Northern Circuit: Kilimanjaro's Most Beautiful Route

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Northern Circuit: Kilimanjaro's Most Beautiful Route
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Do you want to make the absolute most of your time when climbing Kilimanjaro? The Northern Circuit Route will take you on a grand tour of the Roof of Africa – more hiking, more scenery, trails less hiked, away from the crowds, and, most importantly, fantastic success rates. This is hakuna matata!

With Team Kili we have helped hundreds of aspirant Kilimanjaro climbers reach Uhuru Peak. Everyone has the same goal but it takes someone special to land on a blog post about the most beautiful route on Kilimanjaro. We are very excited to tell you more about it. Why? Because when we climbed Kilimanjaro, I, Sierd, secretly wanted to do this route instead of the Machame. Let's go!

The Northern Circuit Route on Kilimanjaro: Numbers First

From gate to gate the Northern Circuit Route is 80.5 kilometres / 50 miles long. In comparison, it is somewhat longer than other routes. This is due to the fact that route takes "detour" on the Northern side of the mountain, looking like a circuit. This also explains the name. The hard numbers:

Days: 8 or 9 days

Total Distance: 80.5 kilometres (50miles)

Ascent: 4,710 metres (15,453 feet)

Descent: 5,340 metres (17,520 feet)

Day-to-day distance on a 9-day climb

Day 1: 6 kilometres (3.73 miles)

Day 2: 10.5 kilometres (6.52 miles)

Day 3: 8 kilometres (4.97 miles)

Day 4: 11 kilometres (6.83 miles)

Day 5: 10 kilometres (6.21 miles)

Day 6: 5.6 kilometres (3.48 miles)

Day 7: 4 kilometres (2.49 miles)

Day 8: 18 kilometres (11.18 miles)

Day 9: 9 kilometres (5.59 miles)

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What Makes the Northern Circuit Route So Special?

If you want to be more or less sure that you will summit Kilimanjaro, then you must know that the Northern Circuit Route has the absolute highest success rates. About 95% of all Northern Circuit climbers make it to Uhuru Peak. Pretty impressive, but that's not all. The Northern Circuit Route is the newest route and takes a trail less travelled. Just like the Lemosho Route, it starts at Londorossi Gate and follows the Southern trails all the way until Lava Tower, where Lemosho climbers keep going; Northern Circuit hikers turn around and go in a northerly direction. They circumnavigate Kibo, traversing less frequented trails. This section of the mountain is predominantly visited by Northern Circuit hikers, a relatively small group, resulting in tranquil and nearly deserted camping grounds.

So if you are looking for peace and quiet, the Northern Circuit is a good idea. The route can be done in 8 or 9 days and this makes it also the longest route on Kilimanjaro. We often call this the hiking route - for those people who enjoy a good trek. With an ascent on the Western side of Kilimanjaro, a Northern loop around Kibo and a descent via the Southern slopes, you are also experiencing the mountain in a unique way. The amazing Shira Plateau, the views onto the open Kenyan plains, and glimpses of the Summit. Because the trails are so quiet, you might even come eye to eye with a surprised eland or buffalo. Quite honestly, for our Kilimanjaro ascent last year, I would have loved to have done the Northern Circuit Route. We can't imagine a purer Kili experience.

What Makes the Northern Circuit Route So Special?

Northern Circuit Map: From Start to Finish

Wondering what it more or less looks like and what side of the mountain you get to start and end? In the below interactive Komoot map, you can see what you're in for when you hike the Northern Circuit Route.

How Hard is the Northern Circuit? 

If you don't mind a bit of trekking, then the Northern Circuit is right up your alley. It's quite a distance but despite being the longest route, its extended itinerary contributes to an optimal acclimatization profile. This means that your body will adapt to the altitude in the most optimal way. That in turn makes the Northern Circuit one of the least challenging of all routes. Longer = Easier. This sounds contradictory but it is a fact: The longer you take, the better your chances of summiting.

The terrain of the Northern Circuit is quite straightforward and doesn't include any technical segments like for example the Barranco Wall on the Lemosho and the Machame Route. It's not a walk in the park, but it's a relatively gentle trek.

How Hard is the Northern Circuit? 

Best Season for The Northern Circuit Route

There are no seasonal restrictions on Kilimanjaro. The mountain is open to trekking and climbing expeditions all year round. Having said that, there are certain months which a more suitable than others. The rainy season lasts from April to May and November to December. 

The dry season includes January to March and June to October. As such, like other routes, the Northern Circuit Route is a route that is best enjoyed during the dry season. On some other routes, it makes sense to go trekking outside of high season. Routes like the Machame and the Lemosho Route are much quieter in the wet season. This rule of thumb doesn't really apply to the Northern Circuit. This is a route that is quiet year round. 

Best Season for The Northern Circuit Route

Northern Circuit Route Itinerary: From Day to Day

The Northern Circuit route can be done in either eight or nine days. The more time you take for your ascent, the better your chances of summiting become. Thus we advise the below 9-day itinerary.


Moshi – Starting Point – Mti Mkubwa Camp (2,780 m)

Duration: 02:25 h
Distance: 4.7 km
Ascent: 400 m

At the break of dawn, our driver will collect you and transport you to Londorossi Gate (2,250 m), an approximately two-and-a-half-hour drive away. Upon gate registration, you'll ascend along a rugged track that winds through the dense rainforest to your trek's starting point. This moderately steep path guides you through a captivating and pristine natural forest, leading to Mkubwa Camp (2,800 m).

Because this region hosts a variety of wildlife, an armed ranger will accompany you during the initial two days of your journey.

Mti Mkubwa Camp

Mti Mkubwa Camp

Mount Mkubwa (2,750m) to Shira Camp 1 (3,550m)

Duration: 06:40 h
Distance: 6.35 km
Ascent: 490 m
Descent: 50 m

The trail leading to Shira Camp 1 unveils a striking shift from the lush rainforest to the arid heather moorland, marking Mount Kilimanjaro's third climate zone.

The landscape transforms into a dry expanse adorned with towering lobelias amidst delicate white flora that contrasts the dusty sand dunes. Ascending steep ridges, we arrive at the expansive Shira Plateau, offering sweeping views of Kilimanjaro's grandeur and the sun's descent behind Mount Meru in the west.

Amid the journey, we gracefully cross tranquil streams, while progressing over Shira Ridge (3,600m) and descending to the welcoming embrace of Shira Camp 1.

Shira 1 Camp

Shira 1 Camp

Shira Camp 1 (3,550m) to Shira Camp 2 (3,840m)

Duration: 03:20 h
Distance: 7.7 km
Ascent: 320 m
Descent: 60 m

Your day commences with a delightful breakfast, followed by a trek through an open expanse. This less-traveled path grants tranquility and an unspoiled experience. As you ascend to Shira Plateau, the panoramic vistas of Uhuru Peak unfold, providing an exhilarating and almost magical sensation of witnessing the summit's grandeur.

A satisfying hot lunch awaits you at Shira Camp 2 (3,810m). Your guide will arrange a brief break for acclimatization, after which you're welcome to unwind and relax at your leisure.

Shira 2 Camp

Shira 2 Camp

Shira Camp 2 (3,850 meters) to Lava Tower (4,600 meters) and then north to Moir Camp (4,200 meters)

Duration: 05:30 h
Distance: 4.89 km
Ascent: 360 m
Descent: 80 m

Today, you'll embark on an extensive eastern journey through the captivating expanse known as the 'Garden of the Senecios,' transitioning into the high alpine desert. Your morning starts with an ascent to the renowned Lava Tower, a distinct geological formation resembling a Shark’s Tooth, towering at an impressive 4,600 meters. A well-deserved lunch break awaits amidst this elevated terrain.

