Blonde father and son (child) with trekking poles on Umbwe route of Kilimanjaro, moorland zone

Can I take my child on a Kilimanjaro climb with me?

Jul 8, 2024
Reading time: 9 minutes

No child under 10 can go on a Kilimanjaro climb as per the Tanzania National Parks Authority. But should a child of 10 or more climb the mountain? We offer our expert advice to help you decide if your child is ready for this epic challenge!

In many ways your age doesn't determine your mindset or ability – whether you're a senior specimen or a sprog.

That said, we respect and agree with the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) that children under 10 years of age aren't ready for the challenge that is a six- to nine-day Kilimanjaro climb.

As to tweens and teens? We believe that some would cope perfectly well and really enjoy tackling this great adventure with a parent or two.

In fact, we had an amazing 14-year-old called Taksshil do a Follow Alice Kilimanjaro climb with his family in June 2023 and he made it to the summit!

But is such a child to be held up as the exception to the rule, or the norm?

How hard is a Kilimanjaro climb?

Trekkers resting on Kilimanjaro with clouds in the background

Summit day is often the hardest challenge of many climbers' lives

One of the most frequent challenges we experience as a Kilimanjaro tour operator is ensuring our clients understand how tough Kilimanjaro is to climb.

We think there are two reasons why people perennially underestimate the challenge inherent in a Kilimanjaro climb:

  • It's a non-technical trek (you don't need any mountaineering gear or experience). Most mountains this high require ropes, crampons, ice picks and so on.
  • It's in Africa, and the popular mental image of the African continent doesn't include chart-toppingly high mountains with glaciers near the peak.
Brown-haired girl wearing blue shirt looking at Mount Kilimanjaro. Clear, sunny day. Amboseli, Kenya

Kilimanjaro from a distance looks deceptively easy

To speak to both of these points ...

Don't let Kilimanjaro's non-technicality fool you

Firstly, yes, Kilimanjaro is a non-technical climb. So you can climb it with just hiking boots, trekking poles and warm clothes. But it's gruelling nonetheless.

In fact, roughly half of all the thousands of people who attempt to climb Kilimanjaro every year don't make it to the summit. Really think on it. These aren't couch potatoes – they're all people who thought they'd be able to manage to multiday mountain trek!

On the one hand we don't want to make climbing Kilimanjaro sound impossible, since it's highly possible for those with good fitness, endurance and mental strength.

Yet even with sending our clients plenty of preparation materials, we regularly get the feedback that folks didn't expect it to be as hard as it was. (And on that note, they also regularly say that the descent is in some ways as taxing as the ascent, because it happens over just two days.)

As we often say, unless you're a mountaineer or ultra athlete, climbing Kilimanjaro is likely to be the hardest thing you ever do in your life!

Mweka route descent on Kilimanjaro rainforest

Our client Romy took this snap on her Kilimanjaro descent

It's by the Equator, but is 1 km higher than Mt Blanc

Secondly, the mental picture many around the world have of African plains often fools them into thinking Kilimanjaro isn't that big or high, and so won't be that tough. (Nervous laughter and sideways glances.)

At 5,895 m above sea level (asl), Kilimanjaro is far higher than Mt Blanc in Europe, for instance, which is only 4,809 m asl. And it's only about 300 m lower than Mt Denali in Alaska.

So please ask yourself: is my child fit, strong and determined enough to tackle such a high and arduous mountain?

Ours. Mt Kilimanjaro from a distance in Masai Mara Reserve, Kenya

Kilimanjaro sits very near the Equator

Of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each continent), Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest. Fourth, folks. And far higher than Mt Blanc and Mt Elbrus.

What's your child's response to strain and discomfort?

We also urge you to consider what inner resources your child has in terms of tackling the physical and mental challenges they'll face?

We're talking here not just of the physical feat of trekking for hours a day for several days in a row. We're also talking about the challenges that come with high altitude.

As we discuss in Kilimanjaro altitude sickness, most climbers experience at least mild symptoms of altitude sickness during the ascent. While usually not serious, these symptoms are unpleasant, and can be downright so.

Does your child fall apart when they have a headache? Do they not function well when they've had a bad night's sleep? Both of these things are common when your body has to adjust to a big jump in elevation. Other common symptoms of elevation gain are nausea, dizziness and insomnia.

If you don't think your child will have the usual resolve and physical fortitude if they are dealing with any of these symptoms, then Kilimanjaro probably isn't the right challenge for them right now.

Barafu Camp Kilimanjaro

Most climbers don't sleep well at all on the final two nights of the ascent

Is your child communicative and responsible?

