The Ultimate Guide to Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

So you want to climb Kilimanjaro? We’ve got your back. Here’s everything you need to know from soup to nuts. 

When to Climb Kilimanjaro

There are two dry seasons during the year; January – March and August – October. The crowds will, naturally, be higher during these months, but if you keep to the beginning or ends of the dry seasons (i.e. early in January or Later in March), you’ll find lower crowd levels. You can absolutely still climb in the rainy season, but you’ll want to be prepared for a lot of moisture, and colder temperatures.

Choosing your Guides

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in a National Park, and you are required to have guides to enter and summit. While you can get packages starting at about $2,000 and they go up from there, the average is around $2 – 4,000. Most international tour companies will utilize local tour companies to do the actual guiding, so save yourself the money, and book direct with a local company if you can. 

Choosing a responsible guiding company to help you climb Kilimanjaro is absolutely critical. KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project) is a well-known organization that ensures its member companies treat their porters ethically, including paying fair wages, providing three meals per day, and properly outfitting them for the climate and terrain. Only about 15-20% of the roughly 900 guide companies meet the guidelines set forth by KPAP, so be sure to keep that in mind while choosing yours.

Medications and Vaccinations for Kilimanjaro

A few months prior to your trip, you’ll want to see your doctor or a travel clinic to ask about current vaccines required and recommended for a visit to Tanzania (note: if you’re flying into Nairobi, you might also need additional vaccines).  You can also consider asking about a prescription for Diamox (acetozolamide) to help with the altitude.  You also might want to ask about a “just in case” prescription for travelers’ diarrhea, especially if you’re extending your trip around the region.

Be sure to bring all of your medications with you and keep them in your daypack during your hike, and make sure your head guide is aware of the medications you’re taking.  

Preparing To Climb Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro is a long, strenuous hike, so while anyone can make it to the summit, you’ll have a much better time if you put in some training before you go.   Take as many long, multi-hour (if possible, multi-day) hikes with a full daypack as you can, preferably up a hill.  Use the stair stepper at the gym with your pack on, building up your time as you get closer. Focus as much on strength training as you do on cardio, and pay special attention to your core and stabilizer muscles to help keep you steady on the uneven terrain. 

Getting To Kilimajnaro

Most hikers stay in the town of Moshi before and after they climb Kilimanjaro. There are several hotels in town that are clean, air conditioned, and reasonably priced. To get to Moshi, you’ll either fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (about 40 minutes by car to Moshi), or into Jomo Kinyatta International Airport in Nairobi (about 6 hours by car to Moshi).  

The day before you start your climb, your guides will meet with you and go through a gear check to ensure you have everything you need for a successful summit attempt, and to arrange for rentals if you require any. It’s recommended to get in two days before your climb, to allow yourself to adjust to the time zone and altitude, and allow ample time to acquire any gear you might need to rent.  

Ask your tour company about transfers to and from the airport, as many offer that service as part of the package.  

Packing for Kilimanjaro

What to bring to climb Kilimanjaro is an extensive conversation.  Check out our in-depth packing guide to help you get your list dialed.  

For the climb, you’ll need a waterproof duffel bag of about 70- 90L.  Everything, including your sleeping bag, goes into your duffel, so make sure you’ve got enough room.  The porters generally have these covered between camps, but you don’t want to take any chances if you get caught in the rain. 

You’ll be packing and unpacking every day, so definitely consider using some packing cubes to keep things tidy and easy to navigate. 

Before you go, take a little time to learn how your daypack should properly fit (there are lots of tutorials on YouTube).  Having that load sit properly on your back can make a huge difference at the end of 7 hours of hiking.   

If you’re extending your trip past Kilimanjaro and have other baggage, contact your hotel to see if they will store your bag for you.  Most hotels in the area do provide this service.  If they don’t, your guide company should be able to point you in the right direction.  

