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Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest freestanding mountain on the planet, drawing at least 50,000 climbers a year. Located in Tanzania near the Kenyan border, Mount Kilimanjaro stands at 19,341 feet. Needless to say, if you’re considering trekking Kilimanjaro, it isn’t the trip you want to use to break in your new, too-stiff hiking boots or get back into hiking after a 10-year hiatus. Mount Kilimanjaro is an undertaking you want to prepare for. While you don’t need to train like you would for a trek up Everest, climbing the “Roof of Africa” still requires a certain amount of physical fortitude. Training prior to hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, whether by hiking, running, or keeping up a specific fitness regimen is very much encouraged.
That being said, you can absolutely visit Mount Kilimanjaro without hiking the mountain. There is little opportunity to do smaller hikes on the mountain without going full-summit, but it’s possible. And there are two nearby towns tourists can explore while taking in the views of Kilimanjaro. Whether you’re planning to trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro or stay at a stunning lodge nearby, here’s what you need to know to plan your Kilimanjaro adventure.
Choosing Your Mount Kilimanjaro Route
Those hiking Kilimanjaro will want to prepare for at least a week-long Africa trip, because the climb itself will take five to 10 days. There are seven main routes that will bring climbers to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The two most popular routes are Marangu and Machame—nicknamed the coca-cola route and the whiskey route, respectively. Marangu is considered the easiest route up Kilimanjaro and it takes at least five days (though taking more time to acclimate to the altitude can increase your chances of summiting). Machame is steeper but said to be more scenic; it takes at least six days.
The most difficult route up Mount Kilimanjaro is Umbwe, which is only recommended for advanced hikers. Those taking the Umbwe route have the least chance of summiting, because you’ll make a nighttime summit bid.
Lemosho is the more under-the-radar route up Kilimanjaro. The views and chance for summiting are still excellent, but the Lemosho route isn’t nearly as crowded as Marangu and Machame. While Lemosho can be done in six days, extending to nine is preferable. Similar to Lemosho is the Shira ascent. The main difference is that climbers start at a much higher elevation—the starting point is Shira gate at more than 11,000 feet.
The Northern Circuit is the newest route up Mount Kilimanjaro and the longest distance-wise. The route circles up the mountain, making it easier for climbers to acclimatize to the altitude because more time is spent at each elevation. The climb takes nine days and the views are terrific.
Rongai is the sole northern approach to Kilimanjaro—it starts near the Kenyan border and takes seven days to complete. However, Rongai forces climbers to use Marangu as their descent route.
Choosing Your Mount Kilimanjaro Guide
You’ll want to see or climb Mount Kilimanjaro with an experienced guide or tour company. Deciding who you want to take you up the mountain is a make-or-break choice, because tour operators have varying degrees of expertise, successful summit attempts, and comfortable accommodations. There are countless guiding companies to choose from, but those looking for a luxury experience on Mount Kilimanjaro should consider:
African Zoom, who will facilitate an exceptional glamping experience all the way up the mountain. That includes a mess tent, an air mattress, and a flushing toilet.
Abercrombie & Kent offers a nine-day Machame route summit excursion. A&K has a 97% summit success rate on Kilimanjaro.
Thomson Safaris—a T+L’s World Best winner in 2019—has been planning Kilimanjaro treks for more than 30 years.
For those looking to see the mountain without making the climb, Legend Award honoree African Travel Inc. does a Tanzania and Kenya safari tour which includes a night in Arusha and exceptional views of Mount Kilimanjaro. You’ll see a second Tanzanian phenomenon on this tour as well: the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera and widely considered a natural wonder of the world.
When to Go to Mount Kilimanjaro
The wettest months in Tanzania are April, May, and November. These months are best avoided for both climbers and those hoping to catch great views of the mountain. If you opt to climb in a rainy season month—or even a month bordering the rainy season, the Rongai route is perhaps a smart choice because it’s the only northern face trek. The north face of Mount Kilimanjaro sees the least precipitation each year.
Mount Kilimanjaro high season is June through October. It’s the warmest time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro—though, of course, it will never be warm in the “arctic zone” of Kilimanjaro’s summit.
You can also climb Mount Kilimanjaro between January and March. Though the weather is significantly cooler than the summer months, the trails are less crowded, and you’ll still avoid the rainy season.
Where to Stay Near Mount Kilimanjaro
Predictably, the best way to experience Mount Kilimanjaro is to climb it. You can be transported by a four-wheel vehicle as high as 11,000 feet, but it’s uncommon other than for climbers taking the Shira route. Because of the altitude, it would be all-too-dangerous to simply get dropped off at the summit via helicopter. Even the hikers who start at 11,000 feet are at a relatively high risk of altitude sickness because they skip the initial acclimatization period.
If acclimating to increasing altitude and days-long treks aren’t appealing to you, you can still enjoy Kilimanjaro and the surrounding area. Kili-bound travelers usually stay in either Arusha or Moshi. Moshi is low on Kilimanjaro’s south face and largely considered the “gateway to Mount Kilimanjaro.” Arusha is farther—about an hour and a half from Mount Kilimanjaro, sitting at the base of Mount Meru. Nonetheless, Arusha is a beautiful Tanzanian spot often used as a homebase for travelers coming to Kilimanjaro.
These are three luxury hotel options near Mount Kilimanjaro:
Stay on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro—about 4,300 feet up—at Kaliwa Lodge. The property has 10 bungalows curated with Bauhaus minimalist style, all set in their garden. Kaliwa Lodge will organize day trips for guests including a short hike on the slopes of Kili. And the Kaliwa Lodge balcony view is what bucket-list travel dreams are made of.
The Arusha Hotel
The Arusha Hotel is the oldest—and one of the most luxurious—properties in Arusha. Dating back to 1894, The Arusha Hotel has a beautiful African garden and offers a high-end experience with a distinctly African feel. Have lunch in their Parachichi Restaurant—“parachichi” means avocado in Swahili—with a view of the gardens, grab poolside drinks at Bustani Bar, and stay in one of their two open-plan suites in the newest wing of the hotel.
Arusha Coffee Lodge, Elewana Collection
Arusha Coffee Lodge is part of the luxurious Elewana Collection. Your hosts on property can arrange excursions to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and closer-by Mount Meru. The lodge is set on Tanzania’s largest coffee plantation and each of the Plantation Suites have a private veranda sitting amidst the coffee bushes—the smell is heavenly. Beyond your Kilimanjaro adventure, the lodge can plan your game drive through Arusha National Park.