The Kilimanjaro Guide
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a major bucket list item for many people. I was lucky enough to be able to make the trek and experience the highest point in Africa. After receiving so many questions about my climb I wanted to put together a comprehensive guide to really get into what it takes to make it to the roof of Africa. This Kilimanjaro Guide will be a resource for you as you plan your journey, prepare for the climb, and reach an amazing goal.
Ways to Get There
When I flew to Africa I was coming from the U.S. I flew to Frankfurt and then to Nairobi. I spent a few days in Nairobi as I wanted to see the city and give myself a little chance to recoup from jet lag and prepare my body for the climb. Another reason I stayed in Nairobi instead of flying straight to Moshi was because it was less expensive. I found a very good fare to Nairobi, and even with additional flights to Moshi from Nairobi, it was still less than it would have been direct.
Getting to Moshi by land is a cool way to make the trek. This had been my intention from the beginning, but some scheduling issues (and a Yellow Fever vaccination mishap), I ended up flying. If this is your plan, you can book through Riverside Shuttle. The trip will take about 8 hours but you’ll be going through some amazing African back country. The price doesn’t hurt either. A return trip from Nairobi to Moshi is $80USD. This was my reasoning for trying to go by land but if you aren’t up for a long trek on some bumpy roads before your long hike, you can always fly.
There are daily flights from Nairobi to Moshi on a surprisingly large plane. Seeing as Kili is in a small town I thought we’d be flying on some prop plane. Moshi has flights to most major capitals in Africa, and even some in Europe so it’s very well-connected. They have to get all of those hikers to the mountain somehow.
From Dar Es Salaam
Depending on where in the world you’re coming from, it might be cheaper to fly to Tanzania’s capital. Another great reason to fly to Dar is because it’s close to the island of Zanzibar. A lot of hikers travel to Zanzibar after the trek to relax on the beach and recover from the strenuous climb. You might look into making Dar your “homebase” in Africa and start and end your trip there to get a little R&R before and after.
The Kilimanjaro Express bus line runs between Moshi and Dar Es Salaam. The trip takes around 10 hours and is about $25 USD.
Flying to Dar es Salaam is usually much cheaper than going directly to Moshi depending on where you’re coming from. But, if you’re not up for a long bus journey from Dar to Moshi before the Kili trek, you can always book a separate flight that could be less expensive in the long run. There are multiple flights to Moshi per day so you’ll have no issue in that regard. Precision Air will most likely be the cheapest option for as low as $80USD.
Direct to Moshi
Like I’ve said above, you can get a direct flight to Moshi from most major cities in the area. This is definitely the most convenient way to start your trip but might not be the most cost effective. Just weigh the pros and cons of time vs. expensive and what your ultimate goal is. A lot of my group flew directly to Moshi and didn’t stop anywhere else in Africa.
Getting to town from the Kilimanjaro Airport:
The airport is about 45 minutes by taxi from Moshi, depending on where exactly you’re staying. Taxis have a set price of $50 from the airport which can be a little steep if you’re traveling solo like I was. You can also try to arrange a shuttle with your hotel beforehand which might save you some money but it will most likely still be expensive.
An alternative to get into town is to take the bus. Precision Air operates a shuttle bus to Moshi (or Arusha) for about 10,000 TSH ($5USD). Passengers of other airlines can sometimes take the shuttle if a Precision Air flight has arrived at around the same time and there is room on the bus.
Because you must go with a tour company, I chose to go with G Adventures. (In all honesty I would have gone with a tour company whether or not it was mandated by the country, but in case you’re thinking of making the trek alone, it’s not possible to even enter the National Park without a certified guide.)
What Was Included
With G Adventures, and many similar style companies, there are many items included in the tour price. Here’s what I got with my booking:
- Hotel stays the night before and night after the hike.
- Transport between the gates and the hotel
- All food and water during the trek
- A tent (shared, unless you book a single)
- Guides to make sure you don’t die (kidding, but not really)
- Porters to lug up your duffel bag and all items needed for your camp
- All permits and fees
Other vetted and popular tour companies that offer similar treks:
While the hike itself is pretty structured as far as how long you will hike each day, what camps you will stay at, and when you will rest, the different routes are where you can customize your adventure. Most routes that are offered by tours are around the same skill level, though there are more rough ones that a private guide could take you on. I would advise (to the best of my knowledge) that those routes should only be attempted by those who are the toughest of the tough.) Unfortunately, people do die on Kili when they attempt such routes because of their unstable terrain. I’m not trying to say you could never do this, but from what the other guides told my group, these routes aren’t any better, or faster, they’re just more death-defying. Basically I’m saying, choose at your own risk, but the ones I’m talking about now are all safe and rarely ever have any issues on people’s health.
