Climbing Kilimanjaro? Read this guide packed with tips, as well as our personal experience, before you go.
It’s safe to say that we LOVE a challenge. And, back in 2018, desperate for something to shake up the mundaneness of life, we decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
And it was an experience we will never forget. Every single piece of training and all the effort that we put into the climb paid off when we reached the summit. This was the moment that really ignited our love for adventure and, ultimately, what influenced us to create The Adventure Manual.
Ready to start your own Kilimanjaro adventure? Let us take you through our very own journey up the mountain, sharing our personal tips and handy insights along the way.
Excited? You should be.
Ready to take on your first mountain challenge? Read our guide to the best mountains to climb for beginners.
When is the Best Time to Climb Kilimanjaro?
Wondering when to tackle Kilimanjaro? Generally, the best time to climb Kilimanjaro is during the dry season, which typically runs from late June to October, and from late December to February. These months offer the best weather conditions with a higher chance of clear skies and less precipitation.
The shoulder seasons of March to May and November to early December can still be a good time to climb, but the weather tends to be less predictable with a higher chance of rain and cloud cover. That said, these months offer less crowded trails and the opportunity to experience the mountain in a more peaceful environment.
How Long Does it Take to Climb Kilimanjaro?
If you’re wondering how long the climb will take, the answer is: it really depends, both on the route taken and your fitness level. As a rule, it takes around 5-9 days depending on the length of the trek you book.
The Rongai Route is the one we took, and we managed the climb in 6 days. However, we were also pretty lucky when it came to altitude sickness, so we didn’t need to spend as long a time acclimatising.
To give you an idea on the other routes – the Marangu Route takes around 5-6 days, while the Northern Circuit Route takes around 8-9 days.
Things to Know Before Climbing Kilimanjaro: Our Experience
We started our expedition on June 2nd, 2018 – this was the first time we had ever tackled a peak of this size and, after months of training, we were SO ready to push ourselves to the limit and summit Africa’s tallest mountain.
We chose to go in early June, during the edge of the rainy season, which meant fewer crowds on the mountain and (what we assumed was going to be) a more relaxed atmosphere. It also helped that we booked an all-inclusive tour, which made the logistics of the trip a breeze.
We highly recommend you do the same – our tour included airport pick up and drop off, accommodation, transport to and from the mountain, guides and porters, all food on the mountain, and all facilities on the mountain. This is standard for all tours and took a huge weight off our shoulders; we didn’t need to lug round back-breaking bags and had all meals taken care of.
All we needed to do was focus on the climb ahead.
Arriving in Tanzania
We flew from the UK to Kilimanjaro airport via Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – the flights were pretty pleasant and perusing Schiphol is always pretty fun. Once we arrived in Kilimanjaro Airport, the first thing we noticed was that the airport was very small. However, it was easy to get a visa at Kilimanjaro airport for $50 at the time in 2018 (it’s $100 for US citizens).
We recommend trying to schedule your flight to arrive during the day. It was our first time in Africa and our first big mountain climb, so it’s safe to say that we were a little bit on edge. Driving along the roads in pitch black was quite scary, but thankfully, our guide was waiting for us at the airport and took us to the hotel where we could rest and get ready for the adventure ahead.
At this point, we were pretty much just bundles of nerves – but the start of our journey was smooth and hassle-free, thanks to the all-inclusive tour and our knowledgeable guide. But the real challenge lay ahead: summiting Kilimanjaro.
Getting to Mount Kilimanjaro
We were fortunate enough to have only one other person on the tour with us, which meant we each had our own tent (which is practically as luxurious as a Kili climb can ever be). However, it’s worth noting that typically, you’ll be sharing a tent with one other person unless you specifically request otherwise.
The journey to the mountain was VERY bumpy, but it was all worth it once we started the climb. We took the Rongai route, which is on the side closer to Kenya, so the drive was quite long – around five hours – as we had to drive all the way around the mountain from where we were staying in Arusha.
It was well worth it though – the scenic views along the way made the journey all the more memorable.
We started our trek that afternoon and walked through the lush rainforest to reach the first campsite. We don’t want to scare you, but be careful of the red ants in this area as they like to bite (as we found out all too often). Don’t stress, though – they’re only found in the rainforest zone, so you won’t have to worry about them for the rest of the climb.
