You are ready to book your Kilimanjaro trip, except for one thing – you can’t decide which route to take!
How do you decide between the many different routes?
Peak Planet offers climbs on Machame, Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Northern Circuit and Northern Crater. All of these will allow you to experience beautiful and distinct landscapes as you make your way from the rainforest to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. While you really can’t go wrong with any of these routes, there is likely a route that is better suited for you and your particular situation.
Let’s do a quick overview of each route:
- Lemosho is a spectacular trek, beginning in the rainforest in the west, before crossing the Shira Plateau in the heather ecosystem, and then traversing the southern circuit of the mountain.
- Rongai is a quiet trail that is suitable for those with little trekking experience as it has a gradual ascent versus the up and down nature of some other paths. This route begins on the northern side of the mountain.
- Machame is a very popular route due to its scenic beauty and quick itinerary. However, the trekking is considered challenging due to its steepness. This route is recommended for those with some trekking experience.
- Marangu is the only route where you will stay in dormitory style huts rather than tents. People who have difficulty sleeping in a tent can opt for this trail. The drawback is that the Marangu route uses the same trail for both ascent and descent, so it is less scenic and more crowded.
- Northern Circuit is a relatively new route and allows you to circle almost 360 degrees around the mountain before summitting. The northern face sees very little foot traffic. So trekking on this path you will encounter very few other groups, making it seem like you have the mountain to yourselves!
- Northern Crater is similar to the Northern Circuit, but adds an additional night of camping at the frigid Crater Camp. You’ll spend the night at extreme elevation near a glacier that once encompassed the entire summit, and have the opportunity to hike to the Reusch Crater and the Ash Pit – truly once in a lifetime experiences.
Here are a few questions to consider as you make your decision regarding which route to use for your adventure.
How much time do you want to spend on Kilimanjaro?
Generally speaking, the more time you spend on the mountain, at altitude, the better your chances of successfully reaching the summit. That’s why almost every operator will encourage taking a longer route as it is safer and more enjoyable.
When in doubt, choose a longer route!
Adding a day or two on a climb can easily be the difference between climbing with little to no issues with the altitude and having to turn around due to acute mountain sickness. The Lemosho, Northern Circuit and Northern Crater routes, at 10 – 12 days total, all provide plenty of time for acclimatization. If you don’t want to spend that much time on a trek, the Rongai, Machame, and Marangu routes, at 8-9 days, are shorter options.
How important is it to be around fewer climbers?
Some routes are more popular than others – way more popular. So you should take that into consideration when choosing a route.
If you don’t mind sharing the trail and campsites with many others, then feel free to pick your path based on other factors. But if you care, then you might want to steer clear of Kilimanjaro’s most packed routes. The two most popular routes are the Machame and the Marangu. The Rongai and Northern Circuit have the least number of visitors.
Do you want to climb the Barranco Wall?
If you haven’t already heard about the Barranco Wall, it is a steep climb of 842 feet or 257m that will likely have you using all four limbs to scramble up this rock face.
If you climb using Machame or Lemosho, you’ll have to scale this structure. While this might sound a bit scary, there is plenty of foot space on the wall and most report that it wasn’t as bad as they anticipated. There’s almost no exposure to falling despite how it looks from afar. The trick is to go slowly and be sure of your footing, as you’d do on any steep climb. It’ll probably take you between 1–2 hours.
However, if you are not a fan of heights and think you might be mentally paralyzed, then I recommend you avoid the Barranco Wall and choose the Marangu, Northern Circuit, Northern Crater, or Rongai route.
Do you want to summit during a full moon?
This question doesn’t have to do with the route, but with timing. While the majority of your trekking will occur during the day, on summit day you’ll head out around midnight in order to reach the summit at sunrise. If you are interested in summiting with the light of a full moon (fingers crossed for a cloudless sky), then you’ll want to plan your trek for a full moon date. It truly is magical seeing the snow and glaciers glittering in the moonlight.
However, many operators schedule group climbs to summit on the full moon. So this brings a concentration of trekkers to the peak all at once. Climbing when there is NOT a full moon might make sense for you if the thought of having a crowded summit is a big turn off.
Why I Chose the Northern Circuit
For me, choosing a route came down to these factors:
- spending a longer time on the mountain
- trekking on a more quiet trail
- avoiding the Barranco Wall
- summiting during a full moon
I was a solo traveler and wanted to join a small group of other singles – not a group where everyone already knew each other. I was fortunate to have some flexibility regarding the time I trekked, so I climbed during the recommended dry season (July/August).
The staff at Peak Planet were great in helping me find the best options. In the end I decided to do the Northern Circuit and spent nine amazing days on Kilimanjaro.
My group was very small – me plus two others, who were also traveling alone. We met up the evening before the trek at the lodge. There we discussed strategies for packing our large duffel, what to carry in our day packs, and shared in the excitement of what lay ahead.
The route itself was stunningly beautiful and took us through all the climate zones found on Mount Kilimanjaro – cultivation, rainforest, heather-moorland, alpine desert, and summit. We did all the extra side-hikes and enjoyed every single moment. It definitely was challenging – especially summit day – but spending several days above 13,000 feet, or about 4,000m, before the summit attempt helped me acclimate to the altitude. I believe taking the longer Northern Route had set me up well for a safe and successful summit.
If you’re not sure which route to select, be sure to reach out to the folks at Peak Planet for more information as well as specific questions you may have. They’ll work closely with you to ensure the route you choose meets your expectations and provides a terrific Kilimanjaro experience.