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What to expect on a Kilimanjaro hike?

Hiking Kilimanjaro is often regarded as a piece of cake as it is the only mountain of that height that can be climbed without any technical knowledge of mountaineering. Basically, you conquer the mountain at 5,895 meters without any knowledge of the use of crampons and ropes and harnesses. But is the mountain as easy as it seems? Even though it is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, around 25,000 people attempt to conquer it every year. But among them, only two-third make it to the top. This stats of people making it to Kilimanjaro and back seems quite compelling. Whether you can make it or not, however, depends entirely upon your willingness and how you plan your trip.   

Whether one makes it to the top or not, the walk along the way is truly fascinating. This hiking in Tanzania is like making your way from the equator all the way to the North Pole within just a few days. As you walk the trail of Kilimanjaro hike, you will encounter various climatic conditions walking along different ecological zones. Your walk begins from the bushlands while gaining altitude towards the tropical rainforest and then reaching up to the arctic region with permanent ice and snow. Not to mention is the ever-welcoming and infectious smile of Swahili people during the journey. Their uplifting mindset will keep you hooked on your trip as you summit Kilimanjaro at a relaxed pace.  All in all, here is what you can expect on your Kilimanjaro hike. 

1. World’s tallest free-standing mountain

Kilimanjaro is best known for its tag as the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. One of the seven summits, Kilimanjaro, is the highest peak in Africa. The Uhuru peak stands tall at the height of 5,895 meters making it the fourth highest peak among the seven summits. This volcanic massif manifests three volcanic cones: Kibo in the center, Mawenzi in the east and Shira in the west.  Even though back in the 1800s, people hardly believed that there was a snow-capped mountain near the equator, the peak now has established itself as one of the most attempted peaks in the world. Kilimanjaro welcomes a large number of climbers each year and makes sure to test each one’s endurance. Only people with a positive mindset and a body that adjusts sensibly well to the increasing altitude have the possibility of summiting Kilimanjaro.

2. Different climatic conditions and ecological zones

The climatic condition of Mount Kilimanjaro is highly influenced by its height, the equatorial trade winds as well as by the free-standing nature of the mountain. Kilimanjaro deals with the upslope and downslope wind on a daily basis causing a constant change in the climate depending upon different ecological zones. Basically, Kilimanjaro has two rainy seasons one ranging from March to May and the other one during November. Turns out the southern slopes harnesses more rainfall than the northern ones. 

Likewise, the ecological zones in Kilimanjaro gradually differ with an increase in altitude. You will come across five distinct climatic zones during your Mount Kilimanjaro hike. The hike begins from cultivation lands of coffees and bananas to tropical rainforests culminating at the arctic zone on the top of Kilimanjaro. In between these, you will also come across the heather zone, moorland zone, and highland desert zone before reaching the arctic zone at the summit. All of these ecological zones provide amazing views with every step you take differing each day after the other. As you reach above the cloudline, you will be rewarded with amazing sunrises and sunsets behind the clouds. 

3. Floras and Faunas

With varying climate and ecological zones, Mount Kilimanjaro boasts of differing floras and faunas. From the base of the peak to the summit, Kilimajaro has a succession of vegetation zones with natural forests covering about 1,000 square kilometers. The foothills of the mountain are turned into cultivation lands of maize, beans, and sunflower. The southern slopes are well-watered with dense clouds covering montane forests. The northern slopes are comparatively drier with olive and juniper forests. Not to mention, the open moorland, alpine desert, and communities of moss and lichen claim their home in Kilimanjaro with a gradual increase in altitude. 

During your Mt Kilimanjaro hike, you may come across chameleons, bushbucks, dik-diks, mongooses, colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, and a few other small animals. However, large animals are rarely seen on Kilimanjaro while some might be seen in the lower regions. Meanwhile, locals have reported seeing zebras, hyenas, and leopards in the Shira Plateau. Furthermore, the forest also supports a large variety of birdlife which even includes Abbot’s starling. 

4. Multiple Routes to choose from

When it comes to climbing Kilimanjaro, there is no one best route to conquering the mountain. Kilimanjaro hike offers several routes to choose from, each differing from the other depending on several factors. The trails of  Machame, Marangu, and Umbwe routes begin from the southern side while Lemosho and North Circuit begin from the western end. The Rongai route, however, approaches from the north. Among these routes, Machame is the most popular route and preferred by most trekkers. This route is not technically difficult but is strenuous with a 60% success rate which is more than the Marangu route. 

The Marangu Route is the only route with hut accommodation and a trail that uses the same path up and down. This route is comparatively cheap with a serious climb and low success rate. On the other hand, the Umbwe route is both difficult and demanding with a steep and uphill trail only fit for experienced mountain climbers. The Lemosho route is a longer and remoter trail which later joins the Machame route. Due to the longer itinerary of this route, the success rate is exceptionally high compared to other routes. However, this route cannot be completed on a tight budget.

 The Shira route is similar to the Lemosho route except for the first day. The first stop of the Shira route is made at Simba camp which then joins the Lemosho Route at Shira 2 Camp. As for the Northern circuit route, it follows the Lemosho route in the beginning and then traverses to the northern slope of the mountain.  The Rongai is the easiest route that approaches from the north and descends via the Marangu route. However, this route has the reputation of being relatively less scenic. 

5. Summiting on a Full Moon

While summiting Kilimanjaro is fascinating in itself, the experience can vary depending upon the time of the month you choose to ascend to the summit. Kilimanjaro is widely popular for placing the summit night during the full moon. During the full moon, the light from the moon illuminates your path all the way to the summit. On normal days, you would require a head torch to find your way during the summit night but during a full moon, you might get away without having to use the head torch. On the other hand, the magnificent glacier glitters under the shimmering light of the moon. However, the brightness of the moon obscures the stars in the sky. If you are much into stargazing, then the better option for you would be to plan your Kilimanjaro hike on a new moon. During this time, Kilimanjaro lies warmly under the blanket of twinkling stars.  

All in all, Kilimanjaro offers an experience that you will boast about all your life. This grueling, yet awakening experience through the lush green jungles to snow-covered rocks and steep trails along with sheer-rock-mini-mountains of Kilimanjaro, will be everything you expect on your adventure in the mountains. 

Himalayan Glacier Adventure and Travel Company
About the author

A leading adventure & tour operator in the Himalayas since 1992, Himalayan Glacier Adventure & Travel Company® is the #1 guiding adventure travel company on Mount Everest Base Camp and beyond with 98% success rate. Continuing its decades-old legacy, Himalayan Glacier is a little different from other adventure & tour operators. Each of our holidays is truly a tailor-made package which we design for all ages, groups, families & solo travelers. We have veteran mountaineering leaders who have been into this industry for several decades. So, we offer you complete choice and freedom to explore the real pleasure of traveling.

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