Mt Kilimanjaro has seven known rotes to the top, but most climbers only choose from three. The three commonly climbed routes of Mt Kilimanjaro are the Marangu route, the Rongai route and the Machame route. You may be wondering, which of these three routes is best for me. Although most tour guides have a select route that they manoeuvre best, it may be best to know what exactly you’re getting into when embarking on one of these routes.
The Marangu Route
We start the analysis from what is often considered to be the easiest route on Mt Kilimanjaro. Don’t get carried away by the term ‘easiest’, as none of Mt Kilimanjaro’s routes are exactly easy. But the Marangu route stands out simply because it is the shortest route on the mount. In comparison to the other two routes on the mountain, Marangu route presents a more gradual ascent to the summit; and can be completed in five days. In terms of accommodation, the Marangu route is equipped with dormitory style huts which are very different from conventional tents found on all other routes.
Like every good thing in life, the Marangu has a downside. The principle of ‘climb high, sleep low’ cannot be practiced here because the route offers little opportunity for acclimatisation. A lot of climbers, especially those who lack fitness, don’t care about this downside, and often choose the route simply because it is shorter. Whereas, the truth is, the success rate of people reaching the summit is even lesser than the relatively longer routes. Another demerit of choosing the Marangu route is the fact that the way of ascent and descent are the same; therefore the scenery is limited and doesn’t change regardless of whether you go up or come down.
However, if you still want to choose the Marangu route; that’s fine. But to ensure you go all the way, it is often advised to apportion a day for acclimatisation trek from Horomba huts all the way up to Zebra Rocks; and then back to Horomba Huts for the night.
The Rongai Route
Also called the ‘Loitokok’ route by the natives or the ‘Outward Bound Route’ in the old times, the Rongai route begins from near the Kenyan border and has a northerly ascent up the mount. The ascent is somewhat similar to that of the Marangu route. Because of this, the Rongai route is dubbed the second easiest route on Mt Kilimanjaro. In fact, at a point called the Kibo Huts, the Rongai route meets up with the Marangu route. From there, the paths link up and continue to the summit.
However, if you think the Rongai route, unlike the Marangu route, helps climbers adhere to the ‘climb high, sleep low’ principle, you’re clearly mistaken. The success rate of reaching the summit is also low, so you should consider adding an extra day to the treks for acclimatisation.
One thing you will enjoy on the Rongai route is its quietness. Not so many people choose this route so it is often less populated and hence, quiet. Accommodations on the Rongai routes are tents (it’s probably best to have a private tent). Also, the descent from the summit follows the Marangu Route.
The Machame Route
This route begins from the Machame forest on the opposite side of the mountain; basically from the Rongai route. The route ascends through a dense forest in a south-west direction. It takes at least 6 days to reach the summit from the Machame route. The amazing thing about the Machame route is its amazing view of the Shira Volcano. It is one of the steeper routes on Mt Kilimanjaro but the scenery is totally worth it.
On the third night, you get to turn in at the Baranco camp, which is at a lower altitude than the second night’s camp. This ensures better acclimatisation, therefore allowing climbers to adhere to the ‘climb high, sleep low’ principle. The accommodation profile for the Machame route is tents
The Shira, Lemosho, Umbwe and Northern Circuit route are the only other routes climbable to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. The Shira, Lemosho and Northern Circuit (the Grand Traverse) routes all start on the western side of the mountain, but that’s about all they have in common.
The Shira route is very steep on the first day, as you will have to climb up to 3500m from about 2200m. It then meanders across the Shira Plateau only to link up with the Machame and Lemosho route near the Lava Tower.
The Lemosho route, like the Shira and Machame route is very scenic. But if you do choose the route, you can expect a rough long distance first two days. It is advisable to embark on this route with a 7 to 8 day timeframe in mind. Like the Shira route, accommodation is in tents.
The Umbwe route is basically the steepest and toughest route to the summit. If you aren’t extremely fit or accustomed to steep trekking, run from this route. The route heads directly north to the Baranco Wall where it eventually links up with the Machame, Shira and Lemosho routes. Acclimatisation is very difficult here due to its steep ascent profile.
The Northern Circuit route is the newest path on Mt Kilimanjaro. It starts on the western part of the mount and can be trekked in 7 to 8 days. The route is seldom used, so if you like the solitude, this one is for you. In fact, the route is so quiet that you could hear field mice squeak. Eventually, the route links up to the Rongai route where you may encounter people. The last lap to the summit joins the Marangu route. Its descent follows the Mweka route down.
Selecting the appropriate route totally depends on what suits you. You also have to factor in things like fitness, duration of trek, cost, scenery and preference for tents or dormitories. All routes lead to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. Whichever route you decide on, is best decided by you.