Happy climber at Uhuru sign

All you need to know to climb Mt Kilimanjaro

May 23, 2023
Reading time: 41 minutes

Preparing to climb Kilimanjaro? There's a fair bit that you need to know and do beforehand. We answer all of your questions on how to prepare for this adventure, from the best physical training to choosing a tour operator, selecting a route, and much more!

Your Kilimanjaro preparation

We've put together this blog post to introduce you to the topic of climbing Kilimanjaro. Think of it as an introductory guide on how to plan and prepare for a Kilimanjaro climb, and then succeed in doing it!

With this in mind, we use this post to answer the following questions, as well as give links to more detailed info relating to each:

  1. How hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro?
  2. How fit must I be to climb Kilimanjaro?
  3. How should I train for Kilimanjaro?
  4. What is altitude sickness and will I get it?
  5. Is it safe to climb Kilimanjaro?
  6. How do I choose a Kilimanjaro tour operator?
  7. Can I climb Kilimanjaro on my own?
  8. How much does a Kilimanjaro climb cost?
  9. Must I tip my mountain crew?
  10. How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro?
  11. Which is the best Kilimanjaro route?
  12. What should I pack for Kilimanjaro?
  13. When is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?
  14. Where exactly is Kilimanjaro?
  15. Do I ned any vaccines or meds to climb Kilimanjaro?
  16. Do I need insurance to climb Kilimanjaro?
  17. Do you have any tips for climbing Kilimanjaro?
  18. What can I do right now to start preparing?
An excited Follow Alice trek group at Londorossi Gate, one of the entryways to Kilimanjaro National Park

An excited Follow Alice trek group at Londorossi Gate, one of the entryways to Kilimanjaro National Park

1. How hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro?

This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to Kilimanjaro.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is hard, but you certainly don't have to be a trained athlete or a mountaineer to manage it. Also, there are other things that make it hard, like the cold.

Climbers heading to Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

Our client Frederik took this action snap of his Kilimanjaro group

To help us comprehensively answer the question of how 'hard' Kilimanjaro is, let's look at a few considerations ...

Kilimanjaro is a non-technical mountain

Firstly, Kilimanjaro is a non-technical mountain, which means that anybody with reasonable fitness can climb it. In other words, you don't need to be a mountaineer and have ropes and other climbing equipment to scale it.

So in this sense, Kilimanjaro isn't a difficult mountain to climb. It's actually the only mountain among the Seven Summits that you can climb without any mountaineering experience or equipment.

More info: 10 interesting facts about Mount Kilimanjaro

Porters carry almost everything

Nobody can climb Kilimanjaro alone. It isn't allowed, nor would you be able to manage it anyway. This is because everything you need for the multiday trek must be carried up the mountain, including camping and cooking equipment and food. To make things nicer, many tour operators also carry a portable, chemical toilet up the mountain for use by their clients.

Kilimanjaro stream and scenery and trekkers

Porters carry the bulk of your belongings on Kilimanjaro

Your porters carry the bulk of your belongings too, leaving you to just carry a daypack containing your water, snacks and clothes for the day. This is a big help and makes climbing Kilimanjaro not as hard as it could be.

It's a big climb

The climb up Kilimanjaro is, however, still challenging, no matter how little you need to carry on your back! You have to carry yourself up to nearly 6,000 m above sea level, after all!

So climbing Kilimanjaro requires a good deal of legwork and sweat, even for the very fit.

Kilimanjaro summit day snow climbers George K

On summit day, the climb to the peak is HARD work!

On a Kilimanjaro climb you're doing a great deal of uphill hiking and so you need strong legs.

You also have to hike for many hours on most days, including around 12 to 15 hours on summit day! That's a lot of walking, so your fitness level needs to be reasonable to make such hours on the trail not too difficult to manage.

But we discuss your fitness and physical training in just a moment.

 

 

Some paths have a very steep section

At no point on any of the routes up Kilimanjaro do you need ropes and harnesses to successfully or safely follow the trail.

There is, however, one particular section that you cover on some of the routes that can be daunting for those who don't like heights or are fearful standing near drop-offs. We're talking here of the famous Barranco Wall.

Trekkers climbing the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

Barranco Wall is the steepest section on Kilimanjaro

Barranco Wall, which is on the southern slope of Kilimanjaro, is one of the trickiest sections on the mountain. And yet it's perfectly manageable and often less scary when you're actually on it versus looking up at it from below.

That said, if you're really scared of heights, it might be a good idea to tackle one of the routes that take you up the northern slope and so avoid Barranco Wall altogether.

More info: The Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

 

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It gets very cold!

Night-time temperatures near the top of Kilimanjaro regularly plunge below freezing. At Follow Alice we provide our clients with winter sleeping bags at no extra charge to help you stay cosy!

The extreme cold and sometimes near fierce wind near the arctic summit of Kilimanjaro is part of what makes a Kilimanjaro climb so tough.

This night-time summit hike is incredibly challenging – the most challenging part of a Kilimanjaro climb, to be sure. And part of that challenge is the extreme cold of the arctic climate that exists at the top of the mountain. And then there's also the wind chill to consider.

So please remember that the cold is part of the challenge, and pay careful attention to your Kilimanjaro packing list, which we discuss later on.

More info: Why summit Kilimanjaro at night? and What should I wear on summit night?

You'll probably be camping

Except for those following the Marangu route, which has you stay in huts, all Kilimanjaro climbers stay in campsites and your tour operator provides you with sleeping tents.

