Whether you come to climb it or simply to gaze in awe at this remarkable, snowcapped equatorial mountain, drawing near to Mt Kilimanjaro is one of the great experiences of African travel. And for once in Tanzania, visiting Mt Kilimanjaro National Park, the protected area that surrounds the mountain, is not about the wildlife.
At the heart of the park are the 5896m Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and one of the continent’s most magnificent sights. It’s also one of the world’s highest volcanoes, and the highest free-standing mountain on earth, rising from cultivated farmlands on the lower slopes, through lush rainforest to alpine meadows, and finally across a lunar landscape to the twin summits of Kibo and Mawenzi.
Kilimanjaro’s third volcanic cone, Shira, is on the mountain’s western side. The lower rainforest is home to many animals, including buffaloes, elephants, leopards, and monkeys, and elands are occasionally seen in the saddle area between Kibo and Mawenzi.
A hike up Kili lures around 25,000 trekkers every year, in part because it’s possible to walk to the summit without ropes or technical climbing experience. Non-technical, however, doesn’t mean easy.
The climb is a serious and expensive undertaking, and only worth doing with the right preparation. There are also many opportunities to explore the mountain’s lower slopes and to learn about the Masaai and the Chagga, two of the main tribes in the area.
If you’re interested in reaching the top, seriously consider adding at least one extra day on to the standard climb itineraries.
Although the extra cost may seem a lot when you’re planning your trip, it will seem insignificant later on if you’ve gone to the expense and effort of starting a trek and then can’t reach the top. Don’t feel bad about insisting on an extra day with the trekking companies: standard medical advice is to increase the sleeping altitude by only 300m per day once you’re above 3000m; this is about a third of the daily altitude gains above 3000m on the standard Kili-climb routes offered by most operators. Also keep in mind that trekkers spend about eight to nine days reaching Mt Everest base camp, which is approximately 500m lower than the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.
There are seven main trekking routes to the summit. Trekkers on all but the Marangu route must use tents.
Officially, a limit of 60 climbers per route per day is in effect on Kilimanjaro. It’s not always enforced, except on the Marangu route, which is self-limiting because of maximum hut capacities.
A trek on this route is typically sold as a four-night, five-day return package, although at least one extra night is highly recommended to help you acclimatize, especially if you’ve just flown into Tanzania or arrived from the lowlands.
This increasingly popular route has a gradual ascent, including a spectacular day contouring the southern slopes before approaching the summit via the top section of the Mweka route. Usually a six-or seven-day return.
Steeper and with a more direct way to the summit than the other routes; very enjoyable if you can resist the temptation to gain altitudes too quickly (aim for at least a six-day return). Although this route is direct, the top, very steep section up the Western Breach is often covered in ice or snow, which makes it impassable or extremely dangerous. Many trekkers who attempt it without proper acclimatization are forced to turn back. An indication of its seriousness is that until fairly recently the Western Breach was considered a technical mountaineering route. Only consider this route if you’re experienced, properly equipped, and traveling with a reputable operator.
Shira Plateau Route
This route is scenic and good for avoiding crowds but can be challenging for acclimatization as it begins at 3600m at the Shira Track trailhead. To counteract this, an extra day at Shira Hut is recommended. Better choose the Lemosho Route, which is essentially the same, but with the advantage that it starts lower at Londorosi gate and is normally done in eight days (rather than six or seven for Shira Plateau).
On the western side of the mountain, this is arguably the best all-round route for scenery and acclimatization. It starts with two days in the forest before crossing the Shira Plateau and then joining up with the Machame route.
Accommodation In Kilimanjaro
Hotel Aishi Machame
Arguably the most upmarket option in the Machame /Moshi area, this former outpost of the South African Protea chain has good midrange rooms with comfortable beds and plenty of space.
At an altitude of 1300m and close to Kilimanjaro’s Machame gate, this German-run place opened in 2012 and has a refreshingly contemporary Bauhaus architectural style, comprising a restful grey cube-like structures. Rooms have abundant glass, the color scheme is muted but very modern, and the setting amid palm trees and lush gardens is as lovely as the rest of the place.
This tented camp is a wonderful escape from the safari circuit. Set on a steep hillside, the seven tents have splendid views of Kilimanjaro and down into the Amboseli ecosystem of southern Kenya. The camp’s décor is inspired by Hemingway’s love for a classic safari camp, and the sense of luxury and blissful isolation make this a fabulous experience.
This ranch is a lovely 15-tent camp run by the Kili Conservancy, makes a comfortable base for safaris and walks. The sophisticated and spacious permanent tents occupy a lovely woodland area close to the banks of the Ngare Nairobi River amid stands of yellow-barked acacias.