There are six established routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro – Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai and Umbwe. The Marangu, Machame, and Umbwe routes all approach from the south of the mountain (Mweka is used only for descent). The Lemosho and Shira routes approach from the west. The Rongai route approaches from the north.
Marangu (“Coca Cola”) Route
Known as the “Coca-Cola” route, the Marangu route is a classic trek on Mount Kilimanjaro. It is the oldest, most well established route. Many favor the Marangu route because it is considered to be the easiest path on the mountain, given its gradual slope. It is also the only route which offers sleeping huts in dormitory style accommodations.
The minimum days required for this route is five, although the probability of successfully reaching the top in that time period is quite low. Spending an extra acclimatization day on the mountain is highly recommended when climbing Klimanjaro using the Marangu route.
However, despite its immense popularity, we avoid leading climbs on the Marangu route. The route has the least scenic variety of all the routes because the ascent and descent are done on the same path and it is the most crowded route for that reason. Marangu is favored only during the rainy season, where the hut accommodations are preferred over wet ground, or for those who only have five days to climb Kilimanjaro (which we do not recommend anyhow). Otherwise, the Marangu route is a poor choice.
Machame (“Whiskey”) Route
Known as the “Whiskey” route, the Machame route is now the most popular route on the mountain. Compared with Marangu, the days on Machame are longer and the walks are steeper. The Machame route is considered a difficult route, and is better suited for more adventurous folks and those with some hiking or backpacking experience.
The minimum number of days required for this route is six days, although seven days is recommended.
The Machame route is scenically beautiful and varied. However, due to the heavy crowds, it loses some of its spendor.
The Lemosho route is one of the newer routes on Mount Kilimanjaro. The route begins in the west and rather than simply intersecting Shira Plateau (like Machame), Lemosho crosses it from Shira Ridge to Shira Camp. Climbers encounter low traffic until the route joins the Machame route. Afterwards, Lemosho follows the same route through Lava Tower, Barranco and Barafu, known as the southern circuit.
The minimum number of days required for this route is six days, although eight days is ideal.
Lemosho is considered the most beautiful route on Kilimanjaro and grants panoramic vistas on various sides of the mountain. It is our favorite route because it offers a great balance of low traffic, scenic views and a high summit success rate. Thus, Lemosho comes highly recommended.
The Shira route is another path that approaches Kilimanjaro from the west, and it is nearly identical to the Lemosho route. In fact, Shira was the original route and Lemosho is the improved variation. While Lemosho starts at Londorossi Gate and treks through the rain forest to Shira 1 Camp, the Shira route bypasses this walk by using a vehicle to transport climbers to Shira Gate, located near the Shira Ridge.
On the first day on the mountain, climbers begin their hike from 11,800 feet (3,600 m) and spend their first night at the same elevation at Simba Camp. Then, the route merges with Lemosho and follows the southern circuit route.
Although Shira is a varied and beautiful route, Lemosho is recommended over Shira due to the high altitude of Shira’s starting point. It is possible that climbers will experience altitude related symptoms on the first day due to failed acclimatization. Climbers using Shira should be confident of their ability to acclimatize.
The Rongai route is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north, close to the Kenyan border. Though gaining popularity amongst climbers, Rongai has low traffic. It is the preferred route for those looking for an alternative to the crowded Marangu route, for those who would like a more remote hike, and for those who are climbing during the rainy season (the north side receives less precipitation).
The minimum number of days required for this route is six days, and seven days are recommended.
Although the scenery is not as varied as the western routes, Rongai makes up for this by passing through true wilderness areas for days before joining the Marangu route at Kibo camp. This route descends down the Marangu route. Rongai is a moderately difficult route, and is highly recommended, especially for those with less backpacking experience.
The Umbwe Route is widely regarded as the hardest trail, a tough vertical slog through the jungle, in places using the tree roots as makeshift rungs on a ladder. Having reached the Southern Circular Route, trekkers can continue north-west to tackle Kibo from the west and the difficult Arrow Glacier Route; or you can follow the Southern Circular Route east round to Barafu and approach the summit from there. The entire walk up and down takes a minimum of five days if going via the Barafu Campsite (though this is entirely too rapid; take six minimum, with a day at Karanga Valley); or five minimum (six is again better) if going via the Western Breach/Arrow Glacier, with more days if sleeping in the crater.
This, the shortest route from a roadhead to the summit is now only used in descent. The upper section to the summit is called the Barafu (Swahili – ice) Route. It is normally descended having approached the mountain by the Lemosho, Machame, Umbwe or Shira Routes. These routes are linked to the Barafu-Mweka Route by the high-level traverse beneath the Southern Icefields, the Kibo South Circuit. This traverse is one of the more scenic walks on Kilimanjaro.