Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest point, rises four miles into the sky from a bed of clouds. On a clear day the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, located in north-eastern Tanzania near the border with Kenya, can be seen from more than 100 miles away.

The mountain and surrounding forests were designated as a game reserve in the early twentieth century and in 1973 Mount Kilimanjaro National Park was established. Fourteen years later it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It lies about 100 miles (160 km) east of the East African Rift System and about 140 miles (225 km) south of Nairobi.

This snow-capped monolith, located just three degrees south of the equator, is one of the largest volcanoes to break through the earth’s crust. In fact Kilimanjaro is actually made up of three distinct volcanoes which first emerged around 750,000 years ago; Mawenzi and Shira, which are extinct, flank the highest, Kibo, which is dormant.

A beacon to high altitude trekkers, it is also an important symbol of African independence. European explorers first encountered the great peak in the 1830s, but it took more than half a century for someone to reach the top.

Originally called the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze by the Germans, the summit at 5,895m was renamed when Tanzania gained independence in 1961 as Uhuru Peak (Uhuru is the Swahili word for freedom).

Why Kili?

Each year thousands of visitors arrive in Africa with dreams of conquering the great Kilimanjaro. Part of what makes the mission so appealing is that although Kilimanjaro is one of the Seven Continental summits, it does not require technical climbing skills.

Seven Summits

That said, this classic challenge is certainly no walk in the park. The thin air causes altitude sickness and the camping conditions are best described as austere. And if it’s a sunshine holiday you’re after - forget it. Kilimanjaro has a knack of hurling atrocious weather conditions at anyone who tries to tackle it.

So what on earth is the appeal?

For starters, where else can you trek from the equator to Arctic conditions in just a few days? This awesome journey meanders through tropical rainforest, Alpine meadows, moorland, desert uplands, right up to icy glaciers.

Conquering the mountain offers an incredible sense of achievement for those who are physcially and mentally strong enough to undertake it. But it’s worth remembering that anyone who undertakes the challenge is also benefiting the local economy as Kilimanjaro is an integral part of the tourism industry, creating jobs, and earning much needed foreign revenues.

When is the best time to go?

The best months for climbing are January and February, with September, October and December also good. July and August offer generally clear weather conditions, but the trails are most crowded during the holidays. If climbing out of peak season, note that the north face of Kilimanjaro is marginally drier, so routes that approach from the north, such as Rongai, are best.

It must be noted that Kilimanjaro has a typical montane climate – unpredictable even in the “driest” seasons. A bright clear morning on Shira Plateau can turn to rain and sleet in the afternoon as the hot air rises from the lowland valleys. Then, as evening falls the sky clears revealing a beautiful starlit canopy overhead. These dramatic daily shifts in climate are the norm on Kilimanjaro, and part of the thrill of the climb!

People and history

The lower slopes of Kilimanjaro have been inhabited by African peoples for hundreds of generations. It is probable that the first hunter gatherers were displaced by later waves of Bantu and Nilotic peoples. Today the main African tribe to inhabit the Kilimanjaro region is the Chagga (or Wachagga) people. They are agriculturists and make good use of the fertile lower slopes to grow tea, coffee, bananas and corn.

Early European explorers and missionaries of the mid nineteenth century brought Kilimanjaro to the attention of the world. One hundred and fifty years ago Johannes Rebman, a German born missionary, saw the snow-capped Kilimanjaro and was later ridiculed in Europe for believing that snow could fall on the equator. Thirteen years later Baron von der Decken and British geologist Richard Thornton proved the presence of snow. Hans Meyer made the first successful climb to the summit in 1889. Since then the mountain has been scaled by hundreds of thousands of travellers via a myriad of routes.

Pre-trip preparations

Being organised and prepared is key to the success of any attempt to scale Kilimanjaro. A good degree of physical fitness is obviously all important, so it might be worth seeking advice from a professional to help create a suitable training plan.

Be sure to work on your aerobic fitness, as the better your lungs work the easier it will be to cope with the thin air. It is also important to build up muscle tone for trekking up and down the mountain. Just as important is core fitness in order to avoid back problems while carrying your gear.

At the gym, build up stamina on the step machine and treadmill with increasing inclines. Beyond that, the best training for hill trekking is... hill trekking! So get out and try walking for increasing lengths of time with a day-pack weighing up to 8kgs. Wherever you train, don’t forget those all important stretches.

While the physical challenge is immense, Kilimanjaro can also test your mental and emotional strength as you battle with extreme exhaustion and challenging weather conditions, and home comforts will be long forgotten as you grapple with minimal washing facilities and basic toilets.

Kit

Pack for all weathers as conditions vary dramatically on the mountain as you pass through different climatic conditions - from rainforest, Alpine moorland and high altitude desert, right up to the arctic summit.. Among the essentials, you will need:

  • A large waterproof kitbag or rucksack (70-90L)
  • A waterproof daypack (30-40L)
  • A good four-season sleeping bag plus fleece liner, offering comfort rating to –10c.
  • A quality sleeping mat.
  • Sturdy walking boots with ankle support. It’s well worth wearing these in before the trip.
  • Waterproof windbreaker and trousers.
  • A down or ski jacket for summit night is essential.
  • Thermal underwear.
  • Thermal balaclava or insulated hat.
  • Insulated gloves/mittens and thermal inner gloves.
  • Sunhat, sun cream protection and sunglasses.
  • Insect repellent and malaria tablets.
  • Water purification tablets.
  • Telescopic walking poles with rubber tips are highly recommended.

View a full kit list.

Staying safe

It is all-important to stay healthy and safe during any attempt to climb Kilimanjaro. Consult your GP or travel clinic about malaria protection and jabs at least two months ahead of your departure date.

Many travellers experience sunburn and stomach upsets while on the mountain, but otherwise the main health concern is the high altitude.

Healthy people may travel rapidly to 11,480ft above sea level but can go on to develop symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). These can emerge at lower altitudes for anyone with cardiac problems.

Most adventurers will at some point experience some of the following symptoms: headache, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. AMS can also affect the climber’s ability to make sensible decisions.

Studies have shown that a low dosage of a drug called Diamox can help prevent symptoms of AMS. Discuss this option with your GP/travel clinic ahead of departure.

Experiencing low level symptoms does not necessarily spell the end of your climb. If the symptoms are mild, a rest day at the same or a lower altitude may help. However, if the situation persists or worsens it is vital to descend in order to avoid something more serious and potentially life-threatening.

Climbing an itinerary that is too short is the most common and preventable reason that climbers fail to summit. We recommend itineraries over a minimum of seven days and six nights.

Kilimanjaro Moon

All Kili routes are relatively safe. Charity Challenge works with fully qualified and highly experienced local guides and Charity Challenge sends up a medic with the group.

Good operators will provide at least a first-aid trained leader and comprehensive medical kit, so in the event of minor injury (cuts, scrapes etc), climbers can be treated on the mountain and continue their climb. More serious injury will require evacuation. That said, it is rarely dramatic injury or sickness that prevents climbers from summiting Kilimanjaro comfortably, but seemingly minor ailments such as foot blisters!

If you suffer from cardiac or pulmonary related issues it’s essential to consult your doctor before you consider climbing Kilimanjaro.

It goes without saying that you must be fit to climb Kilimanjaro. A good fitness programme, in and out of the gym and ideally involving extensive hill training, is most important.

Environment and caring for Kili

Kilimanjaro National Park is a World Heritage Site which obviously makes it very popular with visitors from around the world. While tourism is absolutely central to the Tanzanian economy, it can also have a negative impact on the environment.

The problems of the 1990s and early 2000s have largely been well managed by the Kilimanjaro National Park Authority with the banning of fires, introduction of strict regulations about carrying off rubbish, and maintenance of trails. But it is vital to keep up the good work.

The trekking guides are experts on the the local environmental regulation, so be sure to listen carefully and follow the route as venturing off the beaten track can damage sensitive soil and vegetation.

Leave camps clean, even if it means picking up other people's rubbish. Smokers should collect matches and cigarette butts and dispose of them properly at camp as they are a fire risk, take years to decompose and can harm wildlife.

The routes

Kilimanjaro offers a bewildering range of routes which vary widely, offering different degrees of difficulty and varied landscapes. Some are busy and commercial or you can go off-the-beaten track for a more peaceful experience.

Which Kilimanjaro Route

Lemosho

The Lemosho route approaches Kilimanjaro through forest and moorland from the west, crossing the caldera of Shira Plateau as the route heads to the visually dramatic southern flank. The route goes under the Southern icefields of Kibo and the final ascent is made via the Barafu route. Lemosho is a relatively little-used and unspoiled approach route, and the rainforest is particularly beautiful at this part of the mountain.

Crossing the wilderness of Shira Plateau gives the climber a good chance to get used to the altitude before tackling the busy Barafu Route to the summit. Big game animals like elephants and buffalo are occasionally found in the forest around the Lemosho Glades.

Rongai

The Rongai route starts just south of the Kenya-Tanzania border and was almost unused for many years because the area was considered “sensitive”. Now open for climbing once again, experienced guides consider this ascent route to be both easier and more beautiful than the main Marangu trail. Whichever side of the border you choose to start this route, all park fees and arrangements must be made at the Marangu gate.

The Rongai route begins in attractive farmland and delightful forest, with the possibility of wildlife viewing, and passes through several different climate zones, adding considerably to the interest of the trek.

Like with all the routes, you are rewarded with a stunning sunrise over the glaciers and ice cliffs of the summit and across the East African plains. This route retains a sense of unspoilt wilderness and offers a different perspective on Kilimanjaro by approaching it from the north.

Charity Challenge has enabled tens of thousands of people to experience the magic of Kilimanjaro since its inception in 1998. While other companies may appear to have higher rates, it is worth remembering that not all operators record their successes accurately or in the same manner.

Route % to crater rim % to Uhru peak
Rongai 6 days 90% 80%
Machame 7 days 91% 88%
Shira 8 days 93% 88%
Lemosho 8 days 96% 90%
9 day routes 96% 91%

Fun facts about Kilimanjaro

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We hold an Air Travel Organiser's Licence granted by the Civil Aviation Authority. Our ATOL number is 6546. Many of the flight-inclusive challenges on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. This ATOL protection only covers challenges that include flights booked by Charity Challenge and that originate in the UK. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information or for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOLcertificate

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