Guide to Trekking Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Mountain Kilimanjaro National park is a large conservation area consisting of Mount Kilimanjaro and its surrounding. It is situated in the north of Tanzania, 81 kilometres away from Arusha city, the starting point of most of the Safaris in the northern circuit of the country. The most dominant feature in the park is Mount Kilimanjaro and hiking the high tower landform is the sole reason to visit the protected area.
Mountain Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcanic mountain, part of Kilimanjaro national park in Northern Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the fourth highest topographically prominent peak in the world, at a height of 5,895 metres above sea level.
Mount Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones, Kibo the highest at 5,895 metres, Mawenzi at 5,149 metres and lastly Shira at 4,005 metres. Its last volcanic activity took place 200 years ago, Mawenzi and Shira getting extinct and Kibo is dormant and could still erupt at any time. The highest peak at the three cones of mountain Kilimanjaro is Uhuru situated at Kibo.
The shrinking glaciers and ice fields at the mountain summits are predicted to be no more in 2030 and 2050 due to the recurring climatic changes in the area.
The origin of the mountain’s name “Kilimanjaro is still unknown but there are numerous theories about it. The first European explorers to see the Mountain also adopted the local name Kilimanjaro which is still carried on up-to-date. In 1860, Johann Ludwig Krapf wrote that the Swahili at the coast was called the Mountain Kilimanjaro. Johann claimed that Kilimanjaro meant “the mountain of greatness” or “Mountain of the caravans”, although he did not have enough evidence to back up his claim.
Another European explorer Jim Thompson 1885, claimed that the name Kilima-Jaro commonly meant Mountain of greatness but it could have meant “the white mountain”
Mountain Kilimanjaro has been a very popular tourist destination in Tanzania over the years. The first Europeans to climb and explore the peaks of Kilimanjaro were two colleagues Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller. Previous attempts were made by Richard Thornton in 1861, Otto Kersten and Baron Von der Decken in 1862 but the three failed to reach the topmost summit. Ever since Ludwig reached the summit, many hikers were inspired and motivated to take up the challenge and as of now over a thousand tourists climb Kilimanjaro annually. Mount Kilimanjaro is the second revenue generator among the various tourism destinations in Tanzania.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
One of the most contentious challenges adventure travellers look forward to taking on is climbing Mountain Kilimanjaro. The mountain has so many attractions to be enjoyed by the hikers for instance; the breathtaking vegetation covers, unique animal species to the craters and glaciers at its summits. Records have it that over 30,000 people attempt to hike to the peaks of the mountain throughout the year.
Why is Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro so popular?
- Natural wonder
Kilimanjaro is regarded as one of the greatest natural wonders around the globe. It is such a rich natural biodiversity and also its snow-capped peaks are something to wonder about. The presence of snow in such a region that has a hot climate is unbelievable! People around the world indeed should come to experience this towering natural wonder
- The highest free-standing mountain on Earth
The Mountain does not only have the record of being the highest landform in Africa but also the highest free-standing mountain in the universe. In this world, people always want to beat the odds and climbing the mountain Kilimanjaro to its summit is one of the things that would make one feel like he/she had made a rare achievement.
- Easy to climb
Albeit one of the highest mountains in the world, it is the easiest to hike. This is backed up by the number of climbers that try to reach its summit (about 30,000). The free-standing mountain can be hiked by both first-timers and experienced climbers. In 2019, Anne Lirimor 89 years old lady, reached the summit of the mountain and Maxwell J. Ojerholm of Massachusetts USA, 10 years also climbed Kilimanjaro in 2009. It only requires physical fitness and mental preparedness to get to Uhuru peak.
- Mount Kilimanjaro is convenient to access
Kilimanjaro is very easy to reach even though it is located in the far northern wilderness of Tanzania. It can be accessed by both road and air. There is Kilimanjaro international airport in Arusha Tanzania where travellers can land and then drive to the mountain headquarters for a hike. The distance is just about 51 kilometres. Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar-es-Salaam Tanzania is another air hub to access Mountain Kilimanjaro and a traveller can also use Jomo Kenya International Airport of Nairobi Kenya. The distance Between Nairobi (Kenya) and Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) is about 206 kilometres, only six hours of road driving.
- Great hiking services
The hiking expeditions at Kilimanjaro are well-developed, they are among the best you can ever get around Africa. The trails leading to the peaks are passable and demarcated. The camping sites and gears are in good condition. The guides are knowledgeable and professional and also the porters are very helpful.
- Uplifting of the local communities
Kilimanjaro is surrounded by people who are impoverished but keeps its natural biodiversity intact for tourists to explore and enjoy. What is done to reward the locals for conserving Kilimanjaro is reimbursing some of the revenues got from the tourists into social projects like establishments of health services, schools, good roads and microfinance. Tanzanians are also employed as guides, porters and hotel staff thus uplifting their livelihood.
- Capturing incredible pictures
The scenery at Kilimanjaro is one of the best, you can ever come across. It is a scenery full of exciting natural features like glaciers, craters, unique vegetation, rocks and animals and birds. The stunning scenery always gives a peculiar and beautiful background to the photos.
- Experiencing different climatic and vegetation zones
It is a very rare phenomenon to enjoy numerous distinctive vegetation cover and climate types. Kilimanjaro offers the opportunity of experiencing the sun at its lower slopes, chilly weather in the middle and cold one while at the top. The vegetation cover also varies for instance there are savannah grasslands and rainforests at the lower sections, Moorlands, alpine at the upper slopes and ice fields at the summits.
What it is like hiking Mount Kilimanjaro
For a memorable Kilimanjaro trekking experience, one should book this adventure in Tanzania with a reliable local tour operator. The Tour agent will advise on the requirements to hike the mountains and also organise different travel amenities on your behalf. Some of the requirements are visa acquisition, hiking permit, hotel booking, ground transport arrangement, pack list items of hiking and the dos and don’ts of hiking Kilimanjaro.
After the organisation of the hiking safari, the next thing will be travelling to Northern Tanzania where Kilimanjaro Mountain is found.
Tanzania has three international airports to start your trip, namely; Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar airports. Kilimanjaro Airport is the ideal to use for your hiking trip since it’s the nearest to the mountain. It only takes 50 kilometres from the airport to the park headquarters of Kilimanjaro. Travellers can also opt to use Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi Kenya and the distance between Nairobi and Kilimanjaro is about 206 km, approximately 6 hours of road driving. However, the travellers undergo a cross-border process while entering Tanzania from Kenya where other visa fees are charged.
Group hikes are the most commonly organized but also private hiking expeditions are available and a traveller is advised to inform the tour operator if he/she wishes to do the private one.
While at Mount Kilimanjaro, you first go through a briefing and verification of your hiking permits and signing of consent documents. You are allocated to a group of other hikers led by the guide, a porter and cooks are also added to the contingent. The role of the porters is to carry the camping and hiking gear of the travellers. The cooks are responsible for preparing meals. These prepare simple meals during the hike but are rich in carbohydrates, vitamins and proteins. Don’t expect sophisticated dishes. Only travellers with special diet needs will be served exceptional meals and will have to inform the park before their trip through their local tour operators.
Mount Kilimanjaro has six major climbing trails and these include Northern Circuit, Umbwe, Marangu, Lemosho, Macheme, Shira and Rongai. Macheme is the most popular trail and takes 6-8 days. Lemosho takes 7-8 days and this has a wealth of natural attractions to experience. Northern Circuit is the newest trail and presents a tough challenge. Umbwe is the shortest but the hardest because of its steep slopes. Marangu poses a low challenge and is the only one with accommodation huts, the rest have campsites. The sixth trail is Shira which is the most direct route to Uhuru peak and has a moderate difficulty level.
Amateur hikers are advised to take Lemosho or Machame routes. The two trails provide a low hiking difficulty level yet they are full of natural attractions and less crowded. One thing you have to come to terms with is that not all hikers of Kilimanjaro reach the summits. What defines the possibility of reaching the top peak are the first two days. We advise hikers to be calm and composed, it will be easy to get to the peak as you get used to the hiking task and environment.
Mountain Kilimanjaro has numerous distinctive climatic zones to go through during the hike. The lowlands (1,850-2800 metres) are characterized by the montane forest zone and this is where most of the animal species like primates, elephants, duikers, leopards and different birds are present. At an altitude of about 3,200 metres moorland zone is experienced and the areas are covered with giant heather and lobelias. A different climatic change happens in areas with altitudes of 4,000 metres and above. Alpine desert is experienced and the area is very windy. There is little life here, validated by minimal flora and fauna availability. This is where most hikers are affected by altitude sickness. The last one is the snow zone. It is very steep and presents a very hard hiking task.
Getting to the actual peaks of the mountain commences at night and here you crawl with headlights to see where you are going as you get closer to the peak. You get to the crater rim area in the early morning. At the crater rim, you have a brief break to gasp some breath and then get to the summit. whilst summit, you take pictures and videos as you view the near and far wilderness of Serengeti plains and Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania and Masai Mara plains and Amboseli National reserve in Kenya. The contentment and excitement to be on the roof of Africa are compared to none.
Descending is less challenging but risky. This is the course where most accidents happen. It is advised to be careful since the terrain is uneven and slant.
When to Climb Mountain Kilimanjaro?
Mountain Kilimanjaro lies in the tropical region of Africa where the equator crosses. This area receives two spells of dry and wet seasons apiece. Most adventurous outdoor activities are best suitable in dry weather. Therefore, the ideal time to climb Kilimanjaro is in the months of January- mid-March, June-October and December. During this time, the trails leading to the peaks are dry, the skies are bright to easily see and also the climate is favourable with enough oxygen in circulation. The aforementioned months are the peak times for hiking and large crowds are seen in the Mountains.
Though it seems challenging to hike during the rainy seasons, Mountain Kilimanjaro is open throughout the year. Successful climbing happens during the wet spell.
Travellers should note that it doesn’t rain every day in the wet months as some sunny days are experienced and correspondingly it rains in the dry months.
What are the Rates of Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro?
Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro is costly, the hiking rates are between $2,000 to 3,500 per individual depending on the trail to take. You might be lucky to find a cheaper quotation from some tour operators but know that the quality will be compromised and you won’t get what you expected. The cost of the hike includes; park entrance, rescue fees, camping fees, guide, porters, cooks and meals, safety tools, hygiene and sanitary items and government taxes.
Extra Information about Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro
Though Kilimanjaro is easy to climb, it requires a great degree of physical fitness and mental preparedness. Travellers are advised to take up exercise before hiking the mountain. Fitness is needed because this is the highest mountain in Africa at an altitude of 5895 metres.
Out of the 30, 000 travellers who attempt to hike to the summit of Kilimanjaro, 84 per cent of them succeed. The chances of reaching the top peaks depend on the duration taken for the climb. Hikers who take shorter days are more likely to fail. 7-8 days are advised to climb Kilimanjaro. This is ample time to get used to the altitude and also get breaks to recover and aim higher.
The death rate at Kilimanjaro is very minimal as records show that 3-10 hikers die climbing the mountain. These die due to altitude-related sickness and accidents.
The old-style way of bathing (using a water bucket) is done while on the hike. Hot water is only provided in the large can for washing your face and hands. Modern dome tents are available at various campsites for accommodation and a maximum of 3 people occupy the tent.
Essential items to carry.
Kilimanjaro Hike is an adventurous activity that calls for special items to carry to have a great experience. The notable items on the pack list include; hiking boots and gloves, anti-sticky sweat clothes, a weather jacket and sweater, cap, camera and binoculars, drinking water and energy drinks, snacks, medical kit and tablets, sun jelly, tissues and toilettes.
The passport must be valid for at least 6 months before arrival in Tanzania. Tanzanian Visa can be obtained online or upon arrival at the airport. Check if travellers from your country of residence are not restricted from entering Tanzania at the embassy.
A yellow fever vaccination card, Negative PCR covid-19 test and covid-19 vaccination certificate (if requested) are obligatory while entering Tanzania. Seek medical advice from your doctor about vaccination for polio, hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Typhoid. Anti-malarial tablets and antibiotics should come in handy.
Tipping of the hiking personnel (guides, porters and cooks) is advised albeit being paid well by the park. It is a sign of gratitude for the great work, they do for you during the hiking expedition. A tip of 10$ per day is sufficient.