Kilimanjaro Routes Comparison - Which one should I choose?
Each route has its advantages and disadvantages. You should therefore choose the route that suits you best.
The different routes vary in terms of their:
- Ways up and down
- Level of difficulty
- Acclimatisation options and success rate
- Accommodation options
What’s more, several of the routes merge on the last part of the ascension, and the vegetation you see along the way varies.
- Several of the routes merge with each other on the last part of the trek to Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro’s highest point. The routes we take pass via Barafu Camp and Stella Point (Machame, Lemosho and Shira) or via Kibo Huts and Gilman’s Point (Marangu and Rongai).
- Depending on the route you choose, you pass through natural agricultural landscapes, forest, rainforest, heathland, alpine desert and, of course, the ice landscape at the top of the mountain.
The Rongai route starts on the northern side of Kilimanjaro, close to the border with Kenya. It is the only route that sets out from the north.
Its northerly position means that the route is sheltered from rain, making Rongai an ideal choice during the rainy season. However, the lower rainfall means that some people find the route less scenic, and you don’t experience the rainforest on the ascent as you do on the other routes.
On the other hand, you have a far better view of Kilimanjaro from the north than from the south. And you get to experience the area around Mawenzi Peak, which is one of the most scenic areas on the whole mountain.
Rongai is one of Kilimanjaro’s easier routes as, like Marangu, it is a slow, gradual climb without steep ascents. Rongai is also less busy and more remote than the more popular routes. And when Rongai eventually merges with Marangu at Kibo Huts, it may feel like more of a “private” trek to Kibo Huts.
The recommended minimum length is six days. The route does not generally offer the chance to “climb high, sleep low”, so we have incorporated an acclimatisation day. As a result, the route takes a total of seven days to increase the success rate.
Rongai is typically more expensive than Machame and Marangu due to the extra transport from Moshi to the north side of the mountain.
Why should you choose the Rongai route?
- “Easy” trek with good acclimatisation and a high success rate due the gentle ascent on the route
- Access from the north side, which may be beneficial during the rainy season
- Fewer people than on the Machame and Marangu routes
- More expensive than Machame and Marangu
- Longer drive at the start of the tour
- Fewer nature experiences than on the other routes
The Machame route is an incredibly scenic route and a popular choice for a lot of visitors.
The route sets out from the south-western side of Kilimanjaro at Machame Gate, descending via the Mweka route.
According to some, the Machame route is the most scenic of all the routes, which has also added to its popularity.
Machame is less technically difficult than tough. At times, the route crosses fairly steep terrain where you have to trek up and down, requiring a great deal of stamina. The Machame route is therefore best suited to those looking for a more challenging trek. The hardness of the route has also earned it the nickname, the Whisky route.
The popularity of Machame makes it a busy route compared to Rongai, Lemosho and Shira. So if you’d like a less peopled route, you should choose one of them.
Machame has a relatively high success rate due to its good acclimatisation options along the way as you “climb high and sleep low”. The Machame route takes six days.
Why should you choose the Machame route?
- One of the most scenic routes with great variety
- Good acclimatisation because you “climb high and sleep low”
- High success rate, especially if you purchase the acclimatisation day
- Relatively busy route
- Hard trek
The Marangu route is one of the oldest and most popular routes on Kilimanjaro.
The route starts on the south-eastern side of Kilimanjaro at Marangu Gate.
Marangu has been nicknamed the Coca Cola route because it is possible to buy drinks and snacks in the cabins en route to the top. The name is a striking contrast to the somewhat harder Machame route, nicknamed the Whisky route.
Unlike all the other routes, you sleep on simple mattresses in primitive cabins rather than in tents. This may be an advantage if you prefer a little more comfort or if you are trekking during the rainy season.
Marangu is a beautiful route, but less varied than the other routes as the ascent and descent take place via the same route. So, you see only one side of the mountain.
The Marangu route is popular, which means that it is busy in certain periods. The popularity may be due to the fact that the route is less challenging than other routes.
The Marangu route is the most direct route to the top and a gradual and steady ascent. However, the mistaken assumption that the route is “easy” causes many people to suffer from altitude sickness because they come unprepared. On Marangu, you are not generally able to “climb high, sleep low”, which means that it is harder to acclimatise, and the success rate on the route is therefore lower.
The recommended minimum length is five days, making it the shortest route to Kilimanjaro. Due the route’s poor acclimatisation profile, we have incorporated an acclimatisation day to increase your chances of reaching the top. So, the trek with Africasafari.co.uk takes a total of six days.
Why should you choose the Marangu route?
