Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tanzania, encompassing Africa’s highest peak and offering awe-inspiring landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and the opportunity to summit the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro.
Africa’s highest mountain and the world’s highest free-standing mountain is Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. The mountain’s highest peak is at 5,985 meters (19,341 ft), while its lowest sira peak is at 4,005 meters above sea level. Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most accessible mountains, with its snow-capped peak standing alone above the plains and overlooking the savannah. The mountain is made up of three volcanoes, namely Mawenzi (5,280 m), Shira (4,269 m), and Kibo (5,895m), the youngest volcano cone. Shira and Mawenzi are extinct, while Kibo’s most recent big eruption occurred between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. Although Kibo is now dormant, it could reawaken at any time.
Five distinct ecological zones on Mount Kilimanjaro
Hiking up Kilimanjaro means going from the heat of the equator to the frigid cold of the arctic in just six to eight days. Kilimanjaro is a microcosm of many of the world’s habitats and climates. Trekkers climb through five climatic zones as they ascend 5895 meters. Climatic zones are defined as regions with generally consistent temperature and precipitation. The first 1800 meters of the mountain was once dense with forests but is now cultivated with plantations and pastures in this area of heavy rainfall and rich volcanic soils.
Rainforest Zone -1800 to 2800 meters
A rainforest belt encircles the lower reaches of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is the richest zone on the mountain due to abundant rain. Rainfall is 1000 millimeters per year on the western and northern slopes and 2000 millimeters per year on the southern slopes. The dense canopy harbors brightly colored insects, hornbills, bright flowers, black and white colobus monkeys, and leopards.
Heath Zone – 2800 to 3200 meters
Thickets of stunted and shrub-like trees are in this gray, meager climatic zone. It’s as if you have been transported from the Amazon rainforest to the fields of heather in Scotland! There are splashes of color – wild gladiolus, wild iris, wild orchids, and exotic, spiky orange or yellow flowers.
Moorland Zone – 3200 to 4000 meters
The vegetation in this cool, arid zone looks like a Hollywood landscape for a space alien film! Giant groundsels, some more than 200 years old have cabbage-like leaves that die off and protect the trunk from sub-zero temperatures. Lobelias are squat mounds of green starbursts that close their leaves over their central core at night for protection. Buffalo, elephants, elands, common duikers, and the yellow-crowned canary are just some of the wildlife here
Alpine Desert Zone- 4000 to 5000 meters
Here nights are below 0˚ C and daytime over 35˚ C. Only the hardiest organisms can survive.
It is the equivalent of the conditions found north of Canada or in Siberia. Alpine desert plants include lichens, moss balls, and a few tough flowering plants called “everlastings.” Not much wildlife lives here, although elands, leopards, and some African hunting dogs pass through. Few birds can cope with the thin air and strong winds. Ravens and large birds of prey forage here.
Arctic Zone – 5000 to 5895 meters
It’s freezing cold at night with a burning sun during the day. There is no liquid surface water. Rain seeps down into the crater or turns into ice. Even in this desolate climate, a few red and gray lichens are adapted for survival. The massive glaciers that cover one-third of the mountaintop are remnants of the ice cap that covered the entire summit area thousands of years ago.
Mountain Kilimanjaro climbing routes
We’ve highlighted some of the most important features of each of the Kilimanjaro Routes below.
The Lemosho is a beautiful route that departs from the West side of Mount Kilimanjaro due to its route profile, the Lemosho can be completed on a seven or eight-day itinerary and offers lots of opportunities to properly acclimatize. Because of its versatile route profile, it is a highly recommended Kilimanjaro route that has relatively high summit success rates; it is also recommended as the starting point is relatively remote and hence provides trekkers with a rather untouched and wild start to their Kilimanjaro adventure. Spotting large wildlife, like antelope, buffalo and even elephant is unusual but not impossible. The route also provides unparalleled and spectacular views of the dramatic gorges that characterize the western side of Mount Kilimanjaro. The Lemosho offers trekkers the experience of hiking across the Shira Plateau – one of the largest high altitude plateaus in the world, trekkers on the Lemosho typically converge with the Machame route on day 3 at Barranco camp and use the Barafu camp route to the summit; however, it is now quite common for Lemosho trekkers to veer north before Lava Tower to join the Northern Circuit which circles the north side of Mount Kilimanjaro and follows an assault passage via Gilman’s Point. The Lemosho route can also be used by trekkers planning to climb the Western Breach to the summit.
