Choosing the best route for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is hands-down the most important recipe for having a successful Kilimanjaro mountain tour.
Every preparation you do before you climb Kilimanjaro is designed to help you have an experience which will be of a lifetime.
And these preparations don’t only include;
- Physical training
- Having gear list ready
- Altitude training
- The medical checkup
- Visa preparations
- Looking for precautions.
….but also, choosing the best climbing route!
This is the most important thing you need to ensure you have it right if you need a chance to reach the top of Kilimanjaro.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all routes to Kilimanjaro as they all differ in minimum climbing days, cost, and scenery as well as difficulty level. But the whole point of this article is to help you succeed in your Kilimanjaro safari.
In this article, I’ll help you understand why choosing the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro Mountain is of paramount importance and also, giving you the insight of all 7 established routes for climbing Kilimanjaro.
I will as well take you to the newest climbing route known as the Northern Circuit which has the best acclimatization compared to the other routes.
But before we head into Kilimanjaro climbing routes, let’s have a quick dig on some important concepts we are going to encounter regularly.
Human beings are not static.
We tend to change in different ways and also moving from places to places to perform different purposes.
However, our bodies don’t usually adapt to a new environment without complications, they always need sometime before they partially or fully adjust to the new environmental conditions.
According to Wikipedia,
‘Acclimatization or acclimatisation (also called acclimation or acclimatation) is the process in which an individual organism adjusts to a change in its environment (such as a change in altitude, temperature, humidity, photoperiod, or pH), allowing it to maintain performance across a range of environmental conditions’
Unlike adaptation which takes place over many generations, acclimatization occurs in a short period of time (hours to weeks) and within the organism’s lifetime.
With that concept, I like to think that you are not living in the Kilimanjaro Mountain, no one lives there by the way.
So the Kilimanjaro environment is totally new to everyone, in the other words, everyone including you would need to get some time to adapt the altitude of Kilimanjaro mountain so that you don’t feel the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness that hinders a good number of climbers to reach the summit now and then.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Discomfort like small headache and nausea are the common signs that you have started to suffer altitude changes. So what to do when you find some discomforts while climbing Kilimanjaro?
Well, most of the so-called Kilimanjaro specialists will advise you to do one thing, ‘to start descending’. In my opinion, this is nonsense. Suffering altitude mountain sickness should not result in you ending your long-awaited journey to Kilimanjaro, not just that way.
If descending won’t be my advice to you when you encounter the altitude mountain sickness then what should you do? Continue ascending with the discomforts you have?
Not the best strategy, by the way, continuing to climb in a discomfort situation will only get things worse. What you should do is spend some time in the new altitude that has caused you difficulties.
Yes, if possible, a night in that new altitude without further ascending nor descending will do you a favour and your body will get used to the new zone.
In other words, if you encounter symptoms of mild AMS (acute mountain sickness) then you should not go any higher for 24 to 48 hours.
In case the symptoms do not improve or get even worse‚ here is where you should descend immediately.
Most people usually improve within 24 hours, so making a decision to descend before 24 hours might just end up your dream to reach the top while technically you still had the chance to make it.
I am not going to lie, one of the most crucial things I always look first in any climbing route is whether it gives enough acclimatization space and time.
That way, you can determine the best route for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
This is another important and well-repeated phrase you are going to come across in this article.
In fact, the richness in scenery is among the important factors we use in finding out the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro.
And this doesn’t mean that there are routes that are going to be shockingly disappointing when it comes to seeing landscapes, flora and fauna.
No, all routes will give you unique sightseeing but there are others which are more scenic.
Now when you find the difficulty level in Kilimanjaro climbing routes, do never get over-excited when you see some routes are branded easy to trek.
Furthermore, you should never get scared simply because the route is said to be a difficulty to trek. The truth is this concept (difficulty level) will have a very small influence in determining your success rate to climbing Kilimanjaro.
The most important to your success rate is having an experienced and knowledgeable operator who will equip you with all-important preparations you need prior to your climb and of course, giving you skilfully guiding in trekking.
The branded easy routes are the one with a poor success rate while the vice versa is true for the difficult routes. A reason for this is also down to the fact that most trekkers who use the easy routes have the tendency of not making proper preparations believing they are going to use an easy route
The success rate in Kilimanjaro climbing routes differ.
There are routes with greater success rates while others have their success rates disappointing low.
According to the old data from Kilimanjaro National Park Authority, the general success rate for all climbers was 45%
However, years have passed since the release of the above data, it’s wise to think that this success ratio has improved mainly due to the fact that most operators are advanced now and with the competition, they try and strive to deliver as best guiding as possible.
In addition, nowadays the trekkers like to conduct enough research before booking for their trips. And this research isn’t only about the best route for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but a number of days as well. As a result, the success rate has improved as most trekkers avoid selecting fewest days.
With the old Kilimanjaro National Park Authority’s data, these are success rates basing on a number of days opted;
This is for all hikers to all mentioned days routes
Success Rates by Kilimanjaro National Parks Authority
As you can see in the above image, a number of days equate to the success rate. Using fewer days to climb Kilimanjaro is likely to cause you symptoms associated with acute mountain sickness at some point during the climb.
