Which is the best Kilimanjaro route?
We get that question asked a lot. And rightly so! There are many routes that lead to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Each of them has it’s own pros and cons and should therefore be thoroughly researched in order to make an informed and educated choice.
- Lemosho Route
The Lemosho is the most beautiful Kilimanjaro route
- Machame Route
The Machame is the most popular Kilimanjaro route
- Marangu Route
The Marangu route only offers hut accommodation
- Rongai Route
The Rongai is the only Kilimanjaro route that approaches from the North
- Shira Route
The Shira route approaches from the Western side of Kilimanjaro
- Northern Circuit
The Northern Circuit is the newest and longest Kilimanjaro route
- Umbwe Route
The Umbwe is the shortest, steepest and hardest Kilimanjaro route
And remember that this choice is very much a personal one. Answering which route is ‘best’ for Kilimanjaro is tricky because people want different things out of their Kilimanjaro climb. From our experience, we have established the following 4 elements to be what climbers value most:
- Acclimatisation profile and therefore success rates
- The beauty and variety of terrain and scenery
- How long is spent on the mountain
- The total cost of the climb
Keep these things in mind when reading the rest of this article and making your decision. But firstly, to equip you with the right knowledge for choosing your route up the roof of Africa, let’s make a start on your Kilimanjaro preparation. Here we have outlined the 7 different established routes on Mount Kilimanjaro:
“Deciding on a route up Kilimanjaro is definitely a personal choice and should be done so with care.” Chris Sichalwe
Climbing Kilimanjaro route considerations
So each of these 7 Kilimanjaro routes has its own advantages and disadvantages. They vary in scenery, difficulty, duration, acclimatisation profile, popularity, accommodation options and more. This can all seem pretty daunting – so much to consider! However, if you can clarify your priorities from the start, the decision becomes more of a process of elimination, and therefore relatively easy. To get started, you should be asking yourself the following questions when choosing a Kilimanjaro route:
◯ What do you want to get out of your climb?
Are you interested in photography, or the varied terrains and climatic zones of the mountain, or is achieving the summit your sole goal? This will inform your choice of route on Kilimanjaro.
◯ Are you looking for a good acclimatisation profile?
This is one of the biggest considerations when choosing a Kilimanjaro route. Routes have good acclimatisation profiles when they have ample climb high sleep low opportunities. Read more about what this means and safety on Mount Kilimanjaro.
◯ Are you looking for scenery?
Some routes are better than others when it comes to scenery and the variety of terrain. For example the Lemosho, Northern Circuit and Shira routes all have stunning scenery, whilst the Umbwe lacks variety.
◯ What is your (and your team’s) level of fitness?
Are you travelling solo? Do you have a group to think about? If you are going in a group make sure you pick a route best suited to everyone in your team.
◯ Do you have trekking experience?
Are you a seasoned hiker with experience at altitude? Or are you a first time trekker? If so there are some routes that would not be suitable for you, such as the Umbwe.
◯ How long have you got for your climb?
All the routes have different durations, depending on the amount of time you want to spend on the mountain. Remember that climbing Kilimanjaro is not a race, and ideally you will have at least 7 days on the mountain to soak in everything.
◯ How much money can you spend on the climb?
Longer treks are inevitably more expensive. Shorter treks are cheaper, but you may find that you compromise on your chances of summiting, prime example being the once popular Marangu route.
◯ What kind of accommodation do you want?
Different Kilimanjaro routes have different accommodation options, so it is important to know whether your chosen route has camping or huts available. The only route with hut accommodation available is the Marangu.
◯ What time of year are you available to go?
You can realistically climb Kilimanjaro at any time, but some months are just better than others. If you are climbing in rainy season, the Rongai route may be a good option for you because it receives less rainfall.
◯ Do you want to avoid the crowds?
Consider opting for a route that is less frequented by climbers. Though no Kilimanjaro route is completely quiet, some routes are more popular than others. For instance opting for the Northern Circuit will give you a more relaxed climb with less people.
What Kilimanjaro route do Follow Alice recommend?
Put simply, in an ideal world speed and cost should not be your primary consideration when choosing your route for Kilimanjaro. For example, the Marangu route offers the cheapest price, but that cost saving is often negated by the poor success rates, with less than 50% of those who attempt it making it to the top.
Our goal is not to send as many climbers to Kilimanjaro as possible. Instead, we want to have happy clients returning with memories to last a lifetime and a successful ‘seven summit’ under their belt. We therefore regularly promote and recommend 2 Kilimanjaro routes to our clients: the Machame route and Lemosho route. These are, overall, the most scenic and richest in variety. In addition, both offer great opportunities to acclimatise.
