Kilimanjaro - The Ultimate Guide

The Ultimate Guide to Kilimanjaro Climbing Mount

At 5895m high, Mount Kilimanjaro exudes intimidating presence as the highest mountain in Africa. Hence, its unbeatable name-the Roof of Africa. As if that wasn’t enough, it is also known to be the tallest free-standing mountain in the world! It majestically seats by itself in the beautiful plains of East Africa, specifically in the Kilimanjaro region in North-Eastern Tanzania. Mount Kilimanjaro is a stratovolcano and has three volcanic cones that were formed eons ago after subsequent volcanic eruptions. Kibo is the highest cone and it houses the famous Uhuru peak. Mawenzi and Shira, the other two cones, are now eroded and extinct.
Mt Kilimanjaro Volcanic Peak
Mt Kilimanjaro Volcanic Peak

Mount Kilimanjaro Climate

Mt. Kilimanjaro’s height influences the climate around it. Due to its isolated positioning, it experiences upslope winds during the day and downslope winds during the night. The southern side normally has a stronger current than the northern one. It has two rainy seasons which fall between March and May and the other in November. The southern slopes receive more rainfall than the northern ones. The summit area has an average temperature of approximately −7 °C (19 °F). Daytime experiences high temperatures of −4 °C (25 °F) and nighttime −9 °C (16 °F) which can go as low as −15 to −27 °C (5 to −17 °F).

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

So, you want to summit this phenomenal mountain? Great! The good news is that you do not need to be a mountaineering expert or have technical skills on climbing or hiking. You may need to use your hands once in a while for stability in some areas, which is doable. Though this doesn’t mean it is a licking-of-ice-cream kind of climb. The low temperatures at high elevation and occasional high winds may act against you making the trek difficult and dangerous. This means that acclimatization is essential to reduce the high risk of altitude sickness. You may also need to put a few things in place before undertaking this venture;
  • Organize your visa if you aren’t a Tanzanian citizen.
  • Get the necessary vaccinations especially Yellow Fever and/or anti-malaria medication.
  • Book your flights. Kilimanjaro Airport is the closest to this mountain, situated between Moshi and Arusha.
  • Get in shape.
  • There are tour operators who offer climbing equipment, so you may choose to buy or rent.
  • You will need proper hiking boots, sunglasses, a hat and well-layered clothing to beat the frost.
  • Access to Mt Kilimanjaro is restricted because it is protected by the Kilimanjaro National Park. So some park fees will definitely apply.
You pay once a Rescue Fee: $20 You pay per day Your Entry Fee: $70 (listed as "Conservation Fee") Guide and Porter Entrance Fees: TZS 3500 (about $1.70 and includes entry and camping/hut fees) You'll end up with 3-5 staff per climber, depending on the size of your group. You pay per night Hut/Camping Fee: $60/$50

Accommodation on the Mountain

You will mostly sleep in tents because most routes are camping routes. The only route with huts is the Marangu route. There is no running water but the tour guides have porters who will cater to you in terms of food and drinking water. However, there are hotels near the mountain such as Mt. Kilimanjaro View Lodge, Aishi Machame Hotel, Ameg Lodge Kilimanjaro among others. You could choose to relax in one of these after the trek.

Mountain climbing routes

Most of the main routes up the mountain are walking routes. You have quite a number of routes to choose from depending on foot traffic, climate, scenery and difficulty. The official routes are Machame, Marangu, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe, Northern Circuit and Rongai. Machame is the most scenic route, albeit steeper. It can be done in a minimum 6 days. It is suitable for the more adventurous personalities. Marangu is relatively easy with the same ascent and descent routes. It is the only route with huts as accommodation and foot traffic is common. It can be done within 5 days. Lemosho is a highly recommended route which can take about 6-8 days to complete. It has an incredible view and with low foot traffic.
Sunset at Shira Huts Camp
Sunset at Shira Huts Camp Photo by Stig Nygaard
Shira is a beautiful route to use considering you will cross the Shira Plateau before joining the Machame route. It is similar to Lemosho because of its high starting point and also important for climbers to acclimatize. It takes roughly 7 days to complete. Umbwe is the shortest route but very steep. It takes 5 days to complete. However, the success rate is quite low with this route so it is not popular. The Northern Circuit is the longest and newest route. It is considered to be one of the best because of the scenic views and provision for enough time for acclimatization. It can be done in seven or more days. The Rongai is a slightly difficult climb because it is moderately steep. It is recommended for those people who want minimal human contact. To get to the base of the Kibo cone, you can use any of these 6 routes; To get to the summit, the Barafu route, Kibo Huts route, and the Western Breach are used depending on which of the six routes you choose. However, the Western Breach was closed due to being prone to rock slides and rock falls which claimed the lives of some climbers in 2006. Upon descent, two trails lead down the mountain. You will descend via the Mweka route if you used the Umbwe, Machame, Lemosho and Shira routes to go up. You will descend via the Marangu route if you used the Rongai and Marangu routes to ascend.

