Trekkers at mount Kilimanjaro. Some trekkers climbing last part of Kilimanjaro from Barafu base camp to Uhruru peak

The seven different Kilimanjaro routes – pros and cons of each

Jul 17, 2024
Reading time: 12 minutes

There are seven different routes you can choose from to climb Kilimanjaro. Here's a map of each one. We also describe each route and discuss its pros and cons, as it's important to choose a good route to improve your chances of summiting!

The seven Kilimanjaro ascent routes

There are seven established routes that lead to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro:

  1. Lemosho route – This is arguably the most beautiful Kilimanjaro route, and it's very popular. It begins on the western slope and then skirts around the south of Kibo Peak. You descend the mountain's southeastern slope via the Mweka route.
  2. Machame route – This is the most popular Kilimanjaro route. It goes up the southern slope. You descend the mountain's southeastern slope via the Mweka route.
  3. Marangu route – This is the only Kilimanjaro route to offer hut accommodation. It's also very popular, especially among budget tour operators and trekkers. It ascends the eastern slope and you then descend via the same route.
  4. Rongai route – This is the only route that climbs the northern slope and so it's one of the quietest routes. You descend the mountain's eastern slope via the Marangu route.
  5. Shira route – This route has the highest starting elevation. It begins on the western slope and then skirts around the south of Kibo Peak. You descend the mountain's southeastern slope via the Mweka route.
  6. Northern Circuit – This is the newest and longest Kilimanjaro route. It starts on the west, but then circles the north of Kibo Peak. You descend the mountain's southeastern slope via the Mweka route.
  7. Umbwe route – This is the shortest, steepest and hardest Kilimanjaro route. It goes up the southern slope. You descend the mountain's southeastern slope via the Mweka route.

Here now are maps and descriptions of each of the seven different Kilimanjaro ascent routes, as well as a discussion of the pros and cons of each.

1. Lemosho route

Lemosho-Route-8-days-Map Kilimanjaro
  • Distance: 70 km
  • Duration: 7 or 8 days
  • Summit success rate: High*

* 'Summit success rate' refers to the percentage of people trekking a particular route who actually manage to reach the peak of Kilimanjaro.

Description of the Lemosho route

The Lemosho route starts on the western side of Kilimanjaro at Lemosho Gate (2,100 m)​. You climb through rainforest, then moorland, then alpine desert, then the arctic summit. You descend along the Mweka route, which runs down the southeastern slope.

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.

For a more detailed description of the route, please read The Lemosho route on Kilimanjaro – a day-by-day itinerary.

Group shot - all climbers Lemosho Kilimanjaro

One of our lovely Lemosho climbing groups

Pros and cons of the Lemosho route

We have to admit, we have a soft spot for the Lemosho route! Because of its 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.

The acclimatisation profile of the Lemosho route is great, which means the route helps you to adjust well to the increasing altitude. One reason for this is that you spread the ascent over enough days. The other reason is that the route takes you along a course that has you climb up to a new altitude on the one ascent day before dropping back down a bit in altitude for the night. This feature of the trail is really great in helping you to acclimatise (acclimate) well.

Ready to book the Lemosho route? Check out our Lemosho route package!

2. Machame route

  • Distance: 62 km
  • Duration: 6 or 7 days
  • Summit success rate: Fairly high

Description of the Machame route

The Machame route starts on the southern side of Kilimanjaro at Machame Gate (1,640 m) in the rainforest​. You eventually ascend into moorland, then alpine desert, then the arctic world of the summit. You finally descend along the Mweka route.

For a more detailed description of the route, please read The Machame route on Kilimanjaro – a day-by-day itinerary.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Machame Route

Giant groundsels in the moorland of the Machame route

Pros and cons of the Machame route

The Machame route is our third favourite route on Kilimanjaro. Together with the Lemosho, it's widely considered the most scenic with beautiful views and a rich variety of terrain. Therefore, it's no coincidence that it's 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 – it can get quite overcrowded in peak season.

The acclimatisation profile of the Machame route is good. One of the things that makes its acclimatisation profile good is that halfway up the mountain you climb to a new high during the day and then drop back down a bit for the night. Introducing your body to a new altitude but then letting it recover overnight at a lower altitude does wonders for its acclimatisation process.

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.

Ready to book the Machame route? Check out our Machame route package!

3. Marangu route

Updated map of 6-day Marangu route on Kilimanjaro
  • Distance: 72 km
  • Duration: 5 or 6 days
  • Summit success rate: Low

Description of the Marangu route

The Marangu route is the original Kilimanjaro route, and it has been nicknamed the 'Coca Cola' route because it's the one trail with some spots where you can buy a cool drink. It climbs the southeast slope of Kilimanjaro and takes you through all of the beautiful vegetation zones, namely rainforest, moorland, alpine desert and the arctic summit.

The Marangu is an outlier route as it's so different from the six others. For starters, it's the only route where you stay in huts instead of camping. And secondly, it's the only route that has you retrace your steps on the descent; as mentioned, all of other routes 'end' after the summit and instead have you hike down via a different route.

