Africa,  Travel & Adventure

The Machame Route: Climbing Kilimanjaro

This post contains affiliate links and ads so I may receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you click on or make a purchase through one of these links.

The Machame Route, also known as the “Whiskey Route”, is one of the more popular ways to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. The Machame route winds its way from the base of Kilimanjaro through a variety of habitats making it one of the most scenic routes. This trail is also considered one of the more difficult routes because of its handful of steeper ascents and longer days spent trekking.

This route can be accomplished in 6 or 7 days, but the latter gives the most chance for success. This route is actually perfect for acclimatization because the path naturally leads you to climb high and sleep low. Trust a well respected company like Kilimanjaro Backcountry Adventures to guide you to a successful Kilimanjaro summit! Another note to make is that the weather on Kilimanjaro is highly unpredictable. When I mention weather below it is based on my experience on the mountain when we climbed in early June of 2019. The elevation and time of year each play a huge role in weather patterns. Prepare ahead for warm, cold, wind, rain and sun! Check out my Kilimanjaro Packing List for tips and tricks when deciding what to bring with you to Africa.

Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Camp

7 miles | 5-7 hours | Elevation 5,380′ to 9,350′

Arriving at the Machame Gate

Most climbers will be based in either Moshi or Arusha before beginning their adventure. The Machame gate is only a short drive from either town. When you arrive at the gate you will be required to sign in and other formalities that are usually taken care of by your tour company. You will continue to sign in at each camp throughout the entire trip. It is usually the first thing you do as you arrive.

The entrance gate to the start of the Machame route when climbing Kilimanjaro.
The entrance gate to the start of the Machame route when climbing Kilimanjaro.
The Machame Gate

While all the gear is being sorted by the crew, it’s a good idea to utilize the last “fancier” restroom that you will encounter for the next week. The park staff does a wonderful job keeping these common areas clean! This is also a perfect time to organize your own gear so that your water and snacks are easily accessible and your rain gear is close by. Keep an eye on any food because there are tons of blue monkeys in the vicinity that have no problem stealing your lunch.

A sign detailing the milage and hours from the Machame gate to Uhuru peak for climbing Kilimanjaro
Machame Gate trekking distance sign for climbing Kilimanjaro along the Machame route.
Landscape & Weather

The first part of your journey will be through a dense rainforest so expect to be in the elements. The trail is likely to be slippery from the precipitation so utilize those trekking poles! This is also where you may encounter some wildlife such as the colobus monkey or chameleons. We saw a ton of different bird species as well as various types of flora some of which are only found on Kilimanjaro. Keep your eyes peeled for a waterfall tucked away on the right-hand side of the trail about halfway to Machame Camp.

Lush greenery surrounds the fairly flat trail along the Machame route of climbing Kilimanjaro.
Walking along the gentle trail from Machame gate to the Machame camp on the way to the Kilimanjaro summit.
Difficulty Level: Easy

If you are from sea level like myself, then you will feel the elevation right away. I had begun taking Diamox before arriving in Moshi so I didn’t have any symptoms of altitude sickness at this point, but the air was noticeably thinner to me. This also meant that I would be stopping to pee very frequently since Diamox is a diuretic. Luckily, there is plenty of cover in the rainforest portion. Overall the trail on the first day is a relatively gentle upwards slope and is a pretty easy hike.

A moss covered tree in the rainforest along the Machame path.
A moss covered tree off the side of the trail along the Machame route to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Machame Camp

Machame camp is still located in the rainforest so we were set up amongst plenty of trees. It was also fairly wet and sloppy outside, but not yet cold. There are bathrooms located throughout camp, but luckily our company provided a private toilet that was set up just outside of our tents. Depending on what time you begin your hike at Machame gate, you might arrive at Machame camp in the dark as we did.

A few tents set up under the dense fog at Machame camp.
Machame camp settled in the forest and under a thick fog.

Day 2: Machame Camp to Shira Camp

3 miles | 4-6 hours | Elevation 9,350′ to 12,500′

Landscape & Weather

Leaving Machame camp has you still trekking through the rainforest, but as you head towards Shira camp you will notice the trees thin out a bit. Rain is still highly likely in this area. This is where you begin to head into the Heather Zone and finish nearing the Moorland Zone. Mount Kilimanjaro has five unique climate zones that you will travel through as you climb higher. There are so many fascinating plants that you will begin to see at this point that your guides will most likely point out to you. Many plants such as the Giant Lobelia are only found in places like Mount Kilimanjaro.

