Lemosho, Machame and the Northern Circuit are the best routes up Mount Kilimanjaro, in terms of overall performance and hiking experience. Because altitude sickness is the leading cause of most Kilimanjaro summit failures, trekking routes that provide excellent acclimatization opportunities will not only improve your chances of reaching the summit, but will also make for a much better hiking experience. After the Serengeti National Park, which invites an average of 330,000 visitors annually, Mount Kilimanjaro is the second most popular travel destination in Tanzania. With about 16,000 hikers that attempt to climb the mountain every year, the overall Kilimanjaro performance for the 7 established routes is significantly low. (1) Though this is the case, Kilimanjaro hikes have been effortless over recent years thanks to the rise of information on the internet. Better-informed hikers have learned to avoid shorter, risky trails in favor of long and gradual routes.
Table Of Contents
Except for the Western Breach route on Kilimanjaro, which requires helmets due to loose rocks, climbing Kilimanjaro is not difficult and requires no technical skills or technical equipment.It is simply a lengthy trek along gradual and easy trails. The major physical challenge most hikers face is the risk of fatigue, which is mainly caused by long hiking intervals and very little room for physical recovery after hikes. This is why shorter routes on Kilimanjaro are deemed more difficult to hike than longer trails on the mountain.
Kilimanjaro Routes Difficulty
Things to also know:
Kilimanjaro Mountain & Other Seven Summits
|7 Mountains Ranked||Elevations|
|🇳🇵 #1. Everest||8,850m/29,035ft|
|🇦🇷 #2. Aconcagua||6,962m/22,829ft|
|🇺🇸 #3. Denali||6,190m/20,320ft|
|🇹🇿 #4. Kilimanjaro||5,895m/19,340ft|
|🇷🇺 #5. Elbrus||5,642m/18,510ft|
|🏳 #6. Vinson||4,892m/16,067ft|
|🇵🇬 #7. Carstensz||4,884m/16,023ft|
1. The Northern Circuit Route – Longest Trail
The Northern Circuit route on Kilimanjaro is an extension of the Lemosho route. It is the newest and longest trail, in terms of distance and number of days traveled. It’s also the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro’s summit from the north, which will give you a 360-degree view of the mountain. (2) The Northern Circuit offers incredible scenery, low traffic, and plenty of room to recover after hikes.
More importantly, the benefit of hiking this trail is the period spent acclimatizing at 4,630m before approaching the summit at Uhuru Peak. This is crucial because it becomes so much easier for your body to adjust up to 5,895m, when you’ve already acclimatized at 4,630m during your hike. This is the reason the chances of reaching Kilimanjaro’s summit via this trail are extremely high.
2. The Lemosho Route – Scenic Trail
Mount Kilimanjaro’s Lemosho route is one of the newer trails on Mount Kilimanjaro and the second best performing route on the mountain. It has quickly gained popularity among many hikers because it offers a great balance of low traffic, panoramic views and is generally easy underfoot. (3)
Just like the Northern Circuit route, the benefit of hiking this trail is the period spent acclimatizing at 4,630m (15,190ft) before approaching the summit at Uhuru Peak. This is because your body will effectively adjust much easier up to 5,895m, when you’ve already acclimatized at 4,630m during your hike. (4)
3. The Machame Route – Popular Trail
Mount Kilimanjaro’s Machame route, often coined the Whiskey route, is the most popular route up Kilimanjaro. (5) Though this is great for tourism, it may occasionally interfere with your hike when you’re forced to stop and lose momentum during the expedition. The only way to avoid heaps of crowds on this route is to leave camp early in order to beat everyone else to the trails. Otherwise, you’ll just have to schedule your hike during transitional months.
Like the Northern Circuit and Lemohso routes, the benefit of hiking this trail is the period spent acclimatizing at Lava Tower before approaching the summit at Uhuru Peak. This is because your body will effectively adjust much easier up to 5,895m, when you’ve already acclimatized at 4,630m during your hike.
4. The Rongai Route – Remote Trail
The Rongai route on Kilimanjaro is the only trail that approaches Kilimanjaro from the North and is a great hiking alternative for the rainy seasons. (6) This is because the Northern slopes of Kilimanjaro tend to receives less precipitation compared to other parts of the mountain. Aside from being one of the shortest routes on the Mont Kilimanjaro, it also happens to be the least frequented. This is a great benefit if you’d prefer to avoid traffic during the expedition or trek in utter solitude.
The route’s easy and straightforward trails makes this the 4th best performing route on Mount Kilimanjaro, right after the Machame trail. Furthermore, the route’s unspoiled wilderness sometimes offers a rare spotting of large mammals such as antelopes, buffaloes and even elephants.
5. The Marangu Route – Shortest Trail
The Marangu route on Kilimanjaro, also known as the Coca-Cola route, is the oldest and shortest route on Mount Kilimanjaro. Its short hiking duration and poor acclimatization landscapes makes this the worst performing route on the mountain. Despite this many hikers are often lured by the route’s budget hiking costs and established hut accommodations. (7)
The minimum days required for this route is five, although the probability of successfully reaching the summit in that time period is quite low. Marangu is recommended only during the rainy season, where hut accommodations are preferred over wet ground, or if you only have five days to climb Kilimanjaro. Otherwise, the Marangu route is a very poor route choice.
6. The Umbwe Route – Hardest Trail
The Umbwe route on Kilimanjaro is the hardest route on Mount Kilimanjaro and the second worst performing trail, after the Marangu route. This is because the route’s short and steep trails lead to quick ascents and does not provide necessary stages for acclimatization. (8) Aside from it’s poor performance, the route’s fast ascents is one of the reasons the trail is often used as a record-breaking route.
Unless acclimatized at 4,000m, prior to your hike, chances of reaching the summit using this route are extremely low. Non-other than experienced mountain leaders and mountaineers should consider trekking this route.
Kilimanjaro Route Comparisons
Lemosho, Machame, Rongai, Marangu, Umbwe, Shira and the Northern Circuit are the 7 established routes on Mount Kilimanjaro. As the Marangu, Machame, and Umbwe routes approach Kilimanjaro from the south, the Northern Circuit, Lemosho and Shira routes approach the mountain from the west. The Rongai route, which has low precipitation during the rainy period, is the only Kilimanjaro route that has access to the mountain from the north.
It’s worth noting that the Mweka route is only used for descents, while the Shira route, which runs parallel to the Lemosho route, is mostly used for evacuations. Except for the Marangu route, all routes on Kilimanjaro are “camping routes”. (9) Trekkers rest in sleeping tents rather than sleeping huts. Accommodations is often a common concern when hikers compare Kilimanjaro vs Everest Base Camp. It’s one of the reasons hikers are deterred from hiking the Mount Kilimanjaro.
1. Lemosho Vs Northern Circuit Route
The Northern Circuit and the Lemosho routes are essentially the same trail, except for the last two days of hiking. (10) While the Lemosho route pushes toward the summit, the Northern Circuit trail traverses around the northern breach. This extra room spent acclimatizing on the mountain, before pushing toward the summit, is the reason the Northern Circuit has a slightly higher 3% success score compared to the Lemosho route. Aside from that, you can expect similar acclimatization opportunities and beautiful scenic views on both hiking trails.
2. Lemosho Vs Machame Route
Lemosho and Machame share similar acclimatization landscapes, except for the first two days of hiking. This is the reason both routes are equal in performance, when comparing their 7 day hiking variations. Where Lemosho differs significantly from the Machame route is the option of spending an extra day on the mountain, which results in an 8% performance increase and more room for physical recovery. (11) Furthermore, hikers trekking the Lemosho route will experience beautiful forestry, at the beginning of their hike, and a possible rare sighting of small mammals.
3. Lemosho Vs Rongai Route
Lemosho is by far a much better hiking route than Rongai, in terms of performance and overall hiking experience. (12) The duration spent acclimatizing at 4,630m, before approaching the summit at Uhuru Peak, is what sets the Lemosho route apart from the Rongai trail. The 4,630m mark on Kilimanjaro is the single best equalizer on the mountain and, once past that point, your summit success can almost be guaranteed. This is why the Rongai route has a 5-12% success deficit, when measured against the Lemosho trail.
4. Machame Vs Rongai Route
The Rongai route is much easier underfoot but the Machame trail has much better acclimatization landscapes and, therefore, a 5% higher performance during expeditions. The Rongai route, on the other hand, has low traffic and is a preferred route for those looking for an alternative to the crowded Machame trail. Rongai is also great for those who are climbing during the rainy seasons because the north side of Kilimanjaro often receives less precipitation compared to other parts of the mountain.
5. Marangu Vs Machame Route
The Marangu trail doesn’t even come close when compared to the Machame route. The only benefit of trekking the Marangu route is the fast-speed internet and hut accommodations that come with its hiking programs. Aside from that there are no other benefits of hiking the Marangu trail. That’s because the Machame route has much better acclimatization opportunities and far more time for physical recovery. (13) This is why there’s a 43% performance difference between the Marangu trail and the Machame route.