Kilimanjaro forest campsite Mti Mkubwa on Lemosho route

Our client Romy took this snap of part of Kilimanjaro's Mti Mkubwa Camp

For some, going days without a shower will be challenging (note that you do get a bucket of water each evening for some strategic splashing).

For others, the loss of certain creature comforts like a microwaved bean bag wrapped around the neck or a refreshing foot soak after a tiring day could prove difficult. We all have our own rituals and preferences.

So please think about how flexible and relaxed you are when it comes to your living situation and hygiene. If the prospect of camp life is daunting, ask if it's worth challenging yourself to overcome your qualms for the sake of the adventure in store?

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You make so many incredible memories on a Kilimanjaro climb

More info: Toilets on Kilimanjaro and Advice for women climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

You could get altitude sickness

We chat about altitude sickness further on in this post in more detail. But for now we just want to mention it in terms of how hard it makes a Kilimanjaro climb.

Kilimanjaro is a high-altitude trek, which means it takes you up into rarified air where you enjoy less oxygen per breath than at sea level.

Most of us live well below the starting altitudes of the various Kilimanjaro routes, which are roughly around 2,000 m (6,562 ft) above sea level. That means our bodies aren't used to the reduced oxygen intake experienced throughout the climb.

And as you doubtless already know, the more you exert yourself, the more oxygen you need. So when putting in the effort to trek up Kilimanjaro, you need more oxygen than usual, but on Kilimanjaro you have less!

8-day Lemosho tent and Uhuru Peak alpine desert Kilimanjaro

A great snap by our client Abhishek of Kilimanjaro's alpine desert

Consequently, many Kilimanjaro climbers experience symptoms of altitude sickness, which include headaches, nausea, dizziness and erratic sleep. These symptoms are uncomfortable at best, life-threatening at worst. If you start to present with extreme altitude symptoms, you'll have to descend the mountain pronto, no quibbling.

Climbing Kilimanjaro therefore means preparing yourself for two things:

  • It's likely that you'll have to keep hiking at times even though you're not feeling your best.
  • It's just possible that you'll have to abort your climb if your guide determines that you're suffering from severe altitude sickness.

More info: Kilimanjaro altitude sickness

Kilimanjaro is harder than Everest Base Camp

Another way of explaining how hard it is to climb Kilimanjaro is comparing it with another multiday trek that many people know or have done.

Most people who have done both Kilimanjaro and the Everest Base Camp trek say that Kilimanjaro is the harder of the two adventures. We discuss why in Kilimanjaro vs Everest Base Camp: which is harder?

2. How fit must I be to climb Kilimanjaro?

To climb Kilimanjaro without feeling that the world is coming to an end requires reasonable fitness. You need to be able to hike for several hours each day. And also manage when most of that hiking is uphill.

Most days you'll hike for around four to six hours. But on summit day, which begins at midnight, you'll need to hike for around 12 to 16 hours! This is because your hike to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro, takes around six or seven hours, but you must then descend a long way to reach that night's campsite.

Kilimanjaro-Group-Photo-Stella-Point

We love how our clients come from all over the world, and are of all different ages

Note too that you need to be sure-footed enough to walk over rock-strewn paths and scree. Trekking poles are helpful in keeping balance.

You also need to have relatively healthy knees to deal with the hike down the mountain. The descent takes place over just two days and has you drop down by around four vertical kilometres!

 

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Did you know that the youngest person to ever undertake to climb Kilimanjaro was seven years old? And the oldest was 85 years old!

3. How should I train for Kilimanjaro?

So how do you physically prepare for Kilimanjaro?

Well, to state the obvious, the more you exercise and train in the lead up to the climb, the easier the climb will be. A fit body is more likely to withstand the stress of consecutive days of hiking and camping. This will mean you'll enjoy your trip more and have a higher chance of successfully summiting the mountain.

You’re probably only going to climb Kilimanjaro once in your life, so if you decide to take the adventure on, be sure to give it your all – not just on the mountain, but also in preparing for it.

You might like to use this opportunity to propel yourself into a healthier lifestyle. This is one of the many reasons that people commit to climbing Africa’s highest peak.

The top part of Kilimanjaro is barren and cold - an adventurer's playground!

The top part of Kilimanjaro is barren and cold – an adventurer's playground!

We recommend that you create a training schedule for the lead up to your climb (and stick to it, of course!). Your workouts should focus on strength, aerobic and cardio training.

Ideally, include some uphill hikes in your training, and wear the boots and socks that you intend to bring to Kilimanjaro. It's important that you climb Kilimanjaro wearing properly worn-in boots and comfortable socks, otherwise your trip could become a sad story of blisters.

For those who don't have any hiking trails nearby, hop on a stair master machine, climb steps, or get on a treadmill and up the incline!

More info: How should I train for Kilimanjaro?

4. What is altitude sickness and will I get it?

Remember your high school geography lessons? The higher up in the atmosphere you go, the less oxygen there is.

Altitude sickness (sometimes also called mountain sickness) is when your body reacts badly to being made to go too high, too quickly. In other words, your body freaks out because it's not getting enough oxygen.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the mildest form of altitude sickness, and it's more irksome than troubling. When it comes to climbing Kilimanjaro, over 75% of climbers experience AMS symptoms when they ascend above 3,000 m.

So you should expect some form of altitude sickness, and then if you're spared: lucky you!

