Hikers climbing to the Lava Tower

Travel Advice Our Top 5 Routes to Climb Kilimanjaro

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Kilimanjaro Routes and Which is the Best Route to Climb Kilimanjaro

You’ve risen to the challenge. You’ve decided to climb Africa’s highest – and most iconic – peak: Kilimanjaro. The question you now face is “which Kilimanjaro route should I take”?

This imposing semi-dormant volcano, set within Tanzania’s beautiful Kilimanjaro National Park, offers no fewer than 7 different routes to the summit.

This means that, provided you’re suitably fit and are happy to take the time to acclimatize to high altitudes (Kilimanjaro’s highest point lies 5,895 metres above sea level) there’s a Kilimanjaro route to suit you whether you’re a novice trekker or a seasoned mountain-bagger.

Whether you’re attempting the mountain for personal fulfilment, a charitable cause or simply ‘because it’s there’, the Kilimanjaro route by which you make your way to the summit will define this unique and magical experience for you. Here, we share with you our top 5 routes on Kilimanjaro.

1. The Lemosho Route, Kilimanjaro

Kandoo Adventures group on the Lemosho Route

Starting at Lemosho Gate at the western base of Kilimanjaro, the Lemosho route makes our top 5 Kilimanjaro routes because of its breath-taking beauty. Although this route can be completed in just six days, it’s better to go for a seven or eight night trek as this gives more time to acclimatise and rest, thereby increasing your chances of successfully reaching Kilimanjaro summit, Uhuru Peak.

The Lemosho route is more demanding than the Rongai route (below), but the extra endeavour required is amply rewarded by Lemosho’s outstanding scenery. It’s also less crowded with climbers than some of the longer established routes on Kilimanjaro.

The journey begins with a trek through verdant rainforest. In this remote and unspoilt area, trekkers may glimpse antelope, elephants, buffalo and other native wildlife. As height is attained, rainforest gradually gives way to scrub vegetation and the vast open moorland of the Shira Plateau. Heading northwards, the Lemosho route takes in one of Kilimanjaro’s most notable landmarks; Lava Tower. This impressive monolith, more than 90 metres in height, is a reminder of Kilimanjaro’s active volcanic past.

Beyond Lava Tower the Lemosho route descends into the cool, Barranco Valley where flowering senecio and lobelia plants grow. This area contributes to Lemosho’s reputation for natural beauty, but at its boundary stands the daunting Barranco Wall which takes around ninety minutes – depending upon your fitness and stamina – to clamber and scramble up. The effort is worth it for the resulting views of the next part of the route; the barren Karanga Valley below.

From the valley, the only way is up as the last part of the ascent to Uhuru Peak is typically made over two days; a rest stop at the Barafu Camp, set on a high rocky ridge, marks the beginning of the final push to Kilimanjaro summit for an exhilarating finale.

Although this Kilimanjaro route features a number of significant rises and descents, making it tougher than the more gradual ascent offered by the Rongai route, the Lemosho route justifies its place in our top 5 routes to climb Kilimanjaro both for its lack of crowds and for its unforgettably varied and wonderful scenery.

2. The Machame Route, Kilimanjaro

Sunrise at Stella Point

We make no apologies for including one of the most popular routes on Kilimanjaro in our top 5. Popular means more crowded, and the Machame route’s comparatively steep ups and downs also call for greater reserves of stamina than either the Rongai or Lemosho route, but in other respects Machame ticks all the right boxes.

Beginning on the southern side of Kilimanjaro, the Machame route is more accessible than those which originate on the western or northern sides, making it a less expensive for the climber on a budget and offering a greater number of tour operators to trek with. And whilst it presents more of a challenge, the Machame route is not as long as others and can be completed in just six days by experienced trekkers.

