Kilimanjaro climbing routes
There are seven established routes that lead to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. They are: Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, Rongai, Northern Circuit, Shira and Umbwe. There’s also a descent-only route called the Mweka route.
Each of the seven Kilimanjaro routes has its own pros and cons, like cost, scenic variety and summit success rate. Each should therefore be thoroughly researched in order to make an informed and educated choice.
Which is the best Kilimanjaro route?
In our opinion, the best Kilimanjaro routes are the Lemosho, Machame and Northern Circuit routes. We like these routes because they’re beautiful and varied, and don’t require you to descend along the same path. They also enjoy high summit success rates, and of course we want our climbers to enjoy standing at the summit!
If we had to choose just one Kilimanjaro route, it would be a toss up between the Lemosho route and the Northern Circuit, because they’re less crowded than the Machame.
The seven Kilimanjaro routes
Here are the seven established routes leading to the summit of Kilimanjaro and a short, introductory description of each. The Mweka route is a descent-only route on the southeast side of the mountain, followed by the trekkers of most routes, so it isn’t mentioned here.
- Lemosho route
The Lemosho is arguably the most beautiful Kilimanjaro route.
- Machame route
The Machame is the most popular Kilimanjaro route.
- Marangu route
The Marangu is the only route to offer hut accommodation.
- Rongai route
The Rongai is the only route that approaches the summit from the north.
- Shira route
The Shira approaches the summit from the west.
- Northern Circuit
The Northern Circuit is the newest and longest Kilimanjaro route.
- Umbwe route
The Umbwe is the shortest, steepest and hardest Kilimanjaro route.
Answering which route is ‘best’ for Kilimanjaro is tricky because people want different things out of their Kilimanjaro climb. This makes the choice of which route to climb very much a personal decision.
Which is the easiest Kilimanjaro route?
The Northern Circuit is the easiest Kilimanjaro route in our opinion.
The first reason we say this is that it’s the longest route (nine days), and so gives your body ample time to adjust to the high altitude. Those who ascend the mountain too quickly often develop altitude sickness and don’t make it to the summit.
Another reason for arguing that the Northern Circuit is the easiest Kilimanjaro route is that it has you climb down a little in elevation on Days 5 and 6. This is an excellent way of helping your body to adjust to the high altitude. It’s in keeping with the ‘climb high sleep low’ strategy. This strategy is a big reason why the Northern Circuit enjoys a very high summit success rate.
The third reason for calling the Northern Circuit the easiest Kilimanjaro route is that it doesn’t have any particularly steep sections. Its trail leads you up the mountain slowly and steadily. Many of the other routes involve steep sections, like the Barranco Wall.
Choosing a Kilimanjaro route
Over the years, we’ve found that those engaged in their Kilimanjaro preparation want to know the following about the routes to help them make their choice:
- Scenery. People want to hike the most varied and beautiful trek route.
- Success rate. They want a route with a high summit success rate.
- Duration. They want to know how many days of trekking is involved for each route.
- Cost. The longer a route, the higher the cost.
The video below gives you a brief overview of the different Kilimanjaro routes and discusses the scenery, success rate and duration of each. It’s a nice overview to help you identify the couple or so routes you wish to investigate further.
“Deciding on a route up Kilimanjaro is definitely a personal choice and should be done so with care.” Chris Sichalwe
Climbing Kilimanjaro route considerations
So each of these seven Kilimanjaro routes has its own advantages and disadvantages. They vary in scenery, difficulty, duration, acclimatisation profile, popularity, accommodation options and more. This can all seem pretty daunting – so much to consider! However, if you can clarify your priorities from the start, the decision becomes more of a process of elimination, and therefore relatively easy. To get started, you should work through the following questions:
◯ What do you want to get out of your climb?
Are you interested in photography, or the varied terrains and climatic zones of the mountain, or is achieving the summit your sole goal? Identifying what you want out of the climb should inform your choice of route on Kilimanjaro.
◯ Are you looking for a good acclimatisation profile?
This is one of the biggest considerations when choosing a Kilimanjaro route. Routes have good acclimatisation profiles when they have one or two ‘climb high, sleep low’ opportunities. Climbing high and then sleeping low helps you body to adapt to the high altitude, and better avoid developing altitude sickness.
◯ Are you looking for scenery?
Some routes are better than others when it comes to scenery and the variety of terrain. For example, the Lemosho, Northern Circuit and Shira routes all have stunning scenery, whilst the Umbwe lacks variety.
◯ What is your (and your team’s) level of fitness?
Are you travelling solo? Or do you have a group to think about? If you’re going in a group, ensure you pick a route best suited to everyone in your team.
◯ Do you have trekking experience?
Are you a seasoned hiker with experience at altitude? Or are you a first-time trekker? If so, there are some routes that would not be suitable for you, such as the Umbwe. You might also like to read our Trekking tips for beginners.
◯ How long have you got for your climb?
All the routes have different durations, depending on the amount of time you want to spend on the mountain. Remember that climbing Kilimanjaro is not a race, and ideally you will have at least seven days on the mountain to soak in everything.
◯ How much money can you spend on the climb?
Longer treks are inevitably more expensive. Shorter treks are cheaper, but you may find that you compromise on your chances of summiting, prime example being the once popular Marangu route.
◯ What kind of accommodation do you want?
All of the Kilimanjaro routes require you to camp, except for the Marangu route. On the Marangu who stay in large huts. It’s sometimes called the Coca-Cola route because you can buy a coke at certain points on the trail.
◯ What time of year are you available to go?
You can realistically climb Kilimanjaro at any time, but some months are just better than others. If you’re climbing in rainy season, the Rongai route may be a good option for you because it receives less rainfall. Read more in Best time to climb Kilimanjaro.
