Over 30,000 people climb Mt Kilimanjaro each year and for many it is an adventure of a lifetime. It is undoubtedly a challenging trek and if you’re considering climbing the world’s tallest free standing mountain it is essential that you’re fully prepared for the experience.
In this specialist blog we cover important information to help you prepare for your Mt Kilimanjaro climb - including an overview about our preferred route, information about the best time to climb Kilimanjaro, recommendations about training, information on acclimatising to high altitude and altitude sickness, advice about what gear you’ll need to take, details about your arrival in Tanzania and joining the trek, plus information about flights, visas, vaccinations and travel insurance. If you have any questions which are not covered in this guide please call 0203 143 4293 to speak to one of our Travel Specialists.
Which Kilimanjaro trekking route is the best ?
If you’re thinking about climbing Africa’s highest peak it is important to understand which routes offer the highest summit success rates. There are seven established routes - Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe.
Here at Wayfairer we recommend the Machame and Lemosho routes, and our preference is the Lemosho which is a beautiful and remote trek that approaches the mountain from the southwest and joins the busier Machame route on day four.
The Lemosho is our preferred route because it offers a balance of low traffic, spectacular views and high summit success rate.
It’s possible to trek the Lemosho route in six days, however we recommend our longer itinerary which is eight days in total, including summit day and the descent. On this eight day trek we ascend steadily and we allow additional time to get accustomed to the high altitudes as this helps to maximise your chances of reaching the summit at Uhuru Peak.
When to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?
Whilst it is possible to climb Mt Kilimanjaro year round, there are certain months are which are characterised by colder weather, more rain and potentially lots of snow on the summit.
The best times to climb Kilimanjaro are considered to be during the warmest and driest times of year – from December to mid-March and mid-June to end of October. Our month-by-month guide to Mt Kilimanjaro's weather will help you plan when to climb this iconic mountain.
Fitness Requirements and Training Recommendations
Without doubt climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is a huge challenge which requires strength, stamina, serious determination and a very good level of fitness. You’ll have long days trekking at high altitude and a great deal of physical effort is required.
It is essential that you prepare your cardiovascular system, muscles and joints for your Mt Kilimanjaro climb. We suggest that you embark on a training programme at least two months before your trek start date. Strong, conditioned legs will make it easier to walk uphill and downhill for sustained periods of time and general cardio fitness will help your body function efficiently with less oxygen. Running, swimming and cardio workouts will certainly help your fitness levels, however the best exercise that you can do to prepare for your trek is regular hiking.
We recommend that you hike as much as possible on walking trails on hills or mountains close to where you live as this will help you to prepare for your ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro. We suggest that you start with short hikes at a slow and steady pace and then gradually increase the duration and pace of your hikes until your fitness levels improve. At the start of your training you should carry an empty day pack on your hikes and then gradually add weight to it as you progress (whilst climbing Mt Kilimanjaro you’ll most likely carry between 6-8kg in your day pack, including water, snacks, camera, extra layers of clothing, lip balm, sunscreen, hand gel, sunglasses, personal first aid kit, wet wipes etc). As your training progresses you should increase your training to three hikes per week and each hike should be between four to six hours with moderate elevation changes whilst carrying an 8kg day pack. You should complete your longest hikes two to four weeks before your departure and during the final two weeks prior to your Mt Kilimanjaro trek you should gradually stop your training so that your body has time to recover. It is important that during your Kilimanjaro training you wear the boots that you intend to climb with as this will help to prevent blisters during your trek.
Wayfairer Top Tip: In addition to hiking you can supplement your training with exercises such as running or cycling which will help to increase your aerobic capacity. Lunges are also a great way to strengthen your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves and you’ll feel the benefit whilst on your trek.
If you do not have access to hiking trails we recommend that you train at your local gym and use a step machine which simulates the effects of climbing an endless staircase and is a great way to improve your fitness, strength and endurance. As with hiking training we recommend that you start with short sessions on the step machine and gradually build up your time until you’re able to do one to two hours whilst carrying an 8kg day pack. Just remember that if you’re training on machines at the gym you’ll be wearing trainers so it is important that you also go for long walks in your hiking boots to ensure that you break them in.
It is imperative that you have complete confidence in your physical ability to attempt a Mt Kilimanjaro trek, and even if you have an excellent level of fitness, you might still find it tough depending on how well you acclimatise.
Acclimatising to High Altitude
The most common factor that prevents many climbers from reaching the summit at Uhuru peak is not the trekking, but altitude sickness (the inability to acclimatise to the high altitude).
Altitude sickness is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes. The faster you climb, the more likely you will get acute mountain sickness (AMS). It is not only the height that causes AMS, it is also the rate of ascent, therefore the best safety precaution you can take for your Kilimanjaro climb is to allow plenty of time to become properly acclimatised to high altitude. One of the reasons why we prefer the eight day trek via the Lemosho route is that it includes strategic acclimatisation days which will help your body to acclimatise to the high altitude.
