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Base Camp’s midnight black air is tinged with brisk cold, and the murmuring of unspoken nervousness turns into the sound of precisely paced footsteps on a dusky wall of a volcanic mastiff, decorated in a coil of headlamps. Climbing Kilimanjaro, an unpredictable and often unforgiving journey through the elements, comes down to this singular, extraordinary moment in time – reaching the highest point on the African continent.
By 6:30 am we emerge upon a plateau lit by the yellowing blue of early dawn, covered in the echoes of exhausted cheers, boots on crunching snow and the whirl of treacherous icy winds. Uhuru Peak, where the famed wooden sign congratulatory places you at Kilimanjaro’s Summit, is a fuzzy blur through frosty tears. We’ve trekked up the bouldering mastiff for seven tiresome hours and sobbing is the natural release. I flitter simultaneously between feeling painfully fatigued and speechlessly overjoyed – an incredible odyssey of emotions standing on the magnificent snow cone of the Kibo volcanic crater and looking out across the world.
- The Honest Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro
- Trekking Kilimanjaro – Technical Questions Answered
- Kilimanjaro Routes – Which One to Choose?
- Choosing a Kilimanjaro Trek Tour
- Day-to-Day Kilimanjaro Trekking Guide – Lemosho Route
- Day 1: Moshi to Lemosho Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp
- Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp to Shira 1 Camp
- Day 3: Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp – Extra Acclimatisation
- Day 4: Shira 2 Camp to Barranco Camp
- Day 5: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp (Via the Barranco Wall)
- Day 6: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp – Summit Night
- Day 7: Barafu Camp to Summit to Mweka Camp
- Day 8: Mweka Camp to Moshi
- Preparing and Training for Kilimanjaro
- Kilimanjaro Trekking Tips
- What to Pack for Kilimanjaro
- Overall, Is the Kilimanjaro Climb Worth It?
- What to Do After Climbing Kilimanjaro? Beach and Safari
- Kilimanjaro Lemosho Trek: Snapshot
The Honest Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro is unsurpassable. Africa’s tallest mountain at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet) is Tanzania’s centrepiece and an icon of the continent. The proclaimed ‘Roof of Africa’ is the highest single freestanding mountain in the world and attracts those wanting to climb it, stand upon the great extremities of a dormant volcano and witness views extended from the sky.
There’s no denying the trek to Kilimanjaro is demanding work and an endurance test that is not the equal sum of exhausting and euphoric. Each day of climbing Kilimanjaro takes you slowly through a layered, five-tier geographical system from warm, dense rainforest to wind piercing desolate rocky desert hinterland to the snow-bound, glacier-capped crater summit with bitter minus temperature chill.
Summit night is the most gruelling and painful thing you will likely ever undertake on a commercial climb, yet every slow step that bears the weight of your lagging body is one closer to the goal and disappears as soon as you reach that famed board on the peak of the crater top. Agony fades in minutes with the awe and accomplishment it brings.
The Kilimanjaro trek is one that is only fully understood once completed – some aspects of the participation can never be so accurately put into words. The overall experience is achievable with the right planning and a responsible team of people and makes an inconceivable life goal a lifelong memory.
I’m here to ensure you have everything you need in this mammoth Kilimanjaro guide, following my journey on the Lemosho Route. All things to thoroughly plan your trip, manage your expectations, calm your nerves and get you ready to complete your biggest and greatest adventure, but with an honest dose of caution and reality.
Trekking Kilimanjaro – Technical Questions Answered
Many questions dominate your mind before deciding on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and that’s normal. Safety should be at the fore, as well as understanding the reality of the undertaking to prepare appropriately. Ego has no place on this mountain.
How Difficult Is the Kilimanjaro Trek?
Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is moderately difficult and requires a reasonable degree of physical fitness, like any multi-day hike at altitude. It helps if you have hiked before, as well as having trained beforehand, especially to build some stamina.
Despite a high, rocky wall-climb and steep sections, there are no technical climbing skills needed, such as the use of ropes, harnesses and crampons.
Kilimanjaro is an intense and compounded expedition set to a disciplined pace, rather than a gentle ramble through a national park. Everyone in my group found different days difficult and what’s a breeze for one is the worst day for another. Overall, with each day carefully paced, it’s more physically exhausting because of altitude, rather than distance, and you have no control when your body decides what to make of a particular trail that day.
Summit night on Kilimanjaro is tough and incomparable to anything I have ever undertaken. It was the most challenging, most gruelling element of a trek I’ve ever experienced. A 1500m ascent that takes over six hours in darkness and potentially treacherous conditions, followed by a 3000m journey down to a lower basecamp at safer altitude is something that ravages your body since you will be trekking around 16 hours on this day.
Anybody who says summit night and day is easy is lying, and it’s disingenuous not to be upfront about how wreaking that part of the trek is.
How Long Is the Kilimanjaro Hike?
Depending on which route you take, it can take between six to nine days to climb Kilimanjaro, from the starting gate to leaving the national park.
Tackling this climb any quicker should be avoided – treks are precisely paced and planned over more extended periods for your safety in adjusting to the altitude, having plenty of rest and being able to climb and then sleep at lower levels.
How High Is Kilimanjaro & How Much of It Do You Climb?
Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru summit – your ultimate goal – stands at 5,895 meters. At its lowest level, Moshi is 700m above sea level.
A small bus, dedicated for your trek team and your gear, drops you off at Londorosi Gate at 2250m, where you sign in, before transporting you to your starting gate. From the start gate to Summit, you climb the entire way.
I started at Lemosho Gate (for the start of the Lemosho Route) at 2100m, taking seven days to climb a difference in altitude of around 3,795m safely.
When Is the Best Time to Climb Kilimanjaro?
There are two windows deemed to be the best time to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, which correspond to the driest months of the year, and with warmer temperatures:
- December to March
- June to October
The busiest times for trekking groups within those two windows are:
- January to February
- August to September
The wettest months are:
- April and May
There is no particular ‘best month’. Friends who trekked two months before me in December faced rain every day yet lucked out with a gorgeously clear, blue-skied, sunny Summit. In February, I experienced daily trails in sunshine and light chill and spontaneous showers, yet Summit was a treacherous and icy -20 degrees.
In short, even in the dry season window you are more or less guaranteed to experience all four seasons trekking to Summit.
How Cold Can It Get on Kilimanjaro?
The mountain, with its five different geographical systems, means you’ll pass a full spectrum of humid tropics to minus temperatures, regardless of what time of the year you visit.
Nights are chilly and sometimes in the low minus figures, even if the day is relatively mild. The Uhuru Point Summit can get as bitter as -20 degrees. We experienced -10 degree with -10 degree wind chill on the very top.
How Dangerous Is Kilimanjaro?
There’s no denying trekking Kilimanjaro carries with it a certain streak of dangerous territory since it is an extreme altitude mountain trek. And while not technical, it’s sheer height levels it on the side of heavy precaution.
While ‘how many people die on Kilimanjaro?’ is not the thing to Google before you go, it does pay to be aware of the low ratio of extreme cases concerning the overall amount of people who trek. Over 30,000 people trek Kilimanjaro every year. Out of that, park reports state around 1,000 evacuations from the mountain and an average of ten deaths, attributed to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), known more commonly as Altitude Sickness.
With the right trekking group and guides, your health and wellbeing will be monitored every step of the way, including being brought down to lower altitude quickly if you do get sick. You will soon notice when your guides are in high alert mode and how instantly they can detect changes in the behaviour and feeling of trekkers. They are your lifelines to a successful Summit.
Kilimanjaro Routes – Which One to Choose?
There are seven ways to get up Kilimanjaro, passing from forest to moorland, alpine desert and rocky hinterland to ice glaciers and snow at the Summit.
There are four distinct Kilimanjaro routes you will be choosing from, with varying levels of difficulty and comfort, the means to acclimatise and the average success rate, alongside the desire to hike in a shorter amount of time or without the crowds.
Marangu – Oldest and Fastest
The Marangu Route is known as the “Coca Cola Route” because it is the oldest and most trodden trail. It is also the only route to offer the ‘comforts’ of wooden hut accommodation with dozens of bunks, instead of camping. However, due to the faster ascent to the Summit, the success rate is not as high as the other routes.
- Southeastern slope: 72 km gate-to-gate
- Days trekking: 5 days
- Average summit success rate: 50%
Macheme – Most Popular and Challenging
The famed and popular scenic trail is the Machame Route, a six-day circuit affectionately known as the “Whiskey Route” because it’s a tough challenge, while also giving a better window of time for acclimatisation by hiking to high altitudes and sleeping low.
- Southwestern slope: 62 km gate-to-gate
- Days trekking: 6 days
- Average summit success rate: 85%
Lemosho – Most Beautiful and Highest Success Rate
I choose to trek the Lemosho Route for three reasons. It is considered one of the most beautiful trails with some of the best mountain vistas en route. There are fewer people, with Lemosho following a similar pathway to the Shira route and taking a slight detour to the Machame Route early on. Notably, the extra trekking time gives a much higher success rate of reaching the summit due to better altitude acclimatisation.
- Western slope: 70 km gate-to-gate
- Days trekking: 8 days
- Average summit success rate: 90%
Rongai – Most Remote and Gentle
The Rongai Route begins on the drier, northern slope of the mountain close to the Kenyan border and descends via the Marangu Route. Considered to be the most remote and gentle in its ascent, it’s also the only Kili route where you get to camp beside the only lake on the mountain.
- Northern-eastern slope: 72 km gate-to-gate
- Days trekking: 6 days
- Average summit success rate: 80%
Northern Circuit – Newest and Longest
The Northern Circuit is one of the newer trails and the longest, allowing for a higher success rate to the Summit. At the time of writing, not many operators offer this route yet, so there’s not as much known about it to make a substantial insight.
- Northern slope: 98 km gate-to-gate
- Days trekking: 9 days
- Average summit success rate: 95%
Umbwe – Most Demanding and Technical
The Umbwe Route is only for experienced climbers, and for that reason, you will rarely find it listed as an option with a lot of responsible tour operators. This route is the most technical and challenging of all and has a lower success rate because the rigorous steep climbs provide an inadequate means to acclimatise.
- Southern slope: 53 km gate-to-gate
- Days trekking: 6 days
- Average summit success rate: 60%
Mweka – Emergency and Exit Route
The Mweka Route is the exit path you take to leave Kilimanjaro National Park on the Macheme and Lemosho trek routes after summiting Uhuru Peak. We slept at Mweka Camp after the long summit day and trekked a short path down to Mweka gate the following morning.
Porters more commonly use it as a quicker route in for extra supplies or emergencies.
What Is the Easiest Route up Kilimanjaro?
I would choose between Macheme, as it is the most set and practised route, and Lemosho because of the extra time for acclimatisation, which is essential for summit success.
Choosing a Kilimanjaro Trek Tour
Now you have a better idea of which route you want to take, the next most crucial decision is with which tour operator to book your trek. With dozens of companies out there running variations of trips for hiking Kilimanjaro, it can be overwhelming.
Here are some questions you should be asking and what kinds of things you need to research and know before making your final choice.