We’ve run through all of the routes individually below, including the logistics, the pros and the cons, and visual aids in the form of maps and graphs. If you have any questions, please do feel free to contact us any time. All of the Follow Alice team have climbed Kilimanjaro at least once, and our local leader Chris has summited over 300 times. Between us we have the knowledge to advise you on the most suitable route for you.
“At first I was a little overwhelmed by all the options! But once I realised that I wanted the best acclimatisation profile possible, it made the choice a lot easier” Robert Jensen
We have to admit, we have a soft spot for the Lemosho route! Because of it’s versatility, scenery and a rather untouched, wild start to the climb, Lemosho is often considered the route with the most variety. Spotting large wildlife, like antelopes is not very common, but possible! One of the really unique things about this route is that it offers trekkers the experience of hiking across the Shira Plateau, one of the largest high altitude plateaus in the world.
“This was my first proper trek so I wanted to choose a route with a really good acclimatisation profile, but also one with a variety of terrain and scenery. I’m glad I opted for the Lemosho!” Stefano
The route approaches from the Western side of the mountain and is less frequented than other popular Kilimanjaro routes. It is effectively a variant of the Machame route with only the first 2 days of the trek differing. The acclimatisation profile of the Lemosho route is great, with repeated climb high sleep low opportunities throughout leading to high success rates. Most people complete the Lemosho route in 7 days, but it can be extended by one day to give yourself a little longer to acclimatise if needed. Camping is the only available option for the Lemosho route.
The Machame route is our second ‘favourite’ route on Kilimanjaro. Together with Lemosho, it is widely considered the most scenic with beautiful views and a rich variety of terrain. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that it is a very popular Kilimanjaro route, with the latest figures suggesting that just over 20,000 people climb the Machame route each year. It’s popularity is unfortunately therefore it’s only downfall, in that it can get quite overcrowded in peak season.
The Marangu route, nicknamed the ‘Coca Cola’ route, has, historically, been the most popular Kilimanjaro route. Around 12,000 people use it each year, most commonly used by trekkers on a budget. This is because it is the only Kilimanjaro route facilitating dormitory like accommodation with mattresses and basic amenities. This makes it a popular choice for budget Kilimanjaro operators that don’t have the right equipment to offer other Kilimanjaro routes.
The Marangu route also only takes 5 days to complete, which makes also makes it a cheaper option compared to the other routes. However, the acclimatisation profile is mediocre which leads to a very low success rate, therefore not offering the best value for money. And whilst it offers rewarding views from the Saddle, it is less scenic than other Kilimanjaro routes due using the same trail for the ascent and descent. Otherwise, the route itself is easy with little to no steep parts. The scenery can be beautiful with a rain forest section and moorlands.
The Rongai route is basically one long hike with a very gentle gradient and a low difficulty level. It is the only route that approaches from the Northern side of the mountain and is less frequently climbed. Only around 4000 people climb it each year.
It is similar to the Marangu route due to it’s lack of climb high sleep low opportunities. It is therefore recommended to do the 7 day itinerary rather than the 6 day, giving you an important extra day to adjust to the altitude. It’s generally considered a good alternative to the more crowded routes such as the Marangu, especially for those climbers preferring camping over huts.
The Shira route is similar to the Lemosho except that its starting point is much higher. Approaching from the far Western side of the mountain, to reach the starting point you are looking at a lengthy transfer of around 4 hours to get to the Londorossi Park Gate at 2200m, and then a 4×4 ride which takes you up to the Simba River where the trail starts. You make your first night’s stop at 3500m!
Starting at a higher altitude means that you can risk gaining altitude too quickly at the very start. If you do plan on doing the Shira Route, a pre-acclimatisation trek is recommended. This route features camping accommodation throughout the route, and is a quieter route than the others with a fantastic balance of scenery and less people.
Northern Circuit Route
The Northern Circuit route is both the newest as well as the longest route up to the peak. Some companies have already started to nickname it the 360 route or the Grand Traverse. The long journey allows for great acclimatisation leading to high success rates.
Only a small number of climbers choose the Northern circuit route owing to the additional days needed to complete it. It starts from the same point as the Lemosho route and offers similarly scenic views. Camping is the only available accommodation option on the Northern Circuit.
The Umbwe route is the shortest and steepest route up Kilimanjaro. It’s the least used trail, probably for its poor acclimatisation profile, and only 589 people climb it each year. Success rates via this route are lower than the average. The route approaches from the south and camping is the only available accommodation option. Pre-acclimatisation is recommended for those who choose to trek this route.