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.
Kilimanjaro is an astonishingly beautiful place, boasting many diverse levels of flora and fauna, agricultural fields, rainforests, fresh meadows, snow capped peaks, and even a desert!
This is a journey of a lifetime and perfect for those who want to achieve something spectacular.However, as with every summit climb, it comes with its challenges. As such, we have put together a list of top tips you need to know before embarking on a Kilimanjaro summit adventure.
Well…you do not need to be a professional athlete or a marathon runner, but a basic level of fitness and good health is needed and training is highly recommended. What is going to get you to the end of your challenge is a mental commitment to the cause. As long as you set time aside to prepare for the challenge ahead, success will always be on your side!
For those who do wishes to train for their climb, we recommend that you take part in daily walks that should include uphill and downhill sections. It is also necessary to increase your endurance and confidence levels, as this will play a big part in your success.
Additionally, you could also consider the following:
1. Aerobic Training: We recommend light-to-moderate intensity activities such as long-distance jogging, swimming, cycling and walking 2-3 months prior to your trip. Aerobic exercise builds the cardiovascular system which is key when training to climb in these regions, as a strong cardiovascular system will help you process limited oxygen in a more efficient way. There is a flip side though. The more fit you are, the harder and faster you can push yourself, and the quicker you think you can ascend the mountain. This is a huge mistake! Going as slow as possible, even when you are on the lower reaches and feel great, is key to your success. This is possibly the best advice you will get!
2. Strength Training: In addition to aerobic exercise, you should also be doing light strength training, particularly for your legs, core and upper body. Building the strength of your core muscles (stomach and lower back) and upper shoulder muscles is also important as you will be carrying a lightweight pack for up to 6-7 hours a day.
3. Practice Hiking: The best way to prepare for a long hike is to do a few yourself. We recommend doing at least two long-distance hikes (over 5 hours). If you can do back to back days that would be even better. Doing a few practices hikes as part of your training has many benefits, so we highly recommend this.
4. Mental Stamina: So often, the thing that leads to a successful trip is their mental stamina. There will be times during the trek night that you will want to give up. Being able to dig deep and pull on your mental reserves is so important. Thankfully strength and aerobic activities train your mental stamina, so the more time you put in beforehand, the easier the climb. Finally, if you really wish to put your mental strength to the test before the climb, sign up for a half-marathon run. Long-distance running truly is a test of mental endurance.
In Conclusion: We truly believe most people – regardless of age or physical condition – can complete this trip. All one needs to do is ensure their cardiovascular system is firing on all engines and that they have the mental strength to see the hike to the end.
Altitude sickness is an illness that can affect anyone at any time, despite their level of fitness or how many times they have trekked in a specific region. Altitude sickness can range from a mild headache and weariness to a life-threatening build-up of fluid in the lungs or brain at high altitudes.
Symptoms occur when the rate of ascent into higher altitudes is too quickly that the body doesn’t get time to acclimatise. Altitude sickness generally develops at elevations higher than 8,000 feet (about 2,400 meters) above sea level and when the rate of ascent exceeds 1,000 feet (300 meters) per day.
The following actions can trigger altitude sickness:
- Ascending too quickly (rapidly)
- Overexertion within 24 hours of ascent
- Inadequate fluid intake
- Consumption of alcohol or other sedatives
One way to avoid altitude sickness is allowing the body to get used to the altitude slowly (Acclimatisation). Acclimatisation is the process by which the body adjusts to high altitudes. The goal of acclimatisation is to increase ventilation (breathing) to compensate for lower oxygen content in the air. To compensate for this extra ventilation, blood needs to have a lower pH. In response, the kidneys excrete bicarbonate into the urine, which in turn lowers the body’s pH to accommodate for this extra respiratory effort.
During a GoKo trek, we take all the necessarily persuasions to ensure your safety and go out of our way to check in on how you are feeling to avoid altitude sickness affecting you in a severe way. The rule here is to be completely honest with your guides and group, and if you feel any of the below symptoms – speak up:
- feeling and being sick.
- serious tiredness.
- loss of appetite (you will be walking for 5-8 hours per day – it is so important to eat enough food to maintain your energy – if you feel like not eating at any point during your trip, speak to your guides immediately).
- shortness of breath.
To summarise, It doesn’t matter how fit you are, it can affect anyone and does so randomly. Therefore, please stay prepared by taking Diamox, an altitude medication, and take each day slow, drink lots of water and listen to your body (and your tour leader). However, do not fear – Kilimanjaro reaches over 5,800m, and almost everyone will experience some very mild symptoms like headaches or difficulty sleeping. If you get enough rest, each enough food, and take your daily altitude medication, success will be on your side.
There is nothing worse than beginning your trek, only to realise that you haven’t got the correct equipment – or – learning that the equipment you do have is causing you nothing but grief. On any hiking adventure, it is essential that you are prepared for all weather conditions, have the correct day-pack and most importantly, your boots are comfortable and worn in.
