The Best Kilimanjaro Route: A Comprehensive Guide

Tristan Balme The Best route up kilimanajro a comprehensive guide

I climbed Kili back in 2019, and since have written a number of popular articles on my experience and tips for first-timers.

I often get asked which route is the best to take. The truth is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer – the best route for you depends on a variety of factors, including your fitness level, hiking experience, and personal preferences.

In my opinion, the Lemosho route is the best route for most people as it allows enough time for acclimatization and boasts a success rate of 85-90%. It’s incredibly scenic, starting in the rainforest to the west of the Uhuru peak which may explain why it’s quickly becoming the most popular route on the mountain.

That being said, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you choose the best route for your Kilimanjaro hike. In this guide, we’ll go over each route in detail, including their advantages and disadvantages, so you can make an informed decision.

An Introduction To Hiking Kili

Before we dive into the different routes, let’s talk about what it’s like to hike Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, standing at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) tall. It’s located in Tanzania, and is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park.

At 6,000m there’s half as much oxygen in the air than at sea level. And, spending at least 7-9 days on the mountain, you’ll be beaten up by the sun, the heat, and the cold.

Hiking Kilimanjaro is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s a challenging climb, but the rewards are well worth it. You’ll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve accomplished something truly incredible.

How Many Routes Up Kilimanjaro Are There?

There are seven main routes up Kilimanjaro. Each route has its own unique characteristics, and the route you choose will have a big impact on your overall experience. Here’s a brief overview of each route:

RouteAdvantagesDisadvantages
LemoshoScenic route with diverse landscapes, good acclimatization profile, low traffic until it joins the Machame Route, good summit success rateLonger route (8 days), more expensive than some other routes
MachameScenic route with diverse landscapes, good acclimatization profile, good summit success rateCrowded route, steep ascent, longer route (7 days)
MaranguCheaper than some other routes, shorter route (5 days)Crowded route, less scenic than other routes, poor acclimatization profile, lower summit success rate
RongaiLess crowded route, good acclimatization profile, stunning views of the mountain’s northern sideLonger route (6-7 days), less scenic than other routes, lower summit success rate
Northern CircuitScenic route with diverse landscapes, good acclimatization profile, low traffic, good summit success rateLonger route (9-10 days), more expensive than some other routes
ShiraScenic route with diverse landscapes, good acclimatization profile, less crowded than some other routesLonger route (8-9 days), more expensive than some other routes, steep ascent
UmbweLess crowded route, shorter route (5-6 days), stunning views of the mountain’s southern sideSteep ascent, poor acclimatization profile, lower summit success rate
MwekaShort route (2-3 days), good for hikers who want a quick descentDescent-only route.

Lemosho Route

The Lemosho Route is one of the most scenic routes up Kilimanjaro. It’s a relatively new route, and is quickly becoming one of the most popular. The route takes you through a variety of ecosystems, including rainforest, heath, and alpine desert.

Advantages:

  • Scenic route with diverse landscapes
  • Good acclimatization profile
  • Low traffic until it joins the Machame Route
  • Good summit success rate

Disadvantages:

  • Longer route (7 or 8 days options)
  • More expensive than some other routes
Tristan Balme The start of the Lemosho route

Machame Route

The Machame Route is one of the most popular routes up Kilimanjaro. It’s known for its beautiful scenery and high success rate. The route takes you through a variety of landscapes, including rainforest, heath, and alpine desert.

Advantages:

  • Scenic route with diverse landscapes
  • Good acclimatization profile
  • Good summit success rate

Disadvantages:

  • Crowded route
  • Steep ascent
  • Longer route (6 or 7 days options)

Marangu Route

The Marangu Route is also known as the “Coca-Cola” route, because it’s the only route up Kilimanjaro that offers sleeping huts with Coca-Cola for sale. It’s the oldest and most established route up the mountain.

Advantages:

  • Cheaper than some other routes
  • Shorter route (5 days)

Disadvantages:

  • Crowded route
  • Less scenic than other routes
  • Poor acclimatization profile
  • Lower summit success rate

Rongai Route

The Rongai Route is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north. It’s a less crowded route, and offers stunning views of the mountain’s northern side. The route takes you through a variety of landscapes, including rainforest and alpine desert.

