Very few adventures ring true to the cliche of ‘adventure of a lifetime’, but climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is one of them.
The highest mountain in Africa, and the highest freestanding mountain in the world, at 5,895 meters this is one hell of a climb.
Kilimanjaro is popular because it’s a non technical climb, and doesn’t require any previous climbing experience to be able to safely reach the summit. You’ll trek through some truly incredible landscapes, and unlock personal transformation along the way.
But just because it doesn’t require technical experience doesn’t mean it isn’t a difficult achievement – it is. So before you start planning, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind.
Things to Know Before Planning Mt Kilimanjaro
How Many Days Have You Got?
Hiking Kilimanjaro usually takes 6-9 days depending on the route you take. There are six distinctive routes to the summit with different scenes, environments, and landscapes, and it’s up to you to choose which route you book.
While it might be tempting to try and summit as quickly as possible, consider opting for a tour which takes more time on the mountain, and gives you more opportunity to acclimatize to the altitude.
Altitude is a real challenge on Kilimanjaro; as you travel to high altitudes, the amount of oxygen in the air you are breathing declines. Altitude sickness is our body’s response to the low air pressure and reduced oxygen; less oxygen reaches the muscles and the brain, and the heart and lungs must work harder to compensate.
This is a potentially serious disease, though is preventable with proper acclimatization – the only real way to acclimatize though is to move slowly, and allow your body time to adjust. So we recommend opting for longer routes.
Lemosho Route and Machame Route are two of the most popular options for the hike, and they’re known to have the most beautiful trails. I personally chose the Machame route, which offers optimal altitude acclimatization and one of the best chances for summiting Uhuru Peak.
You Have to Use Professional Tour Guides
Climbing Kilimanjaro is relatively less complicated than other huge mountains in the world, but you can’t climb it on your own. The Government requires all tourists hire the services of tour guide.
This means you’ll join a small group, and there are plenty of tour companies and route options to find one which is customized to your fitness and interests. Your planning process will first start with researching and comparing tour operators.
Professional tour guides are important because they know the environment, and they monitor the decreasing oxygen levels and varying environmental conditions may take you by a surprise. They also provide food and first-aid services during the hike.
Incorporate Swimming into Your Training
If you’re planning on training for the trek, we recommend to incorporate swimming into your training routine. This is because being in the water prepares you for the lack of oxygen better than running or walking does.
Altitude is the biggest challenge on the mountain – while the climb itself is physically demanding, and you’ll definitely need a high level of physical fitness, you’ll also need to know how to deal with the lack of oxygen.
You don’t need to train in any expensive or fancy Hypoxic Training, but if there are high altitudes around you in the lead up, training in these settings will be beneficial. If you don’t have high altitude environments available for training, incorporate some swimming.
Choose Your Shoes
We recommend choosing your shoes before you start planning, as if you’re buying new hiking boots, you’ll need to have time to properly break them in.
It’s common to buy new shoes for a trek like Kilmanjaro, especially since the extremities of the mountain typically require quality boots which won’t wear out in the elements. And if you’re planning on doing this, MAKE SURE you break them in before you travel.
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. If you do not break in your shoes before the trek, you’re going to have blistered and broken feet. Select a pair of shoes before you start your pre-climb training, and wear them during this (unless you’re swimming of course!)
If you’re not undertaking any pre-climb training in the lead up, wear the shoes around the house as commonly and often as you can – even if you’re just walking around the block. Here’s a Kilimanjaro packing list beyond your shoes.
You’ll Need a Vaccination
We’re not talking about COVID-19 (though that situation may evolve in the future) – but you will need a Yellow Fever vaccination to enter Tanzania, so it’s important to know this in advance of your planning.
Yellow Fever is a mandatory vaccination, and you’ll need to present your certificate at immigration on entering the country. If you don’t have this proof, you may be forced to have an injection in an unknown backroom in the airport.
Yellow Fever is a disease found in subtropical areas of Africa and South America. This is a viral infection spread by mosquito’s, and the name comes from a complication of the disease which turns the skin yellow. The vaccine is highly successful in preventing the disease, which is why it is mandatory in Tanzania.
As part of your planning, you’ll need to contact your local travel doctor and book in for a vaccination.
Very Easy to Combine With Safari
You’d be missing out if you only went to Tanzania to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, as this is a fantastic opportunity to combine your trip with another once in a lifetime – an African Safari.
Kilimanjaro is located just south of the equator, next to the Serengeti. There are many decisions to make when planning your climb, from the route, to the time frame, and whether you believe in hiking poles.
But of all the options and choice, the best decision you’ll make will be to combine your climb with an African safari, another excellent Tanzania destination, which is usually the continent’s biggest draw. Read this post to decide between Kenya or Tanzania for your safari.
You’re already in Africa, so why not complete them both! African Safaris literally pick up from where Mt Kilimanjaro climbers are dropped off. So there’s no extra transit or hassle involved.