Kilimanjaro Climbing Guide

Here is everything you would possibly need to know to climb Kilimanjaro

Machame Route

Being the most popular route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Machame Route offers a host of scenic views and diverse landscapes. Statistics from the Kilimanjaro National Park show that almost 50% of the trekkers who climb Kilimanjaro choose the Machame Route, which often proves to be a tough option due to steep ascent and long treks. Owing to this, it is often referred to as the ‘Whiskey Route’ to differentiate it from the Coca Cola Route (Marangu Route) in terms of intensity.

Machame can be ascended in 6-7 days, with the 7-day trek being the recommended option and used by most Kilimanjaro operators for a better acclimatization process. This also drives up the success rate.

The following table gives an account of a typical 7-day climb -

DayStartAltitude (m)Altitude (m)FinishAltitude (m)Altitude (m)Time (hrs)Distance (kms)Distance (mi)
1Machame Gate16405380Machame Camp285093505-7117
2Machame Camp28509350Shira 2 Camp3810125004-653
3
Shira 2 Camp381012500Lava Tower4630151904-574
Lava Tower463015190Barranco Camp3976130442-332
4Barranco Camp397613044Karanga Camp3995131064-553
5Karanga Camp399513106Barafu Camp4673153314-542
6
Barafu Camp467315331Uhuru Peak5895193417-853
Uhuru Peak589519341Mweka Camp3068100654-6127
7Mweka Camp306810065Mweka Gate164053803-4106
 Total6237

The route starts with green rainforests at the foot of the mountain (800 m - 3000 m) where the humidity is high and light showers are common. As the altitude increases, low bushes can be found along the Shira Plateau in the lower alpine zone. The humidity decreases here but so does the temperature, which can fall to sub-zero levels as the evening approaches. The route then transcends the high-alpine zone, consisting of an arid-desert environment, before moving on to the southern glacial zone which is characterized by typical arctic conditions.

 

Here are the various campsites along the route:

  1. Machame Camp (3026 m)
  2. Shira Camp (3766 m)
  3. Barranco Camp (3900 m)
  4. Karanga Camp (used by 7-day climbers, especially for acclimatization, 3960 m)
  5. Barafu Camp (highest camp before summit, 4546 m)

Pros and Cons of Choosing the Machame Route

Every route is accompanied with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the pros of choosing the Machame Route:

  • The route is a treat to the eyes by being extremely scenic and is covered with beautiful landscapes.
  • Machame offers amazing benefits when it comes to acclimatization. The route naturally follows the ‘climb high, sleep low’ rule by rising quickly to high altitudes and then descending again on the same day, thus facilitating to camp in a recommended manner. The acclimatisation process is facilitated better by the steep ascent in the initial leg of the trek.
  • Machame fares to be greater than average when it comes to costs, owing to the time it takes to traverse it, since the price of a trek is directly proportional to the number of days it takes. But, since camping is allowed on the route, and one can carry his/her gear and tents along and use them for cheap accommodation. In addition to this, the route also offers fully catered camping.
  • This is one of the shorter routes and experienced trekkers can reach the summit in only 5 days.
  • The success rate of Machame is good with about 85% - 90% of the climbers who opt for the 7-day trek reaching the summit.
  • The rocky trek right before the summit is easier to traverse on foot as compared to that of other routes like Rongai.

 Apart from these, there are also a few cons associated with the route:

  • Being extremely popular, this route is usually very crowded, especially during the peak seasons. This might be a turnoff for some trekkers who would have been hoping for a quieter experience with nature.
  • The summit has to be ascended during midnight. This can prove to be a bit challenging since the last mile is often the hardest in such treks.
  • A host of different temperatures is encountered on the way, with day and night temperature variations becoming more intense with rising altitudes.
  • A higher level of physical fitness and mental preparation is required as compared to the Marangu route. Machame can put your body under mild stress if you are not prepared for what’s ahead.

 Cost of Trekking Kilimanjaro via Machame Route

Although we take care of all your expenses when you choose one of our packages to trek Kilimanjaro, you should know the break up of what you are paying for. The entry fee at Mount Kilimanjaro National Park constitutes a major percentage of the cost of the package.

