Adventure Tanzania

What is the best route to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?

My number 1 bucket list item was to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. After my younger sister returned from her trip to Tanzania, having reached the summit of Africa’s highest mountain. I decided it was time to take on the challenge. How hard could it really be!

But which route should I take up this amazing mountain?  I started researching options for my adventure. Along with the Rongai route, there is also the Machame route and the Marangu route (known as the coca cola route, as it is the most popular).

These were all options offered by GAdventures who I had booked previous trips with (meaning a loyalty discount!) So seemed an obvious choice for me to go with.

The Marangu route was the cheapest of the 3 options and the shortest route up and down Mt Kilimanjaro (or Mt Kili as I now call it). My sister had opted to take the Rongai route to climb Mt Kilimanjaro so my decision was partly influenced by her.

why I chose the Rongai route to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?

The Rongai route starts on the North Eastern side of the mountain, a place called Rongai, no surprise there! It takes you on a beautiful path up to the summit then back down a different route.

For me this was a big part of the decision, instead of climbing up and down the same path (as with the Marangu route),  I would experience different environments. This option really gives you a different perspective of the mountain.

Where is everyone?

The Rongai route is a less popular option but this comes with benefits. For me personally, the experience can be really different depending on the number of people around you. Yes of course, it’s good to be able to share what you are seeing with someone but on the other hand the peace and quiet is something not to be overlooked.

Think about those amazing landmarks, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal. The brochure pictures show them with no one there, which in reality we know isn’t true! But starting the hike from Rongai, it was just me and my team. Although, very quickly the speedy porters had overtaken me, even carrying the extra weight so I had the path to myself.

Meet the Columbus monkeys

Your climb to Mt Kilimanjaro starts through a beautiful green forest. It’s not too steep so a great start to the hike. And it is a perfect place to spot Columbus monkeys.

After just an hour into the walk I spot our first family high up in the trees jumping from branch to branch. They are quite unusual with big white fluffy tails and a cheeky black and white face. As this is a less popular route you have a better chance of spotting them.

Looking back across Views of Kenya

The Rongai Route is the only trail that starts from the Northern side of Mt Kilimanjaro. Day one takes you through the forest and up a steep path. Well you are climbing a mountain so I guess it had to happen some time!

One thing I try to do when walking is look behind me. Not whilst walking, I would probably fall over knowing me! Wow we have climbed pretty high already and looking out you can see both Tanzania and Kenya behind us.

As this is the only route that starts from this side of the mountain, this is the only route you get to see Kenya!

More wildlife

Because of its remote location this route offers hikers a relatively unspoilt wilderness experience. There are many different birds along the path as well, mostly you hear them but if you look carefully you will spot them.

There’s a chance you might spot larger wildlife like elephants, antelope and buffalo. It was just the Columbus monkeys for me and I was happy enough with that. I did see animals footprints crossing our path though so they definitely weren’t too far away.

Extra time on the mountain

The experience and scenery are beautiful so why wouldn’t you want to spend longer in such lovely surroundings. Booking with GAdventures, the Rongai route takes 6 days (see my itinerary below)  through forests to start, then the scenery is constantly changing.

The plants and trees seem to start shrinking as you climb higher until it’s literally just rocks! The Marangu route is one day shorter in just 5 days.

Camping with the stars (I know this is daytime but you get the idea!)

One thing you might want to consider is the Rongai route is camping whereas the Marangu route you stay in little wooden huts. It might not be everyone’s first choice but since I love camping it did make it an easier decision.

Camping gives you that closeness to the nature, you can just zip open you tent and you’re outside. Away from the artificial lights of the cities, it’s pitch black with just light from the moon. And looking up there are hundreds of tiny stars twinkling away. It’s so quiet as well. I truly feel relaxed and happy, out on the mountain.

Different scenery and walking options

The great thing about the Rongai route is that although it’s a set path there are options to take slightly shorter routes if you want to. Day 2 on the hike gives you a choice, I picked the longer route but it’s good to know you have a choice. Maybe see how you feel and pick the one that’s right for you.

Better weather

I am not 100% sure how accurate this is. I know it is a pretty big mountain but apparently this side of the mountain gets significantly less moisture than the southern side.

In short, it means that you are less likely to encounter rain. I am not a great person to prove this theory as day 1 on my hike it rained and again on day 3 but who knows maybe the other side got it worse.

Different views of Mt Kilimanjaro

Hiking up the Rongai route means you can experience the mountain from a different side. Ok kind of obvious but maybe not something you might think about first. It does all depend on how the weather is behaving. The mornings are normally cleared so worth waking up and checking the views as soon as you wake up.

acclimatiSation walk to help Climb Mt Kilimanjaro summit

The day you hike to Mawenzi Tarn Hut is a shorter day gives you a chance to charge the batteries. It also allows you to fit in an acclimatisation walk which helps as the Rongai Route is flatter than the other Kilimanjaro routes.

Having done various other high altitude hikes, including Morocco’s Mt Toubkal at 4,095m I now understand what a different this makes. Click here to read more about my Mt Toubkal hike.

Better chance of reaching the top

The stats show that this is clearly a better option for reaching the summit. That’s why we signed up to do the hike in the first place, isn’t it! So with an extra days hiking on the mountain this means an extra day for your body to acclimatise. And for me I think this made a massive difference in reaching the top.

I did suffer from altitude sickness. For the majority of the hike I had felt ok but on reaching base camp I started to feel strange. Mainly just a headache and a bit sick but I now wonder how much worse I would have felt if I hadn’t had the extra day and high altitude.