Once we arrived at the first campsite, the porters got to work setting up our tents and preparing a hot meal for us. We then had some downtime to relax and explore the area, taking in the stunning scenery around us (and shaking off those pre-climb nerves).
In the morning, we were served hot tea and coffee to warm us up, and we were able to use the basins to freshen up and wash. We also had a hearty breakfast to fuel us for the day’s climb – it was very much needed; make sure you fill up!
Along the way, some of the campsites had toilets. We don’t recommend using those if you can help it, though – they were very unclean. As well as this, your tour will provide a portable toilet that is set up at each camp – these were much better!
One of the reasons that this particular climb appealed to us so much is that every single day of trekking took us into a new climate zone, from rainforest to moorland, alpine desert, and arctic. We were constantly floored by the beauty of nature.
Avoiding Altitude Sickness
The climb itself wasn’t too difficult as we were physically fit. You don’t cover much distance each day, instead taking things slow so that you don’t climb much in altitude at a time to avoid altitude sickness.
Personally, we didn’t suffer from altitude sickness. This could have just been luck, but we made sure to drink as much as we could throughout the day and eat everything that the porters made. We focused on our breathing as we were walking to try to get in as much oxygen as possible. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we didn’t use Diamox.
If you’re worried, you really don’t need to be – the guides will check your oxygen level each day and assess how you’re feeling. Everyone in our group was feeling fine, so we were able to skip a day of acclimatising.
Each day, we slowly climbed higher until we reached the last camp before the summit. We were now at around 4800m and way above the clouds – the sunrises were insane (bring your camera and thank us later). Also, the clear skies offered some of the most amazing night skies we’ve seen with so many stars.
On the day before the summit, you’ll have dinner and then go to sleep at about 5pm. You get woken up at 11pm with a hot drink and a biscuit before you start the trek to the summit.
We were then faced with a 1000m+ climb in the dark to the top. By this point, we were physically pretty exhausted but super excited to reach the summit. The trail zigzags back and forth, but the guides (who were practically angels, by the way) will navigate the whole way for you.
At this height, the oxygen is now at 50% of that at sea level, and the temperatures can be as low as -20°C (that’s right, it gets bone-chillingly cold, so multiple layers are very much needed).
We reached the crater rim at 7 am, just after the most incredible sunrise we’ve ever seen. Then, because of the route we took, we had to walk around the crater to the summit on the other side. We reached the summit at 9:36am – later in the morning than most people, but it meant that we had the entire summit (and the opportunity to take photos with the famous sign) all to ourselves.
We found that the temperatures were freezing cold throughout the night, but from our experience, when the sun comes out in the morning, it was surprisingly pleasant. So much so that we had to start removing layers.
There was a thick layer of snow that had now frozen solid. But, don’t worry, because you will be able to rent crampons before you begin the climb – oh, and polarising sunglasses are also a must here.
On the 6th day, we made the final 30km trek to the bottom of the mountain. This part really took a toll on Chris’ knees, so just be careful coming down and take it easy as his sore knee really wasn’t pleasant on the 5 hour bumpy car journey back to the hotel.
Aside from that, it was a very enjoyable trek as we walked through the rainforest for half of it and got to spot lots of wildlife (mostly monkeys and the adorable tree hyrax).
When you arrive back, you’ll be presented with a certificate with the exact time and date of summit, before spending some much-needed time relaxing. And trust me, you’re going to want to do nothing but chill TF out.
We spent some time enjoying the fact that we made it, before heading home the next day.
Climbing Kilimanjaro: Final Thoughts
Overall, climbing Kilimanjaro was an incredible experience – it was well worth the training and effort we put into the run up.
If you’re looking to tackle the climb yourself, it’s worth noting that each trip will vary slightly depending on the tour company, route taken, time of year, and how long it takes you to acclimatise.
Personally, the biggest mistake we made was the lack of calorie intake on summit night. We didn’t eat enough for all the calories burnt and felt weak on descent after a long night of climbing. So, we highly recommend bringing lots of high calorie foods to keep you going.
Things to Know Before Climbing Kilimanjaro: Top Tours
Not sure where to start when it comes to booking a Mount Kilimanjaro trek? These are some of the best tours available right now…
- Intrepid Travel: Marangu Route
- G Adventures: Multiple Routes
- Exodus Travels: Rongai Route
- Kilimanjaro Climbing Company
- The Adventure People: Machame Route