An above view of the Giant Lobelia plant that is unique to mountains like Kilimanjaro.
The Giant Lobelia plant that is unique to mountains like Kilimanjaro.
Difficulty Level: Medium With Some Steeper Climbs

Much shorter than the previous day, the hike from Machame camp to Shira camp is much steeper. The profile for the day is essentially two steep climbs and two flats that would drop us into Shira Camp. There are a few rock scrambles that may require you to hang onto your trekking poles and use your hands for leverage. This part of the trek also has a high probability of precipitation so having rain gear is important. Be prepared to slip and slide a bit on the slippery rocks.

A hiker on the steeper path that is edged with stubbier vegetation along the Machame path towards Kilimanjaro.
Steeper ascents are common on the path towards Shira camp.
Shira Camp

Arriving at Shira camp, we were still in a cloud so the mist was still pretty thick. It wasn’t until the morning that I realized we were perched on top of a plateau just under the peak of Kilimanjaro. Since the mileage was low for the day, most climbers will continue on for an extra 200′-300′ of elevation gain to continue to “climb high and sleep low” for acclimitization. During this hike, we passed by a cave that porters use to use as shelter decades ago instead of tents.

Tents scattered across Shira camp above the clouds on the Machame route to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Tents scattered across Shira camp along the Machame route to a Kilimanjaro summit.

Day 3: Shira Camp to Barranco Camp

6 miles | 6-8 hours | Elevation 12,500′ to 13,044′

Landscape & Weather

Officially out of the rainforest, the views finally open up to give a great vantage point of the Kilimanjaro peak. It is also very likely that you’ll be above the clouds for this portion of the hike for amazing panoramic vistas. Though as said before that the weather is always unpredictable, at this point if you are above the clouds you will probably see some sunshine! The terrain is pretty barren with limited greenery and mostly rocks. As you climb to the Lava Tower around 15,000′ you will be entering the Highland Desert Zone for the first time.

A raven in the foreground with Kilimanjaro blurred in the background.
White-necked ravens are a common sight on Kilimanjaro.
Difficulty Level: Hard Due To Higher Elevation & Time Spent Hiking

The hike from Shira camp to Barranco camp along the Machame route is a bit more difficult than the previous two days. Mainly the long hours and higher elevation make day three a bit more challenging. Even though you only gain about 500′ by the end of the day, you actually climb up to 15,190′ when you reach the Lava Tower. From Shira to the Lava Tower takes approximately 4-5 hours and is mainly an uphill steady climb. Most trekkers will have lunch at the Lava Tower and then begin to wrap around the Kilimanjaro peak and head down towards Barranco camp. After leaving the Lava Tower, the path is a straight down rocky grade that is a bit of a rock scramble. From the Lava Tower to Barranco is only about 2-3 hours.

A gradual climb along the path towards the Lava Tower.
A gradual ascent towards the Lava Tower along the Machame route.
Barranco Camp

Descending around 2,000′ into Barranco camp comes as a bit of relief. Climbing high and sleeping low really does work! Since you’ve already done your acclimatization hike, the rest of the evening is spent relaxing. Barranco camp is nestled just under the peak of Kilimanjaro giving a very unique vantage point to the mountain. If you gaze to the right of the peak, you will see the challenge that you will face first thing the next morning called the Barranco Wall.

Tent set up under Kilimanjaro at Barranco Camp.
Tent set up under Kilimanjaro at Barranco Camp.

Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp

3 miles | 4-5 hours | Elevation 13,044′ to 13,106′

Landscape & Weather

The foliage is still pretty thin, but there is some greenery around. One of my favorite plants found on Kilimanjaro started showing up in high density right around this area along the Machame route. The Dendrosenecio, which reminds me of something straight out of Whoville, is found at higher altitudes of some of the mountains found in East Africa. Since the elevation is fairly similar to the day before, you have a higher chance of being above the clouds at certain points throughout the hike. If you are then you will most likely have clearer views and some sun.

Some of the plant life on Kilimanjaro.
A few of the unique plants found on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Difficulty Level: Hard Due To Barranco Wall

The Barranco Wall along the Machame route is depicted as this daunting task that is extremely difficult and dangerous. My own personal opinion is that the steep rock scramble up is a fun way to gain a ton of elevation while not even realizing it! Pack your trekking poles away for this section because you will be gripping onto rocks as you shimmy across narrow passes (The Kissing Wall) and pull yourself up steep rock steps. There is nothing to worry about though, your guides are there to make sure you remain safe. Take your time, “Pole Pole”, and be sure of your footing and you’ll be fine! The hike following the wall is fairly simple with plenty of ups and down.

