Happy climber at Uhuru sign

The beginner's guide to climbing Kilimanjaro

May 31, 2024
Reading time: 22 minutes

Interested in climbing Kilimanjaro? There's a fair bit to know and do beforehand. Here's our beginner's guide to climbing Kilimanjaro, which answers all of your questions like how hard it is, how to choose a route, and what to look for in a tour operator.

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

1. How hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro?

Physically, Kilimanjaro is a demanding adventure. Only about half of all trekkers who start the climb actually make it to the summit. This shows you just how many people underestimate it!

That said, you certainly don't have to be a professional athlete or a mountaineer to manage it. You just need to take the adventure seriously, which means training well in advance and making some smart choices.

Here are some of the ways in which climbing Kilimanjaro is tough, but also manageable:

  • Kilimanjaro is a big climb. Africa's highest mountain rises to 5,895 m (19,340 ft) above sea level, more than a kilometre higher than Mt Blanc! So you have to trek a looong way uphill to reach the summit. That said, Kili is a non-technical mountain, which means anybody who's fit can climb it, because there's no mountaineering involved.
  • Porters carry almost everything. Porters carry all of the camping equipment and food necessary for this multiday trek. They also carry the bulk of your personal belongings. Each day, therefore, you only need to carry a daypack containing your water, snacks, camera and backup layers.
  • You hike for hours each day. You have to hike for many hours each day, for a few days in a row. Then, on summit day, you leave camp at around midnight and are on your feet for about 12 to 15 hours! So you need endurance to cope.
  • Some paths include a tricky section. Most of Kilimanjaro is a fairly gradual uphill, but the routes that head up the southern slope require you to scale the steep Barranco Wall. While it's entirely manageable when you use your hands to help you, we suggest that you opt for a route that ascends the northern slope if you're really scared of heights.
  • It gets super cold. Night-time temperatures near the top of Kilimanjaro regularly plunge below freezing point, as this zone of the mountain has an arctic climate. When you leave base camp at midnight on summit day, you have to endure the extreme cold (and sometimes bitter wind) of this arctic zone.
  • You'll be camping. Except for those trekking the Marangu route, which has huts, all trekkers stay in campsites set up by their tour operator. Unless you're with a luxury operator, you're not going to be able to shower during the adventure. And it's going to be lights out on just a sleeping mat. This is a tough ask for some!
  • You could feel ill from the high altitude. When you venture into very high altitude, like you do on a Kilimanjaro climb, you can experience some unpleasant side effects (even if you don't develop altitude sickness, which we talk about later). These side effects can include headaches, nausea, dizziness and poor sleep. Climbing Kili is tough at the best of times, but to do it when you're feeling tired or yucky makes it extra challenging.
Trekkers climbing the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

Barranco Wall is the steepest section on Kilimanjaro



2. How fit must I be to climb Kilimanjaro?

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

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

Most days you'll hike for around four to six hours. But on summit day you hike for 12 to 16 hours. Whew. This is because you climb for six to seven hours to reach Uhuru Peak, the summit, and then must still descend for many hours to reach that night's campsite in the forest zone.


Stella Point is an exciting waymarker en route to Uhuru Peak

Note that you also need to be sure-footed enough to walk over rocky paths and scree. And you need relatively healthy knees to deal with the the fairly direct route down the mountain. This descent is tackled over just two days and sees you drop around four vertical kilometres!


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3. How should I train for Kilimanjaro?

The key to managing a Kilimanjaro climb is good all-round physical fitness. So we recommend setting yourself a training schedule that includes strength and aerobic exercises.

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

The other important aspect of any strategic Kilimanjaro training is building up your endurance. Some of the very best endurance training you can do for your Kilimanjaro climb is to take on some smaller multiday treks. (These hikes will also strengthen your ankles for the uneven paths you'll trek.) If multiday treks just aren't possible, try to do some day hikes, ideally with plenty of inclines.

When going on training hikes, wear the backpack, boots and socks that you intend to bring to Tanzania. It's vital that you climb Kilimanjaro wearing properly worn-in boots and comfortable socks, otherwise your trip could become a sad story of blisters. It's also important that you get used to carrying weight on your back to ensure you develop a healthy hiking posture.

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!

If you can't manage any preparatory hikes for whatever reason, we suggest that you hop on a stair master machine, climb flights of steps, or simply get on a treadmill and up the incline.

If you'd like more detail on how to prepare physically, we delve into more detail in 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 rarer the air. More technically speaking, you're getting less oxygen with each breath, so your body has to work harder to do its job. The way to mitigate this is to give your body as much time as possible to adjust to each big jump in elevation.

Lemosho Route - Campsite on Kilimanjaro

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

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 (9,000 ft). Remember, the altitude of Kilimanjaro is 5,895 m (19,340 ft). So you should expect some form of AMS, 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 AMS are headaches, nausea, dizziness, poor or interrupted sleep, general fatigue and loss of appetite. These symptoms are nothing to panic about, but they can make your climb even more challenging.

For an unfortunate few, the symptoms can become more severe, and this indicates you've developed a serious form of altitude sickness. It's impossible to predict who will develop full-blown altitude sickness as the illness is no respecter of age or fitness. So everyone needs to take careful note of this discussion.


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Anyone who shows signs of developing serious altitude sickness (as determined by their trek guide) will be advised to abort the climb and promptly descend the mountain. You cannot recover from severe altitude sickness while sheltering in place, and the condition must be taken seriously as it can be deadly.

Altitude sickness is a big topic, and we can't do it justice here. Please read Kilimanjaro altitude sickness – what you need to know if you'd like to find out more. And note that further on below we also discuss ways to reduce your chances of getting it, like choosing a longer route.

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.

Firstly, we recommend that anyone wanting to climb Kilimanjaro get a medical checkup first to get the all-clear. 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 climbing Kilimanjaro. Discuss the high altitude with your doctor, as they may like to prescribe an altitude med like Diamox to help your body adjust better to the high altitude.

The second most important thing you can do to ensure your safety is to choose a tour operator that only uses guides who are certified Wilderness First Responders and Wilderness First Aiders. Good guides are your most powerful resource in keeping you safe as 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 renewing his Wilderness First Responder training

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

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.

Our Kilimanjaro guides also have access to a first aid kit, a stretcher and bottled oxygen. If you'd like to know more, please read How we keep you safe on a Kilimanjaro climb.

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

Thirdly and finally, while your tour operator is very much responsible for your health and safety when you're on the mountain, you should please do your part by researching and preparing accordingly. (Which you're doing right now, so a gold star for you!) For instance, you can lessen the risk of developing full-blown altitude sickness by choosing a Kilimanjaro route with a good acclimatisation profile.

Then, when you're on the mountain, you also need to communicate clearly with your guide about how you're managing. 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.

Misty moorland campsite, Kilimanjaro

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

6. How do I choose a Kilimanjaro tour operator?

One of the best ways to stay safe on a Kilimanjaro climb is to choose a responsible tour operator. This would be a tour operator that provides quality camping equipment to keep you warm and dry, serves up nutritious meals, and guarantees its guides are highly experienced and trained in wilderness first response, among other things more.

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. 🤓

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

We at Follow Alice are a registered Kilimanjaro tour operator

It's also helpful to know at the outset that there are three types of Kilimanjaro tour operators: budget, value-for-money, and luxury. So depending on your price point and priorities, you can already refine your search by deciding which type of tour operator to explore.

Budget tour operators are the least expensive and usually charge between $1,500 and $2,000 per person for a seven-day climb. This may sound great, but keep in mind that if you pay them little, they likely pay their guides and porters little. They also usually provide poor-quality camping and medical equipment and your meals will also be of a lower standard. They also usually suggest a higher tipping amount to offset low staff wages.

When comparing the package prices of different Kilimanjaro tour operators, consider the costs of the different exclusions and inclusions.

Mid-range tour operators generally offer a per-person package fee for a seven-day trek of anywhere between $2,000 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).

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

Mid-range tour operators generally:

  • Offer treks of seven days or more, because shorter treks don't let you acclimatise well and so are just too risky.
  • Ensure your guides are properly trained in wilderness first aid.
  • Pay and treat the mountain crew fairly.
  • Don’t compromise on the quality of food or equipment provided.

