Kilimanjaro Routes: An Expert Breakdown

Nov 05, 2020

Standing at an impressive 5,895m, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak and Tanzania’s most iconic landmark. Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, unlike other parks in northern Tanzania, is not visited for the wildlife, but for the chance to climb to the incredible summit. 

This historic World Heritage Site was formed over 1 million years ago by volcanic movement along the Rift Valley. Now, Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano with three volcanic cones – Shira, Kibo, and Mawenzi – and at 19,336ft, is the tallest climbable peak in the world (after Everest of course). The highest point is Uhuru Peak on Kibo, which stands proudly as one of the Seven Summits of the world.

This is a journey of a lifetime and perfect for those who want to achieve something spectacular. However, before you decide to embark on this journey it is important to know the ins and outs of each route so you can determine which trek is right for you.

Which Is The Best Kilimanjaro Route?

With 7 routes leading to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the most common question we get asked before a booking is:

“Which is the best Kilimanjaro Route?”

The short answer is… there is no best route. Each route has its own pros and cons, and at the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference. However, the popularity of bookings suggest that some routes are much more favourable than others, which generally boils to 1 of 4 reasons: 

1. Acclimatisation and Success Rates.

2. The Terrain and Beauty of a route. 

3. Time spent on the Mountain (days needed to summit). 

4. The Cost. 

Below are all 7 routes you can take to the summit of Kilimanjaro. However, please note that GoKo Travels does not offer the Umbwe route or the Nothern Circuit in our services.

  • Lemosho Route
    The Lemosho is largely considered the most beautiful Kilimanjaro route and often requires an extra day of climbing.
  • Machame Route
    The Machame is the most popular Kilimanjaro route and offers subline sunrise and sunset views.
  • Rongai Route
    The Rongai is the only route that approaches the summit from the north.
  • Shira Route
    The Shira is the only route that approaches the summit from the westside.
  • Marangu Route
    The Marangu Route is the only route to offer hut accommodation the whole way up.
  • Umbwe Route
    The Umbwe is the shortest, steepest and hardest Kilimanjaro route (low success rate due to shortness of trip).
  • Northern Circuit
    The Northern Circuit is the newest and longest Kilimanjaro route.

Below we have given a full breakdown of each route (excluding the Umbwe Route and the Northern Circuit) and hopefully, after reading this article, you will be in a stronger position to choose the perfect route with confidence.

Climbing Kilimanjaro FAQ's Debunked...

Before giving a full breakdown of each route, we are going to quickly answer some frequently asked questions with as much honesty and transparency as possible:

1. Which route is best for me and why? – As we have mentioned above, each of these seven Kilimanjaro routes has its own advantages and disadvantages. The “best” route normally boils down to personal preference, especially considering each route offers a difference in scenery, difficulty, acclimatisation ease, popularity and accommodation options.

As such, it is important that you are concious of your priorities and what you intend to get out of Kilimanjaro from the start. For some, they have a great interest in photography, prefer a specific terrain and climatic zone, or simply have the sole aim of reaching the summit successfully.

Once this essential quetion has been answered, you should then slowly work your way through each route with an open mind. It is your job to weigh up all options and choose a route that suits you and your needs best. 

2. Which Route route has the highest success rates and the easiest acclimatisation profile? – Personally, we believe this should be one of the biggest considerations when choosing a Kilimanjaro route.

As you might expect, routes that have “climb high, sleep low” opportunities normally results in high success rates as it gives your body time to adjust accordingly. 

Statistically, the Lemosho (90%) and Machame (83%) routes have the highest success rates and therefore tend to be the most popular options.

3. How fit do I need to be and do I need to train? – A basic level of fitness and good health is needed and training is highly recommended.

However, you do not need to be a professional athlete or a marathon runner. What is going to get you to the end of your challenge is a mental and emotional commitment to the cause. As long as you set time aside to prepare for the challenge ahead, success will be on your side! 

Simply reach out and ask, and GoKo will provide you with full fitness training notes and recommendations on how you can best build-up your stamina in the last few months before the trek.

4. What are the accommodation options? – Different Kilimanjaro routes have different accommodation options, so it is important to know whether your chosen route has camping or huts available. 

The only route with hut accommodation available is the Marangu. The other routes provide camping options only.

5. What time of year is best to climb? – Despite being able to climb Kilimanjaro all year round, it is clear that some months are MUCH better (and more advisable) than others. 

Here is a full breakdown:

January, February and the first half of March are the warmest months.

June, July and August are the “winter” months in Tanzania. Although it’s still warm during the day, nights are cold. 

August and September are peak season on Kili. This is due to the weather being almost perfect for climbing. However, if you want to avoid busy trails and crowded camps, you should probably consider another month.

September and October are much quieter and warmer than the other months, making it GoKo’s prefered dates of travel.

(Note: The other months not mentioned are not recommended) 

...But which Kilimanjaro route would GoKo recommend?

I know what you guys are thinking… “please say the Marangu route – it is the cheapest and offers hut accommodation all the way to the top”.

Unfortunately, Marangu is actually pretty low on our list. Essentially, this comes down to the fact that it has the lowest success rates (around 65%) of all the routes we offer.

Now, although we still run and promote the Marangu route, the most important part of this epic adventure is your health and your safety. Therefore, we only recommend you choose the Marangu route if you simply don’t have enough time to complete the others (Marangu is a 5-day climb) or you are uncomfortable with camping.

Yes, we intend to push you during this trip, but, we still want you to be able to take in the beautiful scenery, enjoy your evening meals (without losing your appetite), blast out the Kilimanjaro “theme tune” morning and night, and most importantly (which is our main priority), leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.

