Kilimanjaro Routes

Marangu Route

The Marangu Route is the oldest and traditionally the most popular trail and the one that comes closest to the trail Hans Meyer took in making successful attempt on the summit. It is the only route where camping is not necessary, indeed not allowed, with trekkers sleeping in dormitory huts along the way. From the Kibo Huts trekkers climb up to the summit via Gilmans Point 5681m. In terms of Duration the Marangu Route is one of the shorter trails, taking just five days. But opt to take an extra day to acclimatize at Horombo Huts, using that day to visit Mawenzi Huts at 4600m.

Because this route is popularly called the tourist route or “coca cola” route some trekkers are misled into thinking this five/six day is simply a walk in the park. A great proportion of people fail on this route more than any other routes. This might have something to do with Marangu’s reputation for being “easy” attracts the more inexperienced, out-of condition trekkers who do not realize that they are embarking on a 36 kilometer uphill walk, followed immediately by a 36 kilometer knee-jarring descent.

But it should not take much to realize that Marangu Route is not much easier than any other trail, with the Machame Route for example, you start at 1800m and aim for the summit at 5895m, while on Marangu Route you start just a little higher at 1860m and have the same goal. So simple logic can tell you that it can not be that much easier.

Machame Route

The Machame Route now vies with the Marangu Route as the most popular route. The Machame Route is also regarded by many guides as the most enjoyable. Success on the Machame Route takes longer than on the Marangu Route, possibly because the Machame Route takes some days longer.

It is not difficult to see why the Machame Route is so popular with everyone. Beginning on the south-western side of the moutain, it’s finest features include the cloud forest of Kilimanjaro’s southern slopes, the dry and dusty Shira Plateau and the delightful senecio-clad Barranco Campsite. With the closure of the daunting Western Breach to the summit, everybody now heads for the lengthy, long–winded climb up the Barafu Route with the Rebman Glacier edging into your field of vision on your left as dawn breaks behind Mawenzi on your right. Unlike the Marangu Route, on the Machame Route you do not use the same path to descend as you took to climb up the mountain. Instead you come down via the Mweka Route, a steep but very pretty descent encompassing in hospitably dry mountain desert and lush downland forest in a matter of few hours.

Machame Route is widely reckoned to be harder than Marangu Route and thus nicknamed the “Whiskey Route”, in opposition to Marangu’s softer soubriquet of the “coca cola” trail. The proportion of trekkers who reach the top using this route is marginnaly but significantly higher. Whether this is the evidence that the Machame route allows people to acclimatize better because it is longer or whether this higher success rate is merely an indication that more experienced, hardened trekkers are more inclined to choose this route, is anyone’s guess.

The Machame Route traditionally lasts for six days and five nights, though it is becoming more common for trekkers to opt for an extra night during the ascent, usually in the Karanga Valley Camp. Not only does the extra day aid acclimatization, but this also reduces from almost six to three the number of hours walked on the day that precedes. This gives the trekkers more time to recover their faculties, relax and prepare themselves for the final push to the top.

Shira Route

Both the Shira Route and the Lemosho Route involve a crossing of the expansive Shira Plateau which stretches out far around 13km to the west of Kibo. This plateau is actually a caldera, a collapsed volcanic crater. When you are walking on the plateau you are walking on the remains of the first Kilimanjaro’s three volcanoes to expire, around 500,000 years ago. It was then filled by the lava and debris from the later Kibo eruption.

The plateau has a reputation for its fauna, largely thanks to its proximity to Amboseli National Park in Kenya from where herds of elephant, eland, buffalo and big cats such as lion have been known to wander.

The Shira Route is the original plateau trail, though it is seldom used these days, for much of it is a 4WD track and walkers embarking on this trail often begin their trek above the forest in the heath and moorland zone. With the closure of the Western Breach/Arrow Glacier Route, the longer and easier Barafu Route is the only option to reach the summit for the trekkers.

Lemosho Route

The Lemosho Route is the new route across the Shira Plateau which has quickly gained in popularity, to a point where it is now the third most popular route on the mountain. The Lemosho Route is the new trail that improves on the Shira Ridge, thus providing trekkers with both a walk in the pristine forest of West Kilimanjaro at the start of the trek and more time to acclimatize.

The Lemosho Route precedes an assault on the summit via Barranco Valley, Karanga Valley and Barafu Huts to Stella Point on the Barafu Route. The usual descent route is the Mweka Route. The main reason why this trail has overtaken the old Shira Route is, it is the first day when you are walking through the beautiful forest of Kilimanjaro’s lower slopes. Compare to Shira Route where you take a car all the way up to the plateau, thereby missing out not only on some fine forest, which you experience only through a car window but also on some useful acclimatization.

The Umbwe Route

The Umbwe route is widely regarded as the hardest trail, a tough vertical slog through the jungle, in some places using the tree roots as make shift-rungs on a ladder. Having reached the southern circuit,trekkers used to continue north-west to tackle Kibo from the difficult Arrow Glacier Route. Though, with this currently closed, you now have to follow the southern circuit east around to Barafu and approach the summit from there. The entire walk up and down takes a minimum of five days if going via the Barafu campsite, though this is entirely too rapid.

How difficult is the Umbwe route?

Despite its reputation as the toughest trek, Umbwe route is still a non-technical climb. Taxing, but not technical. All you need are an iron will and calves of steel. This is truly a trek to test your mettle.

The difficulty is that it is relentlessly uphill. As far as rewards go, while your calves and thighs will curse the day God paired them with some body who would want to undertake such a climb, your heart and lungs will be thankful for the work-out. Your eyes, too, will be grateful you choose Umbwe, as they feast up on the scenery, particularly on the second morning, as you leave the forest and find yourself walking on a narrow ridge between spindly heather.

The views on either side of the trail here are amongst the most dramatic the mountain has to offer, save for those on the summit itself. Your ears, too, will be glad they are stuck to the side of your head, for they will enjoy the break. This is the quietest trail of them all, at least until the second day when you find yourself joining the hordes at Baranco Camp, the busiest on the mountain.

Rongai Route

This is the only trail to approach Kibo from the north. Indeed, the original trail began right from the Kenyan Border. Recently, though, the trail shifted east-ward and now starts at the Tanzanian village of Nalemuru (after which the new trail has been named, though averybody still refers to it as the Rongai Route). For the final push to the summit, trekkers on this trail join with Marangu Route at Kibo Huts or just a little bit over 5000m mark just below Hans Meyer Cave. The trek can be competed in five days and four nights, though trekkers usually take a detour to the campsite beneath Mawenzi Peak adding an extra day.

Rongai is the easiest of the quality routes. At first glance, this route seems decidedly unattractive. The lower slopes at the very start have been denuded by farmers and present a bleak landscape, while the forest that follows is little more than a narrow band of wood land which soon gives way to some rather hot and shadeless heath land. Then you notice the wildlife. Because this side of the mountain sees fewer tourists, and because animals tend to gather where humans do not, chances of seeing local wildlife here are greater than on any other route, barring perhaps those starting on the far west on the Shira Plateau. Troops of colobus monkeys, buffaloes and elephants can be seen, as well as lion roars can be heard around.

The flora is beautiful here too, with its juniper and olive trees, lobelias and giant senecios. A deviation to Mawenzi Tarn not only allows you to savour a gobsmacking views across to Kibo, as well as a grove of splendid senecios on this northern side, but also gives you the chance to walk across the saddle, many peoples’s favorite part of the mountain.

When you are driving from Moshi to the starting point, Nalemuru, the road passes through a rural Chagga heartland, giving you a chance to see village life Chagga style, which is one of the most wonderful experience you may have!