Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro - a guide to achieving it

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro - a guide to achieving it

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is something that, for most of us, will be a once in a lifetime experience. It is an endeavor that requires planning, patience, training and a not-insignificant amount of money. This guide should help you plan your trek and give you a fair idea of what to expect, in terms of preparation, costs and your expectations from the trek.

Where is Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro lies in northern Tanzania, a country in the Eastern part of Africa. It is located very close to the equator. Mt. Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano, and it is the highest peak in Africa, making it a member of the seven summits. It is in fact formed of three volcanoes lying on top of one another. The three volcanic cones are Mawenzi, Shira and Kibo. Mawenzi and Shira are extinct but Kibo, which is the highest peak, is dormant.

The exact location of Kilimanjaro is 3.0674° S, 37.3556° E. Though it lies completely in Tanzania, you will find many references to it in Kenyan tourism advertisements. This is because it is just across the border from Kenya, and some of the best views of Mt. Kilimanjaro are from Kenya. Being the highest free-standing mountain in the world, it does make for some striking images, especially with the African wildlife around.

The Kilimanjaro Climb

What is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?

The main climbing seasons for Kilimanjaro are from June to October and from January to March. These are actually the “dry seasons” in the region. Dry because of the low rainfall during this time in the region. You can read more about the interesting weather patterns in this region, which effectively causes the Great Wildebeest Migration, here. Though the season is called dry, you should be aware that the temperatures on Kilimanjaro can drop quite low.

Although Kilimanjaro can be climbed in ALL SEASONS, the probability of rain is drastically higher during the rainy season in the months of April, May and November. Drawbacks of attempting Kilimanjaro in the rainy season are:

  • Obscured views of the peaks due to cloud and rain
  • Walking under rain on muddy trails
  • Higher snow levels on the upper reaches of Kilimanjaro

This is also the least busy time to trek Kilimanjaro. I would recommend the Rongai route since its location on the leeward side of the mountain means it receives less rainfall than all other Kilimanjaro routes.

Group of people, well equipped for the weather, hiking towards Kilimanjaro.

Other than the popular dry period, Mt Kilimanjaro also sees a lot of climbers over Christmas and New Years, though the weather is not the best. If you are looking at avoiding crowds, you can use this as a reference to plan your Kilimanjaro climb for the most suitable weather conditions and crowd.

Monthwise reference to hike Kilimanjaro:

  • January to March — The colder of the two dry seasons, this is the best time to experience clear skies on your climb. The colder temperature also means that there will be snow on the upper reaches of the mountain. There may be brief showers during this period. You will also experience lesser crowds on the trail which makes the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro more serene. People say this is an exceptionally beautiful time of the year to climb Kili.
  • April to May — Heavy rains are to be expected during this time. It is still a doable climb, but the climb is tougher and vehicles can sometimes not make it to the starting point (route dependent). If this happens, you may have to start your trek earlier than expected. Some routes may be better than others during this period.
  • June to October — The second dry season and the main tourist season for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. The weather is quite conducive for the trek, irrespective of the route. Though you will have occasional rain and low hanging clouds, as the monsoon recedes, higher altitudes will give clearer skies. You will find that the trails / camps are more crowded during this time. This is because a major part of the crowd comprises of people from Europe and America, where the academic session is on break.
  • November to December — This season brings the rains back to the mountain slopes. These rains are lesser in intensity as compared to the ones in May. This may actually be a better time to plan a trek if you are combining it with an African safari.

Other times — The summit of Mt Kilimanjaro offers an unparalleled view of the sky. Since you will be, usually, making your summit attempt at night, this is an excellent opportunity to experience interesting astronomical events. These can range from a full moon, to comet showers. Many people also try and summit on particular summit days that are important to them — birthdays, anniversaries, New Year’s day are some that I have encountered.

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro under a full moon is both magical and eerie. You can check the full moon dates for Kilimanjaro region here.

How long does it take to climb Mt Kilimanjaro

This question has many answers. The first thing that you should know is that there are many different routes to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro. Of these seven are active routes. These routes can be covered in anything from four to ten days.

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is not easy. Plan on about 7 days for your trek

When deciding how long you need to complete your climb up Mt Kilimanjaro, you need to factor in your experience and fitness level. If you regularly hike up high peaks and are familiar with acclimatization and find it easy to acclimatize during these hikes, you may be okay with a shorter climb. A bad reason to opt for a shorter time is the cost. Usually, costs for a shorter trek are lesser as the associated costs of park fees, porters and logistics are lesser. However, a shorter trek means a much lesser acclimatization time. Acclimatizing properly is vital to the success of your trip. On average, people take between 6 and 8 days to complete the trek up Mt Kilimanjaro, depending on the route.