Allow me now to take you through all the routes so that we can be in a place to arrive into a good conclusion on which is the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro.
At the end of each route, I will leave my remark and if I’ll happen to say the route is good, I’ll also explain exactly in which category I consider it the best.
The best route for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
I hope you are ready to dive into the list, let’s get started now, shall we?
The Marangu Route
- It is of course among the oldest and popular routes for climbing Kilimanjaro
- Marangu has this reputation of being considered the easiest route.
- Used by about 40% of all trekkers
- It has a low success rate, about 30-35% of trekkers make it to the top in this route.
- Also known as, the Coca-Cola route.
- The only route with accommodation huts, the other remaining routes use tents as a means of accommodation.
- Requires a minimum of 5 days to climb
- It is considered less scenic, however, it has a lot to experience
- The most crowded route as it uses the same path for climbing and descending.
- It’s another aka is a touristy route simply because of its accommodation huts
- It has the best trekking trails
When it comes to pricing, Marangu is the best route for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Its low price compared to the other routes is down to the fact that it requires fewer days and no costs for paying extra potters to carry camping facilities.
The Machame Route
- The most popular route in the mountain
- About 45% of all trekkers use this route
- Among the best when it comes to scenery.
- Also known as a Whisky route.
- No huts, in Machame, tents are used for accommodation.
- The route has high traffic,
- Machame route boost about 60% success rate.
- Minimum days required here are 6 days
- Trails in Machame are often steeper, e.g. using hands as a support in climbing Barranco wall.
Machame is among the best route for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2 categories; pricing where the price is a bit above that of Marangu due to an extra day and of course, best in its scenic features.
The Lemosho Route
- This route is simply the beautiful one
- Climbing starts from the Western side of Kilimanjaro Mountain.
- Lemosho joins Machame route at some point.
- Estimated used by about 8% of all Kilimanjaro climbers
- You’ll need at least 7 days to trek Kilimanjaro using this route.
- Among the best routes for acclimatization
- Lemosho gives you a possibility of viewing wildlife
- Lemosho route covers the longest distance in the rainforest
- It uses the Mweka route for descending
Speaking about Lemosho, I’d say it is the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro Mountain when it comes to the beauty and acclimatization
The Rongai Route
- The route has a low traffic
- It approaches Kilimanjaro from North near the Kenyan border.
- The route looks similar to Marangu
- Descending is down to Marangu. Hence you will view the mountain from both sides
- 6 days minimum required to trek in this route
- Talk about wilderness, this route has the best un-spoilt rain forest
- It gives you a possibility to see wildlife
- The driest route in the mountain.
- Moderate difficulty rate.
Rongai is without a doubt among the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro. Why I am I saying this is simply because, it has a moderate difficulty level, its possibility of viewing wildlife, and of course the best wilderness in the Mountain.
The Shira Route
- Among the difficulty routes
- Shira approaches the Mountain from the West
- In Shira, the first part is rather driven, not hike!
- Requires the minimum 6 days
- Not the best route for acclimatization
- Mweka is used to descend by the Shira trekkers.
- The route has low traffic in most part until it joins the Machame route.
- You may be surprised to know there is a high success rate in Shira. With the fact that trekkers know its hardness, they usually equip themselves with a better preparation
Shira is the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro if you fancy experiencing parts of the Mountain by driving.
The Umbwe Route
- Let me be as honest as I can here, this is, without doubt, the most difficult route
- Umbwe is a steep and very straight climb to the top.
- Umbwe gives you the pure adventure and a true sense of climbing the highest free-standing Mountain of Africa.
- Not the best route for acclimatization
- Among the less crowded route
- Trekking via Umbwe requires 6 days minimum
- You’ll need to descend through Mweka
If you are looking for the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro then you need to think twice before choosing Umbwe. It is the most difficult route and yet, offers little time for acclimatization.
The Northern Route
- This is the brand new to the Mountain
- The route visits Northern slopes of the Mountain
- It is the longest route in time and distance
- Northern circuit is of course, among difficulty routes.
- It has the best acclimatization which equates to the highest success rate.
- Trekkers in this route descend through Mweka,
- A minimum of 9 days is required in the Northern Circuit route
Putting the costs aside, Northern Circuit is simply the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro with excellent scenery and best acclimatization.
I hope this guide helped you realize that Kilimanjaro climbing routes differ in terms of experiences.
While one route might be hard to climb, the other one may seem easier but still, end up giving poor success rate.
Don’t worry if you’ve already made a route selection decision that might look not perfect.
Just commit to getting pre-climbing physical exercises and make sure you dig deep into acclimatization subject.
If you haven’t yet decided the route to use, thumbs up! You have just read the article that will help you to decide the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro.
And who knows – maybe the next person to make it to the top of Kilimanjaro is you.
After reading this guide, how will you change your attitude toward Kilimanjaro climbing routes? Do you still consider them just the same?
If you need more details about selecting the route or planning your trip to Kilimanjaro, Contact us to get a personalized itinerary from our specialist.