One might be tempted to go for cheap operators who might offer you packages as low as $1000. This number is highly misleading and you may actually end up with the worst trekking experience of your life in terms of quality. Such a package barely covers the basic entry fees of the park.

Here are the various costs involved in terms of the park fees:

1) One-Time Fees

  • Rescue Fees: 20$ per person

2) Per Day Fees

  • Entry Fees (or Conservation Fee): $70 per person
  • Entry Fees for Guide and Porters: 3500 Tanzanian Shillings (TZS), which converts to about $1.6 per person. This will include their entry as well as camping or hut fees. (There can be up to 3-5 helpers per person).

3) Per Night Fees

  • Camping or Hut Fee: $50 - $60 per person

4) Value Added Tax (VAT)

The Government of Tanzania has also imposed 18% VAT on all Kilimanjaro Treks starting from July, 2016. Hence, all headers mentioned above come under this tax bracket.

Once you put everything together for a 6-7 day average trek, the entry fees alone can go up to as much as $800 - $900 per person!

Machame as Compared to Other Kilimanjaro Routes 

There is no perfect route for all trekkers and it completely depends on the trekking prowess and requirements of one person to another which makes the route a good fit for him/her. Although Machame is considered to be an easy route to the summit, if you are looking for a more comfortable route, Marangu would be a better choice.

When it comes to acclimatization, Machame proves to be much better than Marangu, Rongai, Shira as well as Umbwe. But if acclimatization is your primary focus, the Northern Circuit will be your best bet because of its 360-degree traverse (though it is the longest route and quite expensive).

Before choosing Machame, it is important to keep in mind that a minimum of 6 days are required for the trek (with the recommended period being 7 days). Hence, if you do not have so much time in your schedule, routes such as Marangu or Umbwe are better options and can be covered in 5 days.

Also, if you’re looking forward to trekking the ice fields of the southern circuit, both Machame and Umbwe are good options. Both of these routes depart from the south-western portion of Kilimanjaro and approach the southern circuit via Barafu and Stella Point.

To sum it up, compared to others on the list, Machame is a pretty balanced route in terms of - trek difficulty, expenses, trek length, trek duration and even the acclimatization profile. Hence, it can be easily understood why it is the most popular Kilimanjaro route today. But before you give in to its popularity, you should keep the research going and read about the offerings of other routes. here.

Here is an itinerary of the recommended 7 day Machame route trek that we have to offer.

Day 0: Pre-trek Briefing

If you have opted for airport transfers, you will be picked up from Kilimanjaro Airport or Arusha airport and transferred to your hotel in Moshi.

You should be planning such that you arrive at least one day before the start of the trek. Today we will spend in having a pre-trek briefing. Your equipment will be reviewed and rent any equipment which is needed.

Day 01 Machame Gate (1,790m/5,873ft) - Machame Camp (3,010m/9,875ft)

The drive to the Machame Gate starts around 9:00 am from Moshi. The team makes one last stop at a supermarket where the cook can pick up any last minute groceries or energy bars.

The park gate is situated 2 kms outside the Machame village. The entry gate is flooded with locals trying to sell/rent any climbing equipment like walking poles, hats, etc. Apart from the local salespeople, the gate is guarded by armed personnel of the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA). The park authorities use scales to weigh equipment carried by the porters and inspect all luggage being carried through the gate. The Porters Union allows a maximum of 15kgs/33lbs in addition to a personal bag to be carried by the porters.

Once the whole team is registered, the trek begins.The trail starts out being 3-4m/9-12ft wide on a well-marked forest road. An hour into the trek, the road turns into the real trail which is approximately 1.5m/4.5ft wide. The trail is wet, but it’s still a comfortable and easy climb.

Two hours later, the team breaks for lunch at about 2,400m/7,875ft. Lunch on Day 01 is usually a packed tiffin comprising of maybe a chicken leg, sandwich, egg, cake, peanuts and water. The menu may vary.