We at Follow Alice fall into this mid-range category of Kilimanjaro tour operator. Our fee also includes one night of accommodation and transport on either side of the trek, among other things.

Luxury tour operators usually offer a seven-day Kilimanjaro climb package above US$3,200 per person. The big selling points here are usually the extras, like five-star accommodation before and after the climb, showers on the mountain, and backup oxygen tanks that clients can use whenever they want (whereas most operators carry oxygen reserved for emergencies).

Please note that we go into this topic in greater detail in Why prices differ so much between Kilimanjaro operators. And when you're ready to choose an operator, we recommend you read our more detailed discussion on this topic in How to find the best Kilimanjaro tour operators.

7. Can I climb Kilimanjaro on my own?


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.

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.

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!

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!

The Kilimanjaro climbing industry 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 admin staff, 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).

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 tour operator you choose.

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


A cost checklist for a seven-day Kilimanjaro climb in US dollars

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.

For a more detailed discussion, please read How much does it cost to climb Kilimanjaro?

9. Must I tip my mountain crew?

When preparing your Kilimanjaro budget, it's important to know that tipping your mountain crew is customary. In fact, tips form an essential part of each crew member's income.

We actually tip mountain crews instead of just increasing their wages (and thus the price of a Kilimanjaro climb) for two reasons:

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

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

Scott Kilimanjaro group photo crew

Our client Scott with some of his awesome mountain crew

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

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. This means that 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.

Kilimanjaro tipping ceremomny

A Follow Alice tipping ceremony in action

10. How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro?

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

Each of Kilimanjaro's seven ascent routes has its own pros and cons, like the degree to which the scenery varies, and how popular (and therefore crowded) that route is. But one of the factors that really, really matters is how well an ascent route 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 consequently the climbers on those routes enjoy a much higher summit success rate.

Our favourite routes are the Northern Circuit and Lemosho

Our client Walter shared this snap of his group at the start of the Northern Circuit

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

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 takes place over six or seven days.

11. Which is the best Kilimanjaro route?

There are seven different Kilimanjaro routes, though sometimes it's only the first half of a route that's unique, as it merges with one or more other routes partway up the mountain. Everyone then treks down one of two possible descent routes.

Settling on a good ascent route can make or break your climb. So this decision should not be an afterthought, making it an integral part of this beginner's guide to climbing Kilimanjaro.

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:




70 km / 44 mi

7 or 8 days

Beautiful and varied terrain. Good acclimatisation. Busy route.


62 km / 39 mi

6 or 7 days

Beautiful and varied terrain. Busiest route.


72 km / 45 mi

5 or 6 days

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


73 km / 45 mi

6 or 7 days

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


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.


53 km / 33 mi

6 or 7 days

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


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

Our favourite ascent routes are the Northern Circuit and Lemosho

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.


Please download our free Kilimanjaro packing list as shown above if you'd like an overview of everything you'll need to pack for this adventure. Alternatively, please read our comprehensive Kilimanjaro packing list to know what to bring as well as how to choose quality items when there are many different options.

For now, however, please note that the 'big ticket' items to buy or rent are:

  • 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 (though some operators will loan you one)*
  • Hydration pack
  • Trekking poles (optional, but advisable)
  • Headlamp for summit night
  • Winter jacket
  • Waterproof or water-resistant hiking boots that are worn in

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

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

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)

There are also three times of year to consider climbing Kilimanjaro depending on the following:

  • Would you like to trek when there's a snow-covered summit? Then plan for a climb sometime between late November and May.
  • Would you like to summit during a full moon so there's natural light to guide you? Then check out when there's a full-moon climb available.
  • Would you like to summit on New Year’s Eve? Then go, da-dum, over New Year's Eve!
Full moon over Kilimanjaro

A full moon over a snowy summit

14. Where exactly is Kilimanjaro?

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 flying in from outside of East Africa transit 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$40 per person each way. We usually put up our clients at the lovely Lindrin Lodge in Moshi the nights before and after the climb, and this cost is included in your package fee.


Lindrin Lodge in Moshi

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.

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.

Finally, 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 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 about how to protect yourself against malaria before coming to Tanzania.

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

Now that you've read through the various aspects of this beginner's guide to climbing Kilimanjaro, let's look at some of the actions you can take right now to get started:

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