Best time to climb

Any time of the year can be ideal to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. However, it is best to climb during the driest months of the year, September/October and July/August. January and February are also appropriate months because the weather conditions are most favorable. You may experience occasional rainfalls in March with the rainy season being in April and May.

Flora on Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt Kilimanjaro has five ecological zones. At 800m to 1800m there is the Bushland vegetation with farms and villages. Next to it is the dense Rainforest at 1800m - 2800m. This beautiful lush green zone receives a considerable amount of rain yearly. You will get to see huge sycamore trees, junipers, moss, and ferns. The next zone is the Semi-Alpine Heath and Moorland zone found at 2800m- 4000m. Here exist the strange giant groundsel, Lobelias and the Senecio trees. Above 4000m you will find the Alpine Desert zone which has extreme weather variations and little rainfall. Minimal variety of plants can be evidenced. From 5000m you will get to the Frozen Moonscape zone. It only has rock and ice. The nights are extremely cold and no life is found here.

Fauna on Mount Kilimanjaro

Silvery cheeked Hornbill
Silvery cheeked Hornbill
In the lower areas like the forest zone, you will find various species of birds ranging from the Hartlaub Turacos, the tropical Boubous, Silvery-cheeked Hornbills and more. The colobus monkeys, elephants, olive baboons, leopards, mongooses can also be found in this zone.

Hiking with Kids

Yes! You can go hiking with your kids on Mt. Kilimanjaro as long as they are 10 years and above. How exciting is this! So, if your children are up to the challenge and fun, you can have them join you. It will be a great way to bond as a family.

Things to do

Apart from conquering this majestic mountain, there are quite a number of exciting things to do during and after the climb. Some of these include:

Wildlife Watching

Mount Kilimanjaro being inside the Kilimanjaro National Park and in the Moorland zone is diverse in game. It’s easy to take hikes on this zone however, you may have to hire a park ranger to reach some areas. You will get to see some, if not all of the “big five” animals. Elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and buffalos graze these lands. You will also encounter baboons and bush pigs.

Visiting Chala the Crater Lake

Lake Chala was formed after a volcanic eruption on Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is located on the border between Tanzania and Kenya. This lake covers an area of 1.6 square miles. It’s mostly famed for its color-changing waters that range from emerald green to turquoise blue to midnight blue depending on which time of the year you are visiting. The only available accommodation near the scenic lake is Lake Chala Safari Camp.
Lake Chala,Tanzania
Lake Chala,Tanzania Photo by Joachim Huber
You could go swimming or hiking along the crater walls. You can even spot the endangered Chala tilapia and capture a shot for memory’s sake.


Hiking normally happens at the lower levels of Mt. Kilimanjaro, especially the area surrounding the Shira Plateau. These hikes take roughly 3 days and you will sleep in the camps. The trails may not be smooth because they are not frequently maintained. But you will still get to experience scenic view and wildlife while putting your fitness level to a test as you climb over steep slopes and rocks.

Bathing in the Kikuletwa Hot Springs

After you have conquered the Roof of Africa and realize that you still have some energy and time to spare, you could go sightseeing outside the Kilimanjaro region. You will come across the Kikuletwa Hot Springs that will literally take your breath away. The clear blue waters of this hot spring will draw you in like a magnet. A dip in these springs may be the perfect version of relaxation that you needed. Plus, you will deserve it anyway after the great conquest!
Kikuletwa Hot Springs
Kikuletwa Hot Springs Photo by Mwangi Kirubi
But before you embark on this life-changing feat, here are some handy tips that will increase your chances of success and make the trip more enjoyable. More like greasing your wheels. Here we go!


