Surprisingly, Mount Kilimanjaro many people still believe that Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Kenya. While it is possible that this belief has come about because many Kenya guide books or promotional posters show what is perhaps the best long distance view of Kilimanjaro taken from within the relatively nearby Amboseli National Park in Kenya, on the northern side of Kilimanjaro, nonetheless the entire park boundary that demarcates the mountain’s official edges does indeed lie within Tanzania.
So, Mount Kilimanjaro is definitely in Tanzania, not Kenya!
MOUNT KILIMANJARO is climable at any time of the year. However, the best time of year for climbing is January through mid-March and mid-June through October
This page tells you how to climb Kilimanjaro. It starts with picking the right time, getting yourself to Tanzania, then to the mountain.
You can read about the cost, selecting a trekking agency, selecting a route, and of course I discuss all the issues of the trek itself: training, fitness, altitude sickness…
Every issue that I mention here is explained in detail on another page, often several pages, but here you can get a good overview of what it takes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Planning a Kilimanjaro Climb
You need to make three major decisions before you can climb Kilimanjaro:
Mount Kilimanjaro three peaks were formed after volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. One volcanic cone, Shira, is now extinct and eroded, while the other two, Mawenzi and Kibo, ‘melted’ together after subsequent eruptions. Kibo is now the highest with its famous Uhuru peak at almost 6000m above sea level.
Given the stature and greatness of Mount Kilimanjaro , there is relatively little recorded history of the peak. Even the origins of the name present somewhat of a dilemma. Many people believe the name derived from the Kishwahili tribal name, Kilima, meaning “mountain.” The local Wachagga people claim to have no name for Kilimanjaro, but did name the dual peaks “Kipoo” and “Kimawenzi.”
Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano composed of three extinct volcanic cones of varying ages: Kibo (5,895 m); Mawenzi (5,149 m); and Shira (3,962 m). It is one of the world’s highest free-standing mountains: its mass rises 4,800 m above a rolling plain that averages 1,000 m above sea level. After reaching a height thought to be 5,900 m during its last major eruption 360,000 years ago, Kibo has been eroded by glaciers, rivers, and landslides to its present height. It is believed that Kilimanjaro, like its neighbor Mt. Kenya, is losing glaciers due to localized deforestation and global warming.
Mount Kilimanjaro Temperature
Kilimanjaro temperature is heavily influenced by changes in altitude. So much so that there are in fact distinct climatic zones on the mountain, each with its own distinct fauna and flora.
Rain forest zone (~800 meters – 3,000 meters)
From the earliest part of your trek you are going to be confronted with tropical rain forest. Humidity is high and light mist or sometimes drizzle is common. Various flora such as orchids, ferns, fig and olive trees cover this area of Kilimanjaro. You will likely see Blue and Colobus monkeys, and if you are trekking from the North-East Rongai route or Western Lemosho, Shira or Northern Circuit you may even see elephant, buffalo and large antelope.
Low alpine zone (~3,000 meters – 4,200 meters)
At approximately.3,000 metres the rainforest rapidly gives way to semi-arid grasslands and moorlands, this area is known as the low alpine zone. Heather and small shrubs cover the landscape, the weather is significantly less humid and temperatures can get to sub-zero in the evening. The most prominent flora features in this zone are the Senecios and Giant Lobelias, which look like deformed palm trees. Fauna is sparse; however you will likely see crows overhead foraging for food.
High alpine zone (~4,200 meters – 5,000 meters)
This zone is characterised by an arid desert environment that is rather inhospitable. During the day temperatures are hot and solar radiation is high (make sure to apply lots of sun-cream). At night temperatures plummet to below freezing. From this zone the slopes of Kibo and Kilimanjaro’s summit come into perfect view.
Glacial zone (~5,000 meters to 5,895 meters)
The final zone houses the upper reaches of Kibo and Mawenzi and consists of high altitude artic conditions. Life is very scarce in this zone as oxygen levels are near half what they were on the lower reaches of the mountain. Fine glacial silt covers the slopes that reach up to Kilimanjaro’s summit and large glaciers are visible from Kilimanjaro’s crater rim. Due to the high solar radiation during the day, freezing temperatures at night, gale force winds and low oxygen levels, this zone is not one where you want to stay too long!
Snow on Kilimanjaro
Snow on Kilimanjaro can occur all year round, but the most common months are November through March. Here is a chart showing average snowfall by month.
Mount Kilimanjaro Weather FAQ
What is the temperature at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro?
The temperature at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro can range from 0 to -20 degrees Celsius (32 to -4 degrees Fahrenheit). A big factor that drives the temperature at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is the wind. The wind chill factor can make a relatively cold night, like -2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit), feel like -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s worth noting that temperatures at the summit are colder at night, which is the time that most trekkers push for the summit. By late morning it can actually feel quite hot at the summit, especially on a windless clear day.
Which are the wettest months on Kilimanjaro?
The wettest months on Kilimanjaro are April and May. These are not good months to hike the mountain. Later March can also see quite a lot of rain. There is a short rainy season in November as well. The Northern side of Kilimanjaro is in a rain shadow, so if you’re limited to these months, then try the Rongai route.
You’ll also need to decide what route you want to take up the mountain.
There are 7 routes on Kilimanjaro, and not all of these are created equal. In terms of acclimatization, longer routes have a much better success rate.
Other considerations are: how busy the route is, how scenic it is, whether you sleep in a tent or in huts. Whether you take the Western Breach or the Barranco Wall. Do you want a day or night time summit attempt?
Only choose the Marangu route if you are on a tight budget, and if so, do the 6 day route which includes an acclimatization day. Or if you are on a budget and are confident in your ability to acclimatize and/or you have done a pre-acclimatization trek up Mt Meru or similar
The Marangu route is the cheapest route on Kilimanjaro. It is oldest route to the Summit, and the only one where you sleep in huts instead of tents. Marangu uses the same route on the descent, so during busy periods it can get quite crowded.
If you are on a budget, then the Marangu route can be an option. Many people are sold the idea that it’s an “easy” route, being only 5 days (you can opt to do it in 6 days and have an extra acclimatization day).
The idea of a 5 day hike seems a lot easier than an 8-10 day hike. But that doesn’t take into account the effects of altitude.
One of the reasons why the summit success rate on the Marangu route is only around 45% is because there is not enough time for acclimatization. For climbers confident in their ability to acclimatize and wanting a shorter hike to the summit, this is worth considering.
For those who are less experienced at altitude and want a less crowded, more scenic adventure, and who are not on a tight budget, should opt for one of the longer routes.
The longer routes have a much better acclimatization schedule and as such a better chance of achieving summit success.
Since Marangu uses huts for accommodation, less porters are required per climber, as there is not the need for a full camp to be carried up the mountain. This also brings the cost down.
The Summit attempt is always made at night from Kibo Hut (the “basecamp”), there is no option for a daytime ascent.
and be trying to hike above 15,000ft in the middle of the night!
That the Marangu route provides accommodation in huts, might sound preferable to sleeping in a tent. Do bear in mind that the huts sleep 6-10 people in dormitory-style bunk beds. It’s not a luxury safari camp with crisp linen and hot running water!
Why bother? Just book the Lemosho route. Unless you are short of time, want to see the western side of the mountain without the forest, and – crucially – have had experience at altitude and are confident of your ability to begin trekking at 3600m – quite a gain in elevation from Moshi or Arusha.
Let save you some time: The Shira Route is the same as the Lemosho route, but starts at a higher elevation. Consider it if you are already acclimatized after climbing Mt Meru or Mt Kenya. If not, then read about the Lemosho Route instead!
Is the “Shira Route” even available any more? If your operator is offering you this route, do read on before clicking the “buy now” button.
Shira was the original route on the western side of the mountain before the Lemosho route was available. Setting off from Shira Gate, before Londorossi Gate was opened. Starting at 3,600m, you are taken to your starting point by 4WD vehicle along what is now used as the “rescue road”.
Starting your trek on the Shira Plateau, you miss the wonderful hike through the montane forest. Which on this side of the mountain is nothing short of spectacular.
Starting at the Shira Gate, you essentially follow the emergency road across the plateau to your first campsite. This takes you through the scrubby heath and moorland zone.
Apart from the first day, this route is exactly the same as Lemosho.Your first campsite will effectively be the same as your second campsite if you had taken the Lemosho route. You simply miss the first day’s hike and start higher up. We can’t see much advantage in this.
A major problem with this route is that it’s start point is around 3,600m. This is too high an altitude for all but the most experienced altitude trekkers. If you are well acclimatized – perhaps by climbing Mt Meru first – then you could consider using this route as it’s shorter than Lemosho.
But for the rest of us who want to acclimatize and not feel sick on the first day, We don’t recommend it. Most operators now offer the Lemosho route in place of this one.
