There are six official routes on which one can complete a Mount Kilimanjaro hike. They are the Lemosho and Shira from the West, Machame and Umbwe from the South-west and South respectively, the Marangu from the South-east and the Rongai route from the North-east. The Mweka route is used for descent only.
The number of days on each of the six main routes and their respective variants obviously varies. Here are the Kilimanjaro hike lengths by days:
Lemosho Route – 6, 7, 8 day route variations – Ideal length for the average hiker on this route is 7 days. Lemosho has a great route altitude profile and high success rates. If you elect to take the Northern Circuit from day three you will usually lengthen your Kilimanjaro hike by 2 to 3 days for a total of 8 or 9 days on the mountain.
Shira Route – same as Lemosho, although this route has a much higher start point and therefore many trekkers struggle with acclimatization. Poor altitude route profile and low success rates
Machame Route – 6 or 7 day route variations, both route variations provide the best climb high, sleep low option on Mount Kilimanjaro. Good for acclimatization and high success rates. The 7 day is ideal although the six day is fine for fit trekkers with some experience of high altitude hiking
Umbwe Route – 5, 6 or 7 day route variations – one of the steepest and fastest ascents on Kilimanjaro and therefore not great for acclimatization unless one chooses the 6 or 7 day variations. If you elect to do the technically challenging Western Breach you will usually spend 6 days on the mountain
Marangu Route – 5 or 6 day route variations – the only route on Mount Kilimanjaro with hut accommodation for the entire hike duration. The 5 day has a very rapid ascent profile and poor acclimatization – success rates for the 5 day trek tend to be the lowest on the mountain. If you choose to do the Marangu we highly recommend the 6 day variations which includes a climb high, sleep low day up to Mawenzi Peak
Rongai Route – 6, 7 and 8 day route variations – the only route that starts on the Kenyan side of the Mountain. Much dryer and flatter route. Six day ascents are too rapid for adequate acclimatization. The seven day variation includes a small climb high, sleep low opportunity and is recommended
Kilimanjaro hike distance
Kilimanjaro hike distance varies by route and the number days you choose to spend on the mountain.
Here are the various Kilimanjaro hike distances (note these are approximates only):
- Lemosho Route: 67 kilometers (41.6 miles)
- Shira Route: 66 kilometers (41 miles)
- Machame Route: ~62 kilometers (38.5 miles)
- Umbwe Route: ~51 kilometers (31.7 miles)
- Marangu Route: ~70 kilometers (43.5 miles)
- Rongai Route: ~72 kilometers (44.7 miles)
Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain
Mount Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain also varies by route. The steepest route is the Umbwe via the Western Breach. The Rongai Route has the flattest profile although the summit assault passage from the East via Gilman’s Point is relatively steeper than the Southern Passage via Barafu Camp and Stella Point.
Most routes begin at around 1,600-2,000 meters above sea level (5,200-6,500 feet) and then climb in increments of 800-1,200 meters (2,600-3,900 feet) a day in elevation.
Summit night via the southern and eastern passage is the largest Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain.
From Barafu Camp (4,680 meters) in the south to Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters) the elevation gain is 1,215 meters (~4,000 feet)
From School Camp (4,800 meters) or Kibo Hut (4,700 meters) in the east to Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters) the elevation gain is ~1,100-1,200 meters respectively (~3,700-4,000 feet).
Kilimanjaro hike difficulty
Like the Kilimanjaro length, distance and elevation gain, Mount Kilimanjaro hike difficulty varies by route.
But before we talk about routes it is important to put Mount Kilimanjaro’s hike difficulty within context. The hike itself is considered non-technical. This means that you do not need any technical climbing skills to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. In fact most people, regardless of age and physical fitness (within reason) can reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.
The thing that makes Mount Kilimanjaro a challenge is the altitude. Although the summit height is nowhere near the 7,000 and 8,000 meter behemoths in Asia, the route and summit assault passages on Kilimanjaro tend to be relatively rapid, as far as high altitude trekking goes.
For example, people who trek Everest Base Camp tend to take 10-12 days to reach EBC, which is 500 meters lower than the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. In contrast most trekkers on Kilimanjaro reach the summit in 5 or 6 days. The rapid ascent makes for challenging acclimatization conditions and means that many people suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms.
In terms of routes, some are easier than others. The most challenging passage is the Umbwe Route via the Western Breach and Crater Camp. The route is rapid, steep and involves scrambling.
The second most challenging route, due to its very high start point, is Shira. Most people struggle on this route because they haven’t had enough time to acclimatize – some feel the effects of altitude from day 1.
The shorter variations of the Machame, Lemosho and Umbwe via the Southern Circuit are also challenging due to acclimatization pressures and the need to contend with the Barranco Wall (which is considered a scramble in climbing terms). The longer variations on these routes provide for adequate acclimatization and therefore make the hike difficulty that little bit easier.
The Rongai is also a tough route as the opportunity to climb high, sleep low is limited. Nonetheless the route tends to be flatter and the longer variation provides enough time for acclimatization.