Image courtesy of G Adventures
Marangu Route– At 5,895 m (19,340 ft), Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak and this adventure along the Marangu Route will get you to the top safely, quickly, and with your budget in mind. Overnight in mountain huts and awake ready to conquer the slopes. As a leader in Kili treks, we’ll take you to new heights in adventure on your way to the roof of Africa. Affectionately known as the “Coca-Cola Route” due to its popularity, Marangu covers forests, moorlands, and “the Saddle” (a high-altitude desert), on its way to Kibo Hut. This is the quickest route to summit – with a catch. The trail is well maintained but because of the quick ascent, the success rate is not as high as other routes. Local guides, cooks, and porters will provide support during your trek and at campsites along the way.
Rongai Route– Conquer Africa’s highest peak from the drier, northern side of the mountain. Follow the Rongai Route, climbing the mountain from the North and descending via the popular Marangu Route with its diverse climate zones and stunning views. This route’s gentle approach has a high success rate due to the slow ascent. You’ll camp beside the only lake on the mountain and enjoy spectacular views over Kenya’s Amboseli plains. Local guides, cooks, and porters will provide support during your trek and at campsites along the way.
Machame Route– This is the route I took.Possibly the most scenic route to the summit, Machame boasts several paths to its highest point and back. En route to Uhuru emerge onto high-alpine deserts with amazing views of ice fields and the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro! Known as the “Whiskey Route” because of the tougher challenge, this path leads you through magnificent forests before traversing a ridge leading through moorland to the Shira Plateau. It offers great scenery beneath the glaciated precipices of the Southern ice fields before summiting from the higher Barafu Camp. Camp along the route with support from local guides and porters. As a world leader in Kili treks, we’ll take you to new heights in adventure!
Lemosho Route– Take the challenging and less-travelled Lemosho route up to the highest peak in Africa, considered by many to be the most beautiful path up the western breach of the mountain to the Shira Plateau. This adventure starts off with a few long days as you gain altitude and has several days built in to help you acclimatize, improving your chances of making the summit. Enjoy the climb through magnificent forests and moorland, and emerge into high-alpine deserts as you enjoy spectacular views along the way to the summit.
How to Prepare
To Do Before You Leave:
- Get Your vaccines
- Take care of things at home: this sounds simple, but make sure that things at home are taken care of because on the mountain you won’t have time, or resources to try to take care of things.
- Research your route
Preparing Your Body for the Climb:
- Go on hikes
- Lift weights
- Walk uphill on treadmill
- Try to spend time in higher altitudes or use an altitude mask to help your body adjust.
What to Take:
Take a look at my comprehensive packing list for exactly what I took on the climb with me, as well as a few tips and tricks for what you might want to bring.
What to Expect
When you arrive at your hotel or group meeting point the day before your climb, you’ll meet your climbing group and have a pre-climb briefing. You’ll meet your guides to go over your route, check your gear to make sure you are prepared and have proper items, and get more exact information from them for your specific group and climb. If you need to rent anything from the company they can help arrange that now so it’s ready for the morning.
Leaving for the Mountain:
The morning of your departure, you’ll have breakfast and load your bags into the bus. The bus will take you to the mountain. Our group was able to stop in Moshi quickly before heading to the mountain to get any last minute essentials. The bus will drop you at the Gate for your specific route and you’ll prepare. You will be given water for the day and possibly your lunch to carry in your bag. You might be need to wait for a while as the guides need to finish the paperwork to allow your group on the mountain.
On the Mountain:
Sleeping: You’ll most likely be sleeping in tents unless you’re on a route with huts. A cold temperature sleeping bag is more than essential. Mine is rated for 15 F and I was still chilly. You will be in a 2-person tent unless you pay for a private. I was lucky that I was the only woman in my group so I had a private tent.
Toilets/ Bathrooms: There are no showers on the mountain. There are long drop toilets in permanent structures. There’s usually a male and female section, especially in the camps, with stalls. If you don’t know what a long drop toilet is, it’s essentially a whole in the floor. Be prepared that there’s no toilet paper and it’s really not clean in there. Wear your hiking boots when you go, bring your head lamp at night, and bring some TP.
There are toilets at some of the lunch stops, depending on your route, but for the most part if your hiking, there aren’t any places to conveniently stop. I was with a group of all men, and after the first day, there really isn’t anywhere to squat that is private. They could just walk a few feet away, turn their back and take care of their business without flashing everyone. I wasn’t about to let it all out in front of them. My guide knew to point out the toilets to me as soon as we got to a camp because by then I was more than ready.
Eating: All meals are cooked for you. Breakfast is usually scrambled eggs, porridge, bread, sometimes a meat like bacon or ham, and tea or coffee. There are also sometimes jam or peanut butter. Lunch is eaten while on the trail. It’s usually given to you in the morning so you carry it for yourself and eat during a designated lunch break. This usually consists of a sandwich, or a roll with chicken, fresh fruit, and a carton of juice. Dinner is usually a broth soup, a meat, veggie, and starch. All meals are hot except for lunch.