Pros and cons of the Marangu route

The Marangu has historically been the most popular Kilimanjaro route (although that status is now being challenged by the newer and very popular Machame and Lemosho routes). Those who trek the Marangu route are often folks on a tight budget. This is because you need less equipment and fewer porters since you're staying in dormitory-like accommodation (you sleep in huts and are provided with mattresses). This makes it a popular choice with budget Kilimanjaro tour operators that don’t have camping equipment to offer​.​

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

The Marangu route offers A-framed hut accommodation

The Marangu route also only takes five or six days to complete, which again makes it a cheaper option compared with the longer routes.

There are folks who like the Marangu route because it's one of just three routes where you avoid the Barranco Wall, which is a very steep section of the climb that makes some climbers nervous.

The Marangu route's acclimatisation profile is, however, mediocre. It thus has a very low summit success rate. It's consequently not particularly 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 trail overall. We say this simply because it uses the same trail for both the ascent and descent. We love taking clients down a different route so that they see more of the mountain and have different views!

4. Rongai route

Map of the 7-day Rongai route on Kilimanjaro
  • Distance: 73 km
  • Duration: 6 or 7 days
  • Summit success rate: Middling

Description of the Rongai route

The Rongai route is essentially one long climb with a very gentle gradient. In that sense it's one of the easiest routes (even though no easy route exists!) It's the only route that starts on the northern side of the mountain. It's also one of the quietest ascent routes – it vies with the Northern Circuit for being the least used ascent route.

Pros and cons of the Rongai route

The Rongai is a good option in our opinion if you want to avoid the steep Barranco Wall. 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.

During the ascent on the Rongai, 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 on the Rongai are very pretty. And you camp directly below beautiful Mawenzi Peak one night.

Ours. S. Sunrise morning sky with Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro

Sunrise over Mawenzi Peak

When you walk the Saddle, you have views to both the north and the south of the mountain!

The Rongai is similar to the Marangu route in terms of the absence of any 'climb high, sleep low' opportunity. This is why its summit success rate is only average. And it's also why we only offer the seven-day Rongai itinerary and not the six-day one, as an extra day is really needed to help you adjust to the increasing altitude.

The Rongai is also a good option if you need to trek Kilimanjaro during one of the rainy seasons, as the northern side of the mountain usually receives less rainfall than the southern slope.

Ready to book the Rongai route? Check out our Rongai route package!

5. Shira route

  • Distance: 56 km
  • Duration: 7 or 8 days
  • Summit success rate: Low

Description of the Shira route

The Shira route is similar to the Lemosho except that its starting point is much higher. In fact, to reach the starting point of the trail, you're looking at a lengthy and bumpy drive that lasts about half a day. And you sleep at the heady altitude of 3,500 m ... on your very first night!

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

En route from Shira 1 Camp to Lava Tower on the Shira route

Pros and cons of the Shira route

Beginning your Kilimanjaro climb at such high altitude means that you increase your risk of developing debilitating altitude sickness, because you didn't ease your body into the elevation gain. If you do plan on doing the Shira Route, a pre-acclimatisation trek (like a nearby Mt Meru climb) is highly recommended.

Like the Lemosho, the scenery during the climb is just fantastic! But you do miss out on the beautiful rainforest section on the ascent.

6. Northern Circuit

  • Distance: 98 km
  • Duration: 9 or 10 days
  • Summit success rate: Very high

Description of the Northern Circuit

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

Pros and cons of the Northern Circuit

Roughly 90% of Northern Circuit climbers make it to the summit!

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 also offers varied and beautiful scenery and views.

Ready to book a Northern Circuit climb? Check out our Northern Circuit package!

7. Umbwe route

Map of the 6-day Umbwe route on Kilimanjaro
  • Difficulty: High
  • Distance: 53 km
  • Duration: 5-6 days
  • Success rate: Low

Description of the Umbwe route

The Umbwe route is the shortest and steepest route up Kilimanjaro. It ascends the southern slope. It's the least used trail, which isn't surprising given its poor acclimatisation profile. Only about 500 people climb it each year. And the summit success rate of this route is very low.

Ours. Drone view of Kilimanjaro Uhuru from Umbwe route

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

Pros and cons of the Umbwe route

The Umbwe route is a very pretty trail up the mountain and the scenery is varied and very rewarding. Apart from that, however, we don't feel there's much more that's positive to say about this route. This is because it's simply too short to allow for proper acclimatisation. And for this reason it has one of the lowest summit success rates (perhaps the lowest one).

Further to this, the Umbwe is the steepest route up the mountain, so it's physically very demanding. If you're going to spend all of the time and money travelling to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, we highly recommend choosing a longer and gentler route to give yourself the best chance of reaching Uhuru Peak. Alternatively, if you really want to trek this route, we suggest doing a pre-acclimatisation trek like climbing Mt Meru directly before your Kilimanjaro trek.

You should now have the necessary intel to flex your decision-making powers and choose a Kilimanjaro route that’s right for you! 🧠 💪🏽  And if you're ready to book your Kilimanjaro climb, we can take you! Please visit our Kilimanjaro trips page to see our different tour packages on offer.