There are various routes up Kilimanjaro that all take you to Uhuru peak on Kibo at 5895 meters above sea level. This peak, the highest in Africa also has the honour of being the highest free standing mountain in the world. It looms to a staggering five kilometres above the plains that surround it.

The most popular route is the five day Marangu route which starts and ends at the village of Marangu on the South Eastern slopes of the mountain. This is popularly called the Coke Cola route as it is considered easy, however you have one less day to acclimatise than on the next most popular route, the Machame route. It should however be noted that the term easy is relative and none of these routes can be likened to a stroll in the park. (Please see our preparation page to judge how fit you should be)

The Machame route is a six day trek and starts from the South Western slope of the mountain at the village of Machame. Unlike the Marangu route, which takes the trekkers down the mountain the same way they go up, the Machame route ends in the village of Mweka. The Machame route gives you some good views of the mountain as you sneak up on the Western shoulder to the Shira Plateau, and trek around the base at about 4000 meters before the final assault on the Eastern side. The Shira Plateau was once a very high peak too, in fact higher than Kibo is now, but it obliterated itself in a massive eruption a long while ago and now is a series of jagged peaks reaching about 4000 meters.

Other trekking routes include the Umbwe (5 days) and  Shira (5 or more days) routes starting from the South and East of the mountain respectively and the Rongai and Loitoitok routes from the Kenya or Northern side. Once you get up to 4000 meters there are various choices to take you to the top, some of which require climbing experience and equipment and go over the glaciers, for example the Heim glacier route which is a grade 2 climb and the Kersten glacier which is a grade 3+. Other routes scramble up the sides of the glaciers such as the Arrow route which passes through the Western Breach..

Conditions on Kilimanjaro range from equatorial to arctic beginning on the surrounding plains, 250 kilometres (or 3°) South of the equator with the warm, dry climate with temperatures between 25°C and 30°C. The route ascends through a wide belt of wet tropical forest from about 1800 meters up to 2800 meters, through zones with generally decreasing temperatures (about 1°C for every 200m) and rainfall, to the summit where there is permanent ice and below freezing temperatures.

January, February and March are the warmest months with mainly clear days and short rainstorms. The main rain season is from April to Mid-June when the temperature is still warm but the build up of clouds reduces visibility and the likelihood of rain on the lower slopes and snow on the peak is high. Rainfall average could be as high as 200mm per day in this period. July to August are the driest months but temperatures at altitudes above 3000 meters can be very cold. The daytime temperature at altitude starts to increase during September and October which is followed by a short rain season during November and December.

According to general literature the best times to ascend are during January/February and September. However ascents are made all year round. We did our climb up the Machame route at the beginning of October and had great clear days with short bursts of sleet, cold but clear nights, and no snow on the peak.

© Copyright Scott Smith and Renée Pattle

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