Before I dive in and hand over the ideal Kilimanjaro packing list, I think it is important to provide a more in-depth breakdown into the 3 most important hiking items for your Kilimanjaro climb. If you get these wrong, your climb will prove to be much harder, or worse, ruined.
Your hiking boots are arguably the most important item for any trek. If your feet are in pain, get too cold or remain wet…your journey will not be enjoyable in any way. Make sure your boots are well worn in before embarking on this trip and offer enough support and protection to keep your feet dry, safe and secure.
Quality hiking boots don’t come cheap, but if you speak to anyone who has been on a multi-day hike before they will tell you good hiking boots are a priority and a worthy investment.
Modern synthetics and vegan hiking boots are now favoured above the traditional heavy leather boot. These boots are more lightweight, waterproof and suitable for a diversity of landscapes and terrain. This type of shoe can also double down as a comfortable, everyday travel shoe so you don’t have to lug them around at the bottom of your backpack for the entirety of your trip.
It’s important that you make an educated decision as to which day pack to bring for your trek. Ideally, your daypacks should not only be fully waterproof (or at least water-resistant) but it needs to be comfortable, boats thick, study shoulder and hip straps and have an integrated nettle back panel for breathability – allowing the heat to escape your body.
For Kilimanjaro, your daypack shouldn’t be bigger than 5litres and if you can, try to keep it below 10kg-15kg.
First Aid Kit
A small personal first aid kit is a must! All it takes is one clumsy fall, a minor slip or an encounter with a spiky plant and you will be left with a bloody scratch or two. Although this doesn’t sound serious, the last thing you want is for those little cuts to get infected when you are miles from the nearest pharmacy (it really hurts). See below for our first aid kit packing list.
Now you have been briefed on the importance of the 3 top hiking essentials, below you will find a full Kilimanjaro packing list breakdown:
There are five climate zones in Kilimanjaro National Park, which start to change the further up the mountain you go. We thought we would break zones down for you, from lowest to highest:
1. The Cultivated zone (800m to 1,800m)
Home of the Bantu speaking community the Chaga, the lower climate zone of Kilimanjaro National Park is now known for its banana and coffee cultivation but was once just bushland.
Most trails to Mt Kilimanjaro start further up the mountain, so many trekkers will not experience what this area has to offer. Instead, your tour operator will drive you to your chosen starting point.
2. The Rainforest zone (1,800 m to 2,800 m)
Not many trekkers realise that Mt Kilimanjaro is in fact surrounded by beautiful rainforest. More rainfall results in lush and dense forests further south and the area are teeming with wildlife.
One of the most notable is the incredibly rare red and yellow flower, the ‘Kilimanjari Impatiens’, that grows exclusively at the foot of the mountain.
Bring your shorts for this part, it can get very hot and humid in the forest!
3. The Afro-alpine moorland zone (2,800 m to 4,000 m)
Now, this is where your trek will start to feel truly special. As you find yourself just above the treetops and entering what many call the ‘heather’ zone, you will be surrounded by rare and beautiful vegetation that will leave a lasting impression. Expect to spot red-hot pokers, yellow proteas, and giant heathers (hence the nickname).
Soon, you will be dwarfed by the strikingly unusual ‘Dendrosenecio kilimanjari’, or giant groundsels, which can grow up to 5ft and sprout tiny flowers at their peak. Then there’s also the giant lobelias, which boast a strikingly large column growing out of its spiky rosette base.
Weather wise, expect this area to feel a little tougher. Whilst a gentle mist covers the mountain in the mornings, the daylight and nighttime can swing between ferocious heatwaves and below-freezing temperatures respectively.
4. The Alpine desert zone (4,000 m to 5,000 m)
The more hardcore trekkers will come into their own here, whereas others may start to feel the pressure. Due to the highland desert’s inhospitable environment, any vegetation and wildlife here have to be tough enough to endure the extreme temperatures – as do you!
The eagle-eyed amongst you may spot the common eland antelope wandering past, but other than that there won’t be much to see vegetation wise – just the beautiful panoramic views.
5. The Arctic zone (5,000 m – 5,895 m)
Where you may expect just snow and ice in the final zone of Mt, Kilimajaro, it also inhabits three volcanic zones.
- Kibo – its highest point is called Uhuru Peak and will also be the highest you will climb, at 5,895m.
- Mawenzi – its highest point is 5,149m
- Shira – its highest point is 3,962m
Fans of the cold will revel in the conditions of the Furtwangler Glacier at the top of Kilimanjaro. The glorious summit of Mt Kilimanjaro is notoriously frosty, with temperature lows of -7 to -29 °C. So wrap up warm, and soak in that breathtaking view!
For those will previous travel experience, you will understand that visiting Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro is more than just mountain views, hiking trails and safaris. Throughout your journey will be amongst people that call these regions and mountains their home. This is as much of a cultural trail, as it is an adventure hike. Respecting the locals and traditions here goes without saying, but we also encourage you to spend time conversing with your guides and porters throughout your journey. Opening your eyes to the cultures, religions and heritages is was travel is really about and no doubt it will make your journey than ever more rememberable.
For a bit of content, here are some quick facts:
Since 400 years ago, the Wachagga people settled on Kilimanjaro, displacing or absorbing earlier tribes that once ruled the lands. The Wangassa claimed to have lived forever on the mountain and to be separate from the Maasai people whom they resembled at that time. After a long history of war and treachery, the various tribes and clans became united under one chief as the Chagga people. The Chagga now form one of Tanzania’s largest, richest, best refined and most powerful ethnic groups, possibly because of the fertility of their homelands combined with their contact with early German colonialists and missionaries whose travel in Africa provided the Chagga with education and opportunities to embrace the Western culture.
However, the western influence destroyed much of the Chagga way of life – although their homes, simple beehive huts, can still be seen today. Their wealth is now based on banana and coffee plantations.
Due to the clashing of tribes and the German colonialist’s influence, Swahili became the language of the people and spread along the East African coast between 500 and 1,000 AD. Today, Swahili also includes words derived from English, German and Portuguese.
The best way to get the most out of your Kilimanjaro experience is to come to Kilimanjaro having learned a few Swahili phrases. Not only will you impress the locals, but they will also instantly warm to you and show you appreciation simply for making the effort to speak their language. As such, here is a small list of Swahili words and phrases you can practice at home:
Summiting Kilimanjaro is a marathon, not a sprint. Regardless of how fit you are, slow and steady really is the way to go. Being unfit is not the primary concern as altitude sickness can strike anyone at any time.
So…please look up a smell the roses! The only reward for trying to prove something by being first is nausea, vomiting and a splitting headache! Plod on at a steady pace, pause, standing to rest – and everything will be fine. Don’t care about whether others are ahead, there is plenty of time to reach the summit, so walk at YOUR speed regardless of how far behind you may think you are.
Please bring your own water bottle to refill along the way (we always bring 2). A sufficient supply of drinking water to keep you hydrated for the length of the route is absolutely paramount, and on Kilimanjaro, you won’t be able to buy any water along the way; as disposable, single-use plastic bottles are not allowed on the mountain. This is due to fact that the production of a 1-litre plastic bottle takes 2 litres of water and 200ml of oil, with a large proportion of these bottles ending up in limited landfills or discarded in waterways and natural environments.
Although it can be difficult to avoid bottled water when travelling, we ask you to please use the water dispensers or natural flowing water streams to refill your re-usable bottle that you kindly brought from home. When unable to avoid bottled water it is better to buy the largest available and distribute it into your smaller bottle for the day.
As you have already established, climbing Kilimanjaro isn’t an easy task. Although you will be given plenty of nutritious food and drinks – with 3 cooked meals per day, having a bungle of high energy (sugar, chocolate protein etc) snacks are essential to get you through. Please note, snacks are on you and we recommend snacks like power bars, chocolate bars, nuts and dried fruit and jerky/biltong (or something similar).
Keeping yourself fueled up on nutritional snacks are extremely important in high-altitude regions, as they help to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness (the same goes for drinking water of course). we recommend that you carry around three litres of water for each day.
The support and help you get while climbing Kilimanjaro may just be the best mountain service you will receive anywhere in the world. From mountain leaders and guides to porters and cooks, you are looked after every step of the way – from physical support, mental encouragement, professional mountain advice and warm hearty meals, all while ensuring your safety.
As such, it’s no doubt that tipping is an important part of your trip, with a tipping ceremony happing on the final day of the trip. This important tradition involves a lot of singing and dancing and is a beautiful moment which brings everyone together one last time.
During the ceremony is your job to tip the different crew members to show your thanks and appreciation. It’s not at all compulsory for you to tip, but it is customary, and we have yet to meet any trekker who isn’t happy to tip the crew generously.
The decision on how much to tip should not be determined based upon whether or not you reached the summit, but by how well the guides, cooks and porters served you while you were on the mountain. The standard tipping amounts are roughly $20/day for guides, $15/day for cooks, $13/day for assistant guides, and $8 – $10/day for porters, and standard porters. These figures are based on recommendations by the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), the independent organization that advocates fair treatment of porters and is responsible for many of the improved working conditions of those who work on Mount Kilimanjaro.
In line with the above, then, we recommend that each climber tips a total of between $200-$300 USD per trip, but ultimately, the decision is yours!
An experienced guide knows how to set the right pace for the group. What’s more, they also know how to notice and treat altitude sickness, as well as knowing the mountain trails inside out.
A good company, with fully trained guides will understand how to improve your chances of reaching the summit successfully and safely. Perhaps most importantly, good guides can coordinate a rescue in emergency situations because they have been trained in the correct safety protocols
It is often tempting to choose the lowest price when making booking decisions, especially if you’re keen to simply tick this bucket-list adventure off that list. But please resist this temptation when it comes to climbing Kilimanjaro. This is about you making it to the top and coming back home safely with incredible stories.