- A relatively “easy” and direct route to the top
- Accommodation in cabins, which may be an advantage during the rainy season
- Relatively cheap route – even with an acclimatisation day included
- Busy route
- Less varied nature than other routes, due to the same ascent and descent route
- Low success rate due to poor acclimatisation
The Lemosho route is a very scenic, unspoiled and remote route compared to other routes. And many people believe this route to be the most beautiful of all the routes on Kilimanjaro.
Lemosho is also one of the newest routes. It was originally made as an improved version of the Shira route, but differs in that it is longer and the first night is spent lower than Shira, making it more acclimatisation-friendly.
As with the Shira and Rongai routes, you have to drive quite a way before reaching the starting point. This, along with the fact that Lemosho is a longer route, means that the route is the most expensive of the five routes.
In return, you get a route with a good balance of beautiful scenery and limited traffic.
The route starts west of Kilimanjaro at Lemosho Glades, and is a far less busy route than Machame and Marangu, for example.
Lemosho is a relatively difficult route. On the other hand, the good acclimatisation options under way make for a high success rate. It is recommended that you spend a minimum of seven days on the Lemosho route. At Africsafari.co.uk the trek takes eight days.
Why should you choose the Lemosho route?
- Scenic, unspoiled route
- Good acclimatisation options and a high success rate
- Less traffic, especially at the start
- The most expensive route due to its length
- Longer drive at the start of the tour
- Takes longer than the four other routes
The Shira route is almost identical to its little sister, Lemosho. However, the Shira route only takes six days.
Like Lemosho, the route sets out from the western side of Kilimanjaro. On Shira, however, you drive to the starting point, Shira Gate, and you can expect a tougher and more demanding start than all of the other routes. Your first night is, for example, spent at 3,840 AMSL. At this height, there is a risk of altitude sickness, making it extra important to listen to your body.
The Shira route is a beautiful route with less traffic than on popular routes like Machame and Marangu.
Those who choose Shira over Lemosho typically have less time and less money to spend on the tour. What’s more, you will need to have the courage and desire to tackle the hard start of the Shira route.
Why should you choose the Shira route?
- Good acclimatisation, if you don’t have any problems the first night
- Cheaper alternative to Lemosho
- Less traffic, especially at the start
- Harder and more demanding start than Lemosho
- More expensive than popular routes like Marangu and Machame
Umbwe/ Western Breach Route
The Umbwe route is not a technical route but it is a very direct, very steep, very tough and in parts exposed.
The Umbwe route joins the Machame route near the Barranco Camp on the second night, on other routes the Barranco Camp is reached on the third or fourth night - this demonstrates how much steeper the Umbwe route really is. Indeed, parts of the trail on the first day are so steep that they can only be negotiated because the tree roots provide good steps and hand holds.
The second day continues in much the same vein and the exposed ridge is not for people who are uncomfortable at heights.
Things ease-up for a few days when the Umbwe meets the Machame route, then it’s back to the grind as we climb the ultra-strenuous Western Breach.
Climbing the Western Breach is far more difficult than the other trekking routes to the summit. It involves slog up very steep scree as well as scrambling on exposed rock. At times the route is exposed to rock fall, and you may need to use an axe if conditions are snowy.
All-in-all, this is the most difficult and demanding of Kilimanjaro’s ascent routes. It’s a balls-out rollercoaster ride along the path-less-trodden, and not for the faint hearted!
- Pre-climb acclimatisation on Mt Meru
- Quiet and not crowded on the first two days and on the Western Breach itself.
- Stunning scenery, as per the Machame Route
- Climb the less visited Western Breach
- Rarely seen views of the Ash Pit, Reusch Crater and the Furtwangler Glacier
- This is the toughest route on the mountain, but it is also the most rewarding. Your first bottle of Kilimanjaro Lager will taste that bit better for having climbed it.
- Additional cost. Climbers must warm-up on Meru before heading to the Breach Wall, and this incurs additional fees.
- It’s a longer trip that the other routes on the mountain, not good for those on a tight schedule.
- Rock-fall danger
Northern Circuit Route
The Northern Circuit Route is the longest route on Kilimanjaro, it is a nine day trip on the mountain initially ascending the western Lemosho route up onto the Shira Plateau before reaching the Lava Tower, then heading north and circumnavigating the entire main summit massif in a clockwise direction and joining up with the Rongai route. The summit is then climbed from the eastern side of the mountain and the descent is straight down via the southern Mweka route.
This is a longer journey which allows you to explore the mountain in detail from all sides and through all the different habitats. It offers excellent acclimatisation and stunning scenery with views across the southern flanks, western forests, the northern plains to the Kenyan border and the dry arid eastern slopes. It takes you along remote, seldom used paths to quiet camps.