Another huge plus is the sheer diversity and natural beauty of the terrain that the route takes in. Beginning in lush green rainforest, trekkers will subsequently encounter heather-carpeted moorland, cross the lobelia and senecio strewn Shira plateau and - as altitude is gained and plant life gradually thins out – reach the rock lava slopes and ridges that lead to Kilimanjaro’s summit. At every step of the journey, even in wet weather, the Machame route provides a succession of unforgettable sights, vistas and landmarks.

As with the Lemosho route, trekkers following the Machame route will contend with Lava Tower and Barranco Wall before taking a path that curves around a full half of the mountain. This section opens up yet more spectacular panoramic views and leads the way to Barufu Camp and the winding upward climb that ends with the ultimate prize: Uhuru Peak.

The Machame route’s popularity means that you’re likely to be trekking in the company of many like-minded souls. Frankly, we think this is a minor downside that is balanced out by a route that is budget friendly, easier to get to than others, and offers unrivalled scenery and a better than average chance of success.

3. The Rongai Route, Kilimanjaro

Hikers during the Kilimanjaro ascent

Widely considered as providing one of the easier ascents of Kilimanjaro, the Rongai route has much to recommend it - particularly for less experienced trekkers and climbers. This is the only Kilimanjaro route that approaches the mountain from a northerly direction, originating near Tanzania’s border with Kenya.

Less easily accessed than the more popular routes that approach Kilimanjaro from the south, a longer and slightly more expensive journey is needed to pick up the Rongai route. However, climbers are rewarded with an ascent that is less prone to wet weather, is less crowded, takes in spectacular scenery and offers good opportunities to spot Tanzania’s wildlife.

Achievable in six to eight days (longer trips give climbers a better chance to adapt to the altitude), the Rongai route requires no ropes and no technical climbing, offering instead a steady, moderately challenging ascent punctuated with sensibly spaced rest spots and overnight camps.

We rate the Rongai route highly because it gives climbers the best chance of successfully reaching both Gilman’s Point and going on to attain the summit, Uhuru Peak, via a long, steady climb rather than a succession of steep ups and downs.

4. The Marangu Route, Kilimanjaro

Approaching Kilimanjaro from the southeast, the Marangu route is the original route established to climb Kilimanjaro. This route is famously known as the “Coca-Cola” route as you can get a bottle of Coca-Cola at each hut on the trail. Marangu is often billed as one of the easier Kilimanjaro routes with its gradual and direct path but suffers from one of the lowest success rates because too many trekkers try to complete the trail in only 5 days, not allowing for acclimatisation.

For trekkers who do not wish to camp, Marangu is the only Kilimanjaro route that offers shared dormitory style hut accommodation. The huts have a communal dining room, simple washrooms and toilets which lower down the trail will be flushable, but as you move higher up the mountain will be "long drop" loos. These huts mean the Marangu route is also one of the best routes to climb Kilimanjaro during the rainy season.

The Marangu route is the only Kilimanjaro route that uses the same path going up and coming back down. Unfortunately, this means that it is less scenic than the other routes and it can also get very overcrowded during the best times to climb Kilimanjaro as traffic is going in both directions. Still, it is difficult to top the experience this classic route to Kilimanjaro provides.

5. The Northern Circuit, Kilimanjaro

Beginning at the Londorossi Gate, the Northern Circuit approaches Kilimanjaro from the west and avoids the crowds on the southern Kilimanjaro routes. The route follows the Lemosho route, passing through majestic rainforest where some of the regions most unique wildlife can often be seen.

The Northern Circuit continues up to the mountain’s third summit at Shira Ridge. From here, trekkers will cross the Shira plateau and see the Shira Cathedral before turning onto the little-used northern trails. On a clear day, views stretch over the Amboseli Plains of Kenya and the trail joins the Rongai and Marangu routes for the final ascent via Gillmans Point. After reaching the summit, the route descends by the Mweka trail, rather than retracting your steps along the ascent route.

The northern side of Kilimanjaro is much more remote and has the benefit of less traffic from other trekkers. This Northern Circuit is not short of beautiful scenery, solitude and potential to spot wildlife, offering a fantastic combination of all the best elements of the other routes on Kilimanjaro.

Achievable in 9 days for those who have not trekked much at high altitudes (experienced trekkers may opt for the 8-day ascent) the Northern circuit has one of the highest summit success rates. It is considered an easy route due to its gradual elevation gain and the long time spent on the mountain allows trekkers a great chance of acclimatising to the altitude.

Other Kilimanjaro Routes

Shira Route, Kilimanjaro

The Shira route is a little used trail that begins near Shira Ridge. Shira was the original route and Lemosho is the improved route, with Lemosho being the more favourable of the two. Although Shira is beautiful, trekkers often experience altitude related symptoms from the trail’s high starting point, resulting in a low summit success rate.

Umbwe Route, Kilimanjaro

While the Umbwe route is one of the shortest Kilimanjaro routes it is also the most challenging with poor acclimatisation opportunities and shouldn’t be taken on unless you have experience trekking at altitude. This steep and exposed Kilimanjaro route involves a rapid ascent to Barranco Camp on the second night, rather than the third or fourth as in the alternative routes.

Which is the Best Route to Climb Kilimanjaro?

The best route to climb Kilimanjaro for you is dependent on your priorities. When you are planning on climbing Kilimanjaro, you need to take a number of factors into account including acclimatisation, how busy the route is, what the accommodation options are and the success rate of the route.

Whichever Kilimanjaro trek you choose, Kandoo Adventures have a 95% success rate on every route that we operate and have some of the best mountain guides in Tanzania, so you can trust you are in the best hands when you are out there.

Which Kilimanjaro Route has the Highest Success Rate?

Despite being considered more difficult than other Kilimanjaro routes due to its steep terrain, the popular Machame route is known for its very high success rate. This is likely due to more time being dedicated for acclimatisation which is particularly beneficial for people who have not trekked much at high altitudes. The Machame route on Kilimanjaro normally takes 7 days (including an extra day for acclimatisation) however more experienced trekkers may opt for the more difficult 6-day ascent.

Which is the Quietest Route to Climb Kilimanjaro?

If avoiding the crowds is your biggest priority, the Rongai route or Northern Circuit are your best options. The Rongai route is the only Kilimanjaro route approaching the mountain from the north. Although the route requires a longer journey to reach, trekkers are rewarded with less crowded trails than the more easily accessible Kilimanjaro routes. The Northern Circuit approaches Kilimanjaro from the west but utilises the lesser-used northern trails that benefit from less traffic from trekkers.

How Hard is it to Climb Kilimanjaro?

Anyone with a decent level of fitness and a determined spirit has a great chance of successfully summiting Kilimanjaro. The trails are not overly steep and most seasoned hill walkers and trekkers are fit enough to climb Kilimanjaro. The main reasons for unsuccessful attempts are issues caused by the altitude or the mindset of the climber. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to acclimatise without going into altitude, but you can avoid it by taking regular breaks and staying hydrated.

Kilimanjaro is a fairly difficult trek, but it isn’t a technical climb. While the trek may not require technical equipment such as ropes, harnesses and helmets you will need a good level of fitness, stamina, determination and, most importantly, a positive mindset. Even if you’re extremely physically fit, you’ll need to be mentally prepared for the challenge for the best chance of success. If you feel yourself tiring, set small goals that are easy to achieve and reward yourself with regular breaks.

Mt Kilimanjaro at sunrise with flock of birds

How Much Does It Cost to Climb Kilimanjaro?

The prices for Kandoo Adventures’ trips to Kilimanjaro in 2024 are as follows:

Climbing Kilimanjaro can be an inspiring experience and each of the 7 routes on Kilimanjaro offer their own unique rewards including fabulous scenery and a brilliant sense of achievement. With over 15 years of experience, Kandoo Adventures have helped over 12,000 people reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and are the perfect operator for your adventure – so what are you waiting for?