Post lunch the trail becomes more compact as the team moves through a jungle path which is narrower and steeper. An hour later, the jungle path transforms into a very foggy moorland. Monkeys can be spotted here hinting at the rich wildlife present in this area.

The six hours of walking finally comes to an end when the team reaches the Machame Camp (3,010m/9,875ft). Having crossed ahead of the team, porters would have set a camp complete with separate sleeping and dining tents. At this point, the team finally gets to relax and freshen up with a bowl of warm water that is provided to each member. This will be a daily routine for the next 6 days.

Dinner usually comprises of soup, a meat dish with rice, noodles or potatoes and dessert. Usually, the cook uses the heavier groceries during the first few days of the trek to make it easier for the porters to carry. Every operator provides excellent, well-cooked and nutritious food on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Day 02 - Machame Camp - Shira Camp (3,845m/12,615ft)

The first night on the mountain can be quite difficult due to the cold temperatures (+5 ℃/41℉ to +8℃/47℉), but it’s also one of the easier nights. Sunrise around 6:30 AM makes it easier to wake in the cold. Breakfast on the mountain usually comprises of sausages, eggs, toast and jam. After breakfast and a quick wash, the team moves ahead while the porters stay behind to pack up. Two hours later, porters will be overtaking the team to set up a fully functional camp at the next campsite. The trail from Machame Camp moves on north-east, getting steeper and narrower. Along the way, is a ridge that is barely 2 feet wide and obstructed by boulders, one can either climb over it or walk around it. During the rains, one must be cautious as the same path becomes extremely slippery. Narrow trails that test your foot-work will be an exuberating experience.

As the team gains altitude, air starts thinning out and the team takes breaks more often. While getting acclimated to the altitude headaches and nausea are common, However care must be taken to avoid Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS).The team breaks for lunch at 3,400m/11,115ft right before the most difficult leg of the day’s trek.

Finally, the team reaches a fully functional campsite, After the customary wash and dinner, sleep will come easy. Day 02 is probably one of the hardest walking days of the trek.

Day 03 - Shira Camp - Barranco Camp (3,960m/12,992ft)

The distance covered on Day 03 is 1,300m/4,265ft and the trail descends down past Lava Tower. However, the camp for the night is set up just about a 100m/330ft higher than the previous night. This gives trekkers better chances of acclimatization than the previous days. Ultimately, there are two routes you could take to get to the summit.

The first route trails towards the Lava Tower and over a black, sandy lava desert with large boulders. Once you’re out beyond the Lava Tower, the trail splits into two, with one leading to the east toward the climbing route ( Western Breach); the other goes south to Barranco Camp. The second route you could take is basically a shortcut which takes you straight from Shira Camp to Barranco Camp, saving you one day. The first route is usually the preferred route as an extra day on the mountain helps better with acclimatization.

The trail for today is comparatively an easy and navigable climb, However It’s the sudden elevation that will test your strength. Headaches and nausea are quite common at this point, but one must be careful and pay heed to the guide’s advice of walking slowly or ‘Pole Pole’ (meaning ‘slow’ in Swahili).

Today, the team will cross the famous Lava Tower after which the snowline is easily visible. Considering how close you are to snow now, even day temperatures can be close to freezing. The night is relatively decent, considering that the Barranco Campsite is much lower than the highest elevation covered on this day. This day is primarily for the team to grow better accustomed to the sudden elevation.

Barranco Camp is a bare stretch situated right across the Barranco Wall. The wall is also called the ‘Breakfast Wall’ by locals for it is to be climbed directly after breakfast. The Barranco Campsite also offers some beautiful views of the summit.

Once the sun sets, the campsite gets freezing. It would be best to head to bed early since the strenuous summit climb starts the next day. This is probably the team’s best opportunity to get as much sleep as possible.The chances of sleep reduce as the trek progresses due to higher altitudes and lower temperatures.

Day 04 - Barranco Camp - Barafu Camp (4,640m/15,223ft)

This leg of the trek requires the most strength to finish and can be very challenging for few. Many trekkers prefer splitting this stretch into 2 shifts to reduce the time spent on walking, save on energy and ultimately increase the possibility of reaching the summit.

