Which route is best for you

So, you want to climb Kilimanjaro?

The first step is to choose a route.

The Kilimanjaro massif is composed of three volcanic cones more or less horizontally aligned on an east-west axis. The length of this axis, from Marangu Gate in the east to Londorossi Gate in the west, is over 40 kilometres as the crow flies. To the south of Kilimanjaro is Tanzania and to the north is Kenya. Kilimanjaro is entirely within the borders of Tanzania so the five main approach routes commence in Tanzania and mainly from the south, south east and south west aspects of the mountain.

Approach Routes

There are five main approach routes that take you to the base of Kibo, Kilimanjaro’s central and highest volcanic peak. These are Rongai, Marangu, Machame, Lemosho/Shira, and the rarely used Umbwe route.

If you have limited trekking experience and want to ease into the process by taking on one of the less challenging approach routes, you’ll be better off with Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Machame or Marangu. Do note that the latter two routes become very crowded during the peak climbing seasons (it’s estimated that about 80% of climbers opt for Machame or Marangu).

Most of the approach routes, but especially the western wilderness routes (Lemosho and Shira), offer beautiful scenery, as well as unique fauna and flora.

Summit Routes

The five main routes will take you to the base of Kibo but not to Kilimanjaro’s summit. From Kibo base there are various trails to the summit which are more or less demanding and may even require some previous climbing experience.

Marangu and Rongai routes approach the summit via Kibo Hut and Gilmans’s Point. This is a trekking approach involving no climbing skills but demanding considerable endurance on summit day because the walk around the rim of the Crater is longer than for the south and south-west approach routes. Machame, Lemosho/Shira and Umbwe approach the summit via Barafu Ridge and Stella Point so they reach the rim about an hour’s walk closer to Uhuru Point than Marangu and Rongai routes. Again no climbing skills are required, but plenty of determination!

For those who like a more demanding mountain climb, there is the option of the remote North Face or Umbwe routes (North Face is best combined with a western approach route – Shira or Lemosho). Then the rail contours round to the northern circuit and a completely new ascent up the crater side on the north of the Kilimanjaro massif. Umbwe route is only recommended if booked together with Mt Meru or another peak because it involves a very fast ascent up Great Barranco to connect with the main routes that follow Barafu ridge to the summit – without pre-acclimatisation the ascent is simply too rapid to be considered safe.

A tragic rockfall killing several people has meant that the Western Breach is now rated as severe and dangerous. This route is only for those with technical climbing experience, and should ideally be climbed roped up, wearing a safety harness and a helmet. Even talented climbers are not allowed to climb this route without a qualified technical guide and the right equipment.

The Northern Circuit Climb is the longest route up Kilimanjaro, and among the least travelled. Starting on one of the western approach routes (Lemosho or Shira), it offers the intrepid trekker the chance to see the entire northern flank as well as the more popular southern, south-western and eastern faces of the mountain. The northern sector does introduce an element of risk by taking you to the more remote parts of the mountain, from where rescue can take longer. So plan this expedition well and only go with an experienced support team.

Finally and most importantly, you must allow yourself sufficient time to acclimatise to the altitude. See our acclimatisation notes for guidance.

Kilimanjaro routes comparison chart

RouteOutlineDifficultyAcclimitisationCostDuration
LemoshoRemote route approaching Kilimanjaro from the west. With Shira, considered the most scenic route due to approach through rainforest and heathland. Some tough climbing days, including steep climb on Barranco Wall, but excellent acclimatisation profile due to longer approach. Joins Machame route near summit.MediumExcellentMid-cost7-8 days
MachameThis very popular route approaches from the south-west, and can be exceptionally crowded in peak season. Beautiful scenery along the southern traverse and during the climb to Shira plateau. Some tough, steep climbing days, particularly on the Barranco Wall. However, great acclimatisation profile following climbers’ adage of “climb high, sleep low”. Joins Lemosho/Shira route near summit.LowExcellentLow-cost 6-7 days
MaranguThe so-called ‘cola-cola’ route is, after Machame, the most popular and most affordable route. Approaches Kilimanjaro from the southeast. A generally easy ascent with gentle gradients. Descent is on the same trail, meaning you see less of the mountain. The oldest trail on the mountain, and the only one to offer basic dorm-style accommodation for the entire climb (most climbers prefer the privacy of a tent!) Poor acclimatisation due to rapid ascent, hence low success rate.MediumPoorLowest-cost5-6 days
North FaceFirst climbed on 1999, but not at the time an officially sanctioned route. First commercial climbs will take place in 2016. Approach is on Shira or Lemosho route (Umbwe also viable), followed by a full crossing of Kibo’s crater. Note: high-altitude bivouac required!ToughestExcellentHighest-cost9 days
Northern CircuitThe longest and most remote route on the mountain. Approaches from the west on Shira/Lemosho routes, before branching off for a nearly 360 degree traversal of the crater. Excellent acclimatisation profile. Total escape from the crowds. However, remoteness means rescue is more complicated.MediumBestHigh-cost9 days
RongaiRemote route approaching Kilimanjaro from the north. Long drive to trailhead from Arusha, meaning route is less frequented than others. A comparatively easy climb with a reasonable acclimatisation profile. However, longest and toughest summit night due to position of high camp. Less scenically spectacular than western approach routes, but unique approach to mountain with very special trek through alpine desert. MediumGoodMid-cost6-7 days
ShiraIdentical to Lemosho except for the different approach used during the first two days’ climb. Like Lemosho, a remote, scenic trail, with fewer climbers and a great acclimatisation profile. Trail starts relatively high (3,600m), but gradual ascent thereafter with few peaks. Joins Machame route near summit.MediumExcellentMid-cost7-8 days
UmbweRarely used rapid-ascent trail. Very poor acclimatisation profile so pre-acclimatisation recommended (consider the popular Mt Meru-Umbwe combination climb). Route is only difficult so far as the ascent is rapid; the terrain is easy, contrary to what you will often read. ToughPoorMid-cost5-6 days
Western BreachTechnical climbing route with a rapid ascent. Initial approach on Umbwe route, but uses different track to summit. For many years closed following a fatal rock fall. Since re-opened, but only accessible to experienced climbers travelling with a technical guide and ropes.ToughPoorHigh-cost5-6 days