Kilimanjaro. The name itself is a mystery wreathed in clouds. It might mean Mountain of Light, Mountain of Greatness or Mountain of Caravans. Or it might not. The local people, the Wachagga, don't even have a name for the whole massif, only Kipoo (now known as Kibo) for the familiar snowy peak that stands imperious, overseer of the continent, the summit of Africa.
Kilimanjaro, by any name, is a metaphor for the compelling beauty of East Africa. When you see it, you understand why. Not only is this the highest peak on the African continent; it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland – elevation around 900 metres – to an imperious 5,895 metres (19,336 feet).
Kilimanjaro is one of the world's most accessible high summits, a beacon for visitors from around the world. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing and determination. And those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman's Point on the lip of the crater, will have earned their climbing certificates.
And their memories.
But there is so much more to Kili than her summit. The ascent of the slopes is a virtual climatic world tour, from the tropics to the Arctic.
Even before you cross the national park boundary (at the 2,700m contour), the cultivated footslopes give way to lush montane forest, inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates. Higher still lies the moorland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with otherworldly giant lobelias.
Above 4,000m, a surreal alpine desert supports little life other than a few hardy mosses and lichen. Then, finally, the last vestigial vegetation gives way to a winter wonderland of ice and snow – and the magnificent beauty of the roof of the continent.
About Kilimanjaro National Park
Size: 1668 sq km 641 sq miles).
Location: Northern Tanzania, near the town of Moshi.
128 km (80 miles) from Arusha.
About one hour’s drive from Kilimanjaro airport.
What to do
Six usual trekking routes to the summit and other more-demanding mountaineering routes.
Day or overnight hikes on the Shira plateau. Nature trails on the lower reaches.
Visit the beautiful Chala crater lake on the mountain’s southeastern slopes.
When to go
Clearest and warmest conditions from December to February, but also dry (and colder) from July-September.
- MARANGU ROUTE:
Attempting the climb by the Marangu route is the quickest way to the summit and also the most popular. This route approaches Kilimanjaro from the southeast, crossing the slopes via a variety of fascinating landscapes including moorland and forest, before changing to alpine and arctic. At the lower altitudes, there are good opportunities to observe a wonderful variety of mammals, birds, insects and plant-life, including towering eucalyptus trees and Colobus monkeys. Intrepid trekkers are accommodated in comfortable huts throughout this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. ..Full Itinerary
- MACHAME ROUTE
The Machame is actually the second most popular of the routes up Kilimanjaro. From the village at Machame (altitude: 1490 metres), the approach is from the south-west of the summit. Led by an expert guide and a team of porters and cooks, you at once enter into lush rainforest, as heavy rains frequently visit this side of the mountain. It can be a muddy and slippery experience! Alpine moorland is another characteristic landscape in the early stages of this ascent. During the ascent, an optional scramble up the imperious Lava Tower is an option - for those with energy to spare. .Full Itinerary
- RONGAI ROUTE:
Opened comparatively recently, the Rongai route begins from the northeast, near the border with Kenya. Perhaps not as scenic as some other routes, it nevertheless features truly unspoilt rainforest and attractive landscapes. Black and white colobus monkeys are often seen in the mountain forest zones, with elephants occasionally encountered on the high moorlands. With a profile similar to the popular Marangu Route, but with less trekkers, this is a slow, gradual but challenging ascent up the king of Africa's mountains. Accommodation on the climb is in tented camps - real mountain adventure! .
- LEMOSHO ROUTE
The trek using the Lemosho route starts above the Londorosi Gate, already at an altitude of 2360 meters. This route takes longer, is often considered to be the most scenically-varied, and as a newer route it experiences lower numbers of trekkers. More time is spent in the atmospheric rainforest and the extra time spent acclimatizing means a high success rate in reaching the summit. Trekkers enjoy a more remote experience than on the more popular routes and there may be chance encounters with elephant, buffalo, leopard, colobus monkeys and other mammals on Day One. Lemosho route is a real favorite for photographers .