The Marangu route is the cheapest route on Kilimanjaro. It is oldest route to the Summit, and the only one where you sleep in huts instead of tents. Marangu uses the same route on the descent, so during busy periods it can get quite crowded.
If you are on a budget, then the Marangu route can be an option. Many people are sold the idea that it’s an “easy” route, being only 5 days (you can opt to do it in 6 days and have an extra acclimatization day). To some people, the idea of a 5 day hike seems a lot easier than an 8-10 day hike. However, that is not taking into account the effects of altitude.
One of the reasons why the summit success rate on the Marangu route is only around 45% is because there is not enough time allowed for acclimatization. For climbers confident in their ability to acclimatize and wanting a shorter hike to the summit, this is worth considering.
See the Altitude page for more information on acclimatization.
For those who are less experienced at altitude and want a less crowded, more scenic adventure, and who are not on a tight budget, might want to opt for one of the longer routes. The longer routes have a much better acclimatization schedule and give a much better chance of achieving summit success.
Since this route uses huts for accommodation, less porters are required per climber, as there is not the need for a full camp to be carried up the mountain. This also brings the cost down.
The Summit attempt is always made at night from Kibo Hut (the “basecamp”), there is no option for a daytime ascent. This is worth considering as personally I prefer to leave camp in the morning for the summit attempt and not be trying to hike above 15,000ft in the middle of the night!
That the Marangu route provides accommodation in huts, might sound preferable to sleeping in a tent. Do bear in mind that the huts sleep 6-10 people in dormitory-style bunk beds. It’s not a luxury safari camp with crisp linen and hot running water!
See our Gear page for packing lists and what to bring with you.
I Opine: only choose the Marangu route if you are on a tight budget, and if so, do the 6 day route which includes an acclimatization day. Or if you are on a budget and are confident in your ability to acclimatize and/or you have done a pre-acclimatization trek up Mt Meru or similar.
Overview of the Marangu Route:
Day 1 : Marangu Gate (1870m, 6135ft) to Mandara Huts (2,700m, 8858ft)
- Length of hike: 5-6 hours
After clearing formalities at Marangu gate, involving a lot of waiting around, watching the porters weighing all the gear, you’ll hit the trail through the montane forest. Passing through the rainforest, it’ll be warm and humid. You may have the opportunity to see Blue and Colobus monkeys on the trail. Most larger game will not be visible as the route can be busy.
The path leads steadily uphill with a few steep sections, but overall it should be a relatively easy day if you are in good shape. The forest will have beautiful flowers and birdlife.
After lunch your hike takes you further up the slope, past small waterfalls and streams. As you continue upwards after a brief lunch break you will reach Mandara Huts. At this point you are coming to the end of the forest zone and you will see the vegetation changing as you progress towards the Heath and Moorland zone.
Once at Mandara Huts, there should be tea, coffee, hot chocolate and some snacks available before you are reunited with your duffel bag and get ready for dinner. If you have time and energy, a short hike to the Maundi Crater gives spectacular views of Mawenzi. The adventure has begun! First night on the mountain.
Day 2 : Mandara Huts (2,700m, 8858ft) to Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft)
- Distance: 12 kilometres, 7 miles
- Length of hike: 6-8 hours
An early start leaves the forest behind, you will hike through the Heath and Moorland zone. The vegetation is notably different and amongst the rocks it can look bleak. There are some beautiful flowers, such as the ‘red hot poker’, lobellias and giant groundsels. The air is dryer and thinner as you make your ascent, and you may start to feel some effects of altitude.
It’s important to pace yourself on this day, eating regularly even if you are not hungry and drinking plenty of water. If the weather is fine, you will be rewarded with views of Mawenzi and Kibo – your destination!
It’s a long day, and although the path is good, it can be quite rocky in places. You will break for lunch on the trail before continuing to Horombo Huts.
Horombo is noticeably colder than at Mandara. It can be bitterly cold at night. Horombo is the busiest site on the mountain as the huts are used both for the ascent and the descent, as well as an acclimatization day, for those trekkers on the 6-day Marangu route. In addition, climbers on the Rongai route also camp here, though they have tents. Eat a hearty dinner and hunker down in your warm sleeping bag. If you feel any effects of altitude, it’s important to inform your guide.
Day 3 : Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft) to Kibo Hut (4703m, 15430ft) or Acclimatization day
- Distance: 10 kilometres, 6 miles
- Length of hike: 5-7 hours
If you are on the 6-day Marangu route, today will be an acclimatization day. You will “walk high, sleep low”, to assist your body in adapting to the altitude. I would highly recommend having this day, unless you’ve just climbed Mt Meru and are already pre-acclimatized to the altitudes ahead. It also gives your body a bit of a break before the grueling task ahead over the next two days.
You will go for a 4-5 hour hike up the southern slopes of Mawenzi, up to around 14,000ft. Amazing views of Kibo await you on a clear day, and the opportunity to see the Zebra Rocks. This additional day helps enormously with summit success rates, and if possible, don’t skip it!
For those not having a “rest” day, you will leave the last of the Moorland zone behind you, and hike up through the High Desert. Depending on how well acclimatized you are, the hike may be tough. You are going uphill across a few ridges until you reach the Saddle, an area between Kibo and Mawenzi – a rugged wilderness. Very cold, very inhospitable, but with incredible views of Kibo. It’s important to take it easy, drink plenty of water, rest when you need to, and eat even if you don’t feel like it. If you feel unwell at any point, you must inform your guide.
It’s an incredible experience hiking through this wilderness zone. Just you and the mountain. Ever closer to your goal. Make sure you have your clothing layers to hand, so that when you stop for lunch you do not get cold.
After lunch, the path gets steeper, and you will pass the last water point. Be sure to fill up your water bottles/Camelbak. Eventually you will arrive at Kibo Hut. This is the “basecamp” for your summit attempt. A short night’s sleep ahead of you and then possibly the longest day of your life!
Try to eat a hearty dinner and get to bed by 7pm, as you will be woken up at around 11-11.30pm to start your climb at around midnight.
Day 4/5 : Kibo Hut (4703m, 15430ft) to Uhuru Peak: Summit! (5895m, 19341ft) then descend to Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft).
15 kilometers, 8 miles DOWN
- Length of hike: 6-8 hours UP
- 5-8 hours DOWN
You will be woken with tea and biscuits and start your hike around midnight, with a headtorch to light your way. Hopefully you’ve managed to get some sleep, as you’ll need all your mental and physical stamina for what lies ahead.
You’ll start on a rocky path, which may be frozen in parts. Slowly picking your way upwards, the route is steep and tiring, using switchbacks. You will pass Hans Meyer Cave after about 2-2.5 hours. The most important part of this climb is just to keep moving forwards, slowly. Keep drinking water and eating snacks if you can stomach them. Stopping to rest will make you cold and make starting again more difficult. One foot in front of the other. At this altitude, even a few steps can feel exhausting, so find a rhythm that suits you and push forwards. Some parts of the trail are very exposed, and the wind can certainly makes these areas quite unpleasant!
Around daybreak, you should be nearing Gilman’s Point, after the last scramble over the rocks to the Crater Rim. At 5685m, you are very near your goal. And you are on the rim of the Kibo Crater!
After what you’ve been through the past few hours, congratulations are certainly in order. Whilst not the highest point of the Crater Rim (that’s Uhuru Peak), you are officially on the Roof of Africa. You’ve made it!
Another hour, hour and a half along the crater rim and you will arrive at Uhuru Peak. Passing the glaciers, stark in their icy-whiteness against the black volcanic rock. On a clear day the brilliant blue sky makes these pictures far more dramatic than any photos can capture. The thin air, the exhilaration of your achievement and the drama of the landscape makes for an unforgettable experience.
After you’ve taken your photographs and rested a little at the Summit… off you go again. This time downhill. Take care hiking downhill to Gillman’s point. You’ll be tired, the altitude is extreme, and you don’t want to fall or get injured at this point. After Gillman’s point it’s a long, hard downhill slog back to Kibo Huts for late breakfast/early lunch.
Be sure to tie your shoelaces tight, or your toes will hurt from hitting the front of your boots. Use your walking poles to save your knees. We focus so much on the uphill part of this climb, but the downhill can be equally grueling.
After a bite to eat at Kibo Hut, it’s another 3-4 hours to Horombo Huts. What’s wonderful about this part of the trek is that as you descend, your body gets the wonderful Oxygen it’s been fighting for since last night. As the Oxygen floods your blood, you should feel more energy for the last part of your day.
Arriving at Horombo Huts you’ll have your final dinner on the mountain and reflect on your achievement. After such a long day, you should sleep soundly, in spite of any snoring hut-mates!
Day 5/6 : Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft) to Marangu Gate (1870m, 6135ft).
- Distance: 20 kilometres, 12 miles
After breakfast, you descend on the same path you came up, to Mandara Huts where you break for lunch. Then continue to the gate. Be sure to use your walking poles to save your knees, and cover any blisters you may find after yesterday’s long hike.
Once at the gate, you will be presented with your Certificate of Achievement for either Gilman’s Point or Uhuru Peak. This is where you will say goodbye to your guides and porters, and give them their well-deserved tips.
From here you head off to your hotel, for a celebration dinner and the contemplation of your amazing achievement. The adventure on the mountain is over, and all that remains are the stories and memories of this beautiful landscape.
Have you got any questions about the Marangu or any other route on Kilimanjaro? Post them below: