Which is the best Kilimanjaro climbing route?

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In partnership with Altezza Travel

From the paths less travelled to the longest and the newest trail, we take a look at the best Kilimanjaro climbing route

The ‘roof of Africa’ was the first high-altitude mountain I ever climbed. At 5,895m (19,340ft), Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is Africa’s highest peak and while I had some hillwalking behind me, I had no prior experience of high-altitude trekking. I opted for the cheapest and quickest route to the summit via the Marangu AKA the ‘Coca-Cola’ route.

A lot has changed in the years since my climb. The mountain’s popularity has soared and now attracts 50,000 annual visitors. High-speed internet has been installed while new trails and even an entirely new route have been opened.

If I were to climb the mountain today, I would trek an entirely different route, approaching from another side of the mountain via longer, quieter, more scenic trails, avoiding the huts and crowds of the Marangu.

Peter the summit of Kilimanjaro in bright sunshine
Atlas & Boots Peter climbed Kili in 2010 via the Marangu route

With this in mind, we’ve asked Kilimanjaro guides Altezza Travel for their expert advice on which is the best Kilimanjaro climbing route. Based in the foothills of the world’s highest freestanding mountain, they have a wealth of experience when it comes to climbing the celebrated peak.

Kilimanjaro climbing routes

Below, we examine each of the routes, their pros and cons and get Altezza’s inside scoop on which is the best Kilimanjaro climbing route.

Marangu route

Duration: 5-6 days
Approach: southern slope
Pros: quickest and cheapest route to the summit; uses huts; good option for the rainy season
one of the busiest routes; less acclimatisation time; no camping

A-frame huts on the Marangu
wayak/Shutterstock Marangu is the only route that uses huts

The Marangu AKA the ‘Coca-Cola’ route is the oldest and most established Kilimanjaro climbing trail. It is also the most popular and the only one that uses huts instead of camping for accommodation. For some, sleeping indoors is more appealing but for others (including me), it doesn’t feel like a proper climb if you’re not sleeping under canvas. The availability of huts, however, does make the Marangu route a good choice during the rainy season from March to early June.

The trail begins at Marangu Gate, one of the most accessible entrance gates to the UNESCO-listed national park and only an hour’s drive from Moshi, the gateway town to the mountain. As the most popular and least expensive route, the trail is more likely to be crowded during the high seasons from July to September and December to March.

Even though the Marangu route can be completed in five days, it’s advisable to opt for six days for better acclimatisation and ultimately a higher chance of reaching the summit.

More information: altezza.travel

Machame route

Duration: 6-7 days
Approach: southern slope
Pros: diverse scenery; converges with other routes
harder than Marangu; busy summit morning; most popular camping route

A trekker surrounded by vegetation on Kilimanjaro
Altezza Travel On the lower slopes of the Machame

Kili’s most popular camping route – and the second most popular route overall – is known as the ‘Whiskey Route’ as it’s more rugged than the ‘Coca-Cola’ (Marangu) route. The climb begins from Machame Gate, just under an hour away from Moshi, and ascends Kilimanjaro via the southern slope.

Campsites along the route are generally comfortable, positioned on sheltered and flat ground. The trail ascends gradually allowing for acclimatisation. On the third day, the trail converges with the Lemosho and Umbwe routes at Barranco Camp.

There are six or seven-day itineraries available. Like Marangu, the longer option is better for acclimatisation.

More information: altezza.travel

Rongai route

Duration: 6-7 days
Approach: northern slope
Pros: only route to approach from the north; savannah views; camps beneath Mawenzi; sees two sides of the mountain
the trailhead is a long drive from Moshi; descends via the Marangu route

Trekkers on the Rongai, one of the best Kilimanjaro climbing routes
mountaintreks/Shutterstock Trekkers approach Mawenzi on the Rongai

Rongai is the only Kilimanjaro climbing route beginning on the northern slope. It is an area rarely visited by climbers and makes use of the mountain’s least trodden trails. Due to the remote nature of this route, the entrance at Rongai Gate, near the village of Nalemuru, is around three hours from Moshi.

Although the scenery is not as varied as the western routes, the Rongai route does provide expansive views of the savannah to the north and east of the mountain. The trail also passes the distinctive Mawenzi Peak, one of Kilimanjaro’s three volcanic cones and Africa’s fourth-highest point.

More information: altezza.travel

Umbwe route

Duration: 6 days
Approach: southern slope
Pros: shortest route in terms of distance; least-used trail
steep climb; only for experienced trekkers and climbers; less time for acclimatisation

Trekkers on the Umbwe climbing route on Kilimanjaro
Altezza Travel Umbwe is the shortest route in terms of distance

Umbwe is Kilimanjaro’s most challenging route, taking the shortest, steepest and most direct path to the summit. The trail reaches Barranco Camp on just the second night of the trek while it takes at least three on the Machame route.

As such, Umbwe should only be undertaken by experienced climbers and trekkers who have previous high-altitude experience. The route begins with a long first day on the trail while, higher up, there are several significant scrambles. It also passes through areas of dense vegetation and forest where paths are narrower than other routes.

More information: altezza.travel

Lemosho route

Duration: 6-8 days
Approach: western slope
Pros: most scenic route; wildlife spotting opportunities; quiet trails; various itineraries available; high summit success
long drive to the trailhead; longer itineraries are more expensive

A trekker with Kilimanjaro in the background and flowers in the foreground on Lemosho, one of the best Kilimanjaro climbing routes
Altezza Travel Lemosho is known for its unique scenery

The Lemosho route is a longer, less-frequented trail that explores the quieter western side of the mountain. It is one of the newer routes on the mountain and crosses the Shira Plateau from Londorossi Gate via the Shira Ridge to Shira Camp.

Throughout the route, there are superb views including spectacular vistas of the African savannah as well as sightings of Mount Meru – Africa’s fifth- and Tanzania’s second-highest peak – some 70km to the west of Kilimanjaro. The route also incorporates the striking iconic Barranco Wall, known for its steep cliffs and snaking ascent path.

Opting for a seven- or eight-day itinerary allows more time for acclimatisation as you ascend through an intriguing forest section where there’s opportunity to spot game and birdlife.

More information: altezza.travel

Northern Circuit

Duration: 8-10 days
Approach: western slope; descends southern slope
Pros: quiet trails; unique views; good acclimatisation
long drive to the trailhead; most expensive option

A high short of a campsite  on the Northern Circuit, one of the best Kilimanjaro climbing routes
Altezza Travel The remote Northern Circuit

The longest and newest route on Kilimanjaro, the Northern Circuit is known for its remote and picturesque approach via the Lemosho route, quiet trails and unparalleled views of Kilimanjaro’s northern slopes as it turns north and arches around the mountain. As the itinerary takes at least eight days, the Northern Circuit is the best route for acclimatisation and, as such, enjoys a higher success rate than the shorter, steeper routes.

There is also the option to extend the Northern Circuit route by two days to incorporate a night camping at the crater at 5,790m (18,996ft), the highest possible place to pitch a tent on Kilimanjaro. Here, you can camp above the clouds and watch the Milky Way appear above one of Kilimanjaro’s famed glaciers – a unique perspective only a handful of trekkers get to experience.

More information: altezza.travel

tents pitched on ice as part of the crater camping option on Kilimanjaro
Altezza Travel Camping at Kilimanjaro’s crater

Conclusion: which is the best Kilimanjaro climbing route?

While every trail has something different to offer, Altezza Travel expert Marvin Derichs believes Lemosho is the best Kilimanjaro climbing route. The trail combines the finest elements of the various routes, particularly when it comes to scenery, wildlife and quieter paths.

As the route approaches the mountain from the western slopes and then descends via the quieter trails on the southern slopes, it avoids the throngs of trekkers found on the Marangu and Machame routes. On the northern slopes, the first days of the trek are spent climbing the renowned Shira Plateau with its splendid panoramas before progressing into the forest where there are opportunities to spot rare wildlife.

Additionally, Lemosho offers good opportunities for acclimatisation and can be extended to seven- and eight-day itineraries.


What is the least-crowded route?

The Northern Circuit trail is the least-crowded route, particularly on the higher slopes where it deviates from the Lemosho route onto the Northern Circuit.

Which is the most scenic route?

Lemosho is considered the most scenic route. The Machame route is also pretty as it begins in a dense rainforest with unique flora and fauna before ascending via alpine-esque terrain en route to Barranco Wall. Consider the Northern Circuit with the crater camping extension for the ultimate spectacle.

Which route is the fastest?

The Marangu route can be completed in five days and is the quickest. If you’re pushed for time then this is a good option.

Which route is the shortest?

In terms of distance, Umbwe is Kilimanjaro’s shortest route, but it is not the easiest. It is also the steepest and most challenging.

Stella point along a Kilimanjaro climbing route
Cata Hula/Shutterstock Stella Point is one of Kilimanjaro’s three summit points

Which route is best for beginners?

Generally, routes with longer acclimatisation periods are better for those with less high-altitude experience. Altezza recommends Lemosho (7 and 8-day itineraries) or Machame (7-day) for beginners. The Northern Circuit also offers good acclimatisation. For those who aren’t comfortable with camping, the Marangu route is hut-based although opt for the six-day itinerary for better acclimatisation.

Which is the easiest route up Kilimanjaro?

There are no easy routes up Kilimanjaro. It is a high-altitude peak which should not be underestimated. Climbing Kilimanjaro is challenging and is never without danger. All routes can be dangerous due to the risk of altitude sickness – a condition caused if climbers ascend too quickly – which can be deadly if not treated immediately.

Guides and porters

As with all high-altitude climbs and treks, the most important people on the mountain are the guides and porters. You’re not getting anywhere near the summit without them.

When you’re choosing a Kilimanjaro guide, make sure it is a member of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), an NGO committed to improving the working conditions of porters on Kilimanjaro by promoting socially responsible practices.

The KPAP ensures porters receive a minimum wage, have access to climbing gear and clothing, are treated fairly and ethically by their employers and get the opportunity to attend training and education courses. KPAP is supported by the International Mountain Explorers Connection, another NGO that supports ethical trekking on Kilimanjaro.

As an accredited member of KPAP, Altezza prides itself on hiring the best local guides and porters available and has published a detailed policy page on why the best Kilimanjaro guides and porters choose to work for them. The page covers wages, safety, training and medical insurance. Altezza has also published a helpful guide on tipping guides and porters.

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