A hiker about halfway up the Barranco Wall looking down into the valley where Barranco Camp is.
About halfway up the Barranco Wall.
Karanga Camp

Just before reaching the Karanga camp, you descend into a valley and then must climb right back up on the other side to reach camp. Once you reach the top of the climb you will be situated just under the peak of the mountain. Climbers who choose the 6 day Machame route option will most likely stop here for lunch and continue onto Barafu camp. The 7 day Machame route option, however, sleeps one extra night around 13,000′ to continue to acclimate. The Karanga camp is, in my opinion, the perfect spot to grab some photos of the mountain under the stars. I’m not a skilled photographer, but the landscape was perfect to at least give some nighttime photography a try.

Tents setup under the peak of Kilimanjaro at Karanga camp.
Tents setup under Kilimanjaro at Karanga camp.

Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp

2 miles | 4-5 hours | Elevation 13,106′ to 15,331′

Landscape & Weather

Still in the Highland Desert Zone, the path continues to work its way around the mountain and into higher elevations. The landscape remains rocky with very little vegetation, but the views are incredible along this section of the Machame route! As mentioned before, the weather is always unpredictable, but if you are above the clouds you are in for some great panoramic vantage points. Clouds tend to move in fast though so be prepared to add layers when the wind picks up.

A look at the peak of Kilimanjaro through a few clouds from the Machame route.
A quick glimpse of the Kilimanjaro peak from the Machame trail.
Difficulty Level: Hard Due To High Elevation

The challenge today comes in the form of thin air rather than mileage. At this point, you would have already felt 15,000′ of elevation from the Lava Tower ascent. With only a few steep climbs, the hike is short so that you can rest before summit day. Since the terrain is rocky, the path can be slippery at times if there is fog or rain in the area. Take it slow because the next day is summit day and it will be one of the toughest days, mentally and physically!

Hikers climb a steep ascent with Kilimanjaro in the background.
A few steep ascents along the way to Barafu camp.
Barafu Camp

Also known as Base Camp, Barafu camp is the last stop along the Machame route before summiting Kilimanjaro. When you arrive at camp, you will most likely walk a few hundred feet higher for an acclimatization hike. This is perfect so you can get a view of what the trail looks like for summit day. You’ll also be passing other climbers who have already summited Kilimanjaro and are on their way to lower elevation. Give out some high fives and congratulations because you’ll be happy to get them the following day when you are exhausted! Barafu camp is obviously situated on the side of a mountain, so your campsite will most likely be on an incline and very rocky. Take as much time as possible to rest at base camp so all your energy can be used to get to the roof of Africa!

Barafu camp is setup at the base of the summit hike. The ground is not level and very rocky.

Day 6 Part 1: Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak

3 miles | 7-8 hours | Elevation 15,331′ to 19,341′

Landscape & Weather

As much as I want to give you all the details on the summit, it is also something that you should just wait to experience yourself. At this point in the hike, you will reach the Arctic Climate Zone. The climb is mainly loose rock known as scree which is packed together in the morning. As the sun heats up the mountain, it will become a bit looser. The weather at this point of the trek will be absolutely unpredictable since you are summiting a mountain. Your guides will go through a gear check with you prior to taking off that will have you wearing all of your warm clothes. Keep your eye to your right as you climb for the most beautiful sunrise you will ever see!

Sunrise from Stella Point on Mount Kilimanjaro.
The sun will rise on your right as you climb to the summit. One of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. From Stella Point.
Difficultly: MOST DIFFICULT

Summiting any mountain has its challenges, but this isn’t just any mountain! Climbing Kilimanjaro is difficult, there’s no way around it. You will gain over 4,000′ of elevation as you hike straight up in the dark for 7 hours. This could end up being the hardest thing you ever do. But it is absolutely POSSIBLE! Keep a positive mindset, prepare ahead of time with some of my training advice. Trust your guides will lead you safely to the roof of Africa.

Celebrating a successful summit to Uhuru Peak in front of the congratulations sign on Mount Kilimanjaro
At the Kilimanjaro summit you celebrate!