Advantages:

  • Less crowded route
  • Good acclimatization profile
  • Stunning views of the mountain’s northern side

Disadvantages:

  • Longer route (6-7 days)
  • Less scenic than other routes
  • Lower summit success rate

Northern Circuit

The Northern Circuit is the newest route up Kilimanjaro, and is quickly gaining popularity. It’s a longer route, but offers stunning views of the mountain’s northern side. The route takes you through a variety of landscapes, including rainforest, heath, and alpine desert.

Advantages:

  • Scenic route with diverse landscapes
  • Good acclimatization profile
  • Low traffic
  • Good summit success rate

Disadvantages:

  • Longer route (9-10 days)
  • More expensive than some other routes

Shira Route

The Shira Route is a relatively new route up Kilimanjaro. It’s a less crowded route, and offers stunning views of the mountain’s western side. The route takes you through a variety of ecosystems, including rainforest, heath, and alpine desert.

Advantages:

  • Scenic route with diverse landscapes
  • Good acclimatization profile
  • Less crowded than some other routes

Disadvantages:

  • Longer route (8-9 days)
  • More expensive than some other routes
  • Steep ascent

Umbwe Route

The Umbwe Route is the shortest and steepest route up Kilimanjaro. It’s a less crowded route, and offers stunning views of the mountain’s southern side. The route takes you through a variety of ecosystems, including rainforest and alpine desert.

Advantages:

  • Less crowded route
  • Shorter route (5-6 days)
  • Stunning views of the mountain’s southern side

Disadvantages:

  • Steep ascent
  • Poor acclimatization profile
  • Lower summit success rate

Mweka Route

The Mweka Route is the route used for descent after reaching the summit. It’s a short, steep route that takes you through a variety of ecosystems, including rainforest and heath.

Advantages:

  • Short route (2-3 days)
  • Good for hikers who want a quick descent

Disadvantages:

  • Not a route for ascent

The Best Route For Climbing Kilimanjaro

Now that we’ve gone over each route in detail, it’s time to answer the question on everyone’s mind – which route is the best?

The truth is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. The best route for you depends on your fitness level, hiking experience, and personal preferences.

That being said, here are some recommendations based on different factors:

Tristan Balme trail of porters making their way up kilimanjaro

Best Overall (And the route I climbed) – Lemosho

If you’re looking for the best overall experience, I recommend the Lemosho Route. It’s a scenic route with diverse landscapes and has a good acclimatization profile. It’s a longer route (8 days), but the extra time is worth it for the experience.

This is the route I climbed, and I wouldn’t change it after having completed the hike. We met people on day 4 from the Machame route so the route gets a little busier from this point on.

I also strongly recommend the extra day on the mountain. You’re going from sea level to 6,000m – the highest altitude gain hike in the world. An extra day to acclimatize is a good idea regardless of how well you can handle the altitude.

For The Inexperienced Hiker – Marangu (AKA. The Coca-cola route)

If you’re inexperienced with hiking, I recommend the Marangu Route. It’s a shorter route at 5 or 6 days (But I’d definitely recommend the 6-day option) and is technically speaking the easiest route up Kilimanjaro.

I’d recommend this because it’s the only route where you stay in huts, rather the in tents (camp style) and this can be pretty

The catch is you don’t get as long to acclimatize, so the route has a lower success rate than Lemosho or Machame. For that reason, I’d definitely recommend the 6 day option which included an extra acclimatization day.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if the high risk of failure outweighs the benefits of good accommodation and fewer days on the mountain.

The Cheapest Route – Machame

If you’re on a budget, I recommend the Machame Route. It’s one of the most popular route, which means it’s cheaper than some of the more remote routes. That being said, it’s still a great route with beautiful scenery and a good summit success rate.

Most tours agents have regular trips departing on this route, and if you can get added to an existing large group you’ll pay less overall as the costs are divided amongst more people

Every day on the mountain you’ll pay over $100 just in park fees which go straight to the government (Ouch) so picking the 6 (or 7) day Machame will workout much cheaper than the 8 day Lemosho.

