Kilimanjaro Routes – A Complete Overview

There are seven main Kilimanjaro routes that one can use to trek the highest mountain in Africa. The eighth Kilimanjaro route, Mweka, is used for decent only (see map below).

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Kilimanjaro Routes Map

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The Machame Route and Umbwe Route depart from the south-west side of the mountain, and then use the Southern Circuit via Barafu and Stella Point to approach Uhuru Peak. Similarly, Shira Route and Lemosho Route also use the Southern Circuit to approach the summit and the Mweka route to descend; however both routes begin on the far west side off the mountain.

Marangu Route begins in the south-east and approaches Uhuru peak via Gilman’s Point. It is the only route on Kilimanjaro that has hut accommodation for the entire climb and uses the same trail to ascend and descend.

Rongai Route starts from the North-East and passes through the Saddle situated between Kibo and Mawenzi Peak to approach the summit via Gilman’s Point. The Rongai route descends via the Marangu Route.

The newest and longest route is the Northern Circuit which uses the same starting point as Lemosho but veers north before Lava Tower, circling around the north of the mountain and approaching Uhuru Peak via Gilman’s Point.

kilimanjaro-routes-factsThe Western Breach is a difficult trail that was closed due to a tragic rock-fall in 2006 that killed three trekkers. The route has subsequently re-opened but is seldom used by tour operators as it offers poor acclimatization, is steep and remains rather unsafe for inexperienced trekkers.

Trekkers who use the Western Breach usually approach from the Umbwe Route up to Lava Tower, before taking a steep ascent past Arrow’s Glacier and up the Western Breach to Crater Camp and Uhuru Peak. The Western Breach can also be approached using the Machame, Shira and Lemosho Route. Descent is usually via the Mweka Route.

As alluded to above, there are three assault passages to the summit of Kilimanjaro.

The first is via the southern slopes of Kibo, up to Stella Point and then west around the crater rim to Uhuru Peak. This approach is used by trekkers on the Lemosho, Shira, Machame and Umbwe Routes.

The second assault passage approaches from the Eastern side of Kibo, up to Gilman’s Point and then west around the crater rim to Uhuru Peak. Trekkers on the Rongai and Marangu Route, and Northern Circuit use this passage to the summit.

Thirdly, trekkers can use the more technically challenging approach to the summit via the Western Breach.

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Kilimanjaro Route Summaries

kilimanjaro-routes-1Below we have highlighted some of the key features on each of the Kilimanjaro Routes.

Click on the individual Kilimanjaro routes to find out more information.

Machame Route (find out more)

  • This route is highly recommended for scenic value and has a medium to high success rate, especially if you choose the seven day itinerary. The six-day options is not recommended for first-time trekkers
  • It is a good Kilimanjaro route for acclimatization as it has a climb high, sleep low opportunity for trekkers on day three. Here trekkers climb from Shira Camp 2 to Lava Tower at 4,600 meters, where they have lunch and then back down to Barranco Camp (3,900 meters) to sleep
  • Like all Kilimanjaro routes, the Machame is a challenging trek with stunning scenery through four diverse climatic zones
  • There is a good opportunity to split pre-summit day climb by adding an extra rest day at Karanga Camp (only available to seven day trekkers) to leave hikers well rested before summiting
  • The route has however got very popular over the past few years which means it can get busy, especially at Barranco where climbers join up with trekkers from the Lemosho, Shira and Umbwe routes
  • The Machame route only offers fully catered camping

Marangu Route (find out more)

  • The Marangu route was Nicknamed the ‘Coca-Cola’ route as Coke used to be bought along the way in tea huts
  • The route is often selected by unprepared, inexperienced climbers as a result of the reputation for being the “easiest” route, attributing to the lower success rate
  • It is also the shortest Kilimanjaro route with a relatively poor acclimatization profile, which is a major contributor to the low success rates on the Marangu. The six day itinerary does give trekkers an opportunity to climb high, sleep low; however the elevation is moderate and not as effective as other climb high, sleep low opportunities that are present on other Kilimanjaro routes
  • Out of all the Kilimanjaro routes, the Marangu route is the only one with dormitory style accommodation in huts for the whole duration of the climb. The huts come with mattresses and basic amenities, making them a popular choice for budget operators who don’t have the right equipment to tackle the other Kilimanjaro routes
  • The Marangu offers beautiful views from the Saddle but can be considered less scenic than other Kilimanjaro routes due to ascent and descent on same trail

Lemosho Route (find our more)

