Rongai Route: Kilimanjaro's Wildest Route

By Sierd van der Bij

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Rongai Route: Kilimanjaro's Wildest Route
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If you are looking for a quieter and wilder route for climbing Kilimanjaro, the Rongai Route is it. This pristine route ascends Mount Kilimanjaro from the Kenyan side of the mountain, sees less traffic and, a deciding factor for many, less rain.

Every year Bookatrekking.com's Team Kili helps hundreds of people to reach Uhuru Peak. The Rongai Route is for those who want to climb Kilimanjaro during the wet season and for those who are looking for a wilder experience. Let us tell you more about Kilimanjaro wildest route!

The Rongai Route on Kilimanjaro: Numbers First

From gate to gate the Rongai Route is 70 kilometres / 43.5 miles long. In comparison, the Rongai Route counts a bit more distance than for some other routes. It makes up for that with a rather gentle ascent. The success rates for the Rongai Routes are high, more about that in the next paragraph.

Days: 6 or 7 days

Total Distance: 70 kilometres (43.5 miles)

Ascent: 3,980 metres (13,058 feet)

Descent: 4,140 metres (13,582 feet)

Day-to-day distance on a 7-day climb:

Day 1: 6.9 kilometres (4.3 miles)

Day 2: 5.7 kilometres (3.5 miles)

Day 3: 5.7 kilometres (3.5 miles)

Day 4: 3.7 kilometres (2.3 miles)

Day 5: 8 kilometres (5 miles)

Day 6: 27 kilometers (16.8 miles)

Day 7: 21.4 kilometers (13.3 miles)

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What Makes the Rongai Route So Special?

All routes on Kilimanjaro start the ascent from the Southern side of the mountain. All but one and that is the Rongai Route. In the tiny settlement of Nalemoru, literally a stone's throw away from the Kenyan border, this route snakes its way up to Uhuru Peak. This is very much the Northern side of the mountain and that brings us straight to one of the drawcards for choosing this climbing route: It sees less rain. The wet months for Kilimanjaro and for the area as a whole are March, April, May, and, to a lesser extent, November. During the wet seasons, the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro can turn into a mud fest. This applies to the routes on the other side of the mountain because that is where most of the rain falls. Less rain on the Rongai route means also fewer clouds. The views are generally pretty good on the Rongai side of Kili life.

The Rongai Route is also flatter than other Kilimanjaro Routes. Less vertical gain, which is a good thing, but also comes with a price tag. It doesn't really allow for 'climb high sleep low' and that offers some acclimatisation challenges. Fortunately, with a 6 and a 7-day option the time for the ascent makes up for this and allows for a success rate of more than 80%. All good but what really makes the Rongai Route special is the remote setting. Because it is further away from Moshi, fewer people choose the route and this makes it a quiet route. It's also pretty wild: The Rongai Route allows you to spot antelope, elephants and even buffalo. Wild indeed.

Rongai Route 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 Rongai Route.

How Hard is the Rongai Route?

The difficulty of Kilimanjaro climbing routes is hard to gauge and even harder to explain. There are different ways to get up Kilimanjaro and one route is more technical than the other. The Rongai Route is not the most technical route and is known for its more gradual ascents and descents, making it a good option for those who are less experienced with high-altitude trekking.

In terms of acclimatization, the Rongai Route doesn't allow much for 'climb high sleep low' but it makes up for that in time. This allows for a decent success rate of higher than 80%. All in all, the Rongai Route is considered one of the easiest options for climbing Kilimanjaro. Not very technical, a gradual ascent, and, good success rates.

Best Season for The Rongai 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. But this too is not a problem for the Rongai Route. This is the only route that you can literally climb all year round. 

The dry season includes January to March and June to October. So if you are set on the Rongai Route and you are not stuck to seasons, the Rongai Route is best enjoyed during the dry season. This is also a quieter time because, although the Rongai Route is remote and quiet, it actually sees the most traffic in the wet season. 

Rongai Route Itinerary: From Day to Day

If you want to have the best chances of summiting, you should always go for the longest option of any route. In the case of the Rongai Route, this is the 7-day itinerary.

Day
1

Moshi - Rongai Camp (2,600 m)

Duration: 02:50 h
Distance: 6.9 km
Ascent: 630 m

After an early breakfast in Moshi, you will drive to the Rongai (Nalemoru) Gate near the Kenya border. This marks the starting point of our adventure as we embark on the climb. The Rongai route offers a unique and unspoiled wilderness experience for trekkers. The journey begins by meandering through a captivating forest, which serves as a sanctuary for a diverse range of wildlife.

As we make our way along the trail, the path gradually starts to ascend. The incline is gentle, allowing for a comfortable progression as we immerse ourselves in the natural surroundings. The forest scenery remains a constant companion during this phase of the hike, providing glimpses of the vibrant ecosystem that thrives within.

Continuing onward, the density of the forest gradually diminishes, giving way to more open landscapes. The initial campsite comes into view, perched on the fringes of the moorland zone at an altitude of 2600 meters. From this vantage point, a sweeping panorama unfolds, offering extensive views that stretch over the vast Kenyan plains.

The first day's trek is designed as a half-day walk, allowing for a gradual acclimatization to the changing altitudes and terrain. This approach ensures a manageable introduction to the challenges and rewards of the climb, setting the tone for the days to come.

Rongai Camp

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Rongai Camp
Day
2

Rongai Camp (2,600 m) - Second Cave Camp (3,450 m)

Duration: 03:00 h
Distance: 5.72 km
Ascent: 840 m

The morning's journey unfolds with a steady and deliberate ascent that leads us to the Second Cave, situated at an elevation of 3,450 meters. Along the way, trekkers are treated to magnificent vistas that encompass Kibo, the towering peak of the mountain, as well as the pristine Eastern ice fields that adorn the perimeter of the crater rim.

Following a nourishing and well-deserved hot lunch, a period of free time opens up. This interlude offers the chance to rejuvenate and recharge, either by resting within the confines of the camp or by engaging in further exploration. As the afternoon sun paints the landscape with its gentle rays, an enticing option presents itself: an acclimatization walk to the Third Cave.

Should you choose to embark on this additional excursion, you'll find yourself immersed in the breathtaking surroundings of Mount Kilimanjaro. The aim of this acclimatization walk is to gradually adapt to the increasing altitudes, a crucial element of successful high-altitude trekking. The terrain and scenery offer a harmonious blend of challenges and natural beauty, making it an enriching experience for those who venture forth.

Second Cave Camp

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Second Cave Camp
Day
3

Second Cave Camp (3,450 m) - Kikelewa Cave (3,630 m)

Duration: 02:00 h
Distance: 5.7 km
Ascent: 220 m
Descent: 30 m

Our journey continues with a gradual ascent, leading us through the captivating expanse of open moorland. Our path is directed towards the striking and rugged pinnacles of Mawenzi, with our camp situated at an elevation of 3,679 meters. As we traverse this section of the route, you'll experience a steady and unhurried climb while surrounded by the stunning panoramic views of the vast moorland landscape.

With each step higher, the distinctive features of the Mawenzi pinnacles come into focus. These jagged peaks create a visually captivating contrast against the serene moorlands that stretch out before us. The dynamic shifts in the terrain highlight the diverse nature of the mountain environment, providing an ever-changing backdrop for our journey.

Our destination is the Kiklewa Camp, located near the Kikelewa Caves. By late afternoon, we will have reached the campsite. This is where we'll gather for a hearty dinner and prepare for an overnight stay. The Kikelewa Caves provide a unique setting amidst the mountain landscape, offering a sense of shelter and comfort amid the challenging conditions.

The camp atmosphere is serene and inviting, offering a space for relaxation and restoration. As the sun begins its descent in the late afternoon sky, the campsite takes on a tranquil ambiance, providing a perfect opportunity for reflection and unwinding. This time amidst the captivating surroundings allows you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area and to ready yourself for the adventures that await in the days ahead.

Kikelelwa Camp

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Kikelelwa Camp
Day
4

Kikelelwa Camp (3,630 m) - Mawenzi Tarn Hut (4,330 m)

Duration: 02:10 h
Distance: 3.7 km
Ascent: 620 m

The next phase of our journey entails a brief yet invigorating ascent to Mawenzi Tarn, nestled at an elevation of 4,330 meters. This segment of the climb is characterized by its short duration but steep incline, offering a burst of physical challenge amidst the breathtaking landscapes.

As we ascend, the familiar vegetation that has accompanied us thus far gradually recedes into the background. The transition from verdant growth to the raw beauty of higher altitudes is a remarkable transformation that underscores the diverse nature of the mountain's environment.

Our destination is the Mawenzi Tarn campsite, a designated resting place amidst this elevated realm. Here, amidst the serenity of the mountainous terrain, you'll find respite and shelter. The campsite serves as a strategic point for acclimatization, a vital process for adapting to the changing altitudes and conditions of the ascent.

The afternoon following our arrival is unstructured, allowing you the freedom to engage in activities that contribute to your acclimatization process. This could involve relaxation, gentle walks, or simply absorbing the unique atmosphere of this high-altitude haven. As the sun casts its gentle glow over the landscape, you'll have the opportunity to truly connect with the mountain and prepare for the challenges and wonders that lie ahead.

Mawenzi Tarn Hut

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Mawenzi Tarn Hut
Day
5

Mawenzi Turn (4,330 m) - Kibo Hut (4,703 m)

Duration: 03:10 h
Distance: 8 km
Ascent: 510 m
Descent: 130 m

On this day, our path leads us across the barren expanse of the lunar desert that lies between Mawenzi and Kibo Hut (4700m). By early afternoon, we find ourselves at the base of the imposing Kibo Crater wall. The landscape we traverse resembles a desert of lunar-like qualities. The journey presents us with a stark and otherworldly environment, as we traverse this stretch that bridges the gap between Mawenzi and Kibo Hut.

Upon reaching Kibo Hut, it's important to note that running water is not available at this location. Kibo Hut serves as our temporary abode, perched at an elevation of 4700 meters. It offers a refuge amidst the harsh conditions of the high altitudes. Here, we begin to transition from the day's trek, finding solace within the walls of the hut.

The remainder of the day takes on a more leisurely pace, allowing us to relax and prepare for the forthcoming final ascent. The ascent to the summit of the mountain looms before us, and to ensure our readiness, we dedicate this time to rest and recovery. The anticipation of the impending challenge necessitates an early night, as we seek to conserve energy and embark on the final leg of our journey under the cover of the predawn darkness.

Kibo hut

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Kibo hut
Day
6

Kibo Hut (4,700 m) – Uhuru Peak (5,895 m) – Horombo Hut (3,700 m)

Duration: 10:25 h
Distance: 19.7 km
Ascent: 1160 m
Descent: 2170 m

Under the cover of the night, as the lava ash remains frozen and lends ease to your steps, your journey commences. The ascent to the summit begins, a formidable and demanding undertaking illuminated solely by the stars above. Guided by their distant glow, you'll pass the Hans Meyer cave at 5,200 meters, your path steadily rising with each step.

With the arrival of sunrise, you'll stand proudly at Gilman's Point (5,715 m), perched upon the crater rim. The frigid grip of the night gives way to the sun's warmth, and you'll find yourself enveloped in the awe-inspiring vistas that stretch before you. The ascent continues with newfound vigor, and after an additional 1 to 2 hours of steadfast determination, the crowning achievement awaits: Uhuru Peak at 5,895 meters.

The descent retraces your journey along the same route, yet now the once-frozen lava ash yields to the touch of the sun, enabling a swift and spirited descent. Upon your return to Kibo Hut, a heartening meal awaits, welcoming you back and providing a much-needed chance to restore your strength. After a pause of 1 to 2 hours, your journey continues, guiding you downward to the embrace of Horombo Hut (3,700 m).

As the sun begins its descent, casting hues of warmth across the landscape, you'll find solace and respite within the haven of Horombo Lodge. Here, your evening meal and the promise of a restful night's sleep await, a fitting conclusion to a day that epitomized the challenges and triumphs of your journey towards Kilimanjaro's summit.

Horombo hut

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Horombo hut
Day
7

Horombo Hut (3,700 m) – Marangu Gate (1,860 m) – Moshi

Duration: 07:10 h
Distance: 19.6 km
Descent: 1830 m

The final leg of your journey traverses through the heather and moor zones, leading you to the welcoming Mandara Hut situated at 2,700 meters. Here, a nourishing cooked lunch eagerly awaits, offering you a taste of satisfaction as you prepare to bid farewell to the mountains.

As you continue your descent, the landscape transforms once again, enveloping you in the embrace of the lush tropical rainforest. Over the course of approximately 6 hours of trekking, you'll steadily make your way back to the Kilimanjaro National Park gate at an altitude of 1,860 meters.

Your return to Kilimanjaro National Park marks the conclusion of your expedition, a moment to reflect on the extraordinary journey you've undertaken. From this point, your passage leads you back to the town of Moshi, where the echoes of your adventure will remain with you, a constant reminder of the breathtaking landscapes and incredible experiences that Kilimanjaro has bestowed upon you.

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Packing List for the Rongai Route

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 Rongai Route.

  • Technical clothing

  • Headwear

  • Handwear

  • Footwear

  • Accessories

  • Equipment

  • Other

Gear Checklist for the Rongai 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 Rongai Route

How To Get Fit for the Rongai 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.

Where Can I Book the Rongai Route?

At Bookatrekking.com 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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