Kilimanjaro also offers the option of day trips. These are possible because of permits that allow you to be present on the mountain for one day. Since you won’t be having a huge load, or require multiple porters, you can actually climb quite high on the mountain before turning back. These day trips are especially favourable if you want to see the abundant wildlife in the first two climatic zones.

Kilimanjaro Routes

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is no mean feat. But if you do your research and prepare properly, it CAN be done. Kilimanjaro has two main peaks, Kibo and Mawenzi. Kibo is the famous summit which has the iconic board congratulating you on reaching the summit. It is the one that you will see in most pictures. Mawenzi is a much more difficult summit that lies to the east of Kibo. It is jagged and cannot be climbed without the knowledge and experience of climbing equipment and techniques.

Your choice of route to the summit of Kilimanjaro will be instrumental. You may even walk through glaciers like this.

When I talk about summiting Kilimanjaro, I will be referring to Kibo. It is a valid assumption that if you are reading this, you are thinking about climbing up Kibo and not Mawenzi.

As I mentioned earlier, there are seven routes that you can use to climb up to the summit, and one for descent. These are:

  • Shira route
  • Lemosho route
  • Machame route
  • Marangu route
  • Umbwe route
  • Rongai route
  • The Northern Circuit
  • Mweka route (descent only)

Of these routes, six are only used for ascending the mountain (Shira, Lemosho, Machame, Umbwe,Rongai and the Northern circuit). That means that though you will be walking up the mountain on these paths, you are not allowed to descend the mountain on these paths. The Mweka route is a descent-only route, and logically, you are not allowed to climb up Kilimanjaro using this route. Marangu, being an exceptional route with huts along the trail, is both an ascent and a descent route.

Further, a lot of these trails, mix and follow common paths, especially towards the summit.

How much does it cost to climb Mt Kilimanjaro

There are several factors that contribute to the cost of a Kilimanjaro climb. The most expensive aspect of your climb will be the trek itself. A decent trekking experience will set you back by about USD 1500 to USD 2000. Here are the details of the breakdown:

The Kilimanjaro Climb

This is the most expensive and the major component of your budget. Your climb budget is what you pay your agency and usually includes everything you will need on the mountain. These are the approximate costs associated with your climb:

  • Budget trek Kilimanjaro: Expect to pay a minimum of US $900 to $1300 for a budget trek
  • Mid-Tier trek Kilimanjaro: Ranges from US $1500 to $2200
  • Luxury Trek Kilimanjaro: Starts at around US $2100 but the sky is the limit

Do note that these are approximate prices and will vary depending on your route, number of days, accommodation preferences at the beginning and at the end of the trek, the number of porters you hire to name a few. If you decide to not join a group, your trek will, of course, be more expensive.

Common things that are included are accommodation, both one day before your trek starts and the day it ends in a hotel, camping or hut accommodation on the mountain, food and water during the trek. Your agency will also provide you with basic utilities like a dining and a sleeping tent, utensils for your meals and hot water. A major component of this price is the national park fees. You will also have to cater for vehicle entry fees, camping fees / Hut fees, Rescue fees, Crew fees and taxes etc. and these are included in this price. The fee is usually based on a daily limit, but the minimum fee fixed by the Tanzanian government is for a five day trek. We strongly recommend a minimum six day trek and ideally 7 or 8 day trek. Despite the higher price tag for longer routes, the success rates due to better acclimatization are unarguable.

The National Park or Conservation Fees is different for Tanzanian residents (and other EAC members) and, as is usual, is much higher for non-residents. Do remember to carry your own first aid kit and snacks (energy bars) as well, because vendors are no longer allowed to sell these things on the route.

Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa is the tallest freestanding mountains in the world.

Flights to Kilimanjaro

You can read more about these below, but a typical flight to Kilimanjaro will cost about USD 700 to 1500. This depends on your starting location, your ending location, your travel dates and when you book. The following should give an approximate idea:

  • From the UK — £600 to £1200
  • From the USA — $400 to $1200
  • From Australia / NZ — AUD $800 to $1500
  • From Germany — €400 to €1900

These figures are only indicative. The airline industry is quite variable in terms of price and depends not only on the distance and fuel costs, but also on expected traffic on the routes (demand), competition (supply), local and global events, personal information about you and even the time of the day that you book.

Tips for Porters

Besides your trek and the flights, tipping porters is the other major cost associated with climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. Like the American service industry, the tips for porters on Kilimanjaro, are not just a bonus or a reward for an exceptional above-and-beyond service, but a major part of their earnings to subsidize extremely poor and unsustainable wages paid to them by the trekking agencies on the mountain. Due to excess supply and lower demand, the actual wages paid out to the porters is a negligible amount.