The guides make sure you go slowly and pace yourselves for the day. While at some points you might find yourself wanting to go faster, they know how to keep you from injuring yourself or burning out. The guides will help you during the more difficult sections like the Barranco Wall on the Machame Route. During some parts of the hike you’ll be pretty alone with just your group and guides whereas some sections will be more crowded with other groups just depending on how fast people are walking.
After you reach your next campsite, you will be brought a basin of hot water. You can use this to wash your face and hands. I would always wash my face first, using a little bit of face wash I brought, then my hands, possibly my body (with a wash cloth while shut inside my tent) and then soak my feet. Soaking my feet was more to take away a little of the daily ache than to really wash them. Best Feeling Ever.
You can have a short rest and then you will be given dinner. Inside the mess tent there will be a table and chairs for everyone. Dinner will be placed in the middle and you can take as much or as little as you like. After dinner it’s normally dark so you might play card games or just talk by flashlight or you can go to bed.
Guides will normally check on you after the hikes to make sure you’re feeling well enough to continue. They will ask about headaches or general health. They will also test your oxygen levels with a simple finger monitor. This is just to gauge how your body is adjusting to the altitude.
Summit Night is definitely the most difficult portion. The day before you will go to bed early and sleep for a few hours to wake up around 11PM. You’ll have a small breakfast in the tent before suiting up in your warmest gear and heading up the mountain. You will walk very slowly during this time, in single file with your group. It will be very dark and hard to see. This is where I started feeling ill.
If you feel sick, try to keep going, the only solution to this is to descend. While I don’t want to tell you to keep climbing and put yourself into a bad situation, if you can keep going you should. You won’t get another try and you won’t want to make it so close to the summit but turn around and your first uneasy feeling. The hike will take about 7 hours and it will feel pretty endless. Because you can’t see, and you’re zigzagging up the mountain it’s hard to feel like you’re actually gaining any ground.
Once you reach Stella Point it should be light enough that you can see the crater and the summit. This will give you a burst of energy to help you finish the climb.
Descent is so much harder than you would think. After climbing for 7 hours to get to the summit you just want to get back down to camp as quickly as possible but you need to take it slow. You will easily fall and could hurt yourself. You should make sure your boots are tied properly to keep your feet from sliding forward. My shoes were a little lose and my toes, after constantly pressing into the front of my boots were extremely sore. I actually lost feeling in them for a few weeks after.
What you might experience physically:
- Nausea- especially on summit night
- Aches and pains
- Stomach upsets
What Else To Do in Africa
If you find yourself with more time in Africa, and want some ideas on what else to do in the area, here are some ideas.
- Zanzibar, Tanzania
- Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
- Watamu, Kenya
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
- Lalibela, Ethiopia
- Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
- Maasai mara National Reserve, Kenya
- Ono River Region, Ethopia
- Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
- Malindi, Kenya
- Siri Falls, Uganda
It’s possible to get the visa upon arrival as it is a very straightforward process and just takes a few minutes. We recommend bringing a pen and the money for the visas in cash to make the process faster. European, North American, and most Asian countries can get the visa upon entry, however some countries like those in Africa and the Middle East must apply in their home country. Make sure the check with your government before leaving for exact and up-to-date information. The price is $50 USD except citizens from the USA who have to pay $100 USD per person.
I got mine in advance but only because I was staying in D.C. a few minutes from the Tanzanian Embassy. It took less than 24 hours to process as it’s a very simple visa (like stated above you can get it in minutes at the border). Another reason I did it early was because my original plan was to take a bus from Nairobi to Moshi and I read it’s better to get the visa ahead of time for overland border crossings.
While young children who are used to hiking would have no problem with hike itself, the summit is way too high for young kids. The summit altitude makes adults (myself included) ill with altitude sickness. So, the minimum age for the trek is 10, though from what I’ve seen, most tours want children to be at least 12.
Yes, absolutely. But this time I would bring Steve.
It was a great experience, one that I would want to share with him, and possibly Andrew when he’s old enough to make the trek.
No. Supplemental oxygen is usually only used above 26,000 feet and the summit of Kili is just under 20,000. However, guides do have oxygen in the event of an emergency.
At the Barafu camp, the last camp and one we stayed at before summiting, there were 2 people we saw using oxygen. From what I understand, if you require oxygen, you are also required to decide and will most likely not summit. I’m not trying to scare you, but letting you know that oxygen is for real emergencies on Kili. If you require it, that means you probably have other issues going on, and no one wants to risk you ascending any further and injuring yourself more.
I hope you enjoyed our Kilimanjaro Guide and got some use out of it in planning your adventure. If you have any questions send me a message over at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to answer them!
**All Advice given has come from my personal experience while climbing Kilimanjaro in 2015 with G Adventures. Any specifics mentioned come from my trek and may differ. For exact specifications, contact your tour company.