Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is a gorgeous game park that protects the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.
Kilimanjaro National Park in northern Tanzania is a unique and surprising place. And we’re not just saying that. For starters, it’s home to the highest mountain in Africa, yet most of the park is a vast, relatively flat plain! Most iconic mountains are a part of massive ranges, like how Mt Everest is part of the Himalayas and Mt Aconcagua is part of the Andes. The reason for this is that Mt Kilimanjaro is a volcano. This allows it to stand tall in a flat region, letting you enjoy unimpeded views of it from far away, even in Kenya.
Mt Kilimanjaro National Park was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain, is a whopping 5,895 m (19,341 ft) above sea level. It’s also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, standing 4,900 m (16,076 ft) above its plateau base. Think about that: that’s five vertical kilometres of straight-up mountain! As with most things of immensity, you cannot fully appreciate the scale of the mountain from afar. It’s only when you’re on the mountain itself, taking step after step to climb to the summit, that its wild size comes fully home to you.
Kilimanjaro National Park is located in the northeast of Tanzania, in eastern Africa. You can see it in the top-right corner in the map below.
As the map shows, the quickest way to reach Kilimanjaro National Park is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport. The drive to the park from the airport is 75 km and takes about 90 minutes.
You could also opt to drive there from Julius Nyerere International Airport, Tanzania’s main airport. The airport is just outside of Dar es Salaam, the country’s largest city, which sits on the coast in the east of the country. Dar es Salaam is over 500 km south of Kilimanjaro National Park, and takes about nine hours to reach by car.
Alternatively, you could fly into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. The drive south is just 200 km, but you will, of course, have to get a Kenyan visa and deal with border control when entering Tanzania.
If you choose to climb Kilimanjaro with Follow Alice, we’ll fetch you from Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO).
Most people heading to Kilimanjaro National Park stay in the city of Arusha, or the town of Moshi. You don’t actually stay inside the park, except when climbing Kilimanjaro.
As you can see in the map, Moshi is very close to the park, especially if you use the park’s southern entrance. Arusha is over two hours away by car, but many find it to be a good base for both visiting both Kilimanjaro and the safari parks of Tanzania’s Northern Circuit.
We host clients in both Moshi and Arusha, depending on their needs. The lodges we visit are beautifully situated and comfortable, and the offer outdoor swimming pools and lounging areas, which are especially welcome after the major exertions of a Kilimanjaro trek!
During the trek itself, climbers stay either in tented camps or huts. The tents are provided by your tour operator, while the huts are large, permanent structures supplied by the park. The huts are only available along the Marangu route, which is the original trail up the mountain. Along the other trails, you must camp. Operators provide their trekkers with sleeping tents, a mess tent, and a toilet tent.
We’ve found that sitting around a campfire after a hard day of trekking is one of the highlights of a Kilimanjaro climb. Our awesome mountain crew sets up camp and cooks your dinner while you chill in a chair with a drink and soak in the view!
Tanzania is a pretty safe country to visit. Like most countries, the cities pose a few more dangers like theft and pickpockets. But when you head to the country and parks, like Kilimanjaro National Park, you’re pretty safe. This is a region dedicated to eco tourism, and you’ll find the people are friendly, welcoming and helpful.
Mt Kilimanjaro is an inactive volcano that hasn’t erupted in 200 years. It’s also a non-technical mountain, meaning you don’t need any mountaineering experience or equipment to hike it. All you need are warm clothes, a good pair of hiking boots, strong legs and determination. The climb is arduous and will test your mettle!
The biggest risk in climbing Kilimanjaro is the possibility of developing altitude sickness. However, you can take precautions against this. Firstly, you can choose one of the Kilimanjaro routes with a good acclimatisation profile. One of our favourite routes is the Lemosho, as it’s both beautiful and a good acclimatisation route.
Secondly, you can add to your safety on the mountain by trekking with a reputable tour operator. Good Kilimanjaro tour operators hire qualified staff and offer them regular training. This training includes how to detect, assess and treat symptoms of altitude sickness.