◯ Do you want to avoid the crowds?
Do you want a quiet and contemplative climb, or one where you meet lots of people? If the former, consider opting for a route that’s less frequented by climbers. Though no Kilimanjaro route is completely quiet, some routes are more popular than others. For instance, opting for the Northern Circuit gives you a more relaxed climb, with fewer people. The Machame is the most popular route, and the Marangu is also pretty busy.
Which Kilimanjaro routes does Follow Alice recommend?
Put simply, in an ideal world, speed and cost should not be your primary consideration when choosing your route for Kilimanjaro. For example, the Marangu route offers the cheapest price, but that cost saving is often negated by the poor success rates, with less than 50% of those who attempt it making it to the top.
Our goal is not to send as many climbers to Kilimanjaro as possible. Instead, we want to have happy clients returning with memories to last a lifetime and a successful ‘seven summit’ under their belt. We therefore regularly promote and recommend three Kilimanjaro routes to our clients:
These are, overall, the most scenic routes, whilst also being offering the greatest variety. In addition, all three offer great opportunities to acclimatise.
We run through all of the routes individually below. We discuss logistics as well as pros and the cons, and we also provide helpful maps and graphs. If you have any questions, please do feel free to contact us any time. Most of the Follow Alice team have climbed Kilimanjaro at least once, and our local leader Chris has summited over 300 times. Between us we have the knowledge to advise you on the most suitable route for you.
“At first I was a little overwhelmed by all the options! But once I realised that I wanted the best acclimatisation profile possible, it made the choice a lot easier” Robert Jensen
We have to admit, we have a soft spot for the Lemosho route! Because of it’s versatility, scenery and a rather untouched, wild start to the climb, Lemosho is often considered the route with the most variety. Spotting large wildlife, like antelopes is not very common, but possible! One of the really unique things about this route is that it offers trekkers the experience of hiking across the Shira Plateau, one of the largest high-altitude plateaus in the world.
“This was my first proper trek so I wanted to choose a route with a really good acclimatisation profile, but also one with a variety of terrain and scenery. I’m glad I opted for the Lemosho!” Stefano
The route approaches from the western side of the mountain and is less frequented than other popular Kilimanjaro routes. It’s effectively a variant of the Machame route with only the first two days of the trek differing. The acclimatisation profile of the Lemosho route is great, with repeated climb high sleep low opportunities throughout leading to high success rates. Most people complete the Lemosho route in seven days, but it can be extended by one day to give yourself a little longer to acclimatise if needed. Camping is the only available option for the Lemosho route.
The Machame route is our second ‘favourite’ route on Kilimanjaro. Together with Lemosho, it is widely considered the most scenic with beautiful views and a rich variety of terrain. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that it is a very popular Kilimanjaro route, with the latest figures suggesting that just over 20,000 people climb the Machame route each year. It’s popularity is unfortunately therefore it’s only downfall, in that it can get quite overcrowded in peak season.
The Marangu route, nicknamed the ‘Coca Cola’ route, has historically been the most popular Kilimanjaro route. Around 12,000 people use it each year, most commonly those on a tight budget. This is because it’s the only Kilimanjaro route offering dormitory-like accommodation (you get mattresses and other basic amenities). This makes it a popular choice for budget Kilimanjaro operators that don’t have camping equipment to offer.
The Marangu route also only takes five days to complete, which makes also makes it a cheaper option compared to the other routes. However, the acclimatisation profile is mediocre which leads to a very low success rate, therefore not offering the best value for money. And whilst it offers rewarding views from ‘the Saddle’, it’s less scenic than other Kilimanjaro routes as it uses the same trail for both the ascent and descent. Otherwise, the route itself is easy, with almost no steep sections. The rainforest and moorland sections of the trail are beautiful.
The Rongai route is basically one long hike with a very gentle gradient and a low difficulty level. It is the only route that approaches from the Northern side of the mountain and is less frequently climbed. Only around 4,000 people climb it each year.
The Rongai is similar to the Marangu route in terms of its lack of climb high sleep low opportunities. It’s therefore recommended to do the seven-day itinerary rather than the six-day one, giving you an important extra day to adjust to the altitude. It’s generally considered a good alternative to the more crowded routes such as the Marangu, especially for those climbers preferring camping over huts.
The Shira route is similar to the Lemosho except that its starting point is much higher. Approaching from the far western side of the mountain, to reach the starting point you are looking at a lengthy transfer of around four hours to get to the Londorossi Park Gate at 2,200 m, and then a 4×4 ride which takes you up to the Simba River where the trail starts. You make your first night’s stop at 3,500 m!
Starting at a higher altitude means that you can risk gaining altitude too quickly at the very start. If you do plan on doing the Shira Route, a pre-acclimatisation trek is recommended. This route features camping accommodation throughout the route, and is a quieter route than the others with a fantastic balance of scenery and fewer people.
The Northern Circuit is both the newest as well as the longest route up to the peak. Some companies have already started to nickname it the 360 route or the Grand Traverse. The long journey allows for great acclimatisation, leading to a high overall summit success rate.
Only a small number of climbers choose the Northern Circuit owing to the additional days needed to complete it. It starts from the same point as the Lemosho route and offers similarly scenic views. Camping is the only available accommodation option on the Northern Circuit.
The Umbwe route is the shortest and steepest route up Kilimanjaro. It’s the least used trail, probably for its poor acclimatisation profile, and only 589 people climb it each year. Success rates via this route are lower than the average. The route approaches from the south and camping is the only available accommodation option. Pre-acclimatisation is recommended for those who choose to trek this route.