Routes Overviews

ZICASSO BEST ROUTE TO CLIMB KILIMANJARO

Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa attracting over 25,000 climbers annually. Trekkers can choose between seven different route options “Lemosho, Shira, Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe”. Here we take a closer look at the Marangu, Machame routes which are the most popular options above 80% of visitor traffic to the mountain. Each route offers a uniquely different experience so it’s worth getting the facts before you make a choice.

The hut on Marangu and the camping offered on Machame routes is perhaps the biggest consideration and difference between these routes. Marangu offers awell developed huts, shared dinning lodges and developed bathrooms. The huts are commonly shared between 4 persons although the higher Horombo Hut has a mix of dorm and quad shared rooms and Kibo is completely dormitory style. The bathrooms at Horombo Hut and Mandara are well maintained with flush toilets and solar lighting. The dinning lodges are comfortable, clean and offer a good place to get out of the weather and socialize. If you are not used to camping and are looking for a slightly more comfortable experience the Marangu Route is the way to go. Even if you’re an experienced backpacker and are looking at going during one of the wetter times of the year it’s also a good choice as the huts are comfortable and dry. If your excited about a camping and this is an important part of the experience consider Machame or one of the other less used routes.

Route Popularity

The Machame Route is the most popular route as compared to the Marangu Route. This was not always the case but has steadily increased in popularity as it gives trekkers a longer period for acclimatization and hence slightly higher success rates. Both routes see a good number of trekkers and the options for solitude are not as good as the lesser used, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe Routes. The Tanzania National Park Service does a relatively good job of maintaining the trails and keeping them clean. Even if you take one of the lesser used routes you will still encounter a decent crowd on the summit day when all the routes converge neat the top.


Distances to walk

The Machame Route is 62 km which is typically hiked over 6 days and the Marangu Route is 70 km and hiked over 5 days so that the average daily hike is a bit longer.  The Machame route while shorter involves more up and down climbs so while the distances are shorter it’s not necessarily easier hiking although it does leave one better acclimatized for the summit day.

Acclimatization
Machame is a six day route and Marangu a 5 day route so Machame offers a better opportunity for acclimatization mostly due to the time factor. It’s possible to add an extra day for acclimatization to either route and if Marangu is done as a 6 day trek it’s probably about equal to Machame in terms of the opportunity for acclimatization. Some might argue the old adage “climb high and sleep low” makes Machame a better option even if the amount of time is equal since it brings hikers to a higher elevation and then back down for sleeping.  This seems a moot point for me since the body can only acclimatize so quickly (about 300m a day) and extra acclimatization hikes are not a substitute for time.

Scenery

The Machame route probably has a slight edge on the scenery in large part because the route up and down is different (starting at the Machame Gate and ending at the Mweka Gate) while the Marangu retraces the same route in both directions. Regardless, both routes are scenic and traverse the same range of ecosystems from tropical jungle, to mountain heath, alpine and finally apex or arctic.  The Lava Tower site and the steep Barranco wall are standout features on the Machame Route. While the Marangu Route offers superb views of mount an extinct cone of Kilimanjaro and Africa’s third highest peak – Mount Meru.

Summit Day

Reaching the summit from Machame is probably easier but only by the slightest amount. The trail to the summit ridge from Barafu camp is probably slightly better but just as steep. The distance to the actual summit is shorter once the summit ridge is obtained from the Machame route and less time is required on the summit ridge where the elevation is the highest on the climb. Whatever differences exist between these two routes it should not offer a judgment in picking a route.


Costs and Time

The Marangu route is known as the “Coca Cola” route for a reason. It’s the shortest and least costly route to the summit. The lower costs can be explained by the difference in time and the fact that fewer porters are needed as camping gear does not need to be carried..

Rongai Route

The Rongai route is the only route that starts from the Northern side of the mountain. Like the Machame, it is offered on both a 6 day and 7 day itinerary. However, unlike the Machame, the Rongai route does not offer a good climb high, sleep low profile which arguably makes this route more difficult. Therefore, spending an extra day on the mountain becomes even more valuable as the 6 day option is tough. Our recommended operators state that the 7 day itinerary has an 80% summit success rate whilst the 6 day route has a 65% success rate.

Lemosho Route

The Lemosho route is a beautiful and remote trek that approaches the mountain from the south-west and joins the busier Machame route on day 4. It is generally completed on a 7 or 8 day itinerary, however, some operators in an attempt to save money will offer it as a 6 day route. Even though the route starts at a higher altitude than other routes, it offers great acclimatization and a really good climb high, sleep low profile. Success rates are high for this route – the 8 day option is usually around 90% and the 7 day around 85%. For the less popular 6 day option summit success rate is roughly 65%.

Northern Circuit

This is the newest route on the mountain and traverses all of the Northern Slopes on a circumnavigation of the mountain. The Northern Circuit is also the longest route, taking 9 days. However, because of its length, it’s the safest and most successful route up Kilimanjaro with an average summit success rate of over 95%! If you have the time and want to get off the standard busier routes, this is probably the best option for you.

Shira Route

Shira route is for climber who are already acclimatized from the neighboring Mount Meru and want to experience the isolated wilderness aspect of atrekking holiday on Mt. Kilimanjaro for the earlier leg of the trail. The high altitude ends at over 3000 meters on the first day gives you less time to explore the initial ecological zones on the mountain. Also trekkers who are not sufficiently pre-acclimatized may already develop altitude sickness at this altitude due to the quickness of the route even though an extra acclimatization day is added as standard for this route itinerary. Lemosho has replaced this route as the best western rout for acclimatization in comparison

Success Rates on the different Kilimanjaro Routes.
According to a variety of online sources the Machame Route has nearly and 95% success rate and the Marangu Route is nearly 80%. Other routes such as Rongai and Lemosho routes are approximately 95% and the Shira Route is 86%. In general the success route is directly correlated with the amount of time spent on the mountain (more time equals better acclimatization).