Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa attracting over 35,000 climbers annually. Trekkers can choose between seven different route options (Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe). Here we take a closer look at the Marangu, Machame routes which are the most popular options and combined account for nearly 85% of visitor traffic to the mountain. Each route offers a uniquely different experience so it’s worth getting the facts before you make a selection.
Huts (Marangu Route) vs Camping (Machame Route)
The hut experience on Marangu vs. the camping experience offered by Machame is perhaps the biggest consideration and difference between the two routes. Marangu offers an extensive system of well developed huts, shared dinning lodges and developed bathrooms. The huts are commonly shared between 4 persons although the higher Horombo Hut has a mix of dorm and quad shared rooms and Kibo is completely dormitory style. The bathrooms at Horombo Hut and Mandara are well maintained with flush toilets and solar lighting. The dinning lodges are comfortable, clean and offer a good place to get out of the weather and socialize. If you are not used to camping and are looking for a slightly more comfortable experience the Marangu Route is the way to go. Even if you’re an experienced backpacker and are looking at going during one of the wetter times of the year it’s also a good choice as the huts are comfortable and dry. If your excited about a camping and this is an important part of the experience consider Machame or one of the other less used routes.
Route Popularity: Marangu vs Machame
The Machame Route is the most popular with 45% of trekkers using this route as compared to 40% on the Marangu Route. This was not always the case but has steadily increased in popularity as it gives trekkers a longer period for acclimatization and hence slightly higher success rates. Both routes see a good number of trekkers and the options for solitude are not as good as the lesser used, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe Routes. The Tanzania National Park Service does a relatively good job (considering it’s a third world country) of maintaining the trails and keeping them clean. Even if you take one of the lesser used routes you will still encounter a decent crowd on the summit day when all the routes converge neat the top.
Distances Walked: Marangu vs Machame
The Machame Route is 62 km which is typically hiked over 6 days and the Marangu Route is 70 km and hiked over 5 days so that the average daily hike is a bit longer. The Machame route while shorter involves more up and down climbs so while the distances are shorter it’s not necessarily easier hiking although it does leave one better acclimatized for the summit day.
Acclimatization: Marangu vs Machame
Machame is a six day route and Marangu a 5 day route so Machame offers a better opportunity for acclimatization mostly due to the time factor. It’s possible to add an extra day for acclimatization to either route and if Marangu is done as a 6 day trek it’s probably about equal to Machame in terms of the opportunity for acclimatization. Some might argue the old adage “climb high and sleep low” makes Machame a better option even if the amount of time is equal since it brings hikers to a higher elevation and then back down for sleeping. This seems a moot point for me since the body can only acclimatize so quickly (about 300m a day) and extra acclimatization hikes are not a substitute for time. The 5 day Marangu route means you need to climb 4,000m/13,000to reach the summit in just 3 and half days making acclimatization more of a challenge.
Scenery: Marangu vs Machame
The Machame route probably has a slight edge on the scenery in large part because the route up and down is different (starting at the Machame Gate and ending at the Mweka Gate) while the Marangu retraces the same route in both directions. Regardless, both routes are scenic and traverse the same range of ecosystems from tropical jungle, to mountain heath, alpine and finally apex or arctic. The Lava Tower site and the steep Barranco wall are standout features on the Machame Route. While the Marangu Route offers superb views of Mount Mewenzi, an extinct cone of Kilimanjaro and Africa’s third highest peak.
The Summit Day: Marangu vs Machame
Reaching the summit from Machame is probably easier but only by the slightest amount. The trail to the summit ridge from Barafu camp is probably slightly better but just as steep. The distance to the actual summit is shorter once the summit ridge is obtained from the Machame route and less time is required on the summit ridge where the elevation is the highest on the climb. Whatever differences exist between these two routes are small and I don’t think this should be a deciding factor in picking a route.
Costs and Time: Marangu vs Machame
The Marangu route is know as the “Coca Cola” route for a reason. It’s the shortest and least costly route to the summit. The lower costs can be explained by the difference in time and the fact that fewer porters are needed as camping gear does not need to be carried. We offer both routes with Marangu ($1589) as a 7 day package and Machame ($1689)as an 8 day package.
The Other Routes: Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe
Lemosho Route : The first 2 days before connecting with the Machame or beautiful and pristine with chances for wildlife sightings. The trek from day 3 onward follows the Machame Route. The extra time give one an opportunity for acclimatization.
Shira Route : The drive to the trailhead is spectacular with views of wildlife and the Rift Valley. The downside is the trail quickly ascends to 4000m so unless climbers are already pre-acclimatized its not the best option.
Rongai Route : The Rongai route ascends the mountain from the northeastern side and requires a long drive to the trail head. Trekkers are rewarded with solitude and a unique mountain experience. Its usually done in 8 or 9 days and provides a good amount of time for acclimatization.
Northern Circuit: This 8 or 9 day circuit connects the north and west side of Kilimanjaro. It is pristine and scenic with plenty of solitude and time for acclimatization.
Umbwe: This route previously used the Western Breach (now closed) to reach the summit and instead now connects with the Machame Route and traces the same route. The first night is spent in the scenic Umbwe Cave Camp.
Success Rates on the different Kilimanjaro Routes.
The park service does not keep track of success rates to the summit for the various routes so published estimates are derived from local sources and may not be correct. According to a variety of online sources the Machame Route has nearly and 95% success rate and the Marangu Route is nearly 80%. Other routes such as Rongai and Lemosho routes are approximately 95% and the Shira Route is 86%. In general the success route is directly correlated with the amount of time spent on the mountain (more time equals better acclimatization).