“Pole-pole” is the motto on Mt Kilimanjaro - it means “slowly, slowly” in Kiswahili – and throughout the trek our guides will keep saying “pole-pole” to you. They will ensure that you walk at a slow and steady pace and they will constantly remind you of the importance of adequate hydration.
Regardless of your fitness levels and how slowly you ascend it is likely that you will feel the effects of altitude. Most people experience mild altitude sickness and most recover quickly, however if you’re affected by a serious altitude problem you will need to descend to a lower altitude with a member of our local team and it may be necessary to abandon the trek in the interests of your safety.
The symptoms of altitude illness are similar to those of a hangover. Initially it starts with a headache, lack of appetite, tiredness and feeling off balance. More severe acute mountain sickness includes blue skin and lips (cyanosis) and grey or pale complexion, tight chest, cough and coughing up blood, confusion, decreased consciousness or withdrawal from social interaction and not being able to walk in a straight line or unable to walk.
If you’re feeling any symptoms of altitude sickness, please tell your guide immediately and follow their advice. It is irresponsible to continue if you’re suffering from any symptoms which need expert assessment.
Please note that the risk of altitude sickness will be increased if you’re already suffering from a respiratory tract infection such as a cold. If you have a cold or the flu, do not attempt to climb Mt Kilimanjaro until you are fully recovered.
All communal equipment (tents, food, cooking items, etc) is provided. Porters carry all the communal equipment between campsites, plus they will carry your duffel bag or a large backpack with your personal belongings (including your sleeping bag) up to a maximum of 15kg. Any additional luggage that you may require after your trek can be safely stored at our office in Arusha. You will climb with a small backpack for your water, clothing layers, snacks, camera etc.
We can send you a comprehensive list with details of all the personal gear (clothing, footwear and other items) that you’ll need for the trek and we’ll let you know what items are available to rent locally, including the prices. Please let us know before you travel what equipment you would like to rent so that we can have it ready for you in advance. You can call us on 0203 143 4293 to request a copy of our Kilimanjaro Gear List.
Wayfairer Top Tip: Unfortunately from time to time checked-in luggage gets lost or delayed on the way to Tanzania, therefore we recommend that you wear a hiking outfit on the plane (including a long sleeve shirt, hiking trousers, socks, sock liner, and hiking boots). In your hand baggage you should bring your waterproof jacket and trousers, insulated jacket, toiletries, medications, camera and all paperwork. It is important that you wear your hiking boots on the flight as if these are delayed or lost in your luggage you will need to buy a new pair and wearing a different pair of boots on your climb will be uncomfortable and may cause blistering.
Visa requirements: British nationals require a passport with at least one blank page and six months' validity, plus a visa to enter Tanzania. Single entry visas are available upon arrival at Tanzanian airports (currently $50) or you can obtain one in advance. Click here for further information about visas.
Arrival: We recommend that you fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (airport code JRO). The flying time from London Heathrow to Kilimanjaro International is approximately 11 hours, depending on airline schedule.
We recommend the following airlines: British Airways/Precision Air (via Nairobi), Kenya Airways (via Nairobi) and KLM (via Amsterdam).
A Wayfairer representative will meet you at Kilimanjaro Airport and transfer you to your accommodation in Arusha. The following morning your local guide will meet you at your accommodation and then you’ll have a scenic drive to Londorrosi Gate (starting point for the Lemosho Route), located in the western base of Mt Kilimanjaro. On the way you may stop at local shops to pick up the perishable items for your trek and this also have an opportunity to pick up some energy bars and any other light snacks you might like to take in your day pack. If you are renting equipment, such as sleeping bags and hiking poles, then we will also take you to the rental shop this morning to pick up these items. After your team has completed all the registration formalities with the park authorities your Lemosho trek begins on the lower slopes of the mountain.
Vaccinations: Visitors to Tanzania should ensure that they have Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Tetanus vaccinations. There is a high risk of malaria in most areas of Tanzania, therefore anti-malaria medication is recommended and you should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Avoid mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and long trousers especially after sunset, using insect repellents on exposed skin and sleeping under a mosquito net.
With the exception of the rainforest section, there are almost no mosquitoes on Mt Kilimanjaro due to the height above sea level; however you might want to consider taking anti-malaria medication, especially if you’re going on a safari in Tanzania either before or after your climb. Please be aware that some anti-malarial medicine may have side-effects. We recommend that you consult your doctor for advice on whether or not to take malaria prophylaxis and about the effect of altitude on the effects of your malarial medicine.
Travel Insurance: It is essential that you obtain travel insurance which covers you for trekking at altitude (up to 6000m). We offer an insurance policy via Campbell Irvine which provides cover for trekking on recognised routes on Mt Kilimanjaro and includes helicopter rescue and repatriation. Please ask us for a quote.
If you’re considering climbing Mt Kilimanjaro we’d love to help you with your plans. As well as the trek itself, we will take care of all your Tanzania arrangements including international flights, transfers, and pre and post trek accommodation. If you’d like to experience a safari before your trek or enjoy a well-deserved break on the paradise island of Zanzibar afterwards, we can help with that too. Please call our Luxury Travel Specialists on 0203 143 4293 or send an online enquiry to start your journey.