Tanzania is home to Africa’s tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.
Thousands of trekkers find themselves in the dry heat or even the snow and rain when trekking Kilimanjaro. It is no surprise considering the scenic views from the top and the physical challenge of the ascent.
Mount Kilimanjaro has seven main routes that you can take when trekking. So, whenever you go, this guide will help you choose your path.
The Machame route is one of the most popular Kilimanjaro routes and rightly so. It offers some of the most stunning scenery you’ll see when trekking not just Kilimanjaro, but any mountain.
While specific technical climbing skills are not needed, this route is considerably challenging. The Barracano Wall has to be ascended and a steep incline to Kibo on the night of the summit must also be faced. Your physical fitness is something to bear in mind. A good level of fitness and experience hiking are imperative.
Beginning at the Machame Gate, the route is located on the southern base of Kilimanjaro. Here at Ladies Trekking Club, we have our own tour of the Machame Route. Included in the nine-day trip are experienced guides and porters as well as hotel accommodation and tents for the trek.
Following a tragic accident in 2006 when a rock-fall occurred and took the lives of three trekkers, the Umbwe route was closed. In 2007, it was reopened to trekkers but due to safety concerns most tour operators don’t offer it as an option.
Nowadays, the Umbwe route joins on with the Machame route on the evening of the second day and follows the southern circuit. We wouldn’t recommend this route to trekkers, particularly those relatively inexperienced due to the safety risks it brings.
You may as well follow the Machame route since Umbwe joins it anyway.
Beginning at 3,600 metres above sea level, the Shira route is definitely not for the inexperienced trekkers among us. Its starting altitude is a real issue for those who have not experienced altitude treks before or only once or twice.
The Shira route is virtually identical to the Lemosho route and was the original before Lemosho was created.
Based in the rainforest, the Shira route offers a unique experience for trekkers. The ecology of the rainforest is something that few experience, let alone experience when climbing Kilimanjaro.
The difference between the Shira and Lemosho routes is the starting point, really. Lemosho was created to make the route more accessible. It does this by reducing the height of the beginning of the trek.
All of the same beautiful and picturesque elements of the Shira trek are embodied in the Lemosho route. It has a 97% success rate and offers quite an easy way to reach the Kilimanjaro summit.
Our tour partner Kandoo Adventures offers their own tour of the Lemosho route. It allows for the more experienced trekkers to choose a harder version of the route as well as an easier one for other trekkers.
For those trekkers who would appreciate a bit of comfort on the trek, the Marangu route is for you.
It is the only route providing hut accommodation for trekkers. You sleep next to a gushing river in bunk beds in a hut. Hence where the comfort element comes in.
The Marangu route is also the oldest ascending Kilimanjaro and one of the most popular. The route itself is not an easy one, though. Its success rate is low due to the misinformed perception that due to the accommodation, it’s easy. The opposite is true.
Do not opt for the Marangu route if you are unfit and unprepared. Also avoid it if you’re easily bored and wish to have diversity in your trek. The ascent of the Marangu route is the same as the decent, so you’ll essentially see the same thing twice.
The Rongai route is the only one that begins on the Kenyan side of Kilimanjaro.
On this route you will be relatively unaccompanied and can experience a kind of intimacy with nature unlike that on other routes. You can see large wildlife like buffalo, antelope and elephants.
Moreover, the Rongai route is the only one on the northern side of Mount Kilimanjaro so you are less likely to encounter rain and cloud. It is also pretty remote and has the least amount of traffic than other routes.
For those who wish to climb high and sleep low, though, you won’t find it on the Rongai route. It is flatter than other routes and is not the type of challenge you’d get on the Machame route.
Mount Kilimanjaro’s newest and longest route is the Northern Circuit. For the first two days, it follows the Lemosho route and circles around the quieter northern slopes on Kilimanjaro.
On this route, you can experience views from nearly every side of the mountain and a higher chance of success rate due to the length of the trek. If the Marangu route wasn’t for you due to the lack of diversity, the Northern Circuit route will be just what you’re looking for.
Kandoo Adventures, our tour partner, offer a tour of the Northern Circuit route. For those with the time and money, this route can be something really special and, as always, you are accompanied by experienced and qualified mountain guides.
As you can see, the Mount Kilimanjaro routes are varied in their level of required skill, scenic diversity and location. However, we are confident that there is something for everyone.
If you want to learn more about Tanzania where Kilimanjaro stands proud, we recommend the Lonely Planet guide to Tanzania.
For the experienced trekker looking for a physical challenge, we’d recommend the Machame and Lemosho routes. If you’re relatively inexperienced, we would advise the Rongai route. On this one, you get to experience more than just trekking too.
Whichever route you opt for, we hope you have a great time!