Ethical Treatment of Guides and Porters
It is paramount to choose a company with the right ethical approach to the work practices, conditions and wellbeing of its guides and porters. Are they paid well? Are they able to climb with the proper footwear and clothing? Are there enough porters for the size of the group, or are they being made to carry more than they should?
You’ll see plenty of porters without decent gear, or pushed physically beyond a healthy means. Many trekkers end up donating some of their equipment and clothing to the porters after the trip. Make sure your tourism dollars are contributing to a decent wage and fair treatment. These guys are absolute warriors.
Experience and Success Rates
Your success at getting to Summit isn’t only about your physical fitness and your luck at the time with how altitude treats you.
It’s also about having a superb team with you who know how to read the mountain terrain and weather predictions and guiding each day precisely.
It’s about a team that knows how to read every passenger and immediately notice any changes that could compromise their health and safety.
It’s about guides who are with you every step of the way and don’t trek ahead and leave you behind, which I saw many times in other groups we passed.
It’s about having someone watch out for you, one-on-one, during summit night, noting your every move and feeling to ensure you make it to the top.
A Low Price Doesn’t Always Equate to the Best Service
Booking a Kilimanjaro trek isn’t cheap, and there’s a reason for that. Hired guides and porters ensure your safety at the risk of their own lives and should be paid fairly, and then there’s the cost of transport, equipment, permits, food and amenities.
Therefore, you must never compromise on the above things by being blinded by a lower price.
Is the equipment in good shape? Some treks with lower prices don’t have the best equipment, such as tents and tables, or a decent standard of food.
What size of the trekking group? Treks can have a lower price because of larger trekking groups sizes. Ideally, you want no more than 10-12 in your group to ensure you receive due care and attention.
Is anything extra included in the price of your tour? Check if the cost consists of a pre and post-trek hotel stay.
Is the trekking time shorter? Mostly, lower prices are because the tours claim to get you to Summit quicker, where the recognised minimum amount of time is short by one day. This reduction of time is a huge red flag and compromises on essential acclimatisation days needed for your safety on the mountain.
Finding Responsible Kilimanjaro Trek Experts
Climbing Kilimanjaro with G Adventures
I travelled with G Adventures because they are world-leading Kilimanjaro trek experts, with a continuous and high summit success rate amongst the 1,500 trekkers who trek with G every year.
As one of their Wanderers ambassadors, I also travel with them to highlight responsible travel practices and where tourism money and method is for social good.
If you look on the Kilimanjaro trek tour pages, you will see there is a ‘Ripple Score’ – an audit of the money spent on tours in each destination. It looks at components such as transport, accommodation, food and activities to track the percentage of what money is spent locally and kept in the community.
All four G Adventures Kilimanjaro trek tours score 100%. Therefore, alongside a high success rate, you also know exactly how far your money is going. You become part of the collective commitment to supporting the locals in Tanzania when you undertake this trek of a lifetime.
Trekking group and the “G Fighters” team – How it worked
An outstanding team of 35 guides and porters accompanied the 11 trekkers in our group. Every day the ‘G Fighters’ (as is the affectionate name given to them) carried all our camping equipment, mess tents, food, water and a 10kg bag from each person. It would have been 33, but with a unanimous agreement to hire a portable toilet for the duration of the trek at an extra cost, we were able to employ two extra porters.
The porters are an invaluable part of your trek experience. By the time you are ready to leave camp, they’ve packed it down. By the time you’ve reached the next camp, hours behind them, it is set up and waiting for you. Some would even walk back on the track to come and meet us, take our daypack from us if we were tired, and show us to our tents.
Every morning they brought us a hot drink and “washy washy” hot water. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were hearty, well made, tasty and focused on maximum energy supply.
Incredibly, on Summit night, we were each paired with a guide or one of the most robust porters who would look out for us from start to finish in the return loop from Basecamp.
How Much Does It Cost to Climb Kilimanjaro?
Trek prices start from €2000-€2500 for the Marangu and Macheme routes. Since they are the shortest routes, they tend to be on the lower end of the cost scale.
The Lemosho trek will set you back closer to €3000 as the tour is much longer, and therefore more staff need to be on the ground, and more essentials such as food are required.
The cost to trek Rongai is approximately €2400 – somewhere in the middle of the trek price spectrum.
Costs include Kilimanjaro National Park entry permit fees, camping permit fees and the permit fees for porters, cooks and guides and the hotel stay either side. The majority of your money pays the wages of your mighty expert team, although you should also tip them at the end of the trip.
Can You Climb Kilimanjaro Without a Guide?
To climb Kilimanjaro, you have to be accompanied by a licensed guide, as well as legally follow one of the set routes on the mountain.
This rule, administered by the Tanzanian government and Kilimanjaro National Park Authority, became mandatory in 1991 for the protection of both the environment and yourself.
Don’t think trying to skirt this is possible either, as these rules are heavily enforced and monitored. At every camp, you will sign in and list your details, which includes the name of your guide and tour company. Everyone also has to sign in and out of the National Park with his or her trekking guides present.
Your entire teams of guides and porters are essential to the success of your trek. If your ego is too big for this realisation, then trekking Kilimanjaro isn’t for you.
Day-to-Day Kilimanjaro Trekking Guide – Lemosho Route
Dramatically scenic as it is demanding, this is an overview of trekking on the Lemosho Route and what to expect on this incredible journey on Kilimanjaro’s lesser-taken trail.
Day 1: Moshi to Lemosho Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp
- 3 hours trekking
- Sleep at 2750m
The first day begins by driving through the villages and lowlands of the Cultivation Zone to the to Londorosi Gate at 2250m where each person in the group must sign in, as do the guides and porters as part of the legal registering of entry to Kilimanjaro National Park.
It’s an excitable atmosphere as small buses of trekking groups enter the gate. Everyone looks fresh, pumped and eager and a little nervous as the conversation between random groups turn to tips and the wishing of luck – you’ll be passing each other many times on this adventure.
Checked in and official, you then get driven to Lemosho Gate at 2100m, for the start of the Lemosho Trail. As the porters unload from the buses and your guides make their official introductions, trepidations intertwine with excitement. There’s no turning back and the time has finally come to take on this challenge.
Starting easy, this is a short trekking day to get used to a pace and rhythm, passing through lightly humid Montana Forest, whose pathways cut through the thick, emerald green vegetation of the Rainforest Zone, home to the black and white Colobus monkeys. Arriving at Mti Mkubwa Campsite, it time to get used to camp life ahead.
Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp to Shira 1 Camp
- 6 hours of trekking
- Highest point 3,800m, sleep at 3,610m.
Our wake up call is 6.20 am, for a 7:30 am breakfast, and 8:00 am departure from camp. Every morning will begin this early to ensure optimal climbing conditions.
Day two is strenuous but comfortably paced as you head deeper into the Montana Forest for the first 2.5 hours of trekking. Leaving the forest of Kilimanjaro National Park, you then climb into the drier, grassy region and over the Shira ridge on high, rocky paths that form a spine locally dubbed ‘Elephant’s Back’.
It’s a perfect rest stop, with panoramic vistas across the plains of Kilimanjaro, and time to acclimatize at a higher level, before the descent to the Shira Plateau and the trickling stream-side Shira 1 Camp in the Moorland Zone.
Day 3: Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp – Extra Acclimatisation
- 3 hours of trekking
- Sleep at 3,850m
Today is a moderate trek across the Shira plateau, across an expanse of wildflowers and scattered boulders with a view of Kibo peak. The tricky part comes at the end with a taxing and sharp rocky push to Shira 2 Camp.
Following lunch its time for a 1-2 hour acclimatisation walk in the area – a chance to see Shira Cathedral where tribes used to perform sacrifices (that stopped once the mountain became a national park).
Day 4: Shira 2 Camp to Barranco Camp
- 6 hours of trekking
- Highest point 4,600m, sleep at 3,995m
It’s a long, arduous three to four-hour 7km climb to the Lava tower through rocky scree and into the Alpine Desert Zone. A hinterland with scattered boulders dusted with orange moss that turns to a greying moonscape. A burial ground for dead butterflies flown off course and swept here to meet their end.
Lunch at the Lava Tower’s mighty 4,600m is also a spot for acclimatisation – a marker of accomplishment that you’ve made it this far, a little beaten but still determined.
The two-hour descent begins with a staircase of lofty rocks, which widens to the rock-strewn, Great Barranco Valley, dotted with quirky, thick-trunked trees with foliage nests and a lowland shrouded in mist. At Barranco Camp, you sleep elevated on a perch, with the valley to one side, and the mighty cliff face of the Barranco Wall on the other.
Day 5: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp (Via the Barranco Wall)
- 4-5 hours of trekking
- 5km of trekking
- Sleep at 3,995m
There’s a lot of scaremongering about the Great Barranco Wall that you must climb and clamber up to get further into the Alpine Desert of Kilimanjaro and the expanse of the Karanga Valley.
The colossal volcanic façade stands before you in the early morning light as you watch tiny coloured specks move up like a line of ants, while your guide insists not to think about it too much. The Barranco Wall looms at 257m high and getting to its cloud encased flat top is a feat of endurance, balance, strength and the ability to see it as a fun escapade.
It’s one of the most lively and enjoyable parts of the trek – a morning of rock climbing at the hands of guides who are experts in its orientation who will push-pull and aid you with your Spiderman experience. Don’t believe the clickbait videos – it’s unnecessary negativity that will hinder you, rather than help you.
After the wall, we took a small stone pathway down the other side of the wall plateau and another change of landscape – bobbing inclines and declines from yellowing wilderness with nothing but strewn rocks and a small line of climbers, leaving the last of the vegetation behind and willing themselves through the approaching steep and scraggy climb up to camp.
Another late afternoon acclimatisation walk rounds off the day, preparing you for the pending summit climb in a little over 24 hours.
As nerves begin to brew at camp, and dinner conversation turns more and more to the Summit, the G Fighters put on a show of song and dance to lift our spirits, louder and prouder than anyone else on the site.
Day 6: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp – Summit Night
- 3-4 hours of trekking
- 4,672m at Base Camp
Today is the day that you reach Kilimanjaro Base Camp – a rigorous trek through the alpine desert up to Barafu Camp, splayed out like a tented trekking Kingdom full of eager explorers.
Even walking through Barafu Camp to our patch was an expedition of over 20 minutes. Base Camp is enormous, and you can feel the collective nervousness across the outcrop, as we all wait until close to Midnight to begin the most significant climb of this trip.
Following an early dinner, we get to bed earlier than usual, to prepare for the 10 pm wake up call, for warm drinks and snack fuelling and an 11 pm departure for the start of the Summit attempt.
Day 7: Barafu Camp to Summit to Mweka Camp
- 6-7 hours of trekking
- 4km to Stella Point then 1km to Uhuru
- Stella point at 5,756m and Uhuru summit at 5,895m
Reaching the Summit
It’s 11 pm, and we are one of the first groups to depart Base Camp to reach the Kilimanjaro Summit in the Arctic Zone as the dawn rises to mark a new day. We’ll reach Uhuru Peak “tomorrow”, but first we must climb the 1,500m bouldering Kibo, zigzagging slowly to its icy rim and the first climbing marker of Stella Point at 5,756m.
