Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain (5,895 meters). To be in its presence either near or far, and to see the grandeur of its giant dome tower so far, far up into the sky above the surrounding plains is one of life’s great travel experiences. You can but gaze at it in wonder and awe and feel deeply humbled by the sheer magnificence of it. No wonder so many travelers want to get there, be there, embrace it, climb it. It is a volcano and arises alone out of an expansive landscape of hills and plains that are level. This makes it the world’s highest peak as measured from the surrounding plains to its summit.
Kilimanjaro was known by reputation way back in ancient times, and of course the local people knew it well, with its awesome presence woven into their folklore and religions. The first Europeans to approach it and try to describe it were the German missionaries Johan Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann who traveled to Africa in the mid nineteenth century. Krapf’s account of the snowy top was widely disbelieved at first because ‘How could snow exist so near to the equator…?’
The German geographer Hans Meyer accompanied by Austrian Ludwig Purtscheller was the first person to reach the top, but only on his 3rd attempt in 1889. He was almost certainly accompanied by his senior porter Yohani Kinyala Lauwo from Marangu who would have been the first local person to reach the top – and reputedly without shoes! It became a National Park in 1973 and a World Heritage site in 1987. The mountain originally comprised 3 volcanoes Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira that were formed about 1 million years ago. Mawenzi ceased erupting and Shira collapsed while Kibo continued erupting until about 150,000 – 200,000 years ago and is still technically only dormant. The very highest point was named Uhuru Point after Tanzania’s independence in 1961.
When to visit
The weather on Kilimanjaro varies by altitude, time of year and time of day and conditions are very unpredictable. Popular times to visit include June–October and December–March when the sky is clear and the mountain top is easily seen. Most people avoid April and May, when there are heavy monsoon rains. However, the climb can be done provided you have proper climbing clothing and equipment.
All adults of normal health and fitness should be able to make it to the top and without needing specialist equipment. Warm, weatherproof clothing and sound footwear are essential. Of critical importance is patience and determination. Today there are over 50,000 attempted summits per year and over 90% conquer the summit. Climbers are advised to add days for acclimatization and always ‘walk slow’. Remember that Swahili Proverb “A hasty person misses the sweet things”!
There is so much more to Kili than her summit. Your hike will take you up through lush rainforest to a moorland zone with giant heather and lobelias, and then on up through Afro Alpine montane desert, and on up still further to an Arctic landscape of ice snow and rock and without vegetation. And here on the roof of Africa in clear weather the views are spell binding. Mount Meru, the Rift Valley, Maasailand all lie there below you.
There are at least 7 routes up the mountain ranging from 5 to 9 days or longer, and anyone planning to climb Kilimanjaro is strongly advised to do it with a reputable registered local tour operator employing trained guides who have a strong track record of success, and who know of the latest ground conditions.
There is a possibility of seeing wildlife while climbing Kilimanjaro, as there is a lot of it in the forests and moorlands including, elephant, buffalo, leopard, warthog, bush pig, waterbuck, bushbuck, several species of monkey, and lots of birds. There is a chance of seeing some or all of these on the hike up the lower and upper slopes.
Moshi town is where many climbers stay before their climb and there are a host of hotels and lodges that cater for them, including some near the entry/exit gates.
Arusha also has lodges and hotels where climbers can stay before travelling to Moshi for the climb. On the mountain itself the different routes have their specific places to overnight and the accommodation ranges from well-appointed huts on the Marangu Route to camp grounds where you pitch your own tents. The situation on the mountain constantly evolves and so take the advice of the outfitter with whom you will conduct your climb.
Air. Kilimanjaro International Airport is the main arrival point for international travelers and is about 45 minutes from Moshi town. Local arrivals can fly by scheduled or private charters to Arusha or Kilimanjaro for travel to Moshi.
Road. There are good tarmac roads accessing Moshi from all the main towns and cities of Tanzania. Marangu is where the National Park Headquarters is situated, and is 86 kms from Kilimanjaro International Airport.
Climbing Kilimanjaro fits in well with a safari to the rest of Tanzania, and indeed great wildlife areas are so accessible by air or road that it would be a great pity not to plan this into your travels. Arusha, Mkomazi, Tarangire, Manyara are all well within a day’s driving of Moshi town, while an air charter can take you to the Serengeti and any other corner of the country.