At the dramatic Lava Tower landscape, you can pause to refuel and rest. Afterward, your journey aligns with the northern circuit, guiding you downhill to Moir Camp at 4,200 meters. This camp, nestled amidst picturesque surroundings, welcomes trekkers warmly.

This day plays a pivotal role in your trek. It offers a unique opportunity to familiarize yourself intimately with high altitudes, providing a firsthand experience of the elevated atmosphere. Moreover, the itinerary supports a critical aspect of acclimatization: ascending to higher altitudes during the day and descending to lower altitudes for rest. This strategic approach helps your body adapt to changing altitudes, ultimately enhancing your trekking experience.

Moir Camp

Moir Camp

Moir Camp (4,200 meters) to Buffalo Camp (4,020 meters)

Duration: 03:40 h
Distance: 9.9 km
Ascent: 270 m
Descent: 440 m

The day kicks off with a moderately steep ascent out of Moir Valley. Trekkers have the option to take a brief detour to conquer the summit of Little Lent Hill, standing at 4,375 meters, before rejoining the Northern Circuit trail. The path then undulates, tracing the northern slopes of Kibo, and leads to Buffalo Camp (4,020 meters).

Throughout the trek, you'll be treated to sweeping vistas of the northern plains extending toward the Kilimanjaro border shared by Kenya and Tanzania. Arriving at Buffalo Camp shortly past midday, a well-deserved lunch break awaits, offering you the chance to replenish your energy after a full day of hiking.

Buffalo Camp

 Buffalo Camp

Buffalo Camp (4,020 meters) to Rongai Third Cave (3,800 meters)

Duration: 01:50 h
Distance: 5.6 km
Ascent: 50 m
Descent: 100 m

Today commences with a climb up the Buffalo ridge, followed by a descent into Porfu Camp, typically the lunch spot. The journey proceeds eastward, skirting the northern slopes and leading to Rongai Third Cave at an elevation of 3,800 meters. With a shorter trek compared to the previous day, you should now be comfortably acclimated to the altitude.

Your arrival at the Third Cave is anticipated in the mid-afternoon, marking a steady and efficient progression through the landscape.

Rongai Third Cave

Rongai Third Cave

Third Cave (3,800 meters) to School Hut (4,800 meters)

Duration: 02:15 h
Distance: 3.91 km
Ascent: 700 m

Nearly there. Today unfolds with a gradual ascent across the Saddle, a terrain nestled between the peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi. The journey continues with a south-western direction, leading trekkers to School Hut at an elevation of 4,800 meters.

Upon reaching School Hut, an early dinner awaits before a crucial rest period, as you'll be roused before midnight to embark on your summit bid. It's essential to organize all your gear, from warm attire and insulated water bottles to snacks, a headlamp, and a camera, before settling in for the night.

School hut

School hut

School Hut (4,800 meters) to Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters) and then onto Mweka Camp (3,950 meters)

Duration: 10:40 h
Distance: 17.4 km
Ascent: 1190 m
Descent: 2800 m

Around 11:30 PM, you'll be awakened with the comforting warmth of hot tea and biscuits, signaling the beginning of a significant climb. This ascent entails navigating the steep slopes of Kibo, shrouded in darkness. The initial checkpoint, Hans Meyer Cave, provides a brief opportunity to rest. As you continue, the incline becomes steeper, leading you to Gilman’s Point at 5,681 meters. This point is reached approximately 5-6 hours after leaving School Hut. The journey to Gilman's Point is characterized by a gradual and methodical ascent.

Upon reaching Gilman’s Point, a traverse along the crater rim guides you to Uhuru Peak. At the summit, a short stay allows for capturing photos and savoring the awe-inspiring views. After this interlude, the path retraces back to Stella Point. From there, a descent ensues, navigating a lengthy rocky trail that leads to Mweka Camp.