We are lucky, having one guide assigned to each person to carefully watch our every move, step, action and behavioural changes. They say: stop, sip, eat, and slow down, now let’s keep going because it’s cold, how are you feeling. They sing Jambo, Jambo Bwana, Habari Gani, Mzuri Sana, Wageni, Wakaribishwa, Kilimanjaro, Hakuna Matata – the mountain tune that’s one part of the melodic show that accompanies you to the very end.
Maybe the pitch-blackness is deliberate, to not dramatically see the trail of the craziest incline – the wretched, most agonising climb of your life. Maybe the darkness is to cover those beset by altitude sickness – wobbling, vomiting, crying and in delirium.
You’ll be asked at Stella Point if you feel in good spirits to proceed on to the next peak. That prize peak to which your innermost stubbornness reigns victorious because of course, you would not give up now.
And for another hour you trudge through iced, rock pathways, crossing the scree and snow winding up to Uhuru Peak. Emerging in the blinding morning light as the broad, flat sweep of the flat volcanic rim stands before you – one of the most incredible open stages on planet earth.
Small crowds gather round the sign, with often only minutes to capture the moment and revel in the bewilderment of the African dawn on a 360-degree panorama, before needing to head down.
Uhuru – Mweka Camp
- 6 hours of trekking
- Sleep at 3,100m
Exhausted, elated and emotional at reaching the Summit, you can’t stay long because of the importance of getting down from high altitude. From the peak back down to Base Camp, you face a very strenuous three-hour journey that conflicts with the just experienced elation – a slippery rock slide descent on a sea of loose pebbles and volcanic sands.
What keeps you going is the slow brewing warmth of lower altitude sun and the promise that there is time to sleep a little, before continuing on.
You have another 3.5 hours of descent to Mweka Camp at 3,100m through what I call the white stone forest. A seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of uneven white rocks on a hilltop with a distant camp view that doesn’t feel like it’s inching any closer.
Day 8: Mweka Camp to Moshi
- 3-4 hours of trekking
Today is a relatively easy day as you make your way out of Kilimanjaro National Park symbolically through the downhill and flat Montana Forest from which you started your journey.
It’s a muddy trail through the lower slopes of the mountain, met with jubilation at the last wooden outpost after Mweka Gate that signposts your victory.
Before continuing to Moshi, we had lunch at Mweka village. You might recognise the worn and weary faces from that very first day, and the hurried hellos along the trails. The atmosphere is a celebration of accomplishment and survival, and a release of excess adrenalin.
Back at the hotel, the shower you take is the most glorious, indulgent shower you’ve ever had – a one-metre-squared spa. You scrub up ready for the climbing ceremony where you get your certificates, presented to you by your guides and the ‘Moshi Mamas’ of the Moshi Women’s Cooperative – a G supported community project which provides business education to local women via the funds raised through tourism.
Preparing and Training for Kilimanjaro
How Fit Do You Have to Be to Climb Kilimanjaro?
Some people join Kilimanjaro groups as first-time hikers but succeed because they are in good shape and have done the preparation. A lot of success depends on your physical condition, how your body reacts to altitude (often unpredictable) and not based on how many previous treks you have done.
How Much Training Do You Need for Kilimanjaro?
There’s no definitive answer, but many people train for 2-6 months before trekking Kilimanjaro.
We trained for two solid months since here in Austria we have more choice for different trekking ground, including steep hills and hours-long circuits with varying elevation.
Friends had blocked out time to travel to various parts of their respective countries to tackle some hikes in rugged terrain, or in the UK, for example, hiked Snowdon to get their body used to the feeling.
I also did at least two HITT workouts a week at home to build core strength and stamina, alongside the Yoga with Adriene ’30 Days of Yoga’ challenge which helped with the control overall with my breathing with the altitudes of Kilimanjaro and the rhythmic pace of each day of trekking.
We also gave up alcohol for six weeks before starting the Kili trek, although this is not essential. It was a personal choice to be in the best shape possible.
Testing your gear
The trek training period is also the prime time to break in new hiking boots, and test all of your gear, including waterproof layers, thermal layers and the weight of carrying water via hydration backpacks.
Vaccinations and Malaria Prevention
There is no risk of malaria when climbing Kilimanjaro since you won’t typically find mosquitoes above 2000m or so.
However, there is a high risk on the ground in Moshi before and after the climb.
Therefore, it becomes a precise process on when to take your anti-malaria medication. You have to start taking it one or two days before entering the malaria area of Moshi, yet only a day after arrival you begin trekking Kilimanjaro.
It’s a personal choice whether you continue to take antimalarial pills beyond the first day of trekking and while on the mountain. We chose to stop and then restart them on the last day when we were coming down.
Give yourself at least two months to organise your vaccinations. You will need Hepatitis A and B, rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, typhoid, and a yellow fever vaccination before travelling to Tanzania. These are usually administered over a few weeks if you haven’t had them before or need boosters.
You will be required to get a single entry ‘Ordinary Visa’ (valid for three months upon entry) for Tanzania for your Kilimanjaro trip, and you can quickly get this online at the Official Tanzania Immigration Services Website. You need a valid passport (of at least six months), including one free page for visa stamps on entry and extra.
An Ordinary Visa (Single Entry) costs $50. Applications can take up to 10 days to be approved, so give yourself plenty of time in case of any issues or if you will need to resubmit your application. You will receive an e-mail with a User Identification Number from which you can keep track of the progress.
Get Travel Insurance That Includes Trekking
You must have a travel insurance policy that not only covers the usual less, damage, in-patient medical treatment and repatriation, but which also includes mountain ascents and mountain rescue.
Check the fine print since many policies state a mountain pass limit, commonly “up to 2,500 metres” or “under 5,000m”. It may mean you will need a separate insurance policy or an activity/sports add-on.
For climbing Kilimanjaro, you will need an insurance policy that covers
- Treks up to the height of at least 6,000m.
- Mountain Rescue by Helicopter/helicopter evacuation.
World Nomads has an optional extra under its ‘Land Activities’ policy section that includes ‘trekking up to 6,000 metres. This insurance provider is one of the best out there and you can purchase or extend your policy at any time, anywhere in the world. Get a Quote.
How to Get to Kilimanjaro
To get to Kilimanjaro, you need to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), located right in the middle of the two towns of Moshi and Arusha.
Moshi is the town closest to Mount Kilimanjaro National Park and is a 50-minute drive from Kilimanjaro airport. You can usually arrange a pick up via your tour company, or arrange a taxi via your hotel starting point.
It is a good idea to arrive early with plenty of time to rest before meeting your group. You will want to be present for the full briefing and last-minute preparations.
Kilimanjaro Trekking Tips
How Do You Prevent Altitude Sickness on Kilimanjaro?
There is no miracle cure for an aversion to altitude. In the worst case, it can be severe and result in death, but in the majority of cases, it just makes you feel sick, lethargic and can cause pounding headaches.
Everyone reacts differently or unexpectedly, but there are some ways to help prevent altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro.
Go slow – Pole! Pole!
Taking slow, measured steps during the trek to Kilimanjaro are as important as staying hydrated to prevent altitude sickness. Trekking is not a race or an opportunity to show off your sporting prowess – altitude can cripple even the most athletic.
You’ll regularly hear the Tanzanian “Pole! Pole!” meaning slowly-slowly, and while it feels strange at first, that pace needs to become second nature so that you do not overexert yourself at higher climbs.
Drink plenty of water
It’s essential to drink a lot of water every day – around 2-3 litres. Each day we were assigned an ideal amount of water to drink according to how many kilometres and hours we would be trekking.
You tend to leave each morning around 7 am and arrive at each camp in the early afternoon – and there is a reason for it. You need plenty of hours to rest, lie down and not overexert yourself at a higher altitude. What might feel like a long time to essentially “do nothing” is paramount for your overall success.
Daily health check-in
Every evening at dinner, we would go around the table and state how much we drank, how we felt and check our heart rate and oxygen levels with a finger pulse oximeter. Logging our vitals was a part of our daily health monitoring in terms of progress or deterioration.
Try to eat, even if your appetite wains
Another way of detecting when altitude is affecting you is with appetite. Your appetite will proportionately decline as altitude increases. However, it’s essential to try to eat what you can, even if the only thing you can stomach is chocolate for a little energy boost.
Your body needs everything it can to deal with the thinning air. Even getting dressed and putting your boots back on in the morning becomes more challenging, and you often feel like you have to pull your body with each step once you are higher up.
I spent a long time reading about the benefits of garlic tablets for altitude sickness and tales of garlic soup on high altitude climbs. While I wouldn’t say my daily Garlic tablet supplement ultimately saved me, Garlic does help to thin the blood and enhance its levels of oxygen in the body, and therefore it might have certainly helped.
Taking Diamox for Kilimanjaro
I chose not to take Diamox/acetazolamide when trekking to Everest Base Camp, although I did have to take some two days before getting to the base camp summit or I simply wouldn’t have made it.
Since I am both a migraine sufferer and have a pre-existing condition – asthma – I have always tried to avoid altitude sickness drugs since they effectively mask effects and what your body is trying to tell you.
When planning for the Kilimanjaro climb, I had an instinct that I wanted to take Diamox. We both went to the doctor and talked through the options and given a prescription – for two tablets, taken daily.
After chatting with our Kilimanjaro guides, we soon learnt that one tablet a day was enough – half a tablet in the morning and the other half in the evening. It meant not overloading our body with Diamox, and still retaining a greater sense of feeling.
It’s a very personal choice. Some people in my group, like us, took it the entire time; others took it halfway through the trek, while one woman chose not to take it at all and still made it to Summit while feeling wretched.
My advice would be to have it with you and talk through the options with your guide. Have it for safekeeping in case you need it later.
Prepare Mentally for Mount Kilimanjaro
A trek of this magnitude isn’t just about physical fitness. Rough day-to-day aspects of it can quickly overshadow the rosy, rainbow-filled picture of glorious hikes in mountainous lands.
With Kilimanjaro, camping can get to people, especially if you’ve never slept in a tent before. When the nights get cold and uncomfortable, it can push anyone’s limits. The stingingly cold weather and drenching rain downpour can strip out your positivity since there’s no way to dry off. The food can feel monotonous after a while and merely craving a comforting, wholesome meal makes you cranky. Someone in your group might start grating on you more than you would otherwise notice, and in your one mess tent and small camping circle, it’s hard to escape.
In short, you have to do everything in your power to make yourself feel better.
Approach each climb thinking of the spectacular endpoint. Know that every excruciating last step is worth it. Remember why you are doing this.
Be patient and don’t expect instant gratification. The first few days may seem a little unstable, but you will soon form a routine, know what to expect, where your strengths lie and where to ask for help.
Know that having mixed emotions is ok. You’ll move from feeling fine and energised, to sad and moody, to bored and unhopeful, all in one day. You just have to use a lot of mental energy pulling yourself out of it.
Bring your favourite things for comfort. Bring a book for the hours-long rest time; bring your favourite snacks and large bars of chocolate. Fill your phones with motivational playlists and downloaded movies.
Remove yourself from negativity and annoyance. Walk away from people who are negative or do the simple thing of standing in a different part of the trek line from them.
Avoid asking, “how much longer?” or “are we nearly there yet?” We all did it, and the guides know how to word the answers to keep morale. You are told the night before about the next day ahead, and average timings. Overall, I found it helped not to wear a watch.
Rely on the camaraderie of the group. Whether through singing songs, forming in-jokes, having chats about life as you get to know one another, playing cards in the evening, your group morale is invaluable for your mentality.
What Else to Expect When Climbing Kilimanjaro
Camping, Hygiene, Toilets and Water
Camping can get tiresome and rough during your time on Kilimanjaro, but it is also the main thing you need to get used to quickly. You camp with two-person tents, which are assembled and dissembled by the porters. Each tent has a number so that you use the same tent and padded sleeping mats for the entire duration of the trek. Overall, this ensures a dedicated level of hygiene and having peace of mind.
Get used to the fact that you will not be showering until you get back to the hotel for the most glorious cleanse of your life. You get given a bowl of hot water in the morning and evening for washing, and it’s worth bringing baby wipes and a microfibre towel to feel as clean as possible.
We paid to have two portable toilets for our group, which saved having to rely on the gross long-drops found at the camps – which can be quite a walk from your group camping spot. Paying extra for the toilet is worth it for the overall morale of the group and general comfort.
On the trek itself, there are no toilets, only nature, affectionately dubbed “sending a message”.
Porters always carry water, providing daily drinking water for the trek team, topping up at any water sources we pass and using water purification tablets that kill microorganisms in the water. Water is always readily available during meal times and in the morning for the essential refill before the day’s trek.
Is there an Internet connection on Kilimanjaro?
Seriously, embrace the digital detox and enjoy the incredible landscape you find yourself within in this once in a lifetime trekking experience. There might be a little signal, should you have a local Simcard, but it’s not necessary.
What is the food like on Kilimanjaro?
There’s no denying that the food during Kilimanjaro does feel repetitious after a few days. However, our daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners were tasty, prepared with care and every need was taken care of, even if someone was vegetarian or had an allergy or intolerance.
Breakfast consisted of a bowl of porridge, pancakes (with jams and peanut butter), and an omelette with added filler such as sausages.
Lunches and dinner were a course of vegetable soup, and then the main dish made up of rice or pasta, vegetables and potatoes. Lunch after the famous Barranco wall was chicken and chips, and the group was delighted. You don’t realise how good a real hearty, comfort meal is until you have it after an arduous day.
Snacks were plentiful, including popcorn and biscuits, alongside a steady supply of tea, coffee, hot chocolate and our favourite treat – ginger tea.
What to Pack for Kilimanjaro
You are going to be trekking across a full spectrum of ecosystems and weather conditions, so it is vital to be prepared for the extremes – hot and sunny, cloudy and chilly, rainy and windy and snow and minus temperature chill. You may encounter all of this in one day, so being prepared limits feeling uncomfortable and miserable, especially at Summit.
You will have two bags with you during the trek.
One larger pack – with a limit of 15kg that will be carried by the porters. A duffle bag is preferred, although we were able to use our backpacks as they fit the 30cm (height) x30cm (width) x 60cm (length) sizing that’s put into a carry sack.
One smaller 20-30L daypack – which is the bag you will carry with you daily. You’ll need to carry at least 2 litres of water, extra layers and waterproof gear, snacks and in my case, my camera. Ideally, you don’t want to overload this bag, keeping contents to a minimum.
All other luggage is safely stored at the hotel while you climb, which is especially useful if you have packed for a Zanzibar or Safari pre or post the trek.
Shoes and Bags
- 1 x Waterproof Hiking Boots with winter/snow grip. We both purchased Salewa mountain trek boots from the MTN Trainer Mid GTX range – lightweight, with a softer ankle and heel system for comfort, and a Vibram sole for an excellent grip.
- 1 x Camp Shoes/sneakers. For quick change and comfort. I always travel with my Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II sports shoes, which are ultra-lightweight and made from plant-based fibres.
- 30-35L Day Bag w/Camel hydration pack. We used the Osprey Mira 32 (female fit) and Osprey Mantra 34 (male fit) both of which include a 2.5L reservoir, which I cannot recommend enough for long treks and keeping hydrated easily while on the move. These packs also have a rain cover, contoured fit and cooling back system for maximum comfort and with roomy, multi-compartment sections to organise your gear.
- 4 season Sleeping Bag. I invested in a Hyke & Byke Eolus 800 Ultralight Goose Down Sleeping Bag (-10 & -15 Degree). It’s a snug fit ‘Mummy Bag’, squashy and comfortably warm and easy to pack and unpack.
- Silk sleeping bag liner, or a thermal/fleece sleeping bag liner if you want more comfort and an extra layer of warmth.
- Waterproof Dry Bag/Dry Sack. Efficient for packing and with a waterproof roll-top closure.
- A down jacket, a windproof and waterproof jacket and a fleece for layering and protection against the elements.
- A pair of sports leggings for the cooler days (first and last day)
- One pair of comfortable trekking pants since you will be living in these, mostly.
- Invest in some fleece-lined trek pants for Summit night for extra warmth and comfort
- A pair of quick and easy pull-on waterproof pants for those spontaneous rain showers.
- Two thermal tops and a pair of thermal bottoms/long johns. These are also ideal to use as sleepwear.
- A sports bra – more comfortable than a standard bra.