Shira Camp during my Kilimanjaro Climb
Shira Camp

About the Camps on Kilimanjaro

Camps on Kilimanjaro are generally relatively basic, with one “main house”, where you’ll sign in after your day’s hike, and a few long-drop toilets.  You can elect to have a private toilet in your camp with your guide company for a few hundred dollars, and for most groups this is money WELL spent.  The toilets, aside from the toilets on the Marangu route are generally squatter/eastern style toilets, and are…not the most savory place to do your business, so a private toilet, if your budget allows, is HIGHLY recommended from this traveler.

Tipping on Kilimanjaro

When you climb Kilimanjaro, tipping is technically optional, but definitely expected…and once you see the amount of work your porters, cooks, and guides do, you’ll probably be well inclined to tip them handsomely.  Your guide company will give you a guideline in terms of how much you should tip each member of your party, so plan ahead and bring the cash with you, in small bills, with you to your climb, and bring a few envelopes along to divvy it up.   

As your trip approaches, ask how many guides you’ll have in the different positions, and ask them for current tipping suggestions.  Communicate this info to your climbing party, so there are no conflicts in terms of who brought what at tipping time.   It will be a few hundred dollars well spent, as these people work like crazy to make sure your climb is one of the greatest experiences of your life.  

Sunset from Shira Camp
Sunset over Shira Peak from Shira Camp

What Route Should I Take Up Kilimanjaro?

There are seven established routes to climb Kilimanjaro, and which one you choose will be determined largely by your priorities and the time you have available to climb.


  • Distance:  64 KM – 40 Miles
  • Duration: 5 or 6 days
  • Acclimatization profile:  Poor
  • Sleeping Accommodations: Huts
  • Difficulty: Relatively easy – until summit night
  • Success rate: 60-80%

The so-called “Coca-Cola Route” is known for its relatively gentle incline for the majority of the climb, and the fact that you sleep in huts as opposed to tents. It’s also, due to it’s short duration, one of the less expensive routes to climb.  This all sounds great, but there are some serious drawbacks to the Marangu route.  

First and foremost, the climb is short, and the acclimatization profile is not the best.  You hike along a path that gently ascends without any “climb high, sleep low” stretches, which makes for a very rough summit night. This is the main cause of the low summit success rate.  It’s strongly recommended that you opt for the 6 day trek to allow your body more time to acclimatize as you ascend. 

While the scenery is still beautiful along the way, the Marangu route is considered one of the least scenic routes.  Everyone who takes the Marangu route climbs and descends on the same trail, so the trail can become quite crowded. 

If you are climbing during the rainy season, though, you might want to consider the Marangu route, as while the sleeping huts are, by no means, luxury, they do provide excellent shelter from the weather, and can help you stay warm and dry as you ascend and descend. 

Machame route

  • Distance:  49 KM – 36 Miles
  • Duration: 6 or 7 days
  • Acclimatization profile:  Excellent
  • Sleeping Accommodations: Tents
  • Difficulty: Medium – Hard
  • Success rate: 75-85%

In comparison to the Marangu’s “Coca-Cola Route”, the Machame is known as the “Whiskey Route” due to it’s higher level of difficulty and steeper terrain.  While the overall length is shorter, there is quite a bit of “climb high, sleep low” built in to the route, so it is also the route with the highest summit success rate.  The trail is quite steep at parts and, technically, the most difficult of all of the routes (still nothing more than a little hands-and-feet scrambling and side-stepping), so it can be more challenging for those with little hiking experience.

The Machame can be done in 6 or 7 days, with the 7 day trek, of course, having a higher summit rate. If you do the 7 day trek, you stop overnight at Karanga camp, allowing for a short day prior to summit night, extra rest and time at elevation can certainly help your summit push.  If you choose the 6 day route, you go straight from Barranco Camp to Barafu Hut the day before summit, so be sure to do your research to figure out what is best for you and your individual needs.

The scenery from the Machame route is the most spectacular of all the routes, but as this is now the most popular route on the mountain, the crowd levels can be very high at peak season.  We recommending looking at the beginnings and ends of the high season to try to have lower crowds on the trail.  

Lemosho Route

  • Distance:  56 KM – 35 Miles
  • Duration: 7 or 8 days
  • Acclimatization profile:  Good
  • Sleeping Accommodations: Tents
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Success rate: 85%

The Lemosho route is one of the newest routes up the mountain, and if time and budgets allow, this is a great option providing the best of both worlds.  It’s got a mix of spectacular scenery with the benefit of not being as heavily trafficked as the Machame route. 

