Hiking Kilimanjaro is a great adventure that can give you memories lasting a lifetime. However, to ensure the best experience on your ascent to the top of the “roof of Africa”, it is important to prepare well in advance. One of the important things you should decide on is which route are you going to follow on your ascent. There are seven established routes that lead to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro and then down the mountain: Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, Rongai, Northern Circuit, Umbwe, and Western Breach. Each of them is unique and has much to offer, and here we will look at every available route in some detail.
What are the different routes on Mt Kilimanjaro? Which route is the most scenic?
What are the easiest and hardest routes to hike Kilimanjaro? What are the pros and cons of each route? You will find answers to all these questions and more in this article. And at the very end, I will give some recommendations.
Kilimanjaro Hiking Routes
Before we begin looking at the pros and cons of each route, let us discuss the problem of acclimatization and route length. Normally, the shortest duration of the ascent allowed by the Kilimanjaro National Park Authorities is 5 days. And there is a very good reason for that – acclimatization to high altitude requires time and being properly acclimatized is a more important factor than age or even fitness level. This means that the longer your Kilimanjaro hike takes, the better you will be acclimatized and the higher your chances of successfully reaching the summit. Each route culminates at the same place – Uhuru Peak, which is the highest point of Mt Kilimajaro offering stunning views from the summit.
For many routes there are options to do them a little faster – but do not be enticed by speed or lowered price – 5-day route options typically have a much lower rate of success and are not recommended to people without significant mountaineering experience and/or previous acclimatization. And in case you are an experienced Sky Runner, there are legal ways of hiking Kilimanjaro in a much shorter time, and some tour operators can help you to organize such an expedition.
Additionally, if you are looking to conquer Kilimanjaro peaks in a shorter period of time, consider hiking the nearby Mount Meru first – which is lower than Kili, but will give you the good acclimatization necessary for a faster Kilimanjaro hike.
Now, let us begin looking at each route in more detail.
Marangu route also known as the “Coca-Cola” route is perhaps the most popular way to hike Kilimanjaro today. It is also the only route that offers hut accommodation (dormitory style) along the way, which makes it a great option for hiking during the wet season. Marangu typically takes 5 or 6 days, and the 6-day option is preferable since it offers better acclimatization. This classic and well-trodden route to the Kilimanjaro peak runs through all the climatic zones of the mountain – from rainforest to the icy summit. On the other hand, the 5-day trek has a low rate of success, while its popularity and the relatively budget price of an expedition following this route make it crowded, especially in July-September and December – March. Moreover, it is often advertised as the easiest route to hike Kilimanjaro, but in reality, it is not ideal in terms of acclimatization transitions, which makes it quite challenging. But the 6-day trek is reasonable for most fit hikers.
Pros: Good scenery. Low price. Hut accommodation. Good for wet season hikes.
Cons: Harder acclimatization. Lower success rate (for the 5-day option). Ascent and descent follow the same path. The route is often busy with climbers.
Machame route (also known as the “Whiskey” route) is among the most popular ways to ascend the “Roof of Africa”, along with the Marangu route. It begins on the southern slope of Kilimanjaro and then heads east, converging with Lemosho and Umbwe routes at Barranco camp. The route offers varied sceneries – from rainforest to moorland to alpine desert, with lots of volcanic sand as you climb closer to the summit of the mountain. It is usually offered in two options: 6 or 7 days. The longer version is highly recommended as it will help to ensure very good acclimatization on your Kilimanjaro hike and has one of the highest success rates, not least due to the well-placed camps. The 6-day hike, however, might be significantly more challenging. The starting point of the route is easily accessible from nearby hotels. It is a great classic route, which might be crowded during the peak seasons.
Pros: Great acclimatization profile. Amazing views. Diverse terrain on the path + starts in a rainforest. High success rate. Overall a good route to hike Kilimanjaro.
Cons: Not accessible during the rainy season. Likely crowded in August-September and January-February. The first day might be a little tough for hikers without experience.
Lemosho route is one of the newer hiking paths on Kilimanjaro and a less popular one. However, it has everything to be called one of the best. The route starts on the western side of the mountain, which makes it a little more remote from the towns of Moshi (3-4 hours) and Arusha (5-6h) than other trails. After summiting Kilimanjaro, the descent goes along the Mweka gate, so you’ll have the chance to see the southern side of the mountain too. And there are a lot of great views along the way! Many climbers describe Lemosho route as one of the most scenic ways to hike Kilimanjaro. In addition, the lower popularity of this route means that you will never see crowds of hikers all around you and will be able to enjoy the stunning natural beauty of Mt Kilimanjaro and its peaks without interruption. Lemosho is usually available in three variations: 6,7 or 8-day. The 6-day hike might be suitable for experienced trekkers, while the 7 and 8-day versions offer one of the best acclimatization profiles among other routes, which means that the success rate for both these versions is very high.
Pros: Great for acclimatization. Highly scenic and picturesque views. Few other climbers. Diverse terrain. High success rate. Overall one of the best for hiking Kilimajaro.
Cons: Might be inaccessible during the rainy season. Slightly higher price than other routes.
Northern circuit is one of the longest routes which takes 8 days or more to complete. This means that it allows for very good acclimatization and thus the success rate is really high for this route. The fact that it almost circles the top of the mountain means that you’ll be able to see Kilimanjaro from three different sides on your hike. Overall, it is a great route if you have 8-9 days to hike Kilimanjaro and want gradual acclimatization without many other groups around.
Pros: Good for acclimatization. Not busy. Views from 3 sides of Kili. High success rate. Overall a great longer route to hike Kilimanjaro.
Cons: Longer, more expensive. Might be inaccessible during the wet season.
This route starts on the northern slopes of Kilimanjaro, which makes it a little remote. Nevertheless, it is a great route to hike Kilimanjaro if prefer to stay away from the tourist crowds and would like to see the northern side of the mountain, which is no less impressive than the other slopes. On the way back you will be descending on the other side of the volcano. Rongai is the only route that passes by Mawenzi – one of the three peaks of Kilimanjaro (volcanic cones). 6 and 7-day programs are usually available, the longer one is recommended for better acclimatization.
Pros: Varied scenery. The climb is not as difficult. Overall a good balanced route to hike Kilimanjaro.
Cons: Remote. A little more expensive. Good success rate, but not the highest.
Western Breach Route And Umbwe Route
These two routes are the most difficult ones to hike Kilimanjaro and are not recommended to anyone unless you are a very experienced trekker looking for a real challenge. They are steep and offer poor acclimatization. In addition, Western Breach route can be dangerous due to rockfalls. If you have really decided to climb one of these routes to the summit of Kilimanjaro, make sure to do proper preparation and research, as well as consult your tour operator about safety and other details.
Pros: Unique views and terrain. Rarely climbed. Might be interesting for hardened adventures looking for a challenging Kilimanjaro hike.
Cons: Very challenging. Poor acclimatization. Western Breach is dangerous.
Easiest Hiking Routes
Many travelers want to know what are the easiest routes to hike Mt Kilimanjaro. As we explained above, the main factor on a Kilimanjaro hike is acclimatization rather than the challenges of the terrain. Lemosho route is perhaps one of the best options for an inexperienced trekker, along with the 7-day versions of Machame and Rongai routes. Another great option is the Northern Circuit which is longer but each day on the trail might be a tad more relaxed.
Hiking Kilimanjaro can be the adventure of a lifetime. A hike through the five climatic zones of the “Roof of Africa” – from lush tropic forests to the alpine desert and white glaciers, such an experience is bound to impress. You will see a variety of strange plants, wild animals, and lava rock formations along the way. And, of course, the views from the summit are truly spectacular, as is the night sky full of bright stars on a clear day on the mountain. Your choice of route is important, but it is the initial commitment to hike Kilimajaro that will be the beginning of your great adventure.