Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa is a famous trekking destination. One of the Seven Summits (the highest mountain in each continent), it attracts thousands of visitors a year, all aiming to climb Kilimanjaro’s summit. So, once you’ve decided to take on the challenge, a simple question that many travellers have is - how to get to Kilimanjaro? In this article, we’re going to look at the main transportation options available. Although this piece is mainly for travellers from the USA and the United Kingdom, there’s still plenty of useful information for people visiting Kilimanjaro from other countries.
Mount Kilimanjaro is in the African country of Tanzania, which is famous for its savannah safaris, and lies within the Kilimanjaro National Park. The mountain is in the north near the border, close to the large towns of Moshi and Arusha, where many of the Kilimanjaro trekking companies are based, and act as accommodation hubs before trekking tours depart from them up the mountain.
Before figuring out the transportation to Kilimanjaro, you first need to consider what your plan is for the trek. If you have booked a trek with a tour agency, check whether they arrange any of the transportation, and if so, where they will pick you up, whether they arrange airport transfers, and so on. Then you just have to figure out how to get to the point that you’ll be under their care, whether that’s an African airport or the town of Moshi, for example.
Airplane lands at Moshi airport. Photo by David
If you aren’t pre-arranging a tour, or your tour agency doesn’t offer extra transport options, you need to decide where you need to be, so that your base is close to the mountain. Moshi and Arusha are the main hubs for trekking and many trekking companies can be found here or require their customers to arrive there. If you want to shop around for trek options once you arrive, those are your best destinations. You can read more about the Kilimanjaro routes to plan your arrival better.
Most visitors will be arriving to Kilimanjaro via air. There’s a wealth of options of course, but the main thing to consider is, which airport in Africa you want to arrive at. Before we get started, a handy tip for trekking travellers is to wear your trekking boots on the flight - if your luggage is lost or delayed for some reason, at least you will still have your most important bit of luggage with you!
The closest airport to the mountain, and probably the easiest and most direct flight destination for tourists, is the Kilimanjaro International Airport (airport code JRO). This lies in the south-western part of the National Park and is about half-way between Moshi and Arusha, being about 40-50km to each, roughly a 45 minute drive out to the towns. A number of international airlines run flights to JRO, since it allows easy access to Kilimanjaro. The Kilimanjaro International Airport contains facilities like a post office, bank, Wi-Fi and money changing booths. It’s worth noting that flights can be more expensive to this airport than the other options, but it does save a lot of time and hassle. In peak trekking seasons for Kilimanjaro, this destination is very popular so be sure to book flights well in advance.
If a tour company isn’t arranging airport transfers for you, the airlines offer a complimentary or cheap buses to take you from JRO to Arushi or Moshi, or a private taxi to either town will set you back roughly USD$50.
This next section is mainly for travellers from Europe and the USA. At the time of writing there are a number of flight companies which have connections allowing you to fly to Kilimanjaro National Airport (JRO). Bear in mind that these are constantly in flux and JRO is becoming increasingly popular, so do have a look on sites like Skyscanner and see what’s available.
Most highly rated, and one of the easiest options is Dutch carrier KLM, who offer a daily flight going direct from Amsterdam to JRO, leaving in the morning and arriving in Tanzania mid-evening. The other main carriers which offer direct JRO flights are Quatar Airways (via Doha, Quatar) - which have a great general reputation and also offer connections with British Airways flights. Then there’s Condor (via Frankfurt, Germany), Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul, Turkey), Ethiopian Airlines (via Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia), and Rwandair (via Kigali, Rwanda). Kenya Airways leaves from multiple international destinations and flies to JRO via Nairobi, Kenya. Precision Air, Fastjet and Air Kenya fly via Nairobi or from Tanzanian airports including the capital, Dar Es Salaam. Package flights may use more than one of these carriers for the journey.
When you’re looking at flights for JRO, pay attention to the last transfer. Some flights will transfer you at Nairobi (Kenya), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) or Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) through to JRO. If this is the case, pay attention to the length of the layover and consider the cost of the final leg of the journey.
A short local flight to Kilimanjaro. Photo by Alchen
There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, there are frequent reports of international flight transfers at Nairobi and Addis Ababa airports suffering delays and lost or delayed luggage, not ideal if you’re on a tight schedule or taking expensive trekking gear with you!
Secondly, there are a number of companies offering flights from those three airports to JRO. Check what those flights cost individually as sometimes they are not included in flight packages.
You could also skip the flights if you are travelling from Nairobi or Dar es Salaam - and consider travelling by road to Kilimanjaro instead, which we’ll discuss later in the article.
If you can’t fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport, or don’t want to, here are the other main airports which have straightforward connections to the Kilimanjaro region.
Kenya’s capital city airport lies to the