Mweka Camp

Mweka Camp

Mweka Camp (3,100m) to Mweka Gate (1,800m) to Moshi

Duration: 03:40 h
Distance: 8.7 km
Descent: 1420 m

The more you descend, the better your oxygen intake. The better your oxygen intake, the better your body and mind work. It’s all sinking now. You’ve ascended Kilimanjaro. You will once more trek through the rainforest, giving you another opportunity to spot the cheeky colobus monkeys, finally reaching the Mweka gate in about 2 – 3 hours. In Mweka, after some paperwork, another meal awaits you. You may as well add a Kilimanjaro beer to that. While you’re at it, your guide will present you with your climbing certificate. Well done!

After some good food and a celebration, you will be taken back to your hotel. It’s time to rest those legs. Jump in the pool, eat, drink and sleep.

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Packing List for the Northern Circuit

Trekking in the Kilimanjaro requires decent gear. Especially the basics like an 80-90 L backpack and quality trekking socks. We highly recommend that you read our suggestted packing list to hike the Northern Circuit.

  • Technical clothing

  • Headwear

  • Handwear

  • Footwear

  • Accessories

  • Equipment

  • Other

Gear Checklist for the Northern Circuit Route

So, above you find a guideline of what you need for your Kilimanjaro ascent, and below we've thrown in a handy checklist for you. Remember, pole pole!
Gear Checklist for the Northern Circuit Route

How To Get Fit for the Northern Circuit Route

We’ve said this before and we will say it again. Kilimanjaro is a trekking mountain, not a climbing mountain. Trekking = Hiking, so the best training for Kilimanjaro is to go hiking. Some websites will tell you that you need to cross-train, biking, swimming, weight training, or even go on a diet. No. Again, pole pole. Just become the best version of yourself and start with that process about two months in advance. You can follow a strict training plan or just keep the following things in mind.

We recommend a minimum of three hiking/walking sessions per week, each lasting at least one hour. The specifics of your sessions, such as distance, duration, and elevation gain, will largely depend on the available trails in your area. Ideally, you should look for trails that are a few miles long and include a challenging uphill section that can be completed in approximately one hour. Finding a convenient location for your training will enable you to schedule regular sessions and easily track your progress.

Additionally, try to make time for longer day hikes, as they are excellent training opportunities. A solid day hike typically lasts four to six hours and involves moderate elevation changes of around 1,000 feet (305 meters), all while carrying a 20 lb. (9 kg) pack. If you feel up to the challenge, don't hesitate to tackle harder trails; they will provide even more beneficial training for your Kilimanjaro climb. If you don't have access to outdoor trails, don't worry. Training on stairs can be an excellent alternative to simulate the climbing experience on Kilimanjaro. You can also make use of a stair master machine for productive training sessions.

To mimic the challenge of climbing the mountain, wear your backpack and maintain a slow and steady pace. We suggest dedicating 1-2 hours to climbing stairs or using the StairMaster. What goes up, must come down. Descending Kilimanjaro is harder than climbing Kilimanjaro. Train your downhill walking!

Now, are you feeling confident and do you think you have most of the hiking under the belt? Then you can change it up. Go for a run, do stretching exercises, yoga, maybe even weight. Essentially, anything that can help to improve your overall fitness is a plus. Just make sure your main focus is hiking.

How To Get Fit for the Northern Circuit Route

Where Can I Book the Northern Circuit?

At you can book this trek and many others. Our guided options come with experts on the ground, and offer you a convenient, stress-free, safe, and educational way to explore the outdoors. Find our offers here. Our easy-to-use platform allows you to browse and compare different trekking options and find the perfect fit for your interests, abilities, and budget.

If you have any questions about a specific trek or need help choosing the right one for you, our team of trekking experts is here to assist you. Simply reach out to us and we will be happy to provide you with personalized recommendations and advice to help you plan the trekking adventure of a lifetime.

Is this not your cup of tea and are you looking for other epic adventures? Check out one of our blog posts:


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