Trekking Kilimanjaro, the snowy peak in the heart of Africa, will leave you with memories for years to come. But there are things you need to know before you go. Here, we talk about the practicalities of climbing Africa's tallest mountain.
Ah my, where to start. Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is one of those things you'll remember for the whole of the rest of your life. It's not done in a day. It's between five and six days of trekking, scrambling and searching for strength inside you.
I reached the summit many moons ago in my early twenties. And, like most foreign visitors, I had help. Porters carried my camping gear and main backpack. A trip guide led the way.
But at the end of it all, there's no getting away from one simple fact. No matter how much help you have, you still have to climb the thing yourself. One foot in front of the other. One scramble higher, one more reach, one more breath. One more...
No-one can do it for you.
The whole event is a story for another day. One where I can do it justice. But in the meantime, I've had questions about the practical side of trekking Kilimanjaro.
So, here's the nuts and bolts, the ins and outs, the what you need to knows about climbing the most majestic mountain in Africa (sorry Table Mountain.)
Where is Mt Kilimanjaro?
Mt Kilimanjaro, or Kili to locals, sits in Tanzania in east Africa, close to the border with Kenya. Its snow-covered peak can be seen from the nearby city of Moshi.
How much does it cost to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?
If you book with, for example, a tour company like Altezza, you can expect to pay between $2000 - $2300 for the trip per person. Their expeditions leave every 2-3 days.
How long does it take to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?
It takes some time! The main reason behind this is the need to let your body get used to the altitude to avoid the potentially life threatening condition called altitude sickness. This can't be rushed. And it's not particularly linked to your baseline fitness.
Most routes take between five and seven days. The slower you go, the more likely you'll make it to the top. Some routes have you climb up a little and then back down again to sleep. This is all to help your body respond to the altitude challenge and make it more likely that you won't have to turn back on the final day.
If you want my advice? Go for the six day option, if not longer. Everyone in our group managed to make it to the summit, while we met many people on the shorter routes who had to turn back.
Do you need a guide to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?
If you're reading this article, then yes! While you don't need climbing skills, Kilimanjaro is still a serious undertaking and you need someone who knows the route and who can get you to safety if something goes wrong. It's also vital to travel with someone who can spot the early signs of altitude sickness.
Experienced mountain guides can take care of all of this and get you on your way to Uhuru (the peak.) Kilimanjaro trekking tours run frequently out of Moshi, the lively town near the base of the peak.
When can you climb Mt Kilimanjaro?
While technically, you can climb Kilimanjaro all year round, it's best to avoid the two rainy seasons. The best months weather-wise are within January and February or August and September. However, these are also the most crowded months, for obvious reasons. You can hedge your bets and trek in March or October and try to get the best of both worlds.
Popular Routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro
There are seven routes that run through Kilimanjaro National Park to the Uhuru Peak. Here, let's talk about the most popular routes (and those most likely to lead to summit success!)
Also known as the Coca-Cola route, the Marangu route is one of the most popular ways to trek Kilimanajaro - and one of the most crowded.
It also offers sleeping huts for those who want to avoid camping.
The Machame Route usually takes a little longer than the Marangu Route and tends to have greater summit success rates as a result. You're also more likely to have those mountain views to yourself along the way.
The Lemosho Route joins the Machame Route at around day four and carries high summit success rates as well. The early days feel more remote, though, with few other hikers around.
Logistics for Climbing Kilimanjaro
OK, so we've talked about actually trekking Kilimanjaro. But what do you need to do before you even set foot in Tanzania?
How to get to Kilimanjaro
For direct flights, head to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO.) Alternatively, if you plan to explore more of Tanzania, you may well find more flight options if you head to the capital Dar es Salaam. From there, it's around 10-12 hours by bus, through some staggeringly beautiful landscapes.
What to pack for Kilimanjaro
Check out our in-depth hiking checklist over here. But in particular, you will need:
- Well-fitting hiking boots with ankle support. Spend a lot of time wearing them in before your main trek.
- Hiking socks.
- Lots of layers. Think thermals, a lightweight fleece and waterproofs. Remember, there is snow at the top!
- Blister treatment and plasters.
- Travel insurance.
- Toilet paper.
- A head torch.
- Hiking-friendly snacks.
- A first aid kit.
Download an in-depth printable hiking checklist over here.
More About Travel in Africa
- The best places to visit in Africa: how to build your bucket list
- Namibia and the oldest desert in the world
- The best beaches in Madagascar
- What safari guides really fear in Botswana's Okavango Delta
- The riddle of the Philae Temple in Egypt, 2000 years on
- The sobering secret of this graveyard in Madagascar
- Top things to do in Madagascar for curious travellers
- How the red tsingy in Madagascar are the perfect antidote to travel overload.
- The real pride rock
- Hiking in the Atlas Mountains takes walking to a new level
- The highs and lows of driving in Morocco
- Waking up with giraffes in Kenya