The snow-capped summit of this inactive volcano in Tanzania is a huge draw for pic-baggers from all over the world. Those who conquer Africa's highest peak will forever remember the experience that changed their lives. Choose a reputable travel agency to maximize the chances of reaching the top and, weather permitting, consider an extension of the trip like an African wildlife safari to relax after the grueling hike.
"Kili," as those who climbed it affectionately call it, rises 5,895 meters (19,340 feet) above the plains of Tanzania. It is the highest passable mountain in the world and therefore one of the most popular adventure hikes offered by specialized trekking companies. First conquered by Hans Meyer in 1889, the Mount Kilimanjaro trek requires a good level of fitness as well as strong determination and awareness of the dangers of altitude sickness, which prevents many people from achieving their goal.
Itineraries and best times to climb Kilimanjaro
- The easiest options are Marangu Road and Rongai Road. The first is Kilimanjaro's most popular hiking route as it offers accommodation in huts rather than camping in tents.
- More difficult options include the Machame, Shira, Umbwe and Limosho routes where jamming is involved on several sections. All of these longer trails require camping.
- When choosing an itinerary, check the number of trekking days involved. A minimum of 6 days is recommended to include an additional day of acclimatization halfway through the trek.
- The best times for kilimanjaro trekking are January-March and September-October. The weather is calmer in the 753 square kilometers of Kilimanjaro National Park during these high season months and so the chances of reaching the top are much greater.
What to expect when climbing Kilimanjaro
- Discover four different ecosystems as you climb the mountain, from the rainforest and heather of the moors to the lower levels to the remote alpine desert and Arctic glacier en route to the summit.
- Adopt the Swahili mantra "pole pole" – slowly, slowly – and stick to it! Taking things slowly while drinking plenty of water (4 to 5 liters per day) maximizes the chances of reaching the top of Uhuru, the highest point of the mountain.
- Expect an early departure on summit day. Most tours start on the "day" around midnight when the scree on "Kili" is still frozen and therefore much easier to climb. The guides will move at an excruciatingly slow pace, toe to heel, toe to heel. This is absolutely necessary to climb the steepest part of the mountain without succumbing to altitude sickness.
- It is common to experience mild nausea and headaches at heights above 10,000 feet, but anyone with extreme nausea, vomiting, dizziness, severe headaches, pins and needles, and swelling of the limbs should descend immediately.
- Complete exaltation as you reach the top and admire the majestic view below.
- A long walk or run on the scree slopes before descending to a lower camp to recover from the most exhausting day of hiking.
Successful ascent of the highest mountain in Africa
Choose the right route, acclimatize well over several days and approach Kilimanjaro with respect and a strong "can do" attitude to get to the top of the roof of Africa.