Lauwo stood on the summit of Kilimanjaro for the first time. Little was known about the effects of altitude in those days, though the local residents warned that going up the mountain caused sickness.

The first recorded woman to the summit was Sheila MacDonald, a 22-year-old from Scotland. She reached the peak in 1927.

How tourism Started Around Mt Kilimanjaro

The first huts were built on Kilimanjaro in the 1920’s. The East African Mountain Club was formed by Richard Reusch, and together with Clement Gillman, they trained mountain guides and took expeditions to the summit of Kibo.

The Tanzanian Government named the ash pit at the center of Kibo’s caldera the “Reusch Ash Pit” after Richard Reusch. Gillman’s point on the crater rim is named after Clement Gilbert.

Since these early beginnings, tourism has grown exponentially on Kilimanjaro. The towns of Moshi and Arusha are busy with thousands of visitors every year. Some estimates say around 35,000 foreign visitors attempt Kilimanjaro every year.

A few quick facts about Mount Kilimanjaro:

  • The name “Kilimanjaro” is of unknown origin. The most popular opinion is that it comes from the Chagga “Kilima” (similar to the Swahili “Mlima” meaning hill or mountain), and “njaro” describing the white covering of snow and glacial on the summit.
  • The summit of Kilimanjaro, now known as Uhuru Peak, was originally in colonial times known as “Kaiser Wilhelm Peak”
  • In 1927, Richard Reusch apparently found the frozen remains of a leopard at the crater rim. Later mentioned in Ernest Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro, no one knows for sure whether it’s fact or fiction.

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