The Ultimate Guide to Kilimanjaro

5895 meters of unforgettable experiences. The Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and a challenge worth taking on. In this article we’re going to go through the most important topics for the enthusiasts who want to confront this great physical, but mostly mental test.

kilimanjaro
Started from the bottom we got there.

How to get there?

Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, to the east of the African continent.
There’s many ways of getting there but in my experience the most convenient is getting to the Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO). KLM and Qatar are the two big airlines that have direct flights from Amsterdam and Doha respectively.

From the Kilimanjaro airport you have two options:
You can either go to Moshi, which is the closest city to the mount.
Or you can go to Arusha which is a little further but it’s a much more important city.
Taxi is the only way to get to whichever you choose and it will cost $50 dollars to either one.

TIP: While on your flight and when you get there, try to find a taxi companion so you can split the taxi costs.

If you are looking to make this trip as affordable as possible, the most convenient thing to do, is to get there and spend the first night in either of both places so you can start your climb the following day, having rested from the flight. I went to Moshi and I recommend it.

I arrived at Moshi around noon and during the day I dedicated my time to find an agency to purchase the tour, next the hostel, and a little strolling around after that.

kilimanjaro

How long does it take?

It depends on your route of choice. I chose the Machame route which is the most popular one.

A brief description of each route:
Marangu: Popular tourist route, approaches from southeast, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful rain forest section and moorlands, poor acclimatization profile, descent on same trail.
Machame: Most popular route, approaches from south, very scenic route with southern traverse, difficult route but very good for acclimatization.
Rongai: Approaches from north, remote, less frequented, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful alpine desert section, good alternative to Marangu, fair acclimatization profile.
Lemosho: Approaches from west, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization.
Shira: Almost same as Lemosho, approaches from west, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic with southern traverse, camping, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization.
Northern Circuit: Newest route, very few climbers, approaches from west, very scenic with northern traverse, nearly 360 degree traverse, best route for acclimatization profile, longest route.
Umbwe: Least used trail, approaches from south, shortest and steepest route, difficult route with poor acclimatization profile.

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The Machame route takes 6 days. That’s the shortest option and in consequence, the most affordable one. You can make it in 7 or 8 days but more days = more money.

 

lava tower kilimanjaro
Lava Tower Camp (4600m). 18km to go.

How much does it cost?

Like with every other tour, you can get packages and make reservations online. But the most convenient thing in terms of price, and what I did, is to purchase the tour once you get there.
It’s mandatory to do it with a team of guide and porters. To do it by yourself you need a special authorization from the Tanzaneese government, which is top easy to get.

People I met on the climb told me they spent up to $2000 dollars for the tour. I paid $1200, quite a difference.

In Moshi I went to two different agencies, and of course, I sticked to the cheaper one. Though the first price they gave me wasn’t the one I ended up paying. They first asked for $1500, but like with everything in Africa, we negotiated.

Other this that have influence on the overall price, apart from the duration of the tour, is the amenities and quality of the tour: extra tent with table and chairs for dining, better meals, better mattress, etc. But none of this is really necessary.

kilimanjaro meal
Typical dinner at Kilimanjaro’s.

Around $800 dollars of the package goes to park fees. Of the remaining $500 some goes for the agency, and the rest is split between the four porters, the cook and the guide, so you can guess about how much they are getting. So at the end of the tour, it is customary to leave a tip to each member of the team. I gave $80 dollars to each porter, $100 to the cook and $120 to the guide. This added $540 dollars to the budget. I know it seems like a lot, but when you see the porters carrying those huge bags on their heads, plus the one they already have on their backs, it’s going to seem not enough. Some people leave a lot less, but personally, I recommend giving around $100 dollars to each. They will really appreciate it.

kilimanjaro porters
The team (one porter missing, he had to go back on the 4th day due to altitude sickness).

When to do it?

It is recommended to go during the dry seasons, my holidays were in December (rain season) so I went anyway, and I’m far from regretting.

Every morning was sunny and it started to get cloudy at noon, experiencing some small raining during the evening and night. But at that time we had already got to the camp so it wasn’t too bad.
But the most recommended months to go are January and February; and August and September. These are the driest and warmest months. They are also the months in which most tourist go, but it’s up to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.

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kilimanjaro glaciers
Glaciers in Africa.

Preparation

Even though Kilimanjaro is one of the Seven Summits, it is one that can be conquered without any previous climbing experience. In fact, this was my first mountain.

It’s recommended to be in a good physical condition. I don’t practice any sports in my everyday life, so a month before going, I started jogging for half an hour every day. Even though the last climb got really tough, it didn’t take more than that little training to make it.

[Read my post “Top 5: Essential Backpacking Equipment” to better prepare your equipment]

Altitude is a factor that affects people no matter how good or bad their physical condition is.  Even if you are an amazing athlete, altitude sickness can get to you.

What I did to dodge altitude sickness was to start taking Acetazolamide on the day I got to Moshi, everyday, half a pill every 12 hours. Acetazolamide is a drug you can get without prescription, which helps you fight altitude sickness. For me, it did very efficiently, until the last day in which the lack of oxygen won the fight. But at least it held the stomachache, headache and nausea until the last moment.

Every day you start walking around 7 AM and finish around noon. The climb is slow but steady, taking breaks whenever you feel it’s necessary. You’ll be mostly going upwards but there also some plain and downward parts, which make the climb a little bit more modest.

The real Kilimanjaro challenge is the last climb, from the Barafu camp at 4681 m, to the Uhuru peak at 5895 m. The summit attempt will start at midnight, after a long, refreshing nap. Climbing below the moonlight to reach the top at 6 in the morning. Yes, six hours of walking steadily under the freezing cold, trying to erase the headache and the nausea you are feeling, that’s altitude sickness.

But I guarantee, when you get to see the summit a few feet away from you, and the sun is rising behind you, warming up your back; you will forget every pain you are feeling, and you will experiment one of the most rewarding moments of your life. You will know that’s what you came for.

kilimanjaro summit
Made it.

I hope my Kilimanjaro experience has proven useful and inspiring to you. If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments.

Thanks for reading and have a nice trip!

 

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