The route starts out west of the mountain, and crosses over the Shira plateau before joining with the Machame route at Lava tower.  Prior to Lava Tower, trekkers enjoy much less crowded trails.  

While this route can be done in as few as 6 days, 7 or 8 days is strongly recommended with 8 days being ideal.  

With spectacular views, lower crowds, a very good acclimatization profile, and a great success rate, Lemosho is a fantastic choice for your climb.

Shira Route

  • Distance:  56 KM – 35 Miles
  • Duration: 7 or 8 days
  • Acclimatization profile:  Poor
  • Sleeping Accommodations: Tents
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Success rate: 80 – 85%

Shira route is the original version of the Lemosho route, with Lemosho being the new and improved version.  It follows along the same route, but bypasses the first bit of trekking by approaching the Shira Gate in an automobile. 

While this sounds like a great deal, it acts as a detriment to anyone who’s not an experienced high-altitude hiker, or lives at high altitudes as your trek begins at 11,800 feet (3,600 M).  While the acclimatization profile past the beginning is great, that high of a start has proved to cause altitude issues in a lot of trekkers.

The scenery is spectacular, and the crowd levels are low until Lava Tower, so if you’re well adapted to high elevations already, this might be a great option.

Northern Circuit Route

  • Distance:  90 KM – 56 Miles
  • Duration: 9 days
  • Acclimitazation profile:  Excellent
  • Sleeping Accomodations: Tents
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Success rate: 95%

It’s called “The Grand Traverse” for good reason.  This route follows the Lemosho route before splitting from the majority of travelers at Lava Tower, and circling north around the mountain instead of following the southern circuit like all of the other routes.  

The acclimatization is excellent on this route with a longer trek duration of 9 days, and several days spent at 13,000 feet (about 4,000 meters), giving it the highest summit success rate on the mountain.  

The scenery is spectacular, and the crowd level is often very low, so if quiet is what you crave, you’ll find it here.  Due to it’s duration, this is one of the more expensive routes to take, but if time and budget allow, this is an exceptional choice.  

Umbwe Route 

  • Distance:  37 KM – 23 Miles
  • Duration: 5-6 days
  • Acclimatization profile:  Poor
  • Sleeping Accommodations: Tents
  • Difficulty: High
  • Success rate: 60-70%

The Umbwe route, while looking relatively similar to the Machame route on the map, lacks the acclimatization profile, bringing trekkers to high elevation fairly rapidly.  This is largely considered the most difficult route, mostly due to it’s swift elevation gain.  

The scenery is fantastic, and the trail generally has quite low crowds, but due to the poor acclimatization profile and sheer steepness, this is a route that is rarely recommended, aside from to folks with extensive high-altitude trekking experience, or those that live at high elevation.

Rongai route

  • Distance:  65 KM – 40 Miles
  • Duration:6-7 days
  • Acclimatization profile:  Good
  • Sleeping Accommodations: Tents
  • Difficulty: High
  • Success rate: 65-80%

Rongai is the only route to approach Kilimanjaro from the north side of the mountain, near the Kenyan border.   While this is a fairly uncrowded route, the extra travel costs to get to the trailhead can add up.  The acclimatization profile is fair, but if you elect to take the 7 days, it’s great, bumping the summit success rate significantly.

The scenery along the Rongai route is less varied than the other routes that ascend on the west and south side of the mountain, but it might be worth considering the Rongai route in the rainy season, as the north side of the mountain generally receives lower precipitation than the other sides.  

No matter what route you choose to climb Kilimanjaro, be sure to choose what is best for your fitness level.   The cheapest route might look enticing, but take into consideration your fitness level, home elevation, etc.   The last thing you want is to lay out all this money and not make it to the summit.  If spending on an extra day on the mountain will actually get you to the summit, it will be well worth the investment.

Either way, climbing Kilimanjaro is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll carry with you forever, and is not to be missed! 

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