The Rongai route used to the be the route to take if you wanted a quieter experience than the longer-standing and popular Marangu and Machame routes. These days, it is used by more and more operators so it’s getting busier, and the price is coming down. But don’t let that put you off.
Starting on the Northern side of the mountain, the Rongai route is often said to be a fairly “easy” route to the summit. There are less steep hiking days, which for some can be seen as an advantage, but then the last day’s summit push can seem even worse! In this area there is generally less rainfall, so it’s possible to avoid the muddy trails through the rainforest on some of the other routes.
This route starts in open, part-cultivated countryside, rather than the Montagne forest of the southern and western slopes. Most operators offer 5-8 day hikes on this route. The temptation to do a short trek should be avoided, as the extra days are crucial for acclimatization. Unlike some of the longer routes, the more gentle slopes give little opportunity for going to a higher altitude and then descending to camp.
That said, Rongai route has excellent summit success rates, and is an interesting and picturesque way to the summit. Although you do not get to hike through the rainforest on the way up, you will be descending via the Marangu route, so at least you will see it on the way down.
The vegetation is somewhat different on this route, though most of the usual heath and moorland species abound, particularly if you do take the longer route and camp at Mawenzi Tarn. The lobellias, senecios and red hot poker are all there.
Depending on your operator, there may be some differences in where you camp. Some stop at Simba Camp for the first night, others go to Rongai First Cave. Either way, there is little difference in terms of difficulty or the length of hiking each day.
The hike to the summit is done at night – starting at midnight from either Kibo Hut (which follows the same as the Marangu route) or School Hut which is located slightly higher up the mountain.
I Opine: Rongai is an excellent route, provided you opt for the 7 or 8 day trek. 6 days at a push, but don’t bother trying to do it in 5 days, unless you are very confident of your acclimatization. Or if you have already climbed Mt Meru so have a certain amount of “pre-acclimatization”. In my opinion, it’s not as picturesque as the Lemosho route, but that’s only a matter of opinion. Many people feel it’s the “best” route!
You might also like: Beyond the Summit: 19 Kilimanjaro Facts
Overview of the Rongai Route:
Day 1: Rongai Trailhead/Nalemoru (1950m, 6400ft) to Simba Camp (2620, 8595ft)
- Distance: 7 kilometres, 3.8 miles
- Length of hike: 3-4 hours
After completing registration formalities at Marangu gate, you will be driven to the trailhead. The start of the Rongai Route is actually in a village called Nalemoru (apparently the “old” Rongai route is different from the one used nowadays, and it starts in a different place). If you’ve come from Moshi or Arusha, the drive is much longer than to most of the other gates, but it’s quite picturesque as you drive through villages and ‘shambas’ (subsistence farming plots). The roads are pretty bad.
At first you feel as though you are just walking through a bit of dry dusty farmland with a few maize crops. This soon gives way to the forest, where birdsong can be heard and colobus monkeys can be seen. Until you get into the forest, it can be hot and you’ll need a good hat to keep the harsh sun off your face. Once in the forest, it’s a gradual ascent through picturesque scenery.
Simba camp is located just outside of the forest, in the heath and moorland zone, surrounded by heather, plenty of birdlife and has beautiful views.You’ll arrive at camp in time for tea before settling into your tent and having your first dinner on the mountain.
Day 2: Simba Camp (2620m, 8595ft) to Kikelewa Camp (3600m, 11,800ft)
- Distance: 12 kilometres, 6.5 miles
- Length of hike: 6-8 hours
Today begins hiking through open moorland, with views of Kibo. Some parts of the trail can get a bit steep, and it can be hot, with little shade. The vegetation changes with more scrubby grasses amongst the rocks.
The lunch stop is normally at Second Cave camp. Some operators will camp here if you are taking the 8 day itinerary. The second day’s hiking can feel quite tough, particularly if it is very hot. You can start to feel the altitude here, and taking a slow, steady pace is important. Keep well-hydrated particularly if it’s hot, as it will help you to acclimatize better. Dehydration is to be avoided at all costs. It is easy to become dehydrated as the air gets drier as you ascend.
Kikelewa camp is situated by the Kikelewa river, and is amongst interesting vegetation – giant senecios and lobellias can be seen, and the air is definitely cooler.
After dinner and a briefing you head to your bed for a well-deserved rest!
Day 3: Kikelewa Camp (3600m, 11,800ft) to Mawenzi Tarn (4300m, 14,100ft)
- Distance: 4 kilometres, 2.5 miles
- Length of hike: 3-4 hours
A short hike today, but don’t be fooled. It’s steep and at this altitude can feel like heavy-going. Leaving Kikelewa in the morning, you should arrive at Mawenzi Tarn by lunchtime. If you are feeling up to it, an acclimatization hike in the afternoon is certainly recommended. Hiking to a higher altitude and then descending to sleep at your campsite is an excellent way of getting your body to adapt to the lower oxygen environment.
The hike takes you into the alpine desert, the vegetation getting more sparse and the area much more bleak. Fantastic views of Mawenzi’s craggy peaks can be had from this camp. It will be cold at night. You may start to suffer some effects of altitude, and it’s important to inform your guide if you feel unwell.
