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When is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?

When considering when is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro there are five factors that we recommend you consider.

  • the weather and the likely temperature and rainfall on the mountain
  • how busy it will
  • how expensive will it be
  • the timing of the full moon
  • weather condtions for other things you might like to do while you are in Tanzania

The weather on Kilimanjaro

Temperature base of KilimanjaroKilimanjaro lies very close to the equator and as a result temperatures at its foot change very little during the year. As Kilimanjaro is so high though, ,like all mountains it creates its own weather and there are several different  microclimates as you ascend. 

More generally though, besides the altitude, the biggest factor affecting the weather on Kilimanjaro is the interaction of trade winds.  The pattern of the trade winds around the equator is shown below. As the sun moves between the tropics of cancer and capricorn the dominant wind pattern over Kilimanjaro changes so that although the temperature varies very little there are big changes in rainfall.

Trade winds around the equator

Trade winds affecting Kilimanjaro

 

Rainfall at foot of KilimanjaroGenerally the wettest period on Kilimanjaro is between April and May. This is because the dominant winds come in from the South-east at this time of year. By travelling over the Indian Ocean, the winds pick up a great deal of moisture that then condenses and turns into clouds and precipitation as it gets forced up the mountain and cools.

If you have to climb during this period then we suggest staying away from the southern slopes as this side of the mountain gets the most rain during these months. A good route option would be the Rongai Route as it takes a trail up the northern side of Kilimanjaro and generally gets less rain.

The driest months on Kilimanjaro are from June through to October. Anti-trade winds blowing in strongly from the North-east carry almost no moisture and force the South-east winds downwards, keeping the mountain relatively free of precipitation and clouds, especially higher up. For these dryer periods we would recommend popular routes like the Machame Route or Lemosho Route

November sees the beginning of the North-east monsoon period which regularly brings light rains to the north side of Kilimanjaro.

Best months to climb Kilimanjaro

Taking all these weather factors into account, the best time to climb Kilimanjaro can be separated into two distinct periods: January to March and June to October. Depending on what your looking for, both trekking seasons offer different benefits.

The January to March season is generally colder and there is a far higher chance of encountering snow on the upper reaches of the mountain. Although the cold can put off some people, the benefit of trekking during this period is that there are generally less people on the mountain which can make for a more relaxing journey. If you encounter rain it will usually be on the lower slopes, however, above that the skies are generally crystal clear.

The June to October period offers the best weather. Of course, nearly everyone wants to climb when the weather is most likely to be good and this period also coincides with summer holidays in both Europe and North America so if you want the best weather you have to accept that you will be climbing with a lot of other people.  If you want to climb in these peak seasons, consider one of the quieter routes like the Northern Circuit. This route is a little more expensive and takes a couple of days longer but is a great way to avoid the crowded southern routes.

Unless you can cope with rain,  April, May and November should be avoided as these are the wettest months and not ideal for trekking. The coldest months are between December and March and snowfall is likely. Climbing is okay in these months but you  ill need extra warm layers.

Finally, before you decide the best time for you to climb Kilimanjaro you should look at the cost of airfares. These vary a lot during the year and are particularly high during the main European holiday months so if you are looking to save a little money avoid these months.

Summary of weather conditions on Kilimanjaro

January to March
sun icon
The weather in the first few months after the short rainy season is generally warm and dry. Away from the high season so relatively quiet, this is one of our favourite times to climb Kilimanjaro. Dry and quiet
April and May
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The long rainy season in Tanzania normally occurs in April and May although it has become more unpredictable in recent years. If you don't mind the rain you can have the mountain pretty much to yourself. And bear in mind you can nearly always get a good discount in this period. Long rainy season
June to early November
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June to early November are the driest months for your Kilimanjaro climb but particularly during August to October this means the mountain is very busy. The shoulder months of June and July and early November are good compromises if a little rain doesn't deter you. Dry but busy
November to mid-December
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The short rainy season normally starts towards the back end of November and continues for 3-4 weeks. Generally rain is less persistent than in the main rains and so this is a good time to be on the mountain without the crowds Short rainy season

Kilimanjaro and full moon dates

You may have read that a good time to climb Kilimanjaro is when there is a full moon as it gives more light for the summit night climb. The truth is some people like this, some people don't. With a full moon you look up towards the crater rim and see where you are heading but be warned, for about 5-6 hours the crater rim never seems to get any closer. For those people who prefer to keep their head down and just plod the full moon really is of no benefit.  And a disadvantage of climbing Kilimanjaro under a full moon is that there are no stars. If you avoid full moon dates the stars are really spectacular and for anyone interested in astronomy you will probably experience the best night sky you have ever seen. So it's down to you, but a table of the first moon dates is below. As we once had to explain to a teacher there is generally only one full moon per month!

Kilimanjaro dates of full moons

Other things you can do in Tanzania

The great wildebeest migrationWhile you are in Tanzania there are lots of other great activities you can consider to extend your Killimanjaro adventure. Arusha, the gateway town to Kilimanjaro's northern safari circuit is only an our and half drive from Kilimanjaro and even if you only have a few days it is well worth thinking about adding in a safari.

One of the biggest attractions on safari is the great wildebeest migration and because they mover around the Serengeti annually the timing of your trip is critical if you want to see this amazing spectacle without having to drive for days. The best time to see the wildebeest is between December to February when the huge herds are in the South-West and South of the park close to Ngorongoro.

Zanzibar beachA second popular extension to climbing Kilimanjaro is to visit Zanzibar, known as the Spice Island after the cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper for which it is famous. Zanzibar is just a 2 hour flight from Kilimanjaro and lies 40km off the coast of Tanzania: in this short distance though you are transported to a tropical paradise.

Stone Town, its capital city has a fascinating history as it was the centre of the slave trade from East Africa. This trade brought wealth to the island and this is clearly evident in some of the fabulous buildings.  For most travellers the beaches to north and east of Zanzibar are the main attraction with crystal clear warm blue waters and white, palm tree fringed beaches. And if dabbling your toes in the water is not enough you can go diving, snorkelling, or just enjoy a great massage.

Kilimanjaro marathon

Kilimanjaro marathonIf climbing Kilimanjaro is not enough of a challenge, some hard souls commit to the Kilimanjaro double: summit the mountain one week then descent and run the Kilimanjaro marathon.  There is an easir option which is to join in either the half-marathon or even the fun run. Or then again you could find a comfortable bar, relax and watch all the runners working hard while you sip on a cold Tusker beer.

The Kilimanjaro marathon is run in March or April each year and for 2018 it will be held on 4th March. If you are interested in joining let us know and we can advise you on gaining entry.

Kilimanjaro's climate zones

Standing almost 6,000 meters in height, Kilimanjaro has its own climate zones and the weather, along with the flora and fauna, changes drastically as you ascend the mountain.

Temperatures on KilimanjaroThese climate zones can be separated into 4 distinct areas. The first and lowest is the rain forest zone which extends from 800 meters up to 3,000 meters. The zone is warm and humid and attracts a fair amount of rain, especially in the wet season! At 2,800 meters the temperature averages between 12 - 15 degrees Celsius. This zone is where you are most likely to spot animals including the Blue and Colobus monkeys!

The second zone is known as the Low Alpine Area and extends from 3,000 meters to 4,200 meters. This is a semi-arid grassland zone with temperatures averaging between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. Small shrubs and heather cover much of the landscape and the air is noticeably dyer compared to the humid lower reaches.

The third zone is known as the High Alpine zone. With an arid desert-like landscape, zone three extends from 4,200 meters to 5,000 meters with average temperatures around the freezing point. Temperatures in the day can actually be quite hot whilst at night the temperature plummets, so remember to bring some warm gear and some sunscreen!

Snowfall on Kilimanjaro summitThe highest area is known as the Glacial zone and the temperature is usually below freezing with an average of -6 degrees Celsius. The area is often covered in snow and the high winds at this altitude make the temperature feel far lower than it is. Glacial silt cover the upper slopes and a number of huge glaciers can be seen from the crater rim of Kilimanjaro. At this height your body is getting half the oxygen it was at ground level, so don't hang around!

Please remember that cold weather effects your body more at higher altitudes as your body is having to counter the effects of altitude in regards to oxygen levels. Your body extremities (feet, hands, nose etc.) will feel it most and -6 degrees could feel like -20 degree!

And remember that if it is raining at the bottom of the mountain it is almost certainly snowing at its summit.

Weather forecast for Kilimanjaro

 

 

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