Barranco Camp is common to all 3 routes - Machame, Lemosho and Umbwe. This means that there will be at least 300 people camping here. Due to this, the Barranco Wall stretch is extremely crowded and it is always advisable to leave as early as possible. The next night’s summit climb starts quite early almost at around 11:00 pm, which might not give you enough time to rest. So the earlier the team gets to the next camp, the more time they get to rest.

The initial half hour of the Barranco Wall climb is extremely difficult. Trekkers are required to use both their hands while climbing since the trail primarily comprises of rocks and ledges. It would be a good idea to keep all equipment attached to the backpacks to help with mobility and safety. The best way to accomplish this feat would be to climb slow and steady and take frequent breaks.

The trail after the Barranco Wall is a bare stone plateau with the clearest view of the 3 Kibo glaciers - Heim, Kersten and Decken. The trail continues on for another couple of hours till the team reaches Karanga Camp. This is where the team breaks for lunch. Headaches and altitude problems become more prominent.

If the team has decided on the 2-day variation, Karanga Camp is the stop for the night. If not, the trail carries on for another 2-3 hours of walking all the way till the Barafu Camp on a narrow gravel-filled path. An hour into the trail from the Karanga Camp the path all the way to Barafu Camp is easily visible. The Barafu Camp is not soft ground and the tents will be set up on gravel.

The wakeup call for the next night comes in as early as 11:00 pm, so the team is highly advised to keep the next day’s equipment packed and ready to go. The team’s guide will be debriefing the team on the midnight summit climb the night before itself. The summit climb is the most challenging part of the entire trek. The first few hours of the trek are in darkness with no sunlight with extremely cold winds. Warm clothing and other gear like headlamps (with batteries) have to be kept in place and ready.


Day 05 - Barafu Camp - Uhuru Peak (5,895m/19,341ft) - Mweka Camp (3,080m/5,512ft)

Summit night starts early at about 11:00 pm. The team starts to make their way up after a light breakfast shortly after midnight. The summit team only comprises of the trekkers, guides and his assistants. The porters stay down with the equipment and bags till the summit team returns.

The climb basically comprises of large rocks and slowly fades to gravel at the final slopes of the Uhuru Peak. Due to the freezing temperatures, it is advisable to keep a water bottle on you at all times to keep it warm, or just carry a thermos flask.

The climb ahead becomes steeper with every step and headaches can become heavier. It is at this stage that one should be wary of symptoms of Altitude Mountain Sickness. Symptoms include problems with one’s balance and language. If a team member starts to become delirious, the guide should be informed immediately in order to descent down at once!

As the team moves closer to the crater, they cross Stella Point at 5,740m/18,832ft where the team witnesses the first rays of the sun causing the glaciers to colour up beautifully. But this only lasts for a bit till the sun rises completely. From here on, it is only a half hour more till Uhuru Peak. The team will cross other glaciers before reaching the final point, Hans Meyer Point. Now, the team has successfully reached the summit of the roof of Africa! The view from the top is spectacular and definitely worth the 5-6 day ordeal.

However, they can not stay up on the summit for too long due to the high elevation, hence the descent down has to be made quick. 3 hours back down and the team reaches Barafu camp where the cook has a lovely lunch prepared for the summit team. Post lunch, the whole team, including the porters move down to Mweka Camp (3,080m/10,105ft) where they set camp for the night.

Day 06 - Mweka Camp - Mweka Gate (1,680m/5,512ft)

The final day begins like any other with a hearty breakfast and then everyone assembles to settle the tips for all the porters. Once that is settled, everything is packed for the final stretch downward. The climb down is very simple and almost feels like a forest trail. The further you go down, the greener the forest gets with prominent sounds of wildlife. Closing in on civilization young local children gathering firewood greet the team.

All successful climbers can write their name in the climbing book and this is usually the part of the trek for final pictures! The teams are always advised to meet up with the guide and the others later in the hotel for some celebratory drinks!