Ours. S. Porters in moorland zone on Rongai with Mawenzi in background, Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro routes

Jun 9, 2022
Reading time: 17 minutes

There are seven routes leading up Kilimanjaro. Each has its own pros and cons, and we discuss them here to help you decide which route is the right one for you.

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.

View of Uhuru Peak with moorland vegetation in the foreground

All of the routes take you through the beautiful and unusual moorland of Kilimanjaro

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.

Lemosho route on Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro routes

The Lemosho is the most beautiful Kilimanjaro route

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 has the highest starting elevation.
  • Northern Circuit – The Northern Circuit is the newest and longest Kilimanjaro route.
  • Umbwe route – The Umbwe is the shortest, steepest and hardest Kilimanjaro route.

There would be a youtube video here.

Sadly, the youtube player requires cookies to work.

 

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.

Kilimanjaro Barranco Camp

Barranco Camp sits below Barranco Wall

Choosing a Kilimanjaro route

Deciding on a route up Kilimanjaro is definitely a personal choice and should be done so with care.

– Chris Sichalwe, Follow Alice lead guide

9 climbing 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 – there's 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.

Climbers and Lemosho route scenery

The Lemosho route is one of our favourite Kilimanjaro routes

Here are the nine factors to consider to help you choose the best Kilimanjaro route for you ...

1. 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.

Rainforest Kilimanjaro routes

The first couple of days of the Lemosho and Shira routes actually follow the same path

2. Are you looking for a good acclimatisation profile?

This should always be one of the biggest considerations when choosing a Kilimanjaro route. Trust us.

Routes with good acclimatisation profiles don't have you ascend the mountain too quickly. Unless you're a seasoned high-altitude trekker who knows your body can cope with a rapid adjustment in altitude, you want to take at least six days over the ascent, in our opinion. That means choosing a climb that's at least seven days long (as you start the descent on summit day).

Routes also have good acclimatisation profiles when they offer one or more opportunities to 'climb high, sleep low'. Climbing high and then sleeping low helps you body to adapt well to the increasing altitude. This improves you chances of avoiding altitude sickness.

There would be a youtube video here.

Sadly, the youtube player requires cookies to work.

 

3. Are you looking for scenery?

Some routes are better than others when it comes to scenery and variety of terrain. For example, the Lemosho, Northern Circuit and Shira routes all have particularly stunning and varied scenery.

The Rongai and Northern Circuit allow you to see both the north and southern slopes of the mountain, which is a treat.

The Marangu, on the other hand, has you ascend and descend the same path. That limits how much of the mountain and surrounding landscape you get to see. So this is route isn't ideal in our opinion.

Ours. S. Kilimanjaro moorland vegetation pink flowers lobelias

Some of Kilimanjaro's pretty moorland vegetation

4. Do you have trekking experience?

Are you a seasoned hiker with experience at altitude? Or are you a first-time or relatively new trekker? If you're the latter, there are some routes that would not be suitable for you, such as the Umbwe. The Umbwe is very steep, and it also demands very rapid acclimatisation, which your body may well not like.

If you're fairly new to trekking, you might like to read our Trekking tips for beginners to help you prepare for your Kilimanjaro climb.

5. How long have you got for your climb?

The routes range from four to nine days. Some routes have enough campsites along the way that there are variations on offer. For instance, the Lemosho route can be completed in seven or eight days.

While the shorter climbs might seem appealing to some, please remember that climbing Kilimanjaro is not a race. Ideally you want to give yourself at least seven days on the mountain to soak in everything. And also ensure you don't get altitude sickness.

Sunset over Mt Meru taken from Shira Cave Camp on Machame

The sun sets over a distant Mt Meru, as seen from Shira Cave

6. How much money can you spend on the climb?

Longer treks are inevitably more expensive. You must pay your crew for extra days, there's extra food to be supplied, and so on.

But while the shorter treks are cheaper, remember that they might compromise your chances of summiting by demanding you walk for too long each day, or by causing you to develop altitude sickness.

If you're going to invest in a Kilimanjaro climb (and we absolutely think you should!), then perhaps don't base your decision on trying to save a little extra money. We think the other considerations are more important in terms of your enjoyment of the experience, as well as you chances of making it to the summit.

7. What kind of accommodation do you want?

All of the Kilimanjaro routes require you to camp, except for the Marangu route. On the Marangu you stay in large, communal huts. It's sometimes called the Coca-Cola route because you can buy a coke at certain points on the trail.

When you choose one of the other routes and thus camp, it's your tour operator who provides all of the necessary equipment, from sleeping tents to cooking equipment. A good tour operator like Follow Alice also provides a toilet just for the use of your group.

As we discuss in Why Kilimanjaro tour operator prices differ so much, different operators provide varying qualities of camp setup. Please consider the sort of accommodation you want on the mountain, and then research any possible tour operator to see what they offer in this regard.

Kilimanjaro tent

A section of a Follow Alice camp

8. What time of year are you available to go?

You can realistically climb Kilimanjaro at any time of year (the mountain is never 'closed'), but some months are just better than others.

For instance, most climbers want to avoid the rainy seasons when there's a high chance of a wet climb in the forest band. But if you do choose to climb in the rainy season, the Rongai route may be a good option for you because it receives less rainfall overall.

Some months are also colder near the summit, and have a higher chance of snow. Do you want a snowy summit, or a warmer one?

These are all things to consider, and you can learn specifics in Best time to climb Kilimanjaro.

9. 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 and the Lemosho are the most popular routes, and the Marangu also tends to be quite busy. You have a good chance of meeting people from other walking groups on these routes.

group of ladies climbing kilimanjaro with follow alice

Everyone should take the hike at their own pace – Kilimanjaro is a personal marathon, not a competitive race

Which routes does Follow Alice like?

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 its poor success rate, 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 summit under their belt. We therefore regularly promote and recommend three Kilimanjaro routes to our clients:

  • Machame route (the seven-day itinerary)
  • Lemosho route (the eight-day itinerary)
  • Northern Circuit route (a nine-day climb)

These are the most scenic routes overall, whilst also being offering the greatest variety. In addition, all three offer great opportunities to acclimatise.

We also recommend the seven-day Rongai route for those who want to avoid the steep Barranco Wall but don't have the time, money or inclination to tackle the nine-day Northern Circuit.

Trekkers and clouds on the Lemosho route, Kilimanjaro

The Lemosho route offers some of the best views

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

Group photo in forest, Kilimanjaro routes

Group photo in the rainforest band of Kilimanjaro

Lemosho route

Lemosho-Route-8-day-Map Kilimanjaro

Difficulty: Medium

Distance: 70 km

Duration: 7-8 days

Success rate: High

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​. The acclimatisation profile of the Lemosho route is great, with an important climb-high-sleep-low opportunity in the middle of the ascent. Most people complete the Lemosho route in seven days, but it can be extended by one day to give you a little longer to acclimatise. We usually recommend choosing the eight-day version as it increases your chances of summiting.

Group shot - all climbers Lemosho Kilimanjaro

One of our lovely Lemosho climbing groups

Camping is the only available option for the Lemosho route. We personally prefer our cosy Follow Alice camp setups to the shared hut accommodation on offer on the Marangu route.

Machame route

Machame-7-day-route-map

Difficulty: Medium

Distance: 62 km

Duration: 6-8 days

Success rate: High

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.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Machame Route

Giant groundsels are a highlight of the moorland section

The acclimatisation profile of the Machame route is great, making use of the climb high sleep low concept most effectively. The route approaches from south and has a comparatively high success rate, especially for climbers who choose the seven-day option. The six-day itinerary is not recommended for first-time trekkers as it provides less time for acclimatisation. There are no huts, and only camping is possible on the Machame.

Marangu route

Updated map of 6-day Marangu route on Kilimanjaro

Difficulty: Low

Distance: 72 km

Duration: 5-6 days

Success rate: Low

The Marangu route, nicknamed the 'Coca Cola' route, has historically been the most popular Kilimanjaro route. That status is now being challenged by the newer and popular Machame and Lemosho routes.

Around 12,000 people climb the Marangu each year. They're often the folks 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 or six days to complete, which also makes it a cheaper option compared to other, longer routes.

A-frame huts at MArangu route campsite with blanket of cloud below

The Marangu route offers A-framed hut accommodation

There are also folks who like the Marangu route because you avoid the Barranco Wall, which is a very steep section of the climb that makes some climbers nervous.

The route's acclimatisation profile is, however, mediocre. The Marangu thus has a very low summit success rate. It's consequently not really good value for money in our opinion.

Finally, while the route offers very rewarding views from 'the Saddle' (the bridge of land between Kibo and Mawenzi Peaks), and the rainforest and moorland sections of the trail are beautiful, it's the least scenic overall. We say this it uses the same trail for both the ascent and descent.

Rongai route

Map of the 7-day Rongai route on Kilimanjaro

Difficulty: Low

Distance: 73 km

Duration: 6-7 days

Success rate: Medium

The Rongai route is basically one long hike with a very gentle gradient and a low difficulty level. It's 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.

During the ascent, you have lovely views to the north. You might well spot some large game from a distance in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, which dominates the plain to the north of the mountain.

The rainforest and moorland sections are very pretty. And you camp directly below beautiful Mawenzi Peak one night. When you walk the Saddle, you have views to both the north and the south of the mountain.

Ours. S. Sunrise morning sky with Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro

Sunrise over Mawenzi Peak

The Rongai is similar to the Marangu route in terms of the absence of any 'climb high, sleep low' opportunities. It's therefore recommended to do the seven-day itinerary rather than the six-day one, as this gives you an important extra day to adjust to the increasing altitude.

The Rongai is a good option in our opinion if you want to avoid the steep Barranco Wall climb. While we generally suggest climbers wanting to avoid steep sections opt for the Northern Circuit, the Rongai is another great option, especially if you don't have the time and budget for the longer Northern Circuit.

Shira route

Shira-7-day-route-map-Light

Difficulty: Medium

Distance: 56 km

Duration: 7-8 days

Success rate: High

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 4x4 ride which takes you up to the Simba River where the trail starts. You make your first night's stop at 3,500 m!

Day 2 Lemosho route Kilimanjaro, Shira 1 Camp to Lava Tower

En route from Shira 1 Camp to Lava Tower

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. Like the Lemosho, the scenery during the climb is fantastic!

Northern Circuit

Northern-Circuit-9-day-Map-Kilimanjaro

Difficulty: High

Distance: 98 km

Duration: 9-10 days

Success rate: High

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 the highest overall summit success rate of any route.

Northern Circuit, best acclimatisation strategy on Kilimanjaro

A full moon night over the Northern Circuit's Pofu Camp

Only a small number of climbers choose the Northern Circuit owing to its longer itinerary. Given the smaller climber numbers on this route, your chances of seeing wildlife are increased, and night-times at camp are quieter overall.

The Northern Circuit 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.​

Umbwe route

Map of the 6-day Umbwe route on Kilimanjaro

Difficulty: High

Distance: 53 km

Duration: 5-6 days

Success rate: Low

The Umbwe route is the shortest and steepest route up Kilimanjaro. It's the least used trail, which isn't suprising given its poor acclimatisation profile. Only 589 people climb it each year. And the summit success rate of this route is very low.

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.

Ours. Drone view of Kilimanjaro Uhuru from Umbwe route

A drone view of Kibo Peak as taken from the Umbwe route

Some direct route comparisons

Have you chosen a route based on the above descriptions? If not, you might find the following comparisons of our favourite routes helpful:

 

Contact

+44 20 3289 2088

+1 (785) 859-4930

travel@followalice.com

Chat to us

 

Follow Alice Ltd

207 Regent Street

London, W1B 3HH

United Kingdom

 

Follow Alice Tours (T) LTD

PO Box 1923, Moshi

Tanzania

 

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

 

Our Credentials

Follow Alice is rated 5/5 stars across all major platforms

We are an approved partner company with the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project

 

 

International Mountain Explorers Connection – IMEC – Partner for Responsible Travel Program.

 

 

Copyright Follow Alice LTD. 2021, registration number 10374382 (England & Wales)