At Follow Alice, safety is a priority. Chris Sichalwe is our head trek guide on all of our Kilimanjaro climbs. Chris has been climbing the mountain for many, many years, and has been rated among the top 10 Kilimanjaro trek guides. He leads a friendly, reliable and well-trained team.
There are five climate zones in Kilimanjaro National Park. These zones change the further up the mountain you go. Here are the zones, from lowest to highest …
The lower climate zone of Kilimanjaro National Park is a bushland zone that has been given over to coffee and banana cultivation. Kilimanjaro is famous for its single-origin coffee, and plantation tours are a popular outing among visitors to the region.
The people living on the southern and eastern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro are the Chaga, a prosperous, Bantu-speaking group. To the west and north are the famous Masai people (more on them later). And also to the north are the Ongamo, a people group numbering in the single thousands. They speak mostly Machame, which is the name that’s been given to one of the Kilimanjaro routes.
This isn’t a section of the park that many trekkers walk when climbing Mt Kilimanjaro -– instead, the trails start higher up the mountain. Your tour operator will drive you to the start of your chosen trail.
The forest zone often comes as a surprise to many who don’t realise that the base of Mt Kilimanjaro is ringed by a beautiful rainforest. The forest is thicker and lusher on the south and east sides of the mountains, which experience more rain. You can expect large, gnarled trees that are covered in moss, as well as thick undergrowth, plenty of creepers and lively streams.
There are many flowers to enjoy at this elevation, but of particular note is the Kilimanjaro impatiens. This beautiful, red-and-yellow flower can be found nowhere else in the world – it lives only in the forest at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro!
During the day it can get pretty hot, in the forest. Many trekkers top to walk this section of the trail in shorts and a shirt.
The Afro-alpine moorland zone (also known as the heather zone) is a special zone. We say this because while it boasts less biodiversity than the forest, you find an assortment of truly unusual vegetation here. In this zone you’re above the trees of the forest, walking along rocky paths among beautiful grasses, giant heathers, red-hot pokers, and yellow proteas.
Notably, this is the elevation where you start to encounter top-heavy giant groundsels. Giant groundsels can grow up to 5 m, and sprout small yellow flowers at the top. Then there’s also the giant lobelias, each of which has a strikingly large and fat infloresence (or ‘column’) growing out of a spiky rosette base.
Mist often covers this belt of the mountain in the mornings. The sun can be brutal during the day, while the nights can drop to freezing. And the wind is often very strong.
The alpine (or highland) desert zone is very inhospitable, and you start to feel like a properly hardcore trekker up here. The plants living in this heart of this zone are tough cookies, as they have to put up with the blazing sun in the day and sub-zero temperatures at night. And almost no rain. You’ll find mostly hardy grasses, lichens and mosses.
The odd eland (a large antelope) might make its way up here on occasion, but basically don’t expect to see any wildlife up in this zone.
In the arctic zone at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, it’s all snow, ice and scree. The top of Mt Kilimanjaro contains three volcanic cones:
You also have the truly beautiful Furtwangler Glacier at the top of Kilimanjaro. The glacier is a remnant of the ice cap that covered the entire mountaintop a century ago. The summit of Kilimanjaro experiences nighttime temperatures of -7 to -29 °C. Arctic, indeed.
In lower zones of Kilimanjaro National Park there’s a diversity of animals, though many are very hard to spot. Most people heading to Kilimanjaro National Park are going there to climb the mountain, and so game spotting isn’t the major focus. We recommend going on a Tanzania safari in one of the other major national parks to satisfy your wildlife quotient!
That said, you are likely to see blue monkeys (they’re not blue!) and black and white colobus monkeys in the forest of Kilimanjaro. The other animals in the park that only a few lucky souls manage to spot are elephants, buffaloes, black rhinos, giraffes, leopards, hyenas, baboons, dik-diks, duikers, bush buck, aardvarks, mongooses, porcupine, honey badgers.
Most of the animals live in the lower two zones of the park, but klipspringers can sometimes be seen in the moorland zone. At night, the bush babies (galagos) and tree hyraxes (daisies) come out, and you might hear the screeches of the hyraxes from camp.
