There are six official routes up Kilimanjaro to the summit. Click on the map icon below for a bird’s-eye view of each of them (opens on a separate page):
For a detailed description and itinerary of every route, do visit the routes up Kilimanjaro section on the Climb Mount Kilimanjaro website. But for a brief overview of each path, read on:
Clockwise from north, the official routes are:
Rongai Route Beautiful and peaceful, it’s one of the quietest routes on Kilimanjaro. We advise that you don’t take the path that heads in a straight line to the summit from Rongai Gate, but instead take the diversion on the second day to the lower slopes of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second peak. This adds a day to your schedule but is good for acclimatisation purposes – and is also great for views across the Saddle to Kibo’s snowy summit.
Marangu Route The only route where you sleep in huts, not in tents. Has the lowest success rate, and also the only one where you take the same route down as you did on the way up. Nevertheless, still a beautiful route, though don’t take the five-day option – take six (at least).
Umbwe Route This is the steepest route up Kilimanjaro, though still just a walk, not a climb. It’s also the quietest route and (partly because it is so quiet) we absolutely love this trail – though we recognise that it’s not for everyone, and the steep ascent does mean that you may have problems acclimatising. There are ways around this, however – see our book and accompanying Umbwe description on the Kilimanjaro website for details.
Machame Route The busiest route on the mountain. If there was such as thing as a ‘bog-standard’ route, this would be it. It’s beautiful, and thanks largely to its proximity to Moshi, it’s cheaper than other routes too. It also has a very good success rate for getting people to the summit. Do try to avoid the really busy months of August-September and January-February, or you could feel like you’ve just joined a queue of people snaking up the mountain.
Lemosho Route This is the longest official route on Kilimanjaro and as such is best done over 7 or, preferably, 8 days. As a result it has perhaps the high success rate of any of these official routes. Given that it has some great forest at the start, and some great views of Kibo once you leave the forest, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s more expensive than other routes – because it tends to take a day or two longer than other trails – it would be far more popular.
Shira Route Seldom used by anyone these days as it’s largely a 4WD trek used by emergency vehicles. One major company uses it but the fact that you start walking above the forest, rather than in it, is a big drawback. Our advice: don’t take this route.
You can also see on the map the Mweka Route. This is a descent-only route. In other words, you take the Mweka Route to descend from the summit, not to climb up to it. If you take the Shira, Lemosho, Machame or Umbwe Routes then you will descend from the summit on the Mweka Route. For Rongai and Marangu, you descend via the Marangu Route.
OUR ADVICE: I could go into a great detail about the relative advantages and disadvantages of each route. But to keep it simple, I will just advise this. Of all the trails in the park, my favourite route is our own 8-day Alternative Lemosho Route – one of two routes that we devised especially to make the most of the mountain. It is, in my opinion, the route with the best forest for the first day or so; the best views and scenery once you leave the forest; it takes you away from the crowds that are on some other trails, choosing instead to opt for quiet paths away from the crowds and the noise; and because it is the longest route, so it gives you more time to acclimatise – and thus it also has the highest success rate of any on the mountain. It should be pointed out here that the standard Lemosho Route is good too, though this does have more crowds on it and the success rate is slightly lower.
The big disadvantage with both the Lemosho or Alternative Lemosho Route is that, because they are the longest routes, so they are best done over 8 days rather than 7 – and as a result are a little more expensive than the other routes. So if you can’t afford the time or money for an 8-day route, then the best seven-day route is Rongai. Again, this has some spectacular views, is quieter than many other routes – and again has a very high success rate of any seven-day trek.
Finally, if even a seven-day route is too expensive, then the best six-day route is Machame – it’s overcrowded at times but it’s cheaper and has, for a six-day route, a good success rate for getting people to the summit (though not as good as the seven- or eight-day routes, of course).
Do note that there are circumstances where other routes may be advisable: for example, I love the Umbwe Route and think it’s very, very beautiful. However, I didn’t recommend it as it is very steep, and thus may not give you enough time to acclimatise safely. But if you have already done some acclimatisation prior to climbing Kilimanjaro – by tackling Mount Meru, Kili’s little brother, first, for example – then I think that Umbwe may be perfect for you. Or, alternatively, you could try our own Full Circuit Umbwe – which gives you the advantages of the Umbwe Route, while allowing you a longer time to acclimatise and thus rech the summit safely. Just get in touch if you are uncertain which route you should take, and I will put on my guide book writer’s hat and give you an unbiased opinion.
One more thing to remember: If you don’t have a choice as to which route to take, don’t worry. Because Kilimanjaro is worth climbing, whatever route you take.