The majority of Kilimanjaro trekkers experience altitude sickness symptoms at some point in their climb.

The most common symptoms of aAMS are:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • poor or interrupted sleep
  • general fatigue
  • loss of appetite

Such symptoms are nothing to panic about, but they can make certain parts of your climb quite challenging.

It's important during these times of the climb that you keep it pole, pole, as the locals say, which means 'slowly, slowly'.

Also be sure to always communicate with your guide about how you're feeling. Remember that altitude sickness can happen to anybody, and it's absolutely nothing to feel embarrassed about.

 

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When altitude sickness becomes serious

Most Kilimanjaro climbers who experience altitude sickness quickly recover and that's the end of the story.

For an unfortunate few, however, the symptoms become moderate to severe, and this indicates they've developed a more intense form of altitude sickness. These individuals will be advised by their mountain guide to abort the climb and descend the mountain. Severe altitude sickness can be deadly and your health has to be put above all other considerations.

The only way to combat and treat moderate or severe altitude sickness is to descend, descend, descend.

Altitude sickness can affect anyone

Note that who gets struck by altitude sickness is essentially random – it has nothing to do with fitness nor age. That said, anyone who lives at a very high altitude is obviously less likely to develop altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro.

Lemosho Route - Campsite on Kilimanjaro

One of the many Kilimanjaro campsites that are regularly above the clouds

How to avoid altitude sickness

Ultimately there's no real way to avoid altitude sickness, as it has nothing to do with fitness nor age, and can strike anyone.

That said, there are a couple of things you can do to minimise your chances of falling prey to it. If you're able, try to climb high mountains as often as possible to give your body an idea of what to expect.

Secondly, you could train with an altitude mask. This is basically a mask that emulates the decrease in oxygen that you will experience on your climb, giving you the opportunity to experience it beforehand. Whether or not this is effective in avoiding AMS entirely is still unclear, but if you have the option, why not give it a go?

Why we climb high and sleep low

Altitude sickness symptoms can be minimised by engaging in the correct acclimatisation process. We call this process 'climb high, sleep low'. This basically involves climbing to a new altitude during the day and then dropping back down in elevation in the afternoon so that you can sleep at a lower altitude at night.

Taking a little rest on the climb to chat and appreciate the views

Taking a little rest on the climb to chat and appreciate the views

Certain Kilimanjaro trails like the Lemosho route and Northern Circuit have more (or better) opportunities to climb high and sleep low than others worked into them, which is a key part of why we like and recommend them.

More info: The best acclimatisation for climbing Kilimanjaro

Drink lots of water

Finally, note that drinking water can help to lessen the symptoms of altitude sickness. So chug away!

Also, be sure to eat full meals on the mountain, even if altitude sickness has made you lose your appetite. You're not going to manage the rigours of the climb on an empty stomach!

Lady surrounded by mountains stopping to drink some water on her trek

A hydration pack lets you sip water easily during the climb

5. Is it safe to climb Kilimanjaro?

Climbing Kilimanjaro is of course more dangerous than staying at home. An adventure always involves a degree of risk.

We elaborate ...

Good training leads to a safer climb

The more time and effort that you put into your physical Kilimanjaro preparation, the safer your climb will be. For instance, if you've put in the effort to develop strong ankles, you're less likely to roll a foot.

Good preparation leads to a safer climb

Even more important to the safety of your climb is your practical preparation, which includes things like:

  • obtaining adequately warm clothing
  • choosing a safe and reliable tour operator
  • selecting a route that minimises your chance of developing AMS

While your tour operator is very much responsible for your health and safety when you're on the mountain, you need to please do your part too by researching things and preparing accordingly.

Then, when you're on the mountain, you also need to communicate clearly with your guides about how you're feeling. If you're feeling off, don't think "Just suck it up, chum." Always, always speak up if you're feeling ill. And then be sure to follow the guide's advice.

More info: Kilimanjaro safety – all you need to know

Misty moorland campsite, Kilimanjaro

You hike and sleep in all sorts of weather on a Kilimanjaro climb

Accidents and illness can and do happen

Every year people die on Kilimanjaro. More often than not their deaths are altitude-related.

So we all need to be realistic and responsible when it comes to Kilimanjaro.

Firstly, the most important thing is climbing with a tour operator that only uses highly trained and experienced guides. They are your most powerful resource in keeping you safe. They're trained to detect symptoms of altitude sickness and respond accordingly.

Well-trained Kilimanjaro guides are also trained in wilderness first aid and can respond appropriately in a medical emergency, whether it be bandaging you up or sending you down the mountain on a stretcher via the quickest evacuation route.

Chris doing first aid

Our Tanzania director Chris showing off his first aid skills

At Follow Alice we have established evacuation routes for different sections of the mountain and are happy to share this information with any potential clients. If you're looking into using a particular tour operator, why not ask them about this to check that they have well-established protocols in place?

We cannot stress enough how important it is to your safety that you choose a reputable and experienced Kilimanjaro operator.

Also please research any Kilimanjaro tour operator you're thinking of using in terms of the training and experience of their guides. Be sure to confirm that their lead guides are certified Wilderness First Responders and Wilderness First Aiders. This means that they're trained on how to respond to emergency situations in remote areas.

At Follow Alice our guides are trained and certified by the Sentinel Outdoor Institute.