Kilimanjaro National Park also has abundant birdlife. There are 179 bird species, to be precise. And with the birds, unlike the animals, you’re likely to get your fill and more on the trek up the mountain!
The bigger birds to keep your eyes open for are vultures, buzzards and white-necked ravens and hornbills. Smaller birds to look for are various colourful turacos (lauries), hornbills, cuckoos, starlings, shrikes, barbets, chats, woodpeckers, bee-eaters, sunbirds and flycatchers. You can also find kingfishers here, including the impossibly pretty African pygmy kingfisher. And finally, the ‘holy grail’ of African birds is here too: the beautifully coloured African pitta.
We simply love leading groups of trekkers up Mt Kilimanjaro! It’s what started us in this business, after all. Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is a life-changing experience. You meet people from around the world and form special bonds. You challenge yourself mentally and physically. You climb above the clouds and witness expansive, awe-inspiring views. And you achieve something you’ll feel proud of for the rest of your life!
There are currently seven routes you can choose from to reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. Each route has its own pros and cons, like how well it helps your body to acclimatise to the altitude, how varied the scenery is and how many days it takes.
As you can see in the map below, the routes leading up Kilimanjaro come from all sides of the mountain.
No. For starters, that wouldn’t be safe! But one of the main reasons is that the Tanzania Government doesn’t allow it. You can only climb Mt Kilimanjaro with a registered tour operator. Your tour operator provides you with a climbing crew, which includes a trek guide, cook and porters.
Choosing a tour operator is an important decision. You want an operator that is reputable, reliable, experienced, and offers value for money. Read about the different types of Kilimanjaro tour operators and how much it costs to climb Kilimanjaro.
Deciding when to climb Mt Kilimanjaro is an important decision. We discuss the best time to climb Kilimanjaro here. We also offer Kilimanjaro full moon climbs, which let you summit the mountain below the glow of a full moon – truly amazing!!
The video below offers you a glimpse into the exciting adventure that is climbing Mt Kilimanjaro!
Trekking Mt Kilimanjaro isn’t the only reason for visiting Kilimanjaro National Park. You can also go mountain biking in the park, for starters, and some even cycle to the top! Other activities include:
It’s worth noting that there are seven entrances to the park. The park’s HQ is at Marangu Gate, but visitors can enter the park through any of the gates.
Kilimanjaro National Park is reason enough on its own to travel to northern Tanzania. But fortunately, it’s not the only strong pull in the area. In fact, northern Tanzania has an almost greedy share of attractions! Most importantly, it’s home to world-class safari destinations like the Serengeti National Park. The game reserves in the region contain a super abundance of wildlife, including the Big Five.
You absolutely cannot go to Tanzania without going on safari!
Serengeti National Park is famous for being the home of the Great Migration, an annual, millions-strong migration of wildebeests, zebras and other antelopes. It’s the ultimate African safari destination!
Another favourite destination in northern Tanzania is Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera in the world. The Ngorongoro Crater is a true wildlife sanctuary, with countless animals living undisturbed within the crater walls and valley floor. It’s also a breathtaking sight, unlike any other anywhere in the world.
Even closer to Mt Kilimanjaro National Park are two smaller – but truly fantastic – parks that we highly recommend: Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park. These parks have an incredible density of elephants, for one thing, and are also home to tree-climbing lions. They offer less-crowded safaris, as well as beautiful scenery.
The Maasai people of northern Tanzania offer visitors community experiences that introduce you to their unique and rich culture. As part of the experience you can watch a performance of their traditional jumping dance, learn about their culture and way of life, and more. It’s an incredibly enriching experience.
The video below provides a sneak peak of the exciting animals and scenes that await you on a safari holiday in northern Tanzania!
If you’d like to know more about Kilimanjaro National Park, or climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, we’re here to help! Check out our wealth of online Kilimanjaro resources, watch one of our YouTube videos, look at our climb Kilimanjaro trip page, or simply drop us a line. Let’s connect. 😀Share this tour
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