How to Climb Kilimanjaro – a Guide to Planning Your Trip
So, you want to know how to climb Kilimanjaro? I can honestly say that climbing Kilimanjaro is still one of the best things I have done. Not just in terms of it being a huge accomplishment, but also the experience itself. Not only is Kilimanjaro Africa’s highest mountain, it is also the highest free standing mountain in the world, and it is one of the highly sought after seven summits (the highest mountain on each continent, in case you live under a rock!).
Nestled in Tanzania, not far from the quaint town of Moshi, the large capital of Arusha and the incredible plains of the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro almost looks out of place. It soars above everything in its sight and looms above you, almost imposing.
If I do say so myself, I think that Kilimanjaro should be on almost anyone’s bucket list. You are either here for one of two reasons. You are planning to climb Kilimanjaro or you really want to climb Kilimanjaro, but aren’t sure if you can. Well, it’s doable. It’s hard work, but manageable. With training, a good level of fitness and a strong ‘I can do this’ mindset, Kilimanjaro is totally achievable.
So, this ultimate guide will detail everything you need to know about how to climb Kilimanjaro – an example itinerary, food, hygiene, what to pack as well as how to plan your trip.
What is the best route to trek Kilimanjaro?
There are several routes you can do when climbing Kilimanjaro, some of which are shorter than others. The Machame route is a popular choice among travellers as it takes less time compared to some of the other routes. Plus, its success rate as of 2019 was 85%. Make sure to research each route before making a decision. For this blog, I will be using the Machame route itinerary, as this is the route I personally did!
Note: I booked my tour with G Adventures and I can’t recommend them enough, and have since used them for many other hiking tours. One of my favourite things about G Adventures is there G for Good initiative, which aims to support local communities.
Kilimanjaro Machame Route Trekking itinerary
Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Hut Camp
- Altitude Gain: 1800m – 2835m
- Approx hours walking: 5-7 hours, 11km.
A mostly flat walk with light hills, this Is an easy way to ease into the trek. Most of the day is spent in what is considered to be the rainforest zone, which covers the dense, forested slopes of the Kilimanjaro. Look out for Colobus monkeys swinging in the trees, and remember to take it slow, as you gain altitude quickly on this route up Kilimanjaro.
Day 2: Machame Hut Camp to Shira Cave Camp
- Altitude Gain: 2835m – 3750m
- Approx hours walking: 5-6 hours, 5km.
Today is a long, steep ascent in to Shira Cave Camp, but you are rewarded with incredible views along the way. Shira Cave Camp is also one of the best camps of the trek, be sure to watch the sunset and get up early to enjoy the sunrise as well.
Day 3: Shira Cave Camp to Barranco Camp
- Altitude Gain: 3750m – 4600m – 3900m
- Approx hours walking: 5-6 hours, 10km.
The all so important acclimatization day, where you hike to Lava Tower at 4600m, before descending down to 3900m to spend the night. Prepare for a tough hike today, and also prepare the start really feeling the effects of the high altitude.
Take it easy and keep a slow but steady pace. Enjoy the fantastic views at Lava Tower where you will stop for lunch and prepare to be wowed by Barranco Camp. Surrounded on three sides by the huge imposing yet impressive Breach Wall, it’s one of those moments that will make you realize how small you really are.
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp
- Altitude Gain: 3900m – 4673m
- Approx hours walking: 8-9hours, 9km
The Great Barranco Wall stares down on you from the minute you wake up and prepare to start climbing it. It’s a steep and rocky ascent up the Barranco Wall and then all the way in to Barafu Camp, which is often called the ‘base camp’ of Kilimanjaro. It sits on a narrow and rocky ridge, and there are no barriers to block the wind here, so prepare for a restless night.
Day 5: Barafu Camp to Summit to High Camp
- Altitude Gain: 4673m – 5895m – 3950m
- Approx hours walking: To summit: 7-8hours, 5km. To High Camp, 4hours, 8km.
Wake up call at 11pm to be ready to climb towards the summit. Set of in the pitch black and freezing cold, with every layer of clothing on and only your head torch to light the way. A lot depends on the time of year and weather when you climb. You might find the whole path to the summit rocky, or you could find it covered in snow and ice (I got the later, lucky me!).
Arrive at Stella Point for sunrise before continuing the further hour to the summit. It’s a surreal moment. Make sure to take it all in. The views, the accomplishment, before preparing the long walk down to high camp. Stop at Barafu Camp on the way down to have lunch and pack up the rest of your gear.
Day 6: High Camp to Mweka Gate
- Altitude Gain: 3950m – 1653m
- Approx hours walking: 4-5hours, 10km.
It’s all downhill from here! Enjoy how rich the air feels at the lower altitude as you descend into the rainforest zone and celebrate your success!
Things to Know Before Climbing Kilimanjaro
Partly, this will vary depending on the tour you choose to do. Seeing as you can’t climb Kilimanjaro without a tour, you will be with one or the other. Food is cooked for you on the mountain by your guides, porters or designated cooks, and let me say this – I was never hungry. I’m going to do a little breakdown here of what a day of eating on the mountain looked like for me:
Breakfast: First course of porridge, followed by a range of hot foods every day including toast, pancakes, sausages, bacon and vegetables. Oh, and don’t forget the tea or hot chocolate.
Lunch: Normally some kind of pasta or rice dish, mostly with a range of vegetables.
Dinner: A first course of soup (seriously I think about the onion soup we had on the first night almost every day), followed by a rice or pasta dish with a whole lot of veg. Oh and don’t worry about portion sizes, there was always too much food. A huge plate of popcorn with hot chocolate or tea before bed!
Toilets and hygiene
Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one. The facilities aren’t luxury. You can expect drop hole toilets in terrible condition, and if you are hoping for showers then maybe pick a different trek. As far as hygiene is concerned, your best bet is to ensure you pack body or baby wipes.
Where to stay in Moshi
Stella Maris Lodge
Probably one of the closest places to stay near the start of the Machame route, I felt like I was a part of a family here. The staff are so friendly and welcoming, and you can sit at the bar on the 3rdfloor and have a brilliant view of Kilimanjaro looming on the horizon (which is terrifying before you climb, but brilliant once you have!).
Honey Badger Lodge
I stayed here as I booked too late and my accommodation included in my tour was booked out for any additional nights. I adored my time here. Featuring a pool, bar, restaurant, and super cute lodges, you will be surrounded by monkeys playing in the trees above you.
You can also organise lots of local tours here, I spent the morning playing with the kids at a local school thanks to the owners of Honey Badger Lodge, so I highly recommend staying here.
Getting to and from Tanzania
Depending where you are flying from, you can expect a couple of flights to get to Tanzania. Some airlines will fly direct in to Kilimanjaro international Airport from major airport hubs such as Dubai and Qatar, while others will require a short stop in Kenya’s Nairobi Airport. For all the best deals on flights, use Skyscanner to scan all major booking sites to easily find and book the best deal.
How to get from the airport to Moshi town
Moshi is the closest place to Kilimanjaro, and generally where all tours will start. From Kilimanjaro International Airport you can easily take a taxi, however it’s worth checking if your hotel offers a free airport pick up or drop off service. You can expect to pay around $50 for a taxi to Moshi, and the journey will take around an hour, depending on the time of day and the traffic.
Visas are required to enter Tanzania for citizens from most countries. It is best to check with your local embassy before planning your trip. Visas are available on arrival and need to be paid for in US dollars.
Never, and I repeat, NEVER travel without travel insurance. You honestly never know when you might need it. It’s even more important when you are doing hiking and climbing, such as Kilimanjaro! I recommend Cover More Travel Insurance; I use them on every trip I take (I’m accident prone and had to make claims several times – the process has always been so easy!).
So, with all that information, it’s time to get planning on your trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro! I hope that this guide has provided all the information you need, but if I have missed anything, feel free to leave me a comment below or message me on social media and I will get back to you as soon as possible!
Don’t miss out and everything else that Tanzania has to offer while you are there – safaris, adventure and cultural activities, and of course, Zanzibar. The opportunities are endless!
How to Train for Kilimanjaro
Most travel companies will say that you can climb Kilimanjaro with a good base level of fitness, and while this is true, putting that little bit extra into your training will make it easier for you on the mountain. Basically, the fitter you are, the better.
Before I took off to Tanzania, I’ll admit I didn’t do many long days of hiking or climbing, simply because of lack of time, and lack of trails nearby. However, I did try to make up for it. Going in to it, I knew that I had a good base level of fitness, and previous hiking experience. However, knowing that I had previous altitude experience where I had struggled before, I wanted to ensure that I was as prepared as possible.
So how exactly did I train for Kilimanjaro?
One of my best tips and something that I utilised 2 or 3 times per week for months before the trip was a trusty stair master at my gym. I normally added this on to the end of my normal gym session, and would take my hiking boots (and sometimes even a backpack) and do stairs at a steady pace, increasing with time.
I would generally do between 50 and 100 flights of stairs on a normal day, and when I could fit in an extra session I would do more to improve my endurance. I also threw in some incline treadmill walking to switch it up on the weekends when I couldn’t make it to a trail.
A couple of examples of this that I did include:
- Super-setting heavy back squats with 20-30 jumping squats, box jumps or stair sprints.
- Adding 30 seconds of skipping or boxing between each set of an exercise.
One of all my all-time favourite conditioning style workouts is a high load high intensity workout. I did workouts of this style in my training and still do it now.
- 30sec skipping
- 10 weighted jump squats
- 10 kettle bell swings
- 10 box jumps
- 20 mountain climbers
- 30 seconds boxing
I run through each exercise which no rest in between, and try to have minimal rest in between sets. Generally with this type of workout I would run through it 10 times.
My main piece of advice? Make the most of what you have, and make it work! You can adapt your training to the resources you have. So get out there and give it a go!