Chris renewing his Wilderness First Responder training

All of Follow Alice's lead guides renew their safety training qualifications annually

What your tour operator should do to keep you safe

Reputable tour operators like Follow Alice monitor your vitals throughout your Kilimanjaro climb. Every day one of your guides should use a pulse oximeter to monitor your oxygen saturation and pulse rate.

Kilimanjaro guides also have access to a first aid kit, a stretcher and bottled oxygen. Bottled oxygen is for emergencies only, and so won't be given to climbers who haven't acclimatised properly but want to climb higher.

More info: How we keep you safe on Kilimanjaro

Our fantastic mountain crew sets up camp at each overnight stop while trekkers take a load off

Our fantastic mountain crew sets up camp at each overnight stop while trekkers take a load off

Visit your GP before your Kilimanjaro adventure

It's not essential that you have a medical checkup before coming to Kilimanjaro if you know that you're healthy and fit. That said, it's never a bad idea to check in with your doc, especially if you're harbouring any concerns (perhaps concerning an old injury or an existing medical condition). A consult could be a good idea for peace of mind.

The main reason we encourage clients to visit their GP before coming to Tanzania is to get a script for altitude meds. A drug like Diamox can help to mitigate the symptoms of high altitude and so help you to cope better.

6. How do I choose a Kilimanjaro tour operator?

The internet, as informative as it is, can also be pretty overwhelming. If you search for Kilimanjaro tour operators, for instance, you'll be inundated with results.

So how can you know which to look at, and which are any good?

Follow Alice group pic Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro, red jackets, Jan 2023

At Follow Alice we've been leading groups safely up and down Kilimanjaro for years

Our first piece of advice: try not to get too caught up in finding the cheapest option. We’re all for saving money, but not to the extent that it makes a major expedition like climbing Kilimanjaro unpleasant or even unsafe.

You're going to be spending a chunk of money on your airfare and the trek anyways, so don't risk the quality and enjoyment of it all just to save a few dollars. That's our opinion, at least.

The three kinds of tour operators

To help you sift through the tour operators on offer, it's helpful to know that there are three main types of Kilimanjaro tour operators:

  1. Budget tour operators
  2. Value-for-money tour operators
  3. Luxury tour operators

1. Budget tour operators

These operators are the least expensive and usually charge between $1,500 and $1,900 per person for a seven-day climb.

This may sound great, but keep in mind that if you pay them less, they probably pay their guides and porters less. Budget tour operators also often charge you less but increase the tipping amount for you to budget, so ultimately you end up spending around the same amount of money as you would for a value tour operator, minus the quality in service.

We discussed the importance of good guides and porters in relation to your health and safety earlier in this post, so keep that in the forefront of your mind when making this decision.

Note too that budget tour operators also usually provide poor quality equipment, and your meals will also be of a lower standard than those you can expect from a value-for-money operator. The importance of good, nutritious food on a Kilimanjaro climb cannot be overstated.

More info: Meals on Kilimanjaro

Value-for-money tour operators

These tour operators generally offer a per-person package fee for a seven-day of anywhere between $1,900 and $3,200. Longer climbs will naturally cost more, as every day you're on the mountain involves more costs (think park fees, crew wages and food).

Group pic in the Follow Alice mess tent at Barafu Camp

Our client Eva took this snap in the Follow Alice mess tent

Value-for-money operators offer treks of about six to eight days in duration, which give you more time to acclimatise and so increase your likelihood of successfully summiting the mountain. They also ensure your guides and porters are properly prepared and well paid, and they don’t compromise on the quality of food or equipment provided.

Follow Alice falls into this category of tour operator. Our fee also includes one night of accommodation and transport on either side of the trek. We also loan clients a cosy winter sleeping bag designed for Kilimanjaro at no extra charge.

When comparing the package prices of different tour operators, consider if they all offer the same inclusions.

 

 

Luxury tour operators

Any company offering a seven-day Kilimanjaro climb package above US$3,200 per person could be considered a luxury tour operator.

These operators usually offer the same services and amenities as value-for-money operators, but they just offer a little more as well. What sort of extras, you ask? Usually they'll offer five-star accommodation on either side of the climb, as well as things like portable showers, wine and oxygen tanks during the adventure itself.

A reputable luxury tour operator is a perfectly fine choice for your Kilimanjaro trip if such extras appeal to you - the cost is just generally out of the reach of most people's pockets.

There are hundreds of Kilimanjaro tour operators out there, making the topic a large one. We consequently haven't been able to squeeze in all the info in the above synopsis. If you'd like to know more about the three categories of tour operator and the services each one provides, please contact us!

More info: Why prices differ so much between Kilimanjaro operators

Kilimanjaro Follow Alice campsite sunset

Sunsets and sunrises are magical times on Kilimanjaro

Finally, here are six things to consider to help you separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to finding a safe, reputable and ethical Kilimanjaro tour operator ...

Comfort

Firstly, you want a good tour operator who provides the necessities (and extras) to make your climb as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Think tasty, nutritious meals, camp chairs for relaxing in during the evenings, and quality tents that ensure a dry and warm sleep, among other things.

More info: Sleeping on Kilimanjaro

Climbers sitting in Barranco Camp on Kilimanjaro

Hanging out at Barranco Camp

Safety

Secondly, you want a company that takes your safety seriously. If something goes wrong on the mountain, from a sprained ankle to altitude sickness symptoms, you want guides that are properly trained in mountain first aid.

We felt greatly taken care of by the Follow Alice crew! The guides made us feel safe at all times.

– Christoph

Communicativeness

Thirdly, you want a tour operator that is professional and friendly and will support you through the whole process of planning the adventure. You want a trip manager who is responsive and helpful. It's a big thing to climb Kilimanjaro, and you're sure to have questions in the lead up!

Essentially, your operator should support you through the whole process from start to finish.

Professional mountain crew

Fourthly, you want a tour operator that offers a quality and well-trained mountain crew, as these are the guys (and sometimes gals) who'll be trekking with you, looking after your safety, setting up camp and cooking for you, and encouraging you if you're struggling at any point during the climb.

Barranco Wall and porters

Porters tackling Barranco Wall – they're true legends!

Ethical employment

You want also want to choose a tour operator that you know treats its mountain crew ethically.

Follow Alice is a partner company of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) and the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC). KPAP advocates for the fair treatment and proper payment of Kilimanjaro porters.

KPAP.jpg

Follow Alice is a partner company of KPAP

We encourage you to only climb Kilimanjaro with a tour operator who has undergone and passed KPAP's rigorous vetting process. While a non-KPAP operator could well be treating its porters well, you have no way of knowing this for sure. A KPAP partnership is a guarantee that you're travelling with a company who treats its employees well.

Safety protocols

Your Kilimanjaro tour operator is responsible for your safety on the mountain, as we discussed earlier. Be sure to ask any tour operator you're considering travelling with about their safety and evacuation measures.

Kabelo thumbs up on Kilimanjaro

We simply love this happy pic of Kabelo, who climbed the Lemosho with us in 2021

7. Can I climb Kilimanjaro on my own?

No.

Nobody can climb Kilimanjaro on their own. In fact, it's against Tanzanian law for anyone to embark on an unguided Kilimanjaro climb. The number one reason for this is safety. Secondly, it would be next to impossible anyway.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a team affair

Every reputable Kilimanjaro tour operator employs a formally registered lead guide and a team of registered support guides and porters, as well as a cook.

Porters are the backbone of every Kilimanjaro trip. They carry all of the equipment necessary for your entire stay on the mountain, including tents, food, water, cooking equipment and climbers' belongings (you do, however, carry your own daypack).

So not only would it be illegal for you to climb on your own, you could never manage to carry all that you need!

Group photo in forest, Kilimanjaro routes

Seriously ... it takes a team to get anyone up and down Kilimanjaro!

At present roughly 50,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year. This creates hundreds of stable and rewarding jobs for the Tanzanians who work as guides, cooks and porters, not to mention the various other spinoff jobs like drivers and hotel staff.

Kilimanjaro has created opportunities within the local community and grown the economy in a massive way. When you book to climb Kilimanjaro, you're therefore supporting the local community (provided you travel with a reputable tour operator that pays its staff fairly).

 

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The value of a climbing team

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a truly magnificent, team experience. We see time and time again that individuals who start the adventure as strangers end it as friends.

We also find that climbers bond with their guides and other members of the mountain crew. Your guides offer you invaluable advice and much-needed encouragement during your time on the mountain. Many past Kilimanjaro climbers say that they wouldn't have made it to the summit without their mountain crew's practical and emotional support!

The scenery on Kilimanjaro changes from day to day and is always a delight

The scenery on Kilimanjaro changes from day to day and is always a delight

At Follow Alice, we don't take groups of more than 14 climbers. When we get a group that's larger than that, we split the climbers into two groups of equal size, each with its own mountain crew. We find that smaller groups allow for better bonding and team spirit as well as better safety and organisation.

Who makes up a mountain crew?

Every Kilimanjaro climb group is accompanied by a large mountain crew. This crew consists of the following hardworking people:

 

Crew memberRole

Porters

They carry everything and also set up and strike camp

Helping porters

They work as porters but also have an additional duty like serving as your waiter or servicing the toilet

Cook

He prepares all of your meals, snacks and hot drinks

Assistant guides

They guide you safely and efficiently up the mountain, encourage you, and answer your questions

Lead guide

He is responsible for everyone's safety on the climb

 

The more climbers there are in your group, the larger your mountain crew will be because you need a certain number of guides per climbers, and more climbers also necessitate more porters.

It takes a small army to stage every Kilimanjaro climb. And you become a small and tight-knit community during your days spent together on the mountain!

8. How much does a Kilimanjaro climb cost?

It isn't cheap to climb Kilimanjaro. There are many costs involved, but the main ones are your international flights, your tour operator fee, and your mountain crew tips (more on that in the next point).

Also, the cost of a Kilimanjaro climb can vary greatly from person to person depending on things like where you're travelling from, how many days your climb is going to last, and the sort of operator you choose.

The infographic below give a rough outline of the cost of a seven-day Kilimanjaro climb with a reputable, mid-range tour operator.

How-much-does-it-cost-to-climb-Kilimanjaro-Infographic

Example of a seven-day Kilimanjaro cost breakdown

An eight-, nine- or ten-day Kilimanjaro climb will naturally cost a little more as you must cover further daily park fees, crew wages and food costs.

Follow Alice's Kilimanjaro packages

At Follow Alice, we offer the following Kilimanjaro package fees, which include lodge accommodation the nights before and after the climb as well as use of one of our winter sleeping bags:

9. Must I tip my mountain crew?

When preparing your Kilimanjaro budget, it's important to know that tipping your mountain crew is a universal custom on Kilimanjaro.

Scott Kilimanjaro group photo crew

Our client Scott with some of his awesome mountain crew

In fact, Kilimanjaro tipping, which is regulated by the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), is an essential part of each crew member's income. It also recognises their hard work in helping you to summit the mountain.

We actually tip mountain crews instead of just increasing their wages for two reasons:

  1. Mountain crews like to keep their wages below the taxable income bracket and then receive non-taxable tips on top of that wage.
  2. Mountain crews like the idea of being able to earn a big tip if they deliver a really good service.

Tipping may not be common practice in all countries and cultures, but it plays a large part in the financial compensation of Kilimanjaro mountain crews.

The tipping ceremony

There's a special tipping ceremony at the end of every Kilimanjaro climb. This ceremony is conducted according to the guidelines given by KPAP.

Kilimanjaro tipping ceremomny

A Follow Alice tipping ceremony in action

During this ceremony – which also involves song, dance and the handing out of climber certificates – one person in your group says a thank you to the crew and then hands over a pooled tip to the lead guide, who will later distribute the money among the different crew members.

So while tipping isn't compulsory, it's expected, and is an important way of saying thank you to the crew who helped you to achieve your dream!

Remember tipping when making your budget

Please don't forget to factor your tips into your Kilimanjaro budget.

Generally speaking, the fewer people in your climb group, the more your individual contribution to the group tip will be. And the longer your climb, the larger your tip will be, as your mountain crew are working more days.

If you're a solo climber or one of a very small group, the recommended tipping amount can be substantial. We give ranges of tipping depending on your group size and the duration of your climb in Kilimanjaro tipping.

 

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10. How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro?

It takes between five and nine days to climb Kilimanjaro. It really depends on the ascent route that you decide to take.

Each of Kilimanjaro's seven ascent routes has its own pros and cons like varied scenery and crowds or no crowds. But one of the factors that really, really matters is how well it lets your body acclimatise to the increasing altitude.

Ascent routes that are short and steep and so only take a few days to climb (like the Umbwe route, which takes four days to ascend) have a greater risk of altitude sickness attached to them. The longer and gentler ascent routes (like the Northern Circuit, which takes seven days to ascend) give you much more time to properly acclimatise and climbers of those routes enjoy a much higher summit success rate.

Some routes, namely the Rongai, Machame, Lemosho and Marangu, have enough campsites or huts that you can actually choose between two itineraries. In other words, they can each be extended by a day if you wish to take longer over the climb and so give your body more time to acclimatise.

Southern Ice Field on Kilimanjaro

The glaciers on the summit of Kilimanjaro are incredibly beautiful

Don't gamble on your success

Remember that climbing Kilimanjaro isn't a race. Also, it's a big financial investment. Don't try to cut down costs by choosing the shortest route and jeopardising your chances of a successful summit. Rather, give yourself the best chance possible of making it to Uhuru Peak by choosing an ascent route that gives you at least six days to make it to the top.

11. Which is the best Kilimanjaro route?

All of the seven different Kilimanjaro routes lead to the summit! They all then use one of two possible descent routes back to the bottom of the mountain.

Group of hikers in forest of Kilimanjaro

A great group snap by our client Jillian

Having said that, trying to figure out which route to take should not be an afterthought, but rather a core component of your Kilimanjaro preparation.

Choosing the right route can, in fact, make or break your climb. This is because each route has its own pros and cons. It's important that you weigh these carefully before making your decision.

Lemosho-Route-8-day-Map Kilimanjaro

The eight-day Lemosho route is one of our favourite Kilimanjaro routes

Here's a quick introduction to the seven routes, which may help you to whittle down your options so that you only need to research some of them in more detail:

 

RouteDistanceDurationNotes

Lemosho

70 km / 44 mi

7 or 8 days

Beautiful and varied terrain. Good acclimatisation. Busy route.

Machame

62 km / 39 mi

6 or 7 days

Beautiful and varied terrain. Busiest route.

Marangu

72 km / 45 mi

5 or 6 days

Hut accommodation. Scenery not so varied. Not very steep.

Rongai

73 km / 45 mi

6 or 7 days

Quiet route. Takes a long time to reach the trailhead. You look north to Kenya.

Shira

56 km / 35 mi

6 or 7 days

Very high start. Poor acclimatisation. You miss the pretty forest zone.

Northern Circuit 

98 km / 61 mi

9 or 10 days

Very pretty and varied route. Quiet route. Highest summit success rate.

Umbwe

53 km / 33 mi

6 or 7 days

Very steep and tough. Pretty scenery. Poor acclimatisation. Low summit success rate.

 

More info: The seven different Kilimanjaro routes

Mount Kilimanjaro. On the way from Machame Camp to Shira Camp

Gorgeous landscape on the Machame route

Guiding questions

At the end of the day, choosing a route is a personal choice, so really there is no 'best' route overall. Rather, you could say there's a best route for you and what you want to achieve.

There are five essential questions to answer to help you choose your Kilimanjaro route:

  1. How diverse is the route's vegetation, terrain and scenery?
  2. How many days are spent on the mountain?
  3. What is the acclimatisation profile and success rate of the route?
  4. How much does the climb cost?
  5. How crowded does the route get?
Groundsel Trees on Kilimanjaro

Did we mention the scenery on Kilimanjaro?? 😉

Follow Alice's opinion

All that said, in our opinion the best Kilimanjaro routes are:

  • 8-day Lemosho route – it's very beautiful and has a high summit success rate
  • 9-day Northern Circuit – it's a beautiful and quiet route with an excellent summit success rate
  • 7-day Machame route – it's a beautiful and popular route

12. What should I pack for Kilimanjaro?

On a Kilimanjaro climb you go from the humidity of a rainforest into a world of snow and glaciers in a matter of days! So you need a variety of gear and clothing to complete this journey safely.

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Kilimanjaro packing list – equipment

The main items of gear to pack for a Kilimanjaro adventure are:

  • 80- or 100-litre duffel bag for your overnight items (carried by a porter)
  • 30- or 40-litre day backpack for your daytime items (carried by you)
  • Winter sleeping bag (must fit into your duffel bag)*
  • Sleeping mat (also must fit into your duffel bag)
  • Water bottle and hydration pack
  • Trekking poles (optional, but advisable)
  • Headlamp for summit night

* At Follow Alice we loan our clients a winter sleeping bag at no extra charge!

Evening in Mweka Camp on Kilimanjaro – Follow Alice tents and cloud bank below

Our client took this evening pic from Mweka Camp

Kilimanjaro packing list – clothing

As to clothing, we recommend packing:

  • Gaiters (optional, but advisable when there's snow on the summit)
  • Waterproof or water-resistant hiking boots that are worn in
  • Hiking socks, including winter hiking socks
  • Winter gloves and inner gloves
  • Sunhat and warm beanie or balaclava
  • Windproof, hooded winter jacket (like a down jacket)
  • Rain gear like a poncho and waterproof pullover trousers
  • Fleece jacket or similar
  • Trekking trousers and sweat-wicking shirts
  • A pair of shorts (optional, for the rainforest section)
  • Thermal leggings and long-sleeved tops
  • Underwear, including thermal underwear
Trekkers in the morning sun on summit day on Kilimanjaro, the best hiking boots for Kilimanjaro

Everyone covers up as much as they can near the summit

Kilimanjaro packing list – toiletries and meds

Some of the important little items to bring along are:

  • Biodegradable wet wipes (there are no showers on the mountain!)
  • Sunscreen and SPF lip balm (the UV rays are intense at high altitude)
  • Moisturising cream and lip balm (your skin and lips take a beating near the summit)
  • Altitude meds like Diamox (you'll need to visit your GP to obtain these)

Complete packing list: The ultimate Kilimanjaro packing list

Also please feel free to download the Kilimanjaro packing list checklist provided below. 🤓

 

 

13. When is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?

You can climb Kilimanjaro any time of the year, but some months are better than others.

To avoid the rainy season (this affects you in the rainforest zone) as well as the coldest temperatures at the summit, we recommend climbing Kilimanjaro between

  • January to March (summer)
  • June to October (autumn)

More info: Best time to climb Kilimanjaro

Full moon over Kilimanjaro

Full moon climbs are fantastic as you don't need headlamps to see your way

We offer New Year's Eve Kilimanjaro climbs

Yep, we said it! Can you imagine a better way to bring in the new year?! Every year we organise a climb that has you summiting Kilimanjaro on New Year's Eve. This means that on the first of January you'll be watching the sunrise while standing at the top of Africa!

Snowy Kili summit

There's a good chance you'll experience a snowy summit if you do a New Year's Eve climb

Note that a New Year's Eve climb in Tanzania is a winter climb, so having sufficiently warm clothing is even more important than usual!

More info: Unique New Year’s Eve idea for seeing in 2024

We also offer full moon summit climbs!

Most Kilimanjaro climbers head for the summit by the light from their headlamps. But those who summit during a full moon don't need this light!

Full moon over Kilimanjaro

A full moon over Kilimanjaro

It's absolutely incredible to be able to look down over the mountain during your night-time summit. So we highly recommend opting for a full moon Kilimanjaro climb!

More info: Kilimanjaro full moon climbs

14. Where exactly is Mt Kilimanjaro?

Mt Kilimanjaro is in the far north of Tanzania, which is on the east coast of Africa, as shown in the map below. In fact, the mountain is right on the border with Kenya.

Northern Tanzania national parks map, Lake Natron

Map of the Kilimanjaro and Serengeti region

As you can see in the map above, the nearest airport to Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). JRO is a small airport, and so most travellers fly in via Dar es Salaam or Nairobi.

It takes around an hour to drive from the airport to Moshi, which is the closest city to Kilimanjaro. You can also stay in Arusha, which is a little closer to the airport and also a workable base for a Kilimanjaro climb.

At Follow Alice, we offer airport transfers to and from Moshi for US$25 each way. We usually put up our clients at the lovely Lindrin Lodge in Moshi the nights before and after the climb. The cost of this accommodation is part of your package fee.

Lindrin-Lodge-Main

Lindrin Lodge in Moshi

Kilimanjaro's proximity to game parks

One of the great things about Kilimanjaro is how close it is to some truly world-class game reserves like Serengeti National Park and some astounding natural wonders like Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron.

For this reason, we often take clients on an exciting Big Five safari after their Kilimanjaro climb. If you've just scaled Africa's tallest mountain, you certainly deserve a heavenly safari as a reward!

Flamingoes on Lake Natron in Tanzania

Lake Natron, near to Kilimanjaro, is a haven for flamingoes

Tanzania tourist visas

Most foreigners visiting Tanzania need to obtain a tourist visa.

US, Canadian, British and most European citizens can simply obtain their visas upon arrival at any of Tanzania's international airports. The cost is $100 for US passport holders and $50 for others.

If you're a citizen of a different country, please check with your embassy whether or not you can obtain a visa upon arrival. Or if you even need one, as some African nationals don't need a visa to visit Tanzania.

You will of course also need a valid passport to enter Tanzania. Be sure you have a passport that's valid for at least six months from your arrival date.

More info: Your 2023 Tanzania travel questions answered

15. Do I ned any vaccines or meds to climb Kilimanjaro?

You don't need to have any specific vaccinations to travel to Tanzania. That said, be aware that the Government of Tanzania does require proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival if you're travelling in from a country with a known risk of yellow fever.

Further, while no vaccinations are required, some might still be a good idea. We suggest you talk to your doctor about getting the following vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever, tetanus, polio, and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). Please go to the Fit For Travel website for more up-to-date information.

Kilimanjaro is in a malaria zone

As you can see in the map below, Tanzania is in a malaria zone.

Map showing distribution of malaria in Africa

Map showing the extent of malaria in Africa

That said, most of Mt Kilimanjaro itself is too cold for mosquitoes. But before and after the climb you'll be in a malaria zone. We encourage you to speak with your doctor before coming to Tanzania about anti-malaria tablets.

More info: Everything you need to know about Kilimanjaro National Park

16. Do I need insurance to climb Kilimanjaro?

Please note that medical insurance is a requirement for climbing Kilimanjaro. Every reputable tour operator will ask after your insurance policy before leading you on the climb.

We discuss insurance – medical and otherwise – in detail in How much does it cost to climb Kilimanjaro? Please be sure to include your travel insurance in your Kilimanjaro budget.

Group shot - climbers and mountain crew

A group photo from one of our 2021 climbs 😊

17. Do you have any tips for climbing Kilimanjaro?

Something we love is receiving feedback from trekkers about all they've learned from their their journey to the Roof of Africa. We've gathered lessons from beginner hikers to seasoned Kilimanjaro guides who've reached the summit more than 200 times and used these to compile the following list of useful tips to consider on your journey to the top:

  • We say it all the time, but seriously: take it slowly. You'll often hear the guides and porters say “Pole, pole”, which is Swahili for 'slowly, slowly'.
  • Listen to your guides when they give you advice. They know what they're talking about and want to see you succeed.
  • On that note, learn a few basic Swahili phrases before coming to Tanzania. Your guides and porters will love it if you throw in a local word here and there.
  • Your guides and porters are your support system. Make friends with them and learn all you can about Tanzania.
  • Don’t shy away from eating all the food that's given to you. This is what will sustain you on your journey. Even if you don’t feel hungry - eat, eat, eat!
  • Drink water. Lots of water! Hydration is essential for your body on a Kilimanjaro climb.
  • Come equipped with yummy treats! Everyone loves a good snack and the more calories you consume while on your summit, the better. Never underestimate the importance of comfort food when you’re not in your comfort zone.
Kilimanjaro vegetation

The plants on Kilimanjaro are unusual and spectacular, like these lobelias in the moorland band

The inestimable value of a positive attitude!

Lastly – but super far from least – please be positive. Chris Sichalwe, our follow Alice Tanzania director, believes positivity is crucial to your success. And he should know – he's reached the summit of Kilimanjaro well over 300 times and helped hundreds of others to do the same!

And while you're staying positive, also take it very slowly. Stop. Take a deep breath. Look up and take in the beautiful backdrop of this new and exciting experience.

Remember that you're stronger than you think you are.

Kilimanjaro is a life-changing experience!

Also, always remember that you are part of a Kilimanjaro climbing team. You're not alone.

So when you're feeling discouraged or low, look to your fellow trekkers and especially your mountain crew and guides for help. Kilimanjaro guides have been doing this climb for years and are there to support you by offering invaluable advice and encouragement.

Further inspiration: Slow steps lead to big wins

Hikers walking down Kilimanjaro through the rainforest band

Our Follow Alice guides are brilliant at encouraging and believing in you!

Keep your motivation in mind

We also find that it helps to take a moment now and then to reflect on why you want to climb Kilimanjaro.

In fact, we suggest that you do this regularly, both in the thick of your Kilimanjaro preparation, and then also when on the climb.

People's reasons for climbing Kilimanjaro often differ greatly from one person to the next.

For some, it's a goal that motivates them in their journey towards being fitter and healthier. For others, the climb is a time to reflect and reassess. Perhaps the climb appeals to you as it offers the chance to break out of routine or your comfort zone? Or you're keen to meet likeminded people and make new friends? Recover your zest for life?

As we said, the reasons are myriad, and often quite personal. What's your reason? Is there more than one? Why not write your reason – or reasons – down for future reference?

Remember that a goal isn't a goal until you write it down. And ideally you should tell others about it. Don't be scared to put your goal out there in the world!

Sunrise view of a gorgeous glacier from the top of Kilimanjaro

Sunrise view of a gorgeous glacier from the top of Kilimanjaro

Further inspiration: 7 things Kilimanjaro taught me

18. What can I do right now to start preparing?

Now that you've read through the various aspects of a proper Kilimanjaro preparation, let's look at some of the actions you can take right now to get going with your planning:

Finally, if you have any lingering questions, please contact us!

 

Follow Alice Tours (T) LTD is registered in Tanzania and holds all the necessary licences to run Kilimanjaro climbs and safaris.

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+1 785 859 4930

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