The Rongai Route (6 days, 76 km/47 miles)

Day 1

Rongai gate (1,950m) to Simba camp (2,750m)
Distance – 8km/5 miles

Day 2

Simba camp (2,750m) to Kikelelwe camp (3,450m)
Distance – 10 km/6 miles

Day 3

Kikelelwe camp (3,450m) to Mawenzi Tarn camp (4,330m)
Distance – 3 km/2 miles

Day 4

Mawenzi Tarn camp (4,330m) to Kibo Hut (4,700m)
Distance – 9 km/6 miles

Day 5

Kibo Hut (4,700m) to Uluru Point (5,895m) to Horombo Hut camp (3,700m)
Distance – 28 km/17 miles

Day 6

Horombo Hut camp (3,700m) to Marangu gate (1,830m)
Distance – 18 km/11 miles

Tour booked to climb Mt Kilimanjaro via GAdventures

Becky’s Tips to climb Mt Kilimanjaro

  1. Take a head torch – great for hunting around in your bag when it gets dark. Also an essential item for visiting the toilet in the dark. You don’t want to fall in the hole!!
  2. Extra comfort – if you like a good night’s sleep then I would recommend taking a Thermarest mattress. The trip provides you with a mattress but this is a lightweight item that really makes the difference.
  3. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly in Swahili) – this is a tip for whatever route you take. The slower you walk the easier your body will adapt, therefore reducing the chance of altitude sickness.
  4. Flipping freezing – ok a slight exaggeration but I am one of those people that gets cold in the supermarket freezer department. Take plenty of layers so you can keep warm at night. It’s not so bad when you’re walking but the last night at base camp I was really cold.

Read more of my Hiking Adventures here
Are you planning to climb Mt Kilimanjaro? Which route are you planning? Have you already reached the summit? Tell me about your experience or ask me any questions in the comments below.

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How to climb Africa's highest mountain Mt Kilimanjaro via the Rongai route Includes information about the route, hints and tips for the climb. If you want to climb Mt Kilimanjaro this is the post for you! Tanzania, Africa.

How to climb Africa's highest mountain Mt Kilimanjaro via the Rongai route Includes information about the route, hints and tips for the climb. If you want to climb Mt Kilimanjaro this is the post for you! Tanzania, Africa.

Becky works full time in the UK; however her real passion is travel. She was a late starter, not going on her first solo trip until she was 32 flying off to Australia, which had been a dream since she was 9 years old. Becky has now totted up 40 countries across 6 continents. Becky has taken on several multi day hikes and summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2012. She also has a love for wildlife, especially penguins. Follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at Becky the Traveller.

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Comments (26)

  1. This is really interesting! Not sure how I’d go as I’ve suffered from altitude sickness in the past, but maybe one day I can climb Kili!

    1. Thanks Kristy. I suffered from altitude sickness a bit but still made it to the top. Having an extra day on the mountain at high altitude defintely helped me and I wonder if I had picked a different route whether I would have made it or not?

  2. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but I definitely couldn’t hack it! You’re a legend for doing this. It looks incredible! Such a memorable experience 😀

    1. Ah thanks Rhiannon, well never say never, the same day I summitted a 70 year old man had also done it so never too late!!! It’s a fantastic experience and would defintely recommend it 🙂

    1. Ah thanks so much :). Yes I love the feeling of having the mountain to myself, even on the summit night I was the only person at the top for about 10 minutes, whilst I did my photo shoot ha ha!!

  3. This is such a cool post. Mt. Kilimanjaro has never been on my list but maybe it should be. It looks lovely. And all your tips are so helpful, like taking an extra day to acclimate. I bet altitude sickness if the worst. But glad you made it and sounds like a blast.

    1. Ah thanks so much Kelly, maybe it’s time to add it to your list, it really is an awesome thing to achieve. Yeah I have to admit not a fan of the altiude sickness but it doesn’t last long and you are left with great memories. 🙂

  4. Such a cool experience! However, I am a bit worried about altitude sickness 🙁 I am very prone to this :/

    1. Ah thanks Magda. Yes I completely understand. I am actually in the middle of writing another post about high altitide so maybe that might answer some of your questions. I have suffered from altitude sickness but it hasn’t stopped me!!

  5. I never even knew there were so many routes up to mount kilimanjaro. I am a slow traveller so I would definetly keep this route in mind. The extra days in acclimatization do make a difference. And great that you see so many wildlife on the way. After reading your post I wish I could go tomorrow.

    1. Yes I know, the more you research the more you realise how many there are. Yes this route would be perfect, the days are spread quite nicely so you don’t have to rush. Ah hopefully you will be able to go soon Ellis, maybe just not tomorrow. I am currently writing a post about preparations for the hike which you might be interested in 🙂

  6. I’d love to climb Kilimanjaro one day so this is a great tip to take this route ! Taking an extra day to acclimate is a good tip ! I suffered from altitude sickness just a little bit when I did a trek in Nepal but still made it to the top as well !!

  7. Hey there! Amazing info to one of the most sought after treks👍🏻 I visited Kenya this Feb, wanted to go for this trek but Alas! Was short on time, plan to do it in the coming months! Thanks for sharing your experience👍🏻

  8. I would love to do this one day! And 6 days doesn’t seem so bad, I thought it would be longer. Thanks for the detailed overview and congrats on such a huge accomplishment.

  9. Kilimanjaro is certainly on my wishlist! I haven’t yet started to check out the options, so thanks for all the useful tips and the amazing pics!

    1. Ah that’s great to hear Irina. Well I hope this really helps when you start looking into more. I am currently writing another post on preparation for the hike so you might like to check that out too. I should be posting next week 🙂