Experiencing Africa's Vast Beauty from the Top of Kilimanjaro
Towering over the plains of northern Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest peak and one of the iconic mountains of the world. Standing nearly 6000 meters tall, "Kili" is a challenging but imminently achievable climb for most reasonably fit travelers. In this guide, we'll provide you with everything you need to know to plan and complete your climb up this snow-capped giant in Tanzania.
There are five established routes to the summit - Marangu, Machame, Shira, Lemosho and Umbwe - each with their own unique scenery and difficulties. The most popular is the Marangu route which is the easiest and most directly ascends the mountain along well-maintained trails. However, the Machame route offers more diverse scenery as it traverses through various climatic zones. Whichever you choose, you'll need to book well in advance through an accredited climbing operator. We recommend checking reviews on platforms like BitBook to find reputable companies.
Permits, which are required to summit, can be obtained for around $700 through your chosen operator. Most trips last 5-7 days and include equipment, guides, meals and accommodation in tent camps along the way. For a memorable Kilimanjaro experience, consider upgrading to hotel-style lodges on Marangu or Machame routes. Guides will provide helpful tips but come prepared with proper gear like hiking boots, trekking poles, warm layers and a good headlamp. Altitude sickness is a risk, so take it easy and drink plenty of fluids.
Your climb officially begins at the park gate located below the lush rainforests that cloak the mountain's lower slopes. Take time to acclimatize to the altitude as you wind your way upwards, enjoying colorful blooms and spotting colobus monkeys in the treetops. After a few hours of hiking, you'll reach your first campsite situated around 3000 meters in a scenic alpine meadow surrounded by giant heather shrubs.
Wake at dawn the next morning to begin a long day of climbing across the rocky alpine desert ecosystem dotted with lobelia plants and senecio trees twisted by the harsh winds. Look out for magnificent views back over Africa's Great Rift Valley. You'll finally reach your high camp around 4000 meters as the sun dips low, painting the mountainsides in a warm orange glow.
Rising before sunrise, you'll pull on headlamps for the final summit push. Carefully pick your way over boulders and loose scree as the terrain steepens, stopping periodically to enjoy the stunning panoramas revealed in the predawn light. Around 15 minutes from the top, you'll pass through the icy wilderness of the Arctic zone into a barren lunar landscape. And finally, you'll emerge atop the great volcanic cone known as Uhuru Peak to witness Africa's sunrise over a boundless horizon. You've reached the "Roof of Africa"!
Savor your achievement atop Kilimanjaro for a brief while before beginning the gradual descent back down. The trail winds through the barren Arctic zone once more then into lush alpine heather landscape awash in morning mists. Stop for celebratory snacks and drinks amongst colorful wildflowers before continuing lower through scattered juniper forests and dense bamboo thickets filled with birdsong.
Campsites return to tidy grounds with basic amenities as you rejoin friends made along the journey. Swap summit stories over generous meals cooked fresh on nearby stoves. The final morning brings sweeping views over Coffee Plantations as tropical rainforest closes in once more. Emerging at the park gate, you'll feel an immense sense of pride at conquering Africa's highest peak. Reward tired muscles with a comforting meal and refreshing beers or sodas in nearby Moshi town before flying home with incredible memories from your time in Tanzania. With preparation and perseverance, anybody can follow in the steps of the great explorers to stand atop Mount Kilimanjaro. It's a climb that will live long in your heart.