Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro is every hiker’s dream. If you should get the opportunity to make this dream come true, take it! You will never forget the experience. Mt. Kilimanjaro offers some of the best hikes this side of the world, and you should enjoy it very much. In addition, you will go back home with great lessons.
Africa changes people! You cannot visit and remain the same. Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is unique. It is the highest peak in Africa, standing at a majestic 19,341 feet high. However, the height of the mountain does not matter, but the unique experience that you will get there … that will make some of the greatest stories that you will tell your grandchildren one day.
Getting ready for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro
Research about hiking Mt Kilimanjaro
Firstly, Africa is not a country; it is a continent. Mt. Kilimanjaro is in the Kilimanjaro National Park. That means you will be in for some wonderful sightings of the wealth of animals unique to Africa, including the big five beasts which are the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. There is also a wealth of other animals like cheetah, many varieties of antelopes, wildebeest, wild dog, African crocodiles, snakes, and birdlife to last you a lifetime. You will have more than your fair share of flora and fauna collected in one place.
Mt. Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano. There are many of those in Africa, you know. However, you will not see much of the crater since a lot of erosion has taken place over time and actually, very little is known about the volcanic structure. However, there is much more to see than the volcanic cone, and you will find that even one visit is not enough.
Know the best time to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. This is a long climb and therefore, you need to set aside enough time for it. You do not have to climb the entire length, but if you are an ardent adventurer, you know that not finishing the climb to the top will haunt you for the rest of your life.
One thing that you will find out when looking for information about hiking Mt Kilimanjaro is that you cannot be allowed to do a self-guided hike. Park regulations say that you should register with an agency and that they (the agency) provide you with a crew. So, perhaps even before you leave home to fly to Africa, you need to find a good agency, or go work with one based in Tanzania, or Kenya.
Best time for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro
The dry seasons are the best. These happen to be January and the middle of March and if you miss that, you can go there for the June to September season. The weather is fairly amicable then and you should enjoy the best hike of your life.
Visa and passport
There are so many things involved in getting ready for this long trek. Firstly, you will need a tourist visa to enter Tanzania. You can check with the foreign office whether you can get one on arrival to Tanzania.
Your passport must be at least six months from expiry. The more the better.
Book your tickets, book your hotel room in advance, but if you are using a travel agency from home, they should be able to do that for you, so that you can concentrate on other preparations.
The major international airports that you can fly into include Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Nairobi and then you can organize another flight to Kilimanjaro Airport, which is the closest to Mt. Kilimanjaro. Do fly into Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar since both are in the republic of Tanzania, instead of traveling to Nairobi, which is in Kenya, but hey, it was just a suggestion.
Travel and medical insurance
Ask your insurance provider whether your medical cover is applicable even when you are traveling to Africa. If not, just look for travel insurance with medical cover. This is important for evacuation, repatriation of remains if the worst happens and so on.
Your hiking gear
You need to get your backpack ready. In it should go all the gear that you will take with you for hiking. This includes tent, hiking clothes, water, food and so on. However, find out online the items that you can find in Tanzania so that you can buy there. Cities like Moshi, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi have excellent malls where you can find everything you may need. However, do carry your portable water filter, hiking boots, GPS, clothes and personal items from home. You can refer to our how to pack a backpack for hiking article to know how to get ready.
Buy a good pair of hiking boots and make sure you break them a few weeks before you leave. You will also need a good warm jacket because the mountain gets colder as you climb higher. It is recommended that you buy a fleece jacket with down fill. You can get such at a sports and outdoor store or order one online.
Get a good quality travel backpack, one that will withstand the rigors of traveling. You can see my reviews for some of the best backpacks here. One hiker to another, you know that hiking boots and the pack are the two most important gear for hiking.
Do not forget to bring your camera, mobile phone, iPod, compass and an extra SD card to store your pictures and videos for Africa offers diverse scenery that you will want to capture.
Your health and fitness
You will need a yellow fever certificate, and perhaps you should take some malarial tablets or medication, tsetse flies and everything else that your doctor tells you. CDC has more information about that too.
Many people ask just how fit they need to be before climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Well, there is no definite answer to this, but you should be enjoying a level of fitness. However, do not exert yourself too much. Your tour guide will tell you that most people who give up halfway on their climb do not do that due to poor shape, but it is because of altitude sickness. But do start working out a few months before the climb. That will help you.
How can you train for the hard climb ahead of you? One of the things that most people do is to pack their pack and then hoist it on their shoulders, then hit their inclined treadmill. Do that every day a few weeks, or at least a month before your hike and it will get your body accustomed to the hike at high altitude.
What matters most is your mental attitude. Remember, if you think you can do it, you can and if you do not think you can do it, you cannot, in which case you would be right. Be positive; do not be daunted by the climb. If others can do it, you too can do it. Savvy?
Choosing the best trek route for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro
Mt Kilimanjaro has many hiking routes. You can choose the one you would like to follow or you can ask the agency to assist you pick a route. Basically, what you need is a route that will first take you some time before you can start climbing. This allows your body, mind and system to acquaint itself with the climate. The climb will be easier that way.
The longer the route, the more the expenses but hey, this mountain is not a joke. It is big and menacing as many people discover too late. Taking the shortest route that takes you direct to the foot of the mountain is not advisable, especially for newbies. Some people recommend that you take the Lemosho Glades route, which will take you 8 days to and fro. You can also take the Machame Route, which will take you just about the same time.
Many hikers choose to avoid the Marangu Route because it does not have as much scenery as the other routes. However, there is more than enough flora and fauna to make your climb very interesting.
If you have hiked high altitudes before, you may want to take shorter routes that take 5 days. However, it is better to extend your time to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Africa.
Money for hiking
You will need money because hiking in Africa can be expensive, especially when you take Mt Kilimanjaro because you are required to have a guide and crew. So make sure you carry enough money with you. In addition, Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted and so you should have an easy time. By the time of publishing this article, 1 US dollar was equal to 2236.20 Tanzanian shillings.
Change your money at the hotel as hotels have fairer exchange rates. Also, do not carry too much cash on you, just enough.
Notify your bank that you will be traveling so that you can withdraw your money from ATMs in Africa without any trouble. Sometimes, your credit card can be blocked if they spot withdrawals from another country. It is better to be safe than sorry when hiking in Africa.
Travel as light as you can
That is right, pack light. This is a vigorous climb. Once you have created your backpacking checklist, commence cutting everything in half. The only thing that you cannot skimp on is your hiking boots, your jacket and other personal items. Whatever you can buy in Tanzania, do not carry from home.
Water for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro
In the full glare of the African sun, it is easy to be dehydrated. Carry your own water and then refill your water bottle frequently to keep it full always. Do not drink unfiltered water. Bring your own portable water filter. The guides know the routes that have water, and the crew will carry a lot of it too. Drink often. When you get to the peak, you may not feel the urge to eat at such a high altitude, but do carry some snacks all the same.
Making your Kilimanjaro hike complete
Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro alone is not enough. Make your visit to Tanzania complete by visiting some of its famous nature reserves. You can even catch the wildebeest migration, which is a huge migration of herbivores like wildebeest, zebra, antelope, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles, impala, buck, eland and many more. Predators follow the migrating herbivores. It is something that you do not want to miss. If you have the time, skip to Zanzibar and eat in the underwater restaurant. You will see why Tanzania is one of the best safari countries in Africa.