- Three lightweight wicking t-shirts. Just make sure they are not cotton, which retains moisture and doesn’t dry quickly.
- Two long-sleeve mid-layers / zip-up jackets for extra warmth layering.
- A warm hat, scarf and gloves. I took two pairs of gloves – one lighter pair and thicker ski gloves for Summit night.
- Pair of leg gaiters (which I rented at the hotel)
- Socks and underwear for each day. I packed 4 x Liner socks and 4 x Quick-dry hiking socks (wool or synthetic). I also packed some cosy and ultra-warm Heatwarmer socks for the night.
- Metal/aluminium bottle for the night to hold hot water.
- A strong LED headtorch for camp at nighttime and a smoother Summit climb.
- Skin protection, such as sunglasses, sunscreen and heavy-duty lip balm.
- Walking poles, which are invaluable for unstable, rocky climbs.
- Quickdry microfibre towel, easy to dry or hang on your daypack.
- Earplugs, because camp can get noisy, especially in the early mornings.
- Cleansing essentials, such as hand sanitiser, toilet paper and wet wipes and toiletries (ideally biodegradable).
- All prescription drugs and painkillers and a mini first aid kit.
- Snacks, electrolytes and comfort foods, including protein bars, nuts and chocolate.
- Camera and relevant accessories. Lenses optional according to size and extra weight you want to carry.
- Spare camera batteries. I took three extra.
- Smartphone and extra chargers. We took two Anker 20000mAh High Capacity Portable chargers.
- Universal Adaptor for pre-charging at the hotel.
Cameras and batteries should be protected against the cold and wet weather, wrapped up in a dry bag or the interior pockets of your clothing.
The currency in Tanzania is the Tanzania Shilling, although it is advisable to also carry American Dollars cash for both payment and exchange.
Credit cards do work and are accepted at some hotels, although having cash is preferable. ATMs were available for Tanzania Shilling withdrawal.
Porters and Tipping
You will need to carry around $250 with you to tip the porters and guides on the climb, as you will say goodbye to most of them in the National Park on the last morning. Keep this is a waterproof and protective pouch/wallet.
Prints of Documents
Be sure to have copies of your passport, vaccination certificates, travel insurance policy, trip vouchers and hotels booking and copies of your passport.
Overall, Is the Kilimanjaro Climb Worth It?
Commercial, as it has become, climbing Kilimanjaro is unmistakably worth it, especially for regular trekkers looking to up the ante and on the Lemosho Route that gets you a little off track to the more trodden routes.
Kilimanjaro isn’t an easy climb, and it never will be. Not everything achievable is easy, and it’s OK to say Kilimanjaro is quite the feat to endure and overcome. That is typically a strong basis for trekking – that the pain brings reward. And with Kilimanjaro, you are certainly rewarded with one of the most scenic and highest mountain summits in the world.
What to Do After Climbing Kilimanjaro? Beach and Safari
Zanzibar Beach Time
We went to Zanzibar before our Kilimanjaro time, as our flight route was cheaper to get from Europe to Zanzibar and then to fly in Kilimanjaro airport, although in hindsight would have preferred this downtime post-trekking. Some members of our group chose the Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar trip and relished the relaxation.
We spent two days uncovering the millennium layers of history in the architectural labyrinth of UNESCO Heritage Stone Town where African, Arab, Indian and European cultures intertwine, before heading up to the island’s northern beaches for the day – said to be the most beautiful on the island.
As part of our trek-safari combo-tour, we headed straight to Arusha after Kilimanjaro to embark on the long, scenic drive into the centre of the Serengeti. The trip starts with a visit to Mto wa Mbu village and the opportunity for locals to introduce us to this multi-cultural area where over 18,000 residents from 120 different tribes reside.
Our drive into the wildlife parks began with the grassy flood plains of Lake Manyara National Park Safari on the western wall of the Rift Valley patched with acacia and mahogany woodland and a haven for birdwatchers. The Serengeti is a vast savanna, spread to wide that you will never reach its outer edges without days being on the road. You wild camp for the entire trip, to the distant sound of a lion’s roar and the footsteps, sniffing and shuffles of buffalos and hyenas curiously wandering around at night.
We came full circle back to the epicentre of the Ngorongoro Crater, before camping on its rim. The water pasture of the Crater floor provides the ecosystem support for over 20,000 to large mammals and a chance to spot more zebra, prides of lions, hippos, and if you are lucky, rhinos.
Our trip ended with a visit to an authentic Maasai village to see the social enterprise Clean Cookstove Project in action. Some 120 women have trained to install more than 4,000 stoves in more than 60 Maasai villages across the Serengeti, replacing traditional open-fire and fuel-burning stoves whose smoke pollution is the fourth biggest health risk in the world.
Kilimanjaro Lemosho Trek: Snapshot
Book a Small Adventure Group to Trek in Tanzania
I booked on the 12-day G Adventures Lemosho tour, which includes the 10-day trek, and the hotel in Moshi on either side. This cost includes tents, food, guides and porters.
Travel to and from Moshi and Kilimanjaro Airport at the start and end of the trip, alongside all food and drink costs outside of the trek days, are not included.
Approximately €2500 – €3000.
- 8-day guided group trek up Mt Kilimanjaro’s Lemosho Route with local guides, cooks and porters.
- Additional “acclimatization day” during ascent.
- All Kilimanjaro National Park permits and fees.
- All transport between destinations and to/from included activities.
- Excludes cost of flights, insurances and trekking gear.
- You should budget for around £300 for tipping and souvenirs.
Any plagiarism of this Kilimanjaro blog or any of its descriptions and images used on other sites and blogs without attribution is not information authorised by myself for use. Know your source.