The different routes of Kilimanjaro
You might think that once you’ve made the decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, there’s not much else you have to do other than book a flight to Tanzania and join your tour group for the trek. You will, however, need to decide which of the six routes on Kilimanjaro that you want to take.
As each of these has its own characteristics and can show you a very different side to the mountain, it’s worth taking a bit of time to research your options. To help you out, here’s an overview of each of the trails – you can find more information about itineraries here.
As the only track to approach Kilimanjaro from the north, the Rongai route is very isolated. It’s also relatively quiet, so you won’t meet lots of other hikers as you climb. What makes this particular option stand out is that it doesn’t join any of the other trails until the summit attempt itself, so it’s ideal if you’re after a real wilderness experience.
Following this path also means you get to cross the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi, which is a surreal lunar-like landscape that’s unlike anything else you’ll come across on the mountain.
The Shira route is one of two to approach Uhuru Peak from the west and is a beautiful path that crosses the Shira plateau and takes you through various landscapes on your way to the summit. The trail is very similar to the route taken by Lemosho (more on that in a minute), but is not one of the more frequented options.
This is largely because it starts at a high altitude (3, 600 m), which doesn’t allow as much time for acclimatisation. Of course, this does depend on your tour operator, as some of the companies that use the Shira route will include acclimatisation walks in their schedule and therefore extend the amount of time you spend on the mountain.
This trail is often considered to be the improved version of Shira, because it starts at a much lower altitude and has excellent acclimatisation opportunities throughout the hike. It takes longer to climb Kilimanjaro on this track than some of the others, but it’s worth it to not only give you time to enjoy the scenery, but to also improve your chances of success by acclimatising properly.
Umbwe is the least-used trail on Kilimanjaro and is generally not recommended for anyone except experienced and fit mountaineers. This is because it is a very direct track to the summit and sees you gain altitude very quickly – something that significantly reduces your chances of success if you’re not properly prepared.
As it’s so steep, it’s considered to be the most difficult way to climb Kilimanjaro, which means it doesn’t appeal to the majority of trekkers.
Machame approaches the summit from the south-west and is one of the most popular trails on Kilimanjaro. It’s also known as the whiskey route and is generally considered to be quite a tough trek due to its steep paths and the long days that hikers have to put in.
Because of the high volume of traffic, it’s not ideal for anyone who’s looking for a wilderness experience during their climb up Kilimanjaro.
The Marangu path has earned itself the nickname of the Coca-Cola route because it is the most commercialised of all of Kilimanjaro’s paths. It’s the only track you can take that will see you sleeping in huts, rather than under canvas, and it’s usually quite busy, which again diminishes its appeal for anyone who wants to enjoy the isolation of being on Kilimanjaro’s slopes.
This is also the only route that uses the same path for the ascent and descent, making it the least varied of all of Kilimanjaro’s trails.