The Most Intense Route

If you’re looking for the most intense route, I recommend the Umbwe Route. It’s the shortest and steepest route up Kilimanjaro, and is only recommended for experienced hikers. That being said, it offers stunning views of the mountain’s southern side, and is a great challenge for experienced hikers.

This route has the lowest success rate of all routes at 60%, or 70% if you allow an extra day for acclimation.

This is literally ‘the hard way’ up the mountain so only consider this if you’re a seasoned hiker and know you can handle the altitude.

Conclusion

Choosing the right route for your Kilimanjaro hike is an important decision. I hope this guide has been helpful in giving you an overview of each route, and in helping you make an informed decision.

No matter which route you choose, remember to take your time, stay hydrated, and enjoy the incredible views. Hiking Kilimanjaro is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Kilimanjaro Travel Planning Cheatsheet

 

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Tanzania?

100% YES! — Tanzania has now introduceed “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover high altitude hiking as it's a high risk activity!

(that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance

I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for high altitude hiking UP TO 6000m (Which most travel insurance companies don't offer!)

🎫 Do I need a visa for Tanzania?

Probably not — Tanzania now provide a visa on arrival (VoA) for most western countires which allows you stay for up to 90 days. However, some other countries do need a pre-approved eVisa (check here!). VoAs cost $50 USD for a single entry - Note, US Citizens are required to get a Multi-Entry visa which costs $100 USD. (View visa prices here)

If transiting through Kenya (a lot of people fly via Nairobi), you'll need a Kenyan visa too. Visa's cost $20 for a 3 day transit visa and $50 for a toursit visa

(By the way, on both my interactions with the imigration officers in kenya they tried to scam me, so know what your obliged to pay and BRING THE EXACT CASH for the visa!)

💉Do I need any vaccinations for Tanzania?

YES! Make sure you are up-to-date with all your vaccines. Common travel vaccines include Hep A/B + Typhoid, and Diphtheria + Tetanus.

A yellow fever vaccination isn't a requirment to visit Kilimanjaro but is for neighbouring areas in East Africa. In reality, you will might not be allowed back into your home country on your return (I was asked for proof of vaccination upon returning to Australia) so getting this jab prior made for good peace of mind. 

Rabies is an issue in Tanzania but the vaccine is expensive and ineffective as a preventative measure (it only lasts a few years and you'll need to get them again if you require treatment). If bitten by a stray dog seek immediate medical attention!

As always, talk to your GP or specialised travel doctor a few weeks BEFORE you leave.

🏩 What’s the best Kilimanjaro Tour operators?

Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Booking.com. Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options

If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.

💸How do you pay for things in Tanzania?

Cash is king in Tanzania, so you'll want to get some folding tender out from an ATM when you land. Larger businesses and hotels will take Debit / Credit Card but most resturants, and street vendors want cash. I even had to pay for my Kili trip in cash!

I personally use a Wise debit card for all my international money needs as they only convert the funds when you make payment, plus they offer a much better spread (margin on the true exhange rate) than the banks do. They work in all the Tanzanian ATMs I tried. 

🚌 What's the public transport like in Tanzania?

There is a good basic network of local and inter-city busses in Tanzania and travel this way is very cheap. Domestic flight are also very affordable and a far more comfortable option. Checkout Busbora for booking bus tickets online.

📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Tanzania and on the mountain?

This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is prepaid SIM cards are cheap and availible to tourists and locals alike (You don't need a pricey tourst SIM!)

Your cheapest option is buying a physical sim card on the street corner once landed and getting the shop assistant to help you set it up. I went with Vodacom and had generally good coverage, even up on Kili!

Another option if you're visiting other African countries is the Airalo eSIM. This is a little more expensive but gives you connectivity across 14 neighbouring African Countries and connectivity the moment you step off the plane!

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Tanzania?

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).

💧Can you drink the water in Tanzania?

Safest not to — tap water in Tanzania may be OK (the locals drink it) but is generally untreated and not reccommended for tourists. Purchase bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing.

🏔️💧Can you drink the water on Mount Kilimanjaro?

Yes — Your tour company with ensure the water provided to you is safe to drink by either carrying in bottled water, or by treating stream water with purification tablets or by boiling it. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I'd also recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely. 

 

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