Children aren't as capable of making wise decisions for themselves as adults (hence why we still parent them closely when they're young!).

Please consider if your child is so competitive that they might push themselves to unreasonable limits to avoid being seen as 'weak'. You don't want them to 'suck it up' right till the point they collapse!

An important part of keeping safe on Kilimanjaro is communicating openly and honestly with your guide about exactly what and how you are feeling. Your guides are trained in detecting the early warning signs of serious altitude sickness as well as other common illnesses.

Is your child able and comfortable with articulating clearly what they're feeling?

Matthieu at the Kissing Rock on Barranco Wall, Kilimanjaro

The narrowest point of a Kilimanjaro climb is aptly called Kissing Rock

Will you have the strength to motivate your child?

Please ask yourself: how much is my child able to regulate their own emotions? And motivate themselves when the going gets tough (or really tough)?

If your child relies heavily on your for motivation and to help them cope when things are really challenging, consider that you could well at times be under quite a bit of strain yourself.

Will you have the mental and physical energy to parent them through the exhaustion and provide enough motivation for the both of you to press on if you're experiencing altitude symptoms or immense fatigue yourself?

Moreover, please consider the fact that if your child can't manage the climb, or develops severe altitude sickness, they'll have to abort the challenge and descend the mountain. This means a parent will have to go with them.

Consider climbing Meru, Kilimanjaro's neighbour, instead

Mt Meru poeak night-time stars, Tanzania

A night-time view of the craggy Socialist Peak of Mt Meru

Mt Meru offers a shorter (three- or four-day) climb that's more manageable both in times of altitude and fortitude. It's still a tough climb, however, you only ascend to 4,562 m asl, which is well over a kilometre lower than Kilimanjaro.

In fact, Mt Meru is regularly done as an acclimatisation climb by those who will go on to tackle Kilimanjaro. Why not let it serve as a testing ground for how you and your child would manage on a Kilimanjaro climb?

Moreover, note that Mt Meru offers truly incredible scenery, which includes unparalleled views of Kilimanjaro and the same gorgeous forest and unique moorland biomes that you encounter on Kilimanjaro. You're also actually far more likely to see some exciting wildlife on Meru than on Kilimanjaro.

Finally, note that you stay in huts on Meru, rather than in tents like on Kilimanjaro, which makes the expedition that much more affordable as you don't need so many porters.

Check out our four-day Mt Meru itinerary to see if this might be a better trekking adventure for you and your family at this stage!

Saddle Hut accommodation on Mt Meru, moorland zone, Tanzania

On Mt Meru everyone stays in huts rather than in tents like on Kilimanjaro

Not many children can summit Kilimanjaro

Doing a Kilimanjaro climb with your child has the potential to be a truly bonding and utterly memorable experience that you'll relive together for the rest of your lives!

That said, please think carefully before booking the trip with one or more non-adult children. After all, remember that Kilimanjaro will still be there offering the chance for an excellent family adventure when your children have grown up a bit!

While many teenagers and even some tweens have successfully climbed Kilimanjaro, we're going to say that these children are the exception to the rule, and not the norm.

Your child might be a fantastic athlete and a highly motivated individual, but that doesn't mean Kilimanjaro is the right challenge for them – right now. Most families should probably wait for their children to grow up a little – become older teenagers at least – before climbing Kilimanjaro together.

Ours. Family on Umbwe route in forest of Kilimanjaro

An multi-gen family in the rainforest section of Kilimanjaro

Our final advice on making the call

Here are our final pieces of advice to help you decide if you should bring your tween or teen on a Kilimanjaro climb:

  • Put a pin in the day-dreaming images of standing atop the summit of Kilimanjaro as a family, and picture that moment down on the side of the mountain when your kid is spent and feeling they can't make it any further. (This happens to many climbers during the ascent – sometimes more than once – no matter their age!) How does that moment play out?
  • If you decide to take the plunge and climb Kilimanjaro, don't rush the process. Give yourselves a few months at least to train and prepare as a family. Go on shorter (but still challenging) multiday treks together to see how your child manages all aspects of the challenge. Also check in the health of the family dynamic when things get tough.
  • Set your family up with the greatest chance for a successful climb by opting for the nine-day Northern Circuit route. This is the longest route and thus has by far the highest summit success rate. At the very least, opt for the eight-day Lemosho route. You can learn more about the differences between these two routes in Lemosho vs Northern Circuit.

Finally, please reach out to chat if you'd like! We have a wealth of knowledge about the different Kilimanjaro routes and more, and are more than happy to help you figure out if you and your child are ready to embark together on the lifetime adventure that is a Kilimanjaro climb!