  • The Lemosho is a beautiful route that departs from the West side of Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Due to its route profile the Lemosho can be completed on a seven or eight day itinerary and offers lots of opportunities to properly acclimatize. Because of it’s versatile route profile it is a highly recommended Kilimanjaro route that has relatively high summit success rates
  • It is also recommended as the starting point is relatively remote and hence provides trekkers with a rather untouched and wild start to their Kilimanjaro adventure. Spotting large wildlife, like antelope, buffalo and even elephant is unusual but not impossible
  • The route also provides unparalleled and spectacular views of the dramatic gorges that characterize the western side of Mount Kilimanjaro
  • The Lemosho offers trekkers the experience of hiking across the Shira Plateau – one of the largest high altitude plateaus in the world
  • Trekkers on the Lemosho typically converge with Machame route on day 3 at Barranco camp and use the Barafu camp route to the summit; however, it is now quite common for Lemosho trekkers to veer north before Lava Tower to join the Northern Circuit which circles the north side of Mount Kilimanjaro and follows an assault passage via Gilman’s Point. The Lemosho route can also be used by trekkers planning to climb the Western Breach to the summit
  • Like the Machame Route, the Lemosho is fully catered camping only

Shira Route (find out more)

  • Same as Lemosho, except Shira offers higher start point and therefore poorer acclimatisation
  • It is a route that we wouldn’t recommend because of it’s high start point

Rongai Route (find out more)

  • The Rongai route is the only northern start point to Kilimanjaro, beginning on the North East side of Kilimanjaro National Park
  • The Rongai offers a true wilderness experience on the early stages of the climb, and like the Lemosho route it is possible to see large wildlife like buffalo, antelope and elephant
  • The Northern slopes tend to be dryer than the southern slopes which makes the Rongai a great Kilimanjaro Route for trekking during the wet season. However, because the northern slopes are dryer they can also be considered less scenic. That being said, a northern approach is often characterized by clear views of Kilimanjaro – something that is not that common from the southern side
  • The Rongai is also a flatter route for the first few days which makes for easy trekking. The route is usually completed on a seven day itinerary but has limited climb high, sleep low opportunities which means that acclimatisation opportunities are not as good as on other Kilimanjaro routes
  • Typically the Rongai route uses the passage from School Hut up past Hans Meyer Cave and Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak
  • The route descends via the Marangu route, hence the route has fully catered camping until the last night on the mountain – beers at Horombo Hut anyone?

Umbwe Route (find out more)

  • The Umbwe Route has a short and steep beginning profile up to Barranco camp where trekkers join climbers from the Lemosho, Shira and Machame route
  • Some Umbwe route trekkers don’t join the southern circuit at Barranco but instead continue north, up to Lava Tower and then onto the Western Breach
  • The Umbwe has poor acclimatization opportunities due to its rapid ascent and therefore success rates can be low on this Kilimanjaro route
  • Fully catered camping only

Northern Circuit (find out more)

  • The Northern Circuit is the longest route on Mount Kilimanjaro, and has one of the highest summit success rates as the route offers lots of climb high, sleep low opportunities, and time to acclimatise
  • The route departs from same start point as Lemosho but then joins the Northern Circuit near Lava Tower, before traversing the north slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro
  • The summit assault is via Gilman’s Point
  • The route can be completed on an eight or nine day itinerary

Western Breach (find out more)

  • The Western Breach is the most technically difficult approach to Mount Kilimanjaro, but perhaps the most rewarding!
  • The approach to the Western Breach usually starts on the Umbwe Route and then continues north and up from Lava Tower
  • The Western Breach was closed due to fatal rockfall in 2006, but reopened in 2007 with a new and safer route configuration. Nonetheless, many tour operators don’t offer the Western Breach on their route roster
  • Only advised for experienced trekkers – it is recommended that all Western Breach climbers use helmets and it is not uncommon to need point crampons during the wet season and sub-surface ice can be an issue
  • Success rates are typically moderate to high as the route is usually only tackled by experienced high altitude trekkers

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Recommended Tour Operators

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Packing List

This page has a complete Kilimanjaro equipment packing list.

FAQ

If you have any questions about the various Kilimanjaro routes, please leave a comment below and we will respond within 24 hours.

10 thoughts on “Kilimanjaro Routes – A Complete Overview

  1. I am trying to choose a route to climb. I have looked at all of them and need your expert opinion to help me choose. I am climbing alone although I would join a group if there was one. I want to find the route that will give me the prettiest sights. I have narrowed it to Machame, Umbwe and Lemosho which all combine at Barranco. So, which route would give me the most fascinating first 2-3 days? And if it’s the Umbwe route, how worried should I be about the altitude? Does the fact that it doesn’t have a climb high and sleep low make it nearly impossible or can someone in great shape who takes it slow be ok? I assume the other routes will not be a problem, and I even wonder about the altitude differences in all of them. Can you descend on Umbwe if experiencing AMS and extend the route a day? I know I asked a lot and I thank you for your attention to this.

