KILIMANJARO

Mount Kilimanjaro National Park

Encompassing the two peaks and higher slopes of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro is of all the country’s national parks the least oriented towards game viewing. Thousands of tourists climb it every year, to stand on the snow-capped pinnacle of Africa, and to experience the haunting and somewhat otherworldly Afromontane moorland habitat of the upper slopes.

There are a few different routes to the peak, varying in terms of length, level of difficulty, costs and popularity.

Marangu

The Marangu Route is also known as the “Tourist Route” or the “Coca-Cola Route”. This is because Marangu is the most popular route on the mountain, and and because the route is the only one that offers sleeping huts, which serve beverages like Coca-Cola, on the way. Marangu is the “easiest” route.

It’s ascension profile is very gradual and steady, while also being a short route, measuring 22 miles to the top. However, due to its reputation as an easy route, Marangu is often selected by unprepared or inexperienced climbers. Correspondingly, only about 35% of the people actually make it to the top.

The likelihood of experiencing altitude sickness is also quite high as the slope always goes up, in contrast to other routes that allow peaks and troughs during the trek, acclimatizing your body. The trek begins in the south-east area of the mountain at Marangu Gate.

The route takes five days minimum to complete, although six days is more practical and recommended. The sleeping huts along the route are structures with a dining hall and bunk beds, equipped with mattresses and pillows.
The descent is done on the same path, contributing to Marangu’s overcrowded feeling. It is a cheaper climb as well, do to the close proximity of the gate to Moshi, the gateway town, and because it is a shorter route. Scenically, Marangu is not as impressive as any of the other routes as the climbers are confined to one area of the mountain, limiting the variety. Of course, there are still great views of the rain forest, Mawenzi, and it’s equally spectacular view at Uhuru Peak.
Marangu is ideal for those who are not confident in their ability to hike over steeper paths and do not want to sleep in a tent. Also, it is for those who want to spend less on their climb, and do not mind crowds.

Shira

The Shira Route is a difficult route that begins in the west, at Shira Gate. What is unique about the Shira route is that the first section of the trail is not hiked, but rather driven. Therefore, climbers using Shira will miss out on hiking through one of Kilimanjaro’s ecological zones, the rain forest. The gate is located at 11,500 feet, which is a hefty altitude gain for someone who slept at Moshi, at 2,500 feet, on the previous night.

The route takes six days minimum to complete, although seven days is recommended. The descent is down Mweka, in the south-east. Because the starting point is far from Moshi, it is more expensive to climb this route due to the added transportation cost of getting climbers to the gate. Scenically, Shira is beautiful as it crosses the spectacular Shira Plateau, and then combines with the Machame route to share its viewpoints around the southern circuit. Shira has low traffic until it combines with Machame.

Shira is ideal for those who are confident in their ability to acclimatize to altitude, and to walk over steeper paths for extended periods.

Umbwe

The Umbwe Route is the least used, mostly empty route on the mountain, and for good reason; it is the most difficult route on the mountain. Umbwe is a steep, constant, straight climb to the top, but it is mostly avoided because the ascent profile does not give climbers much time to adjust to the altitude.

The success rate is very low. The route takes six days minimum to complete, although seven days is recommended. The descent is down Mweka, on the south-east side of the mountain. Umbwe is not as scenically varied as Machame, Lemosho and Shira, because the path up and down are nearby.

Umbwe is ideal for those who want a challenging climb, and are very confident in their ability to trek over consistently steep slopes. Also, Umbwe is for those who are experienced at altitude and thus are confident that the punishing schedule of Umbwe will not impede their ability to adjust to altitude. Umbwe is also for those who want a secluded hike.

Machame

The Machame Route is also known as the “Whiskey Route” in comparison to Marangu. It is a more difficult route, and does not have sleeping huts for accommodation. Machame is the second most popular route on the mountain with the trek beginning in the south-west area of the mountain at Machame Gate.
The route takes six days minimum to complete, although seven days is recommended. The descent is down “Mweka”, on the other side of the mountain and so offers a better view of Kilimanjaro. Additionally, the Machame route visits some stunning places such as Shira Plateau, Barranco, and Lava Tower. Machame is ideal for those who want a more difficult climb, and are confident in their ability to hike over extended periods of time on sometimes steep terrain. Climbers using Machame place a premium on varied scenery, but also accept heavy traffic during high season.

Rongai

The Rongai Route is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north, near the Kenyan border. Rongai’s ascent profile is very similar to that of Marangu. It is an easier route.

The climb to the top is gradual and steady. However, unlike Marangu, this route has low traffic and walks through remote wilderness areas. It is probably the only route where seeing wildlife in the first days is possible. The route takes six days minimum to complete, although seven days is recommended. The descent is down Mweka, on the south-east side of the mountain. Because the starting point is far from Moshi, it is more expensive to climb this route due to the added transportation cost of getting climbers to the gate.

Scenically, Rongai is beautiful because it travels through an unspoiled rain forest and remote wilderness area, however, it is not as scenically varied as Machame, Lemosho and Shira. Rongai is ideal for those who are not confident in their ability to hike over steeper paths, those who want to avoid traffic, and those who want to enjoy a quieter hike.

It is also preferred when climbing during the rainy season because the north side of the mountain receives less precipitation.

Lemosho

The Lemosho Route is nearly identical to the Shira route described above, but with one notable difference – the first section of the trail is hiked. Instead of being dropped off at Shira Gate, Lemosho users will trek through the rainforest on day one and exit the rainforest on day two.

This schedule means that the Lemosho Route is a longer route, usually taking seven to eight days to complete. Lemosho is a difficult route, but the added days on the lower slopes of the mountain make this an ideal route for altitude acclimatization. The descent is down Mweka, in the south-east. Because the starting point is far from Moshi, it is more expensive to climb this route due to the added transportation cost of getting climbers to the gate. Scenically, Lemosho is considered the most varied and most beautiful because it begins in the rainforest, crosses the spectacular Shira Plateau, and then combines with the Machame route to share its viewpoints around the southern circuit.

Lemosho has low traffic until it combines with Machame. Lemosho is ideal for those who place a premium on proper altitude acclimatization, who are confident in their ability to walk over steeper paths for extended periods, and want a lesser used route. However, Lemosho is also more expensive than the other routes.

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