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What You Need to Know About Climbing Kilimanjaro

June 19, 2020  By: Gretchen

Climbing the highest peak on the African continent is no small undertaking. If it’s something you’ve always dreamed of, it’s best to work with an expert to plan your ascent and we are here to help! There are many factors to consider when planning a Kilimanjaro climb, including safety, chances for success, the best time to go and more. We have answers to many frequently asked questions below and are happy to share our first-hand experiences with you, as well as answer any other questions you may have. Contact a Journey Specialist for more information on a Kili climb, or to start planning your own!

group at Kilimanjaro summit

When is the best time to go?

The best times to climb for weather (avoiding rain) are January to early March, and July to mid-October. The region has a long, dry winter and a green season with two rainy periods at each end. December, January, February and March are the warmest months, with clear mornings and evenings, and clouds building during the day that occlude the summit in the early afternoon hours. The relatively predictable patterns of weather make it a good time to climb.

The main rainy season lasts from the beginning of April to early June. At this time, dense cloud formations over the mountain reduce visibility, and you can expect frequent snowstorms on the summit and heavy rains on the lower slopes.

The longest and driest season runs from mid-June to mid-October. During this time, it can be very cold at night. During Kilimanjaro’s winter, there is a persistent dripping belt of clouds circling the whole mountain above the forests and the moorland, leaving the summit and a few other distant peaks poking through. Above the clouds it is usually clear and dry, and thus is one of the best times to plan the trek.

In late October, the clouds finally give way to rain, and until the middle of December, the mountain is often shrouded in heavy clouds, with persistent showers from base to summit. The best months to ascend the mountain are January, February, July, August and September. Avoid climbing during the April-May heavy rain season, and November (the short rains) if you can.

Andrew by Machame sign

What is the weather like on the mountain?

The entry gates are at about 5,000 feet above sea level and have moderate weather. The forest zone (from about 6,500 feet) is cool, damp/wet, with daily temperatures around 65 Fahrenheit and night-time temperatures in the 40s. The heather/moorland (up to 11,500 feet) has greater daily fluctuations and is often warmer during the day if the sun is out (up to 75 degrees), and colder at night (down to freezing). The alpine desert (up to 15,000 feet) has even more daily radiational heating and cooling, with daily highs up to 70 and nighttime temps always below freezing. The summit zone (over 15,000 feet) is always below freezing, but radiational heating from the sun creates a ‘microclimate’ which can make it feel quite hot during the day in the sun. Nighttime temperatures range from minus 15 to minus 20 depending on the season.

Chris holding AAC sign at top of Mount Kilimanjaro

What is the summit success rate for your climbers?

Success depends on personal fitness level and the number of days taken to climb, rather than the route. Since you’re likely only to climb Kilimanjaro once, we recommend you choose a trek which allows enough acclimatization time to reach the summit safely. Only about 50% of those on 5-day climbs reach the summit – because of that we do not plan trips fewer than six days so that our travelers have the best chance to reach the summit. Our average summit success rates are approximately:

  • 6 days: 75%
  • 7 days: 80%
  • 8 days: 90%
  • 9 or 10 days+: over 95%

We can do private climbs on any route for a variety of lengths (6-10 total days). We also offer group climbs, but the routing and number of days on the mountain cannot be changed. Note: our group climbs attract higher numbers June to October as more people choose to travel in those months.

campsite on Kilimanjaro

How can I avoid the crowds?

It’s impossible to say how many climbers will be on each route on any given day but the short answer is that January to March are less crowded than June to October on all routes and Shira will have fewer climbers than Machame. To encounter fewer climbers, we recommend a private climb.

lion cub in Serengeti

Can I go on safari too?

Yes! We encourage our Kilimanjaro climbers to add on a safari to make the most of their time in East Africa. Many of our climbers travel to wildlife parks in Tanzania, such as the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, after their climb and/or spend some time on a beach relaxing. Not sure where you’d want to go after your Kilimanjaro climb? Our Journey Specialists will design a custom safari to suit your interests.

hiker with Kilimanjaro behind him

What other Kilimanjaro resources do you have?

You can see some of our Kilimanjaro climbing routes here, learn more about climbing trip inclusions here and find out what a climb is like with a first-hand account from one of our travelers here. We can even sort out equipment rental so you don’t need to pack as much!

Are you ready to climb Kilimanjaro?

Photos courtesy of AAC travelers Dean and Lisette Clemons, AAC traveler Chris McCabe, AAC Journey Specialist Angie Voigt