Kili Porters carrying bags of tourists climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Tips, though not explicitly mentioned, are obligatory and you should budget for them accordingly. Here is a handy guide on how you should distribute them. Note that the below sum will be shared among the climbers in the group. It is not payable individually.

  • Guides: US $25 per day ~ $180 for a 7 day Kili trek
  • Assistant Guides: US $15 to $20 per day ~ $140 for a 7 day Kili trek
  • Cooks: US $12 to $15 per day ~ $100 for a 7 day trek to Kilimanjaro
  • Porters: US $8 to $10 per day ~ $70 for a 7 day Kili trek

The average person will need 3 or 4 staff/ crew members per trekker, and they usually consist of a guide and 2 or 3 porters, one of whom will be a cook. This ratio goes down as more trekkers are added to a group, but there will still usually be a minimum of 3 support staff per trekker.

Tips are given by the whole group so you can decide accordingly. Do ensure that you hand your tips to your porters personally! That said, no matter the size of your tip, they will almost always be followed by head shaking and groaning and even tearful states of misery. As long as you understand that you have paid a fair tip and they see that you are not going to be budged, they will be happy with the fruits of their labours. You can see this article for details on this as well as the KPAP website. We will also discuss this in more detail later in this article.


Though the cost of transport is usually included in your booking price, it is important to know how much it amounts to, as you are the one who is paying for it. Usually this includes the pickup from and the drop back to the Airport, unless you are going for an extended vacation in East Africa. Many people do combine it with an African Safari, as it makes economical sense.

You will mostly be based in Arusha or Moshi. Besides the journey to Arusha from the Airport (about an hour and a half from JRO), the next step is to drive to the beginning of your trekking point. Now this is dependent on the route you have chosen, but here are some indicative figures:

  • Arusha to Marangu — Almost a 3 hour drive — ~120 kms — costs about US $150
  • Arusha to Machame — a 2 hour drive — 80 kms or more — costs about US $100 to $120
  • Arusha to Lemosho — a 3 hour drive — 130 kms — costs about US $200
  • Arusha to Rongai — a 4 and a half hour drive — 260 kms — about US $300
  • Arusha to Umbwe — a 2 hour drive — 90 kms — costs about US $120

A litre of petrol(gasoline) costs approximately 1 USD in Tanzania at the time of writing, and you can verify the current rates here.


When getting Insurance for your trip, do make sure to include that you will be climbing Kilimanjaro — a mountain that is over 5000m tall. Doing so will raise your premium, but make sure that it covers everything and it will be well worth it. Reading the small print is essential and I cannot stress the importance of it. In case something happens and you make a claim for it, you need to be absolutely sure that your evacuation, medical, hospitalization and repatriation expenses are covered.

Things to look out for in your travel insurance:

  • Insurance covers Trekking / Hiking upto 6000 m — High Altitude Trekking. Most Insurance packages do not cover this and this usually needs to be selected / added separately
  • Insurance covers accidents that can occur on Kilimanjaro — AMS, rock slides, falls, health complications (e.g. heart conditions, ear problems, snow blindness)
  • Insurance cover includes the costs of hospitalization, evacuation and repatriation
  • An additional benefit would be if your insurance can also cover equipment, damage, theft and flights
  • Insurance covers trip interruption, cancellation, delays, damaged baggage and equipment. Also look out for any policies that include the tour operators default.

This insurance package may cost something around the US$ 100 figure. It will be deeply linked to your origin country and state and your trip duration. Do not skimp on this as this will be the best hedge for your vacation!

Note that there is helicopter evacuation is available on Kilimanjaro only at certain points, which I will refer to later in this article. The AMREF Flying Doctors of Africa conduct helicopter evacuation service, and tourists looking to climb Kilimanjaro or go on a Tanzania safari or Kenya safari can buy the Maisha Tourist Cover scheme, costing US$16 and up for a 30 day evacuation coverage in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Some medical insurance companies I recommend are:


Any accommodation that you book before and after your trek will have to be booked separately. The easiest way to go about it is to go through your booking agency, if you trust them. Be aware that, as with everything, they will charge a commission for this.

Basic accommodation for tourists starts at US $5 to $10 per night and may vary on based on the particular time of the year that you are looking to book. Anything cheaper than this is suspect and I would not recommend it. Tanzania is still a developing country and as such faces acute infrastructural shortages especially regarding cleanliness, hygiene and public health. Do be careful when booking your accommodations in Tanzania — be it Arusha, Moshi, Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar. That said, the most expensive accommodations can range upto US $4000 a night! You can be assured of the best services money can buy in these places.

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro — Breakdown of Cost

Assuming a 7-day trek...

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