As such, our recommended routes are either:

Not only do these two options provide the best scenery, but they also have the highest success rates and acclimatisation opportunities.

The Routes

Now we have (hopefully) answered some of your more pressing questions and giving you an honest opinion about our prefered routes – here are the full breakdowns so you can choose that prefered route for yourself!

Good luck:

DifficultyDistanceDurationSuccess Rate
Medium70 km7-8 DaysHigh

To be completely honest – the Lemosho route is our favourite. Considered the most scenic trail on Kilimanjaro, Lemosho grants panoramic vistas on various sides of the mountain, offers versatility and untouched scenery, wild encounters with rare wildlife and an incredible hike across the Shira Plateau (one of the largest high-altitude plateaus in the world).

As one of the newer routes, Lemosho has been superbly thought-out and offers low crowds and the highest summit success rate of all 7 routes.

The route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the west, beginning with a long drive from Moshi to Londorossi Gate. From Londorossi, the routes circles around Kilimanjaro to the south – which passes through majestic rainforests where some of the region’s most unique wildlife can be seen – before reaching the famed Lava Tower that joins Machame. 

Most people complete the Lemosho route in seven days, but it can be extended by one day to give yourself a little longer to acclimatise if needed. Here at GoKo, we recommend the 8-day option as it gives you time to take in the incredible scenery and offers the absolute best chance of summiting successfully. 

DifficultyDistanceDurationSuccess Rate
Medium62 km6-7 DaysHigh     

The Machame route, otherwise known as the “Whisky Way”, is without a doubt the most popular of all 7 Kilimanjaro routes. Each year, Machame witnesses around 20,000 climbers who embark on an adventure to the highly awaited summit. With its impressive views, variety of habitats, high success rates (between 83%-90%), the change to overcome the Great Barranco Wall and the beautiful trails that snake through the incredible rain forest to Shira Plateau, it is easy to see why the Machame route get so much attention. 

However, it is important to note, that the Machame route is undoubtedly the busiest option and attracts the biggest crowds all year round. 

Although the Machame route is a tough climb (in contrast to the Marangu route for example), its “climb high sleep low” strategy means its a highly effective route. Therefore, if reaching Kilimanjaro’s summit is your number one priority, then the Machame route will give you the best shot at success.

The Machame route can be climbed over 6 days, however, we highly recommend taking 7 days. The extra day makes a huge difference to the success rate as it improves acclimatisation and allows you two easier days before you tackle your long summit night. 

DifficultyDistanceDurationSuccess Rate
Easy73 km6-7 DaysMedium

Starting from the northeastern side of the mountain near the Kenyan border, the Rongai Route rises above the Amboseli plains and approach the summit of Kilimanjaro west of the Mawenzi peak. It is a very unfrequented route and is also the easiest camping approach to Uhuru Peak. Due to its remote location, this trek will offer you will relatively unspoilt wilderness experiences and if you’re lucky, you may have a chance to see the beautiful Colobus monkeys, elephants and buffalos en route. 

What’s more, the Rongai route is basically one long hike with a very gentle gradient and a low difficulty level. Although the route does offer “climb high, sleep low” opportunities, the success rate is still not as high as the Lemosho and Machame routes. Therefore if you choose this route, we recommend the 7-day itinerary, as it will give you more time to acclimatise – an important extra day to adjust to the changing environment. 

If you want to save a bit of money, wish to avoid the crowds or have very little trekking experience, this is a very good alternative and still a route we recommend.

Shira Route

DifficultyDistanceDurationSuccess Rate
Medium56 km7-8 DaysHigh

The Shira route is one of the oldest routes to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and almost identical to the Lemosho route. In fact, Shira was the original route and Lemosho being the new and improved variation (with its main difference being the route starting at a greater altitude). 

After embarking on a long transfer to Londorossi Gate and jumping into another 4×4 to reach to the Simba River, you begin your climb from the far western side of the mountain. Due to this long transfer, the Shia route remains very quiet and therefore still offers a beautiful balance of untouched scenery, variety and wilderness.

However, it is important to note that some trekkers do start to experience some altitude related symptoms on the first day, as you ascend quickly by vehicle and spend the first night camping at around 3,600 meters. As such, this is not an ideal trek for those who have little or no experience of high altitude trekking.

If you decide to hike this route, we advise that you book in an extra day so you can acclimatise properly. This will undoubtedly increase your chances of a successful summit. 

DifficultyDistanceDurationSuccess Rate
Easy72 km5-6 DaysLow

Starting from the park headquarters in the village of Marangu and heading straight westwards towards Kibo, the Marangu route (nicknamed the “Coca-Cola” route) is a popular choice for many.

Beginning the journey through lush rainforest and moorland, you are slowly taken through the alpine desert, before ultimately reaching the arctic zone at the peak.

This route is great for those on a budget and prefers to spend their nights in dormitory-style accommodation rather than a tent. 

Due to the fact it is the only route that returns on the same route down, it is commonly known to be much less scenic than the others. What’s more, despite it being one of the physically “easiest climbs”, it does have a very bad success rate (sitting around 65%). This is predominantly due to the fact that it only takes 5-days to summit the mountain. Giving yourself only 5 days to summit Kilimanjaro heavily increase your chances of experience altitude sickness – so please bear this in mind before booking. Here at GoKo, we would always recommend the 6-day option as it increases % summit success. 

Despite its downfalls, the landscape is still breathtaking and opens up into a vast stretch of heath, where the gigantic Senecio plants come into view. What’s more, as you walk you can still admire the view of the serrated peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi.

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