  • We did mention that Mt. Kilimanjaro has 5 different temperate climates. This means that you will need a set for the cold and hot conditions. But keep in mind to pack lightly.
  • They should be layered. Test that you can comfortably wear them before you leave home.
  • Don't wear cotton during your climb. At such high altitudes, it doesn’t dry easily. Wear synthetic and breathable fabric. You can wear my Kilimanjaro T-shirt at the campfire or when you go to sleep. I do.
  • Your essentials should be proper hiking boots and socks, hiking pants, enough underwear for the 7-8 day duration.
  • You should be prepared to “recycle” your outfit. Since the air is thin there, you will not sweat as much. But the case might be different if it’s not a rainy season because it will be extremely dusty.
  • In higher altitudes, solar radiation is equally higher because of the low levels of UV Protection. So throw in a pair of sunglasses and a brimmed sun hat to wear during the day.
  • Any other item or equipment you may need you could hire from the service providers.


  • Train physically as much as possible. Prior to the climbing date, I would recommend intense physical training at least 4 days a week, for about 3-4 months.
  • If you have access to hills in your home turf, try making use of them. If not, walk up-hill on a treadmill to improve your muscle strength.
  • As much as physical preparation is emphasized, Mt. Kilimanjaro will equally stretch you psychologically. The Summit day will entail 15 hours of climbing in very cold temperatures. You may have episodes where you will ask yourself existential questions and doubt your sanity, but stay positive.
  • Also be mentally prepared to sleep outdoors for a continuous 6-8 days.
  • Choose the right trekking route. For your trip to be a success and safe, the best advice I will give you is to choose a route that will enable you to spend a minimum of 8 days on the mountain for acclimatization. The best is the Lemosho Route.
  • Since the climb is not a competition, pace yourself. Go slowly (Pole Pole-The Swahili word for “slowly “mostly used by the locals). You will thank me for this tip later!
  • Hydrate and hydrate! You’re likely to be more dehydrated on high altitudes, so take lots of water. At least 3-4 liters a day.
  • Buy or hire a ski-pole. Ski poles reduce external and internal pressure on knee joints by almost 20%.
  • Acute Mountain Sickness attacks indiscriminately, whether you’re an expert mountaineer or not. So to acclimatize, find a guide who follows the “climb high-sleep low” rule. This simply means that you will climb to a higher altitude in the evenings and then descend to a lower altitude for sleeping.
  • On the second or third day of your ascent, take Diamox tablets, even if you will not be experiencing any symptoms of altitude sickness. The downside, however, is that you will have to pee almost every 10 minutes because it is diuretic.
  • Sunscreen is also quite essential.


  • Pay for a package that offers hot meals than packed lunch boxes. It might cost you a few more dollars but it will well be worth it.
  • Earplugs will come in handy at night because the porters may be loud and some campers snore loudly.


  • Please rent a toilet. Especially if you’re a lady. Privacy and convenience is quite rare on that side of the mountain, considering during daytime you will be using the open spaces. Yes, you heard me right, so the sooner you accept this fact, the better. There are some outhouses, though they aren’t well maintained.
  • Carry toilet paper, it will be equal to gold!
  • Bathing water is not available, just a bowl of warm water. So have some wet wipes with you.

Additional Miscellaneous Tips:

  • Bring along some snack treats like cereal energy bars, candy or chewing gum. A little sugar rush won’t hurt.
  • Prepare for the descent. Walking down a mountain is never easy on your knees. I would suggest some anti-inflammatory medication to ease this tension.
  • Be friendly to the porters, chefs, guides and fellow climbers. You will need each other literally! After all, making friends will be inevitable.
  • Carry an extra pair of batteries for your camera. You don’t want to miss out on capturing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, do you?
  • Also, make sure the camera fits in the hip pockets of your backpack for easy access.
  • Carry a pen and a journal to document the journey. Those days literally vanish.
  • On summit night, don’t carry your drinking water on the outside of the backpack, it will freeze. Insulate it or protect it with under clothing.
  • Sing, laugh and dance to release endorphins! They are scientifically proven methods actually. You will definitely sing the famous “Hakuna Matata” from the movie Lion King in its various crescendos and diminuendos.
  • And most importantly...wait for it…enjoy yourself! Remember you’re on vacation and the goal is to relax. Take some time off, away from the camp to walk as you reflect on your life. Practice solitude and meditation during your free time. And don’t forget to watch out for the breathtaking sunsets and sunrises!