    • Hi Corey, Thanks for your comment. The two key things to consider when selecting a route on Kilimanjaro: 1. Make sure that the route duration is long enough to ensure adequate acclimatisation. Five day routes are just too rapid. Ideally I recommend seven day treks; however, six day treks are an affordable alternative. 2. Make sure the route provides a climb high, sleep low option. Again, this is a critical factor in many trekkers success on Kilimanjaro and I highly recommend you go for a route that provides this option. With these two considerations in mind, I recommend either the seven day Lemosho Route which departs from the West of the Mountain and provides ample opportunity to acclimatize. Alternatively, I am also a fan of the seven day Machame Route. If I was pushed I would say the Lemosho is the most scenic of the two (but not by much). Hope this helps. If you would like a trekking quote from our trekking partner check out this page (http://treks.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/) and we’ll get them to follow up with you. All the best!

  2. Hello

    I am 60 years old with decent hiking experience.Have done Machu Pichu,Patagonia and Everest base camp till 15000 feet when we were stopped due to snow.
    What route do you think is best and sucess to sumit
    Thanks

    • Hi, I recommend either the 7-day Machame or 8-day Lemosho. If you have more time then you may want to consider the 9-day Northern Circuit. All the best!

  3. Hi there,
    I (48 yr old female) would like to climb Kilimanjaro with a friend in September. Whilst my friend is experienced at high altitude climbing, I am only used to day hikes in the Alps, up to 3000 m. From what I read, the 7 day Rongai route might be an option – I am not much concerned about scenic beauties, but feasibility… Also our time slot is rather small (20.-28.09.16), so I guess we have to consider a private tour, although I wouldn’t mind a group.
    So my questions are: would you recommend Rongai as well, or another option? I haven’t seen any summit success rates for this route, but I imagine they might not be too high, due to the fact that inexperienced trekkers like myself tend to choose this one?! And could you possibly also recommend tour operators? And one last question (for the moment ;-): what do you think about the prophylactic use of Diamox?
    Many thanks,
    Manuela

    • Hi Manuela, The 7-day Rongai is a good route, but as you say it is not the most scenic. It also doesn’t provide an excellent climb high, sleep low profile and in my opinion the approach to the summit via Gilman’s Point is more challenging as it is longer and a little steeper than that on the Southern Circuit routes (which use Stella Point). On the whole though it is not a bad route and definitely worth considering. Alternatively I would recommend the 7-day Machame or Lemosho. These two routes are more scenic (especially the latter that starts on the far West side of Kilimanjaro) and do have very good acclimatisation profiles. The Machame is a busy route so if you are trying to avoid people then it is perhaps not the best. The two routes converge at Barranco Camp so you can expect a busier summit night. If I was pushed I would say the 7 or preferably 8-day Lemosho is the best route on Kilimanjaro. If you have the time, the Northern Circuit is also very good from an acclimatisation perspective. To get a tour operator recommendation go here: http://treks.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/ and for information on Diamox go here: https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/using-diamox-on-kilimanjaro/. All the best!

  4. Hi,

    I want to do the Rongai Route in August. Since I learned from your overview, the route doesn’t offer the best acclimatisation, so I wonder if it would be wise to do Mt. Meru upfront?

    Thank you for your recommendation,

    Valentin

    • Hi Valentin, The 7-day Rongai route is not too bad when it comes to acclimatisation. I think I was referencing the 6 day on the route guide. That being said, if your have the time then doing Mount Meru before Kili will always benefit your summit success chances and provide the opportunity to summit another iconic African peak!

  5. Hello,
    Thank you for your nice page and information.
    I’m still in doubt if I would do the regular lemosho route or start with the lemosho route and then take the northern route. I want the most scenic route. On one hand I kind of like the ‘lonilyness’ of the northern route, on the other hand I heard barranco camp is such a nice place. What would you recommend?

    • Hi Eva, That’s a tough one. Both routes are fantastic. The key difference is length and popularity. In terms of length the Northern Circuit is longer in distance and days. This can be positive in terms of acclimitisation and hence summit success, but can mean more trekking fatigue as you are on the mountain for longer than the standard Lemosho. The second point is probably more pertinent. The Northern Circuit is significantly less travelled. On the Lemosho the route joins up with all Southern Circuit routes and therefore many more people are on the trail. I would estimate about 50 times more people on the Southern Circuits vs. the Northern Circuit. Finally the summit approach is different on the Northern Circuit as it takes the route up the East side of Kibo via Gilman’s Point. This approach is slightly longer than the Stella Point approach. Either way both routes are great so it really comes done to whether you want a quiet trekking experience or busier camp / trail experience. Hope this helps!

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