Because Mount Kilimanjaro is such a large geographic structure it essentially creates its own weather.
In this article, we have provided an overview of the types of weather you can expect on Kilimanjaro, as well outlined historical weather patterns for each of Kilimanjaro’s climatic zones.
Trade and Anti-Trade Winds
Kilimanjaro’s weather can best be understood by studying the dominant trade and anti-trade winds that pass through the region.
Because winds carry moisture from the ocean. When they hit large objects, like mountains, they rise, cool and condense, forming clouds and precipitation (i.e. rain and snow).
There are two main winds that drive weather patterns on Mount Kilimanjaro – the South-east trade winds and Northeast anti-trade winds. We explain the influence of each wind below.
South-East Trade Winds
The South-East trade winds from the Indian Ocean arrive around mid-March and last well into May (before being interrupted by the North-East Anti trade winds).
These winds carry loads of moisture from the Indian ocean so when they eventually hit the massive structure of Mount Kilimanjaro and are forced upwards, they form large rain clouds and the heavens open.
Mid-March through to the end of May is therefore the wet season on Mount Kilimanjaro and not a great time for trekking.
That being said, as these winds blow from the South most of the rain falls on the southern side of Kilimanjaro.
The Northern slopes tend to be buffeted from the winds and therefore receive considerably less rain during this time of the year.
If one wants to trek in March-May it is best to consider the Rongai Route which follows a trail from the North.
North-East Anti-Trade Winds
Anti-trade winds from the North-East arrive between late May and last through to early November and don’t carry rain as they lose their moisture well before hitting Kilimanjaro.
They generally blow quite strongly forcing their way through the Saddle (the valley between Kilimanjaro’s two peaks – Kibo and Mawenzi).
As the strong anti-trade winds pass through the saddle they force the South-East winds down below them. Hence during the dry season (June through to October) cloud cover and some rain is common up to the 3,000-meter mark on the southern slopes but quickly disappears above this altitude.
The dynamic between the strong and dry North-east trade-winds and the less powerful South-east winds means that late May through to the end of October is a great time to trek as rain is rare and usually confined to the lower southern slopes.
May through to October also coincides with the summer holiday periods of the Northern Hemisphere so the slopes of Kilimanjaro can be busy at this time of the year.
The North-East Monsoon arrives around mid-November and lasts through to February. These winds have travelled a long way over the continent and don’t have a high moisture content which means that the season is generally quite light on rain.
Most of this rain falls on the lower northern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro but is a lot lighter than the main wet season brought by the South-east winds in March-May.
The interaction of these winds with Mount Kilimanjaro means that there are two main trekking seasons – January-March and June-October.
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Best Time To Trek Kilimanjaro
January through to March is the first dry season on Kilimanjaro, making it a great time to trek. This time of the year tends to be colder than the June-October trekking season and you have a much higher chance of encountering snow on the upper reaches.
April and May
April and May are usually the wettest months and not ideal for trekking.
June through to October is the busiest trekking season as it coincides with the European and N.American summer holiday period. Encountering rain or snow is rare. As the slopes are busier at this time of the year it is quite easy to find tour companies that offer open groups that you can join to help save on costs.
November is a short rainy month. If you plan to trek this month we recommend the northern approach on the Rongai, which is generally dry. December is a cold month, usually with lots of snow. Trekking is fine if you don’t mind the cold.
Snow on Kilimanjaro can occur all year round, but the most common months are November through March. Here is a chart showing average snowfall by month.
Kilimanjaro Weather and Climatic Zones
Kilimanjaro weather is also heavily influenced by changes in altitude. So much so that there are in fact distinct climatic zones on the mountain, each with its own distinct fauna and flora.
Below we briefly discuss each.
Rain forest zone (~800 meters – 3,000 meters)
From the earliest part of your trek, you are going to be confronted with tropical rainforest. Humidity is high and light mist or sometimes drizzle is common. Various flora such as orchids, ferns, figs and olive trees cover this area of Kilimanjaro. You will likely see Blue and Colobus monkeys, and if you are trekking from the North-East Rongai route or Western Lemosho, Shira or Northern Circuit you may even see elephants, buffalos and large antelopes.
Low alpine zone (~3,000 meters – 4,200 meters)
At approximately.3,000 metres the rainforest rapidly gives way to semi-arid grasslands and moorlands, this area is known as the low alpine zone. Heather and small shrubs cover the landscape, the weather is significantly less humid and temperatures can get to sub-zero in the evening. The most prominent flora features in this zone are the Senecios and Giant Lobelias, which look like deformed palm trees. Fauna is sparse; however, you will likely see crows overhead foraging for food.
High alpine zone (~4,200 meters – 5,000 meters)
This zone is characterised by an arid desert environment that is rather inhospitable. During the day temperatures are hot and solar radiation is high (make sure to apply lots of sun-cream). At night temperatures plummet to below freezing. From this zone, the slopes of Kibo and Kilimanjaro’s summit come into perfect view.
Glacial zone (~5,000 meters to 5,895 meters)
The final zone houses the upper reaches of Kibo and Mawenzi and consists of high altitude arctic conditions. Life is very scarce in this zone as oxygen levels are near half what they were on the lower reaches of the mountain. Fine glacial silt covers the slopes that reach up to Kilimanjaro’s summit and large glaciers are visible from Kilimanjaro’s crater rim. Due to the high solar radiation during the day, freezing temperatures at night, gale-force winds and low oxygen levels, this zone is not one where you want to stay too long!
Get connected with the Best Kilimanjaro Operator
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9-Day Kilimanjaro Weather Forecast
Below is an example 9-day Kilimanjaro weather forecast that you can get access to on www.mountain-forecast.com.
You can also get forecasts from www.snow-forecast.com and the University of Massachusetts have been tracking climate change on Kilimanjaro since 2000. Have a look at their research and weather data here.