The Machame route is highly recommended for scenic value and has a medium to high success rate, especially if you choose the seven-day itinerary. The six-day option is not recommended for first-time trekkers. It is a good Kilimanjaro route for acclimatization as it has a climb high, sleep low opportunity for trekkers on day three. Here trekkers climb from Shira Camp 2 to Lava Tower at 4,600 meters, where they have lunch and then hike back down to Barranco Camp (3,900 meters) to sleep. Like all Kilimanjaro routes, the Machame is a challenging trek with stunning scenery through four diverse climatic zones. There is a good opportunity to split pre-summit day climb by adding an extra rest day at Karanga Camp (only available to seven-day trekkers) to leave hikers well-rested before summiting. The route has however got very popular over the past few years which means it can get busy, especially at Barranco where climbers join up with trekkers from the Lemosho, Shira and Umbwe routes. The Machame route only offers fully catered camping.
The Rongai route is the only northern start point to Kilimanjaro, beginning on the North East side of Kilimanjaro National Park. The Rongai offers a true wilderness experience on the early stages of the climb, and like the Lemosho route, it is possible to see large wildlife like buffalo, antelope, and elephants. The Northern slopes tend to be dryer than the southern slopes which makes the Rongai a great Kilimanjaro Route for trekking during the wet season. However, because the northern slopes are dryer they can also be considered less scenic. That being said, a northern approach is often characterized by clear views of Kilimanjaro – something that is not that common from the southern side. The Rongai is also a flatter route for the first few days which makes for easy trekking. The route is usually completed on a seven-day itinerary but has limited climb high, sleep low opportunities which means that acclimatization opportunities are not as good as on other Kilimanjaro routes. Typically the Rongai route uses the passage from School Hut up past Hans Meyer Cave and Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak. The route descends via the Marangu route; hence the route has fully catered camping.
The Northern Circuit is the longest route on Mount Kilimanjaro and has one of the highest summits success rates as the route offer lots of climb-high, sleep-low opportunities, and time to acclimatize, the route departs from the same start point as Lemosho but then joins the Northern Circuit near Lava Tower, before traversing the north slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The summit assault is via Gilman’s Point, the route can be completed on an eight or nine-day itinerary if you are looking for a quiet and wild Kilimanjaro experience, then this route is for you.
Best time of the year climb Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro is located about 205 km from the Equator, and so it won’t surprise you to learn that most of the country experiences some very hot months. The best time of the year to climb mountain Kilimanjaro is during the dry season, December, January, February, March, June, July, August, September, and October are the best months to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to avoid heavy rains and the coldest summit temperatures.
How to get to Mount Kilimanjaro
There are a few different options for traveling to the mountain. The nearest airport to Kilimanjaro is the Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), and is located between Arusha and Moshi. Most people stay in Moshi before climbing Kilimanjaro, as it is the closest municipality being a 45-minute drive from Kilimanjaro International Airport.
Unfortunately, you cannot fly directly from the UK or the US to Kilimanjaro International Airport. But you can fly from any of the main airports in the area – Dar-es-Salaam, Zanzibar, or Nairobi in Kenya.
Alternatively, you can travel by road from Nairobi to Arusha about 274 km – 5 hours drive or Moshi about 329 km – 7 hours drive via private tourist vehicle transfer. For more info about mountaineering safari to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, kindly contact Gorilla Tracking Africa so we can tailor your remarkable trip in Tanzania.