Mawenzi Tarn is a lovely campsite in the shadow of Mawenzi, with views of a tiny mountain lake.
Some operators will spend two nights at Mawenzi Tarn, which is probably the nicest campsite on this route. Two nights here will greatly increase your chances of acclimatization, particularly when accompanied by an acclimatization hike to Kibo Hut and back on the “rest” day.
Be sure to rest well tonight, as tomorrow is a tough day!
Day 4: Mawenzi Tarn (4300m, 14,100ft) to Kibo Huts (4700m, 15,400ft)
- Distance: 9 kilometres, 5.5 miles
- Length of hike: 4-5 hours
Climbing higher, the pace is very slow. You go up a ridge with amazing views across the saddle at the top and Kibo towering overhead, before going down to traverse the Saddle. It’s barren and rocky up here, with little vegetation. The hiking is slow. The air is thin. The Saddle – between the peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo – is a long, but not steep hike. The views are spectacular and the desert getting increasingly barren and inhospitable. Rocky and windswept, it’s a dramatic hike.
Arriving at Kibo Huts you will find the camp to be quite busy, with climbers from the Marangu route also here for their summit attempt. You should arrive around lunchtime, and you’ll need the afternoon to pack your daypack ready for the tough night ahead – the summit!
After an early dinner – do try to eat even if you don’t feel like it – you will need to get an early night. Kibo camp is cold and windy. Try to get to bed by 7pm, as you will be woken up at around 11.30 to begin your trek to the summit.
It will be very cold hiking at night, so be sure to have all your warmest gear available, and don’t forget about rain gear!
Day 5: Kibo Huts (4700m, 15,400ft) to SUMMIT then descend to Horombo Huts
Sleeping can be tough at this altitude, but you will be woken from your slumber at around 11.30, and after a brief refreshment you will start your hike. Hopefully you’ve got everything well packed in your daypack, with your water bottles wrapped in socks so they don’t freeze!
With a moon to light your way, and a head torch, you slowly make you way along the rocky path. Move slowly, one foot in front of the other. It’s important to resist the urge to go faster, as you need to allow your body to adapt to the ever increasing altitude.
It’s steep and very tiring. At times you will need every ounce of mental strength you possess. The hike can feel endless. Rest stops are not encouraged, as it’s so cold that it can be difficult to get going again. Maintain a very slow pace. The first landmark you come to is Hans Meyer Cave. Try to eat something, a snack when you stop briefly here, even if you don’t’ feel very hungry. You’ll need the energy! The trail is tough and exposed at times, just keep going. Unless of course you are feeling unwell, at which point you must inform your guide.
At daybreak, you should be nearing Gillman’s Point, scrambling up and over the rocks at the Crater rim, you are very near to reaching your goal. Indeed, getting to Gillman’s point is officially at the “top” of the mountain, even though it’s not the highest point on the crater rim.
Hopefully you have enough energy to enjoy the spectacular sunrise over Mawenzi, and your achievement getting this far gives you a spring in your step. You’ve got another couple of hours to go.
From Gillman’s Point, you hike around the crater rim, steadily uphill to Uhuru Peak. It’s dramatic up here. The stark white of the glaciers against the dark rocks, with the sun breaking through in the background. Looking down into the crater itself you can see where the real centre of the volcano is – the Ash Pit.
Further Reading: Kilimanjaro Ash Pit: The Centre of the Volcano
Uhuru Peak itself is a signboard erected amongst the rocks. You’ve done it! The Summit! After photos and congratulations and a brief rest, it’s time descend.
When preparing for Kilimanjaro, most of our focus is on how to get up there. We give little thought to how we get down. Now is the time to lengthen those walking poles, tighten up your bootlaces and prepare for the downhill!
Retracing your steps to Gillman’s point, you leave the crater rim and follow the same path as the Marangu climbers. Be careful on the downhill – you are tired by now, and you don’t want a twisted knee or ankle. All the way back to Kibo hut in time for lunch, you will probably be exhausted by the time you arrive.
And there’s still more to go. But there’s also more oxygen. Following the Marangu route for another 3-4 hours all the way down to Horombo huts, the very welcome increase in oxygen replenishes your energy stores.
Arriving at Horombo Huts your camp will be ready for your last night on the mountain.
As you reflect on your amazing achievement, you take your tired body for one last sleep in your little tent. Full of memories of the barren rocks and the towering peak. Tomorrow heralds warm showers and a return to ‘normality’. Though you may find that normality feels different after your climb.
Day 6: Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft) to Marangu Gate (1870m, 6135ft)
- Distance: 20 kilometres, 13 miles
- Length of hike: 6-8 hours
That’s it! Last trek of the adventure. You will continue your descent to Mandara Huts for a lunch stop, it gets quite muddy and slippery, so be careful of your knees! Onwards to Marangu Gate where you collect your Certificate of Achievement for either Gillman’s Point or Uhuru Peak.
Saying goodbye to your team of guides and porters, now is the time to give them their much-deserved tips. After fond farewells for an adventure shared, it’s off to your hotel for a nice shower and celebration dinner.
Other Routes to Kilimanjaro’s summit:
If you’ve got any questions about Rongai or any of the other routes on Kilimanjaro, post them below: