Kilimanjaro Routes: Choosing a Route

After making the decision to climb Kilimanjaro, you’ll need to choose your route. There are 6 main routes to the summit, Uhuru Peak, one of which starts on the Northern side of the mountain and the rest on the Southern side.

Things to Consider When choosing a Kilimanjaro route

Before you settle on which route you want to take bear in mind:

  • Time of year you’ll be climbing (if it’s near the rains, you might be better off on the northern side, Rongai)
  • Longer routes have a much higher success rate, as they have a better acclimatization protocol, but they’re a bit more expensive
  • How busy the route is likely to be: in peak season, the Marangu route and Machame route can get quite crowded
  • How scenic it’s going to be: they all afford sweeping vistas and spectacular views
  • Whether you want to sleep in a tent or in huts (only one route has huts, Marangu)
  • Whether or not you come down the same trail as you ascend (this happens on the Marangu route, which can make it extra-busy in peak season)
  • Your budget and vacation time available

There is no one “best” route on Kilimanjaro: they are all spectacular, and it comes down to personal choice which one is right for you. This is a quick overview of the routes, and you can read more detailed descriptions and full itineraries by following the links.

Marangu Route

Great for: climbers short of time or on a budget, hut accommodation

Downsides: crowded, same trail up and down, poor acclimatization schedule, low success rate

Marangu 6-day route full details and itinerary.

The Marangu route is the oldest, and shortest route on Kilimanjaro and the only one where you sleep in huts instead of tents. You’ll descend on the same trail, so during busy periods it can get crowded. The track is wide, with a gradual ascent (until the last day) and you’ll enjoy sweeping vistas of Kilimanjaro on this classic trail.

If you’re on a budget, then the 6-day Marangu route is an option to consider. Some operators sell 5-day treks, but we build-in an extra acclimatization day, as for most people, five days doesn’t give you enough time to adapt to the altitude.

One of the reasons the summit success rate on the Marangu route is only around 45% is because it doesn’t allow enough time for acclimatization, (particularly on 5-day itineraries). It’s worth considering if you’ve climbed Mt Meru, or you have previous experience at altitude and want a shorter trek.

Climbers on the Marangu route sleep in huts, these are dormitory-style mountain cabins. It’s more budget-friendly to use the Marangu route as we don’t need a full team of porters to carry the camping equipment.

The summit attempt starts from Kibo Hut, 15,430 ft. You’ll start the climb at midnight and return via the same track.

Read more: Marangu Route details & itinerary

Machame Route

Great for: scenery, high success rate, lower cost than Northern circuit or Lemosho

Downsides: can get crowded, tougher hiking days than Marangu

Machame Route 7-day details and itinerary.

Machame is a very popular route, for its spectacular views, and good acclimatization schedule. Some people say it’s more difficult than the Marangu route, as the trail is a bit more rugged, and the hiking days are longer.

With a high summit success rate, this route builds in a “hike high, sleep low” acclimatization protocol which giving your body time to adapt to the lack of oxygen in the thinner air.

The scenery is breathtaking, huge vistas and views of Kibo, we pass many Kilimanjaro landmarks along the way: Shira Plateau, Lava Tower and Arrow Glacier. Meandering up a series of valleys and ridges, through unique and varied landscapes.

On the Machame route, we offer a 6 or 7 day option, the extra day can be valuable for acclimatization. Accommodation is in tents, there are no huts on this route. We merge with the Lemosho route just before Lava Tower, and up the Barranco Wall through Karanga valley to Barafu camp, the main “basecamp”.

As this route has become more popular, it can get quite busy in the high-season, especially where we merge with climbers on the Lemosho route. Taking a different route on the descent, it’s not as crowded as Marangu.

Read more: Machame 7-day itinerary

Lemosho Route

Great for: very scenic, no crowds, great for acclimatization, high summit success rate

Downsides: longer time commitment, a bit more costly

Explore the Lemosho Route 8-day details & itinerary or the 7-day itinerary

Starting on the western side of the mountain, the Lemosho route is one of the longer routes, allowing for better acclimatization and giving a higher probability of a successful summit. You’ll trek through the most beautiful and scenic parts of the mountain, and it’s seldom busy in the first couple of days.

Accommodation is in tents, and we merge with the Machame route just before Lava Tower, before going up the Barranco Wall through Karanga valley to Barafu camp, the main “basecamp” before the summit.

The Lemosho route is a 7-8 day climb, with longer hiking days, trails winding up and down providing an excellent acclimatization protocol, this route has a very high summit success rate.

This is a beautiful and remote route for climbers who are not short of time and want to enjoy some solitude in the first few days.

Read more:

Lemosho 8-day details & itinerary 

Lemosho 7-day details & itinerary

Northern Circuit Route

Great for: longest and quietest route, very high summit success, very scenic

Downsides: longer time commitment, expensive

Explore the spectacular Northern Circuit Route 9-day climb.

Taking advantage of untrodden paths, the Northern Circuit route is one of the newest routes on Kilimanjaro. You’ll hike through spectacular scenery, through largely untouched parts of the mountain.

Following the Lemosho route for the first few days, then instead of staying on the south side of the mountain, and merging with Machame, we’ll head north and enjoy the often empty campsites and avoid the crowds.

It’s a long trek, needing 9 days to complete, but this extra time means we’ve got the best acclimatization schedule of any of the routes. Taking in the best of Kilimanjaro and avoiding the crowds, if you’re wanting a more tranquil climb, this route is worthy of consideration.

Read more about the Northern Circuit route

Rongai Route

Great for: avoiding crowds, gradual trail profile, high summit success rate, drier weather

Downsides: less scenic, drier landscapes

See Rongai route full details & itinerary.

Starting on the Northern side of the mountain the Rongai route is often seen as a fairly easy route to the summit, due to its gradual ascent profile. In this area there is generally less rainfall, so you avoid the muddy trails through the rainforest. Rongai starts in open, partly-cultivated countryside, rather than the mountain forests of the southern and western slopes.

We offer the Rongai route on a 7-day itinerary, as the extra acclimatization days are crucial. The more gentle slopes give us less of an opportunity for going to a higher altitude before descending to camp.

The Rongai route has excellent summit success rates, and is an interesting and picturesque trailt. Although you do not get to hike through the rainforest on the way up, you will on the way down.

The vegetation is slightly different on this route, most of the usual heath and moorland species are visible, particularly around Mawenzi Tarn. The trek to the summit is done at night – starting at midnight from either Kibo Hut (which follows the same as the Marangu route) or School Hut which is positioned a bit higher up the mountain.

Read more about the Rongai Route.

Umbwe Route

Great for: very fit, experienced hikers wanting a serious challenge

Downsides: steep ascent profile, poor acclimatization schedule, very demanding

The Umbwe route starts on the southern side of the mountain and is the most physically challenging of all the routes. It’s steep from day 1. There are no gentle meandering trails, it’s the “straight up” route. Umbwe has a poor acclimatization schedule and is only recommended for strong, confident, experienced trekkers who are looking for a real physical challenge.

Whilst not at all technical, there is some scrambling and an exposed ridge to traverse, with spectacular views if you don’t mind heights!

Umbwe joins the Machame and Lemosho routes near Barranco camp or climbers can continue straight to the Western Breach. When combined with the Western Breach (see below) this route to the summit is grueling and physically demanding.

Shira Route

Great for: if you’ve just climbed Mt Meru and are reacclimatized, otherwise take Lemosho

Downsides: starting altitude too high for most hikers

The Shira route has largely been replaced with the Lemosho route, which follows mostly the same trail, only Lemosho begins in the rainforest and we hike to Shira 1 camp, the Shira route takes you by vehicle to 11,800 ft. For most people, starting the climb at over 11,000 ft results in a high possibility of altitude sickness unless hikers are already acclimatized to that elevation. If you’ve spent a few days climbing Mt Meru, then Shira can be an option for a shorter trek.

The hike through the rainforest on the Lemosho route gives you a much better acclimatization schedule and all the advantages of the Shira route with none of the downsides.

Routes to the Summit of Kilimanjaro

All the routes detailed above get you to the base of the the volcanic cone, Kibo, the summit of Kilimanjaro. You’ll arrive at your high camp in the afternoon and start the trek to summit at around midnight. There are three main routes used in the final assault from basecamp to summit.

Barafu to Uhuru Peak

Starting at Barafu Camp, this is the route used by climbers on the Machame, Lemosho, Shira, and Umbwe. It’s a long, steep climb through over rocks and volcanic scree, arriving at the crater rim at Stella Point. From Stella Point, it’s a 1-2 hour trek to Uhuru Peak.

Kibo Hut to Uhuru Peak

Further east, climbers on the Rongai, Marangu, and Northern Circuit usually depart from Kibo or School hut, arriving at the crater rim at Gillman’s Point, before hiking via Stella Point to Uhuru Peak.

The Western Breach

The western breach approaches the summit from the west side of the mountain, climbing straight up to the crater rim via a series of switchbacks on a very steep trail. You then hike across the crater floor before ascending to Uhuru Peak.

After a fatal rockfall in 2006 in which three people died, the Western Breach was closed. It’s a very challenging climb, with scrambling in some areas. Climbers need to be equipped with helmets and crampons (during the wet season). It’s only used by experienced trekkers who are comfortable with the risks.

Crater Camp

For well-acclimatized trekkers, it’s sometimes possible to spend a night in the crater. The highest camp in Africa, 18,700 ft, this is a little-used campsite among the glaciers and barren rocks. Usually, climbers will summit Uhuru Peak (from Stella Point or Gillman’s Point), then descend into the crater for the night before making their descent the following morning. It’s possible to hike to the Ash Pit (Reusch crater), the very center of the volcano. Hikers on the 9-day Northern Circuit or the 8-day Lemosho route sometimes use this camp, but it’s usually more expensive.

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