Are you climbing Kilimanjaro but don’t know which route to pick?
As the popularity of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro continues to increase, potential climbers are often uncertain as to which route to take. This site will explain the differences between the routes and help you decide which is the best for you.
There are seven major routes used to climb Kilimanjaro. They are:
- Marangu Route (aka Coca-Cola Route or Tourist Route)
- Machame Route (aka Whiskey Route)
- Umbwe Route
- Rongai Route
- Shira Route (aka Shira Plateau Route)
- Lemosho Route
- Northern Circuit Route
There are two routes used for descent. They are:
- Mweka Route
- Marangu Route
The descent routes are assigned based on the ascent route. Climbers do not have a choice as to which route to use when coming down the mountain.
The fallacy of declaring a “best” Kilimanjaro route
Choose the right route and have a spendid, enjoyable experience. Choose the wrong route and suffer a harrowing, miserable climb. Right? It’s not that simple. Climbers succeed and fail on every route. Climbers also love and detest every route. Therefore, there is no “best” route for everyone. Route preference is specific to the individual. The question you should ask is, “Which route is best suited for me?”
Some operators will make blanket statements that a particular route is “good” or “bad” but the truth is that each route has its own advantages and disadvantages. There are situations when each route has its own merit.
Here are some examples:
- Umbwe route is steep and ascends quickly and most would be wise to avoid it if they have never done high altitude trekking. However those who are already well acclimatized or know they can acclimatize quickly from experience can climb this route without hesitation. We had three groups of eight active US Army veterans who were stationed in Afghanistan climb the Umbwe route. They had a 100% success rate.
- Shira route is a scenic route that begins with a drive through the rainforest section. It has a relatively high starting point compared to the other routes. Generally this route should be avoided because it is better to trek through the rainforest for gradual elevation gain. However if one is confident that being driven to an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet will not pose a premature acclimatization issue, Shira is a fair choice. It allows for one to reach a higher elevation quicker which will jumpstart the body for acclimatizating to the upcoming higher altitudes.
- Marangu route is usually quite crowded and most operators steer their clients away from this route. However, Marangu has one huge draw. It is the only route that uses hut shelters instead of tents. That means clients can sleep completely protected from the elements and on a bed for the entire climb. For people who absolutely cannot sleep on the ground due to discomfort or back problems might want to use Marangu. Additionally, when climbing during the rainy season Marangu is a reasonable choice. Not only because of the shelter, but because the main drawback of this route, the crowds, are gone at this time.
- Northern Circuit is a phenomenal route – but also a long one. Usually that is a good thing because the longer one stays on the mountain, the better the altitude acclimatization. However for those who have never camped before and do not particularly enjoy it, it can be a struggle to spend nine days on the mountain. These people should opt for a shorter route.
As you can see, you may have very valid reasons for choosing or avoiding any given route. When selecting the route, make sure it is the appropriate route for your desires, physical ability, aptitude and comfort level. Do not let your guide service choose for you! They will likely steer you to the route that they want to lead.