Assuming you are fit enough to even attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, acclimatization is the biggest obstacle to a successful summit
Every year, fitter, stronger people fail to reach the summit due to poor acclimatization. On the other hand, less fit, less strong people who are well-acclimatized are often successful.
Essentially by cutting out the first day’s hiking through the rainforest, you lose valuable acclimatization time, reducing your likelihood of reaching the summit.
But you also miss the experience of the rainforest. Part of the fascination of climbing Kilimanjaro is seeing the different climate zones and how they differ from one another.
Mostly this route is not offered any more, possibly some operators will offer it by request. Those that advertise the “Shira Route”, often actually start at Londorossi gate and follow the Lemosho route.
The longest route possible! Typically, it is the Lemosho Route that climbers use, which has a good acclimatization schedule. For the very “tough”, try the Umbwe Route, but add extra days. Some operators on the Machame Route will offer a night at Crater.
What happens at the top of the mountain? Are you camping in the Crater, taking a hike to the Ash Pit?
Most people who think about climbing Kilimanjaro, think about getting to the Summit, seeing the Uhuru Peak signpost for themselves, and taking photographs. However, there is so much more to the top of this mountain than just Uhuru Peak. The Kilimanjaro Ash Pit is the very center of the volcanic cone.
Uhuru Peak sits at the highest point of the crater rim, below this is the crater. Filled with glaciers and volcanic rock, it is possible to camp on the crater floor, if you are very well acclimatized.
Exploring the glaciers up close is an amazing experience, feeling the cold, hard ice under the blue skies and equatorial sun. Whilst inside the crater, a place where few people go is to the Ash Pit: the very center of the volcano.
Fumaroles belching forth their sulfurous gases, the raw sulfur on the sides, and the perfectly formed cone reaching down into the depths of the earth. This is where it all came from.
Whilst standing at the summit is an astonishing achievement, for us, it doesn’t really stop there. What is this place, apart from just being the “highest mountain in Africa” and the “highest free-standing mountain in the world”?
Sure, there are more dramatic “volcano experiences” in the world, watching active volcanos in Costa Rica, for instance. But once you are on the top of Kilimanjaro, in this inhospitable land of ice, rocks and thin mountain air, seeing the Ash Pit is an opportunity not to be missed.
Kilimanjaro consists of three volcanic peaks. Shira (3962m), Mawenzi (5149m) and Kibo (5895m). Kibo is the youngest of these three peaks, it’s most recent activity being in the Pleistocene era.
What remains of both Shira and Mawenzi have been partially covered by volcanic material from Kibo. Only on Kibo can you see the concentric craters still intact.
At the top of Kibo is the Kibo Crater, the main crater you see from the summit and aerial photos. Within the Kibo Crater there is the Reusch Crater, and within this lies the Ash Pit. These three are all visible from the summit on a clear day.
All three are concentric craters, and the Ash Pit forms a perfect circle. The closer you get to the Ash Pit, the stronger the ‘rotten eggs’ smell of sulfur is. Which is not great if you are already feeling a bit nauseous from the altitude!
The Ash Pit is 395ft wide and is composed of shale and large boulders which have rolled down. Fumaroles, vents that emit sulfur and steam are found at the base of the Ash Pit, and it’s estimated that the temperature of these vents is that of boiling water.
The Reusch crater was named after a missionary who famously found a leopard frozen in the snow and cut of its ear as a souvenir. This leopard was the inspiration for the opening lines of Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
From the Crater floor, you have to climb up this steep slope to get there!
Normally, visiting the Ash Pit requires a night to be spent in Crater Camp. And you’ll only be able to do that if you are well enough acclimatized to sleep at over 18,000 feet. And your operator will have had to make the logistical arrangements for you to do so.
This can be costly, and it’s dangerous to sleep up there. Mostly it’s the high-end operators that offer it, on a longer trek to ensure good acclimatization.
Sometimes an operator will take you to the Ash Pit after you’ve reached the summit before heading back down the mountain. Obviously, this would only be possible if you were feeling fit, strong and well-acclimatized.
If you are looking for something a bit more than just getting to the top, then We highly recommend a night in the Crater and a visit to the Ash Pit.
Walking from Crater Camp, it will take about 30-40 minutes to get to the Ash Pit. You hike across the crater floor, past the glaciers, and up the ridge of the Reusch Crater. Once you get there, don’t lean over too far, if you fall down this, you won’t be getting out again!