Day 6 Part 2: Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp

7 miles | 4-6 hours | Elevation 19,341′ to 10,065′

Landscape & Weather

Coming down from the peak could potentially be much warmer if the sun pops out. The rocks or scree is much looser now so you’ll be able to slide your way down the mountain in no time. The hike starts at midnight for a couple of reasons, one of them being that you’ll be down the mountain by the time afternoon weather rolls in. After you rest back at basecamp for a bit, you’ll continue your way to lower elevation. You’ll catch some great views of the Kilimanjaro peak behind you as you descend. This trail, however, is used mainly to exit the park or for supply runs. While still beautiful, it doesn’t have the variety that the Machame route has, which is why people don’t typically ascend this way.

One of the glaciers on top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
One of the glaciers that can be found at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Difficulty Level: Hard Due To Exhaustion But Easy Terrain

The way back down Mount Kilimanjaro is considerably easier than the way up. You’re moving faster and covering way more ground. That being said, make sure your shoes fit properly or you’ll end up losing your toenails just like me! Use your trekking poles and you’ll have no problem sliding down the scree. After you rest for a few hours at Barafu camp you’ll begin to trek towards Mweka camp. This part of the hike is easy in the sense that its downhill and at lower elevations, but remember that you will have just summited Mount Kilimanjaro. This part of the hike was the toughest for me, even more exhausting that climbing in the morning. It’s not far, but you’ll be tired and running on little sleep. Try and keep a positive mindset and know that you’ll be in your sleeping bag before you know it!

A hiker coming down from the summit of Kilimanjaro sliding down the scree, or loose rocks.
A good visual of the scree that you’ll encounter descending from the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Mweka Camp

Arriving at Mweka camp is a huge relief. At this point, you will have been hiking for approximately 13-14 hours. You’ve been up since midnight and have summited Kilimanjaro. Most likely you will eat dinner and go straight to bed. Mweka camp is located back in the rainforest so it’ll be wet and sloppy around camp. Watch your footing and have your rain gear close by.

A flat path leading under mossy trees along Kilimanjaro hike.
The path becomes more gentle as you descend to lower elevation.

Day 7: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate

6 miles | 3-4 hours | Elevation 10,065′ to 5,380′

Landscape & Weather

For your final hike back towards civilization will continue through the rainforest. The trail will be slippery from parcipitation and start off fairly rocky. As you get closer to the gate, the trail will even out and be much easier to keep your traction. If you get lucky you might see or hear some colobus monkeys!

The foggy rainforest portion of the hike from Mweka camp to the gate.
Back in the rainforest on the way to Mweka Gate.
Difficulty Level: Easy

After a decent night of sleep, you should be ready to go! The trail is fairly easy with very few short steep declines that are actually more or less just steep rocky steps. Once the trail evens out into small rocks or pebbles, you can pick up the pace quite a bit.

Hikers take a photo in front of the Mweka gate sign.
Arriving at the Mweka gate marks the end of an epic adventure.

Machame Route

Although I haven’t climbed any other route besides the Machame route, I will say this trail has it all. From the beautiful views to the perfect acclimation schedule. We climbed high and slept low every day which aided in our successful Kilimanjaro summit. Each camp that we stayed at had an amazing setup and view. We passed by tons of interesting plants and animals along the way while our guides taught us songs and the history of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The team celebrating a successful climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro in front of the Congratulations sign at Uhuru Peak.
Couldn’t have summited Kilimanjaro without the amazing guides at Kilimanjaro Backcountry Adventures
Thinking of adding A Mount Kilimanjaro summit to your bucket list?

Consider trusting Kilimanjaro Backcountry Adventures to guide you to a successful Mount Kilimanjaro summit. I can’t say enough great things about this company. Thank you to our amazing guides and crew who you see pictured in some of the photos of this post! We couldn’t have done it without your expertise and encouragement! Check back my detailed post about just how much I loved every aspect of Kilimanjaro Backcountry Adventures!!!

Questions or comments about summiting Kilimanjaro via the Machame route? Feel free to drop a comment below or reach out to me on my Facebook page found on the right hand side of this post!

A HUGE thanks go out to my climbing friends Stephanie, Haley, and Taylor for coming along with me and helping me document the hike! They are pictured in some of the photos as well as contributed some of the photos for this post! Thanks again guys!

My name is Bridget and Iā€™m so happy you stopped by. Iā€™m an average girl with a full-time job who has been traveling on and off for almost 10 years. I want to inspire you to get outdoors and travel by sharing some of my favorite adventures as well as tips, tricks, and itineraries. Everything from traveling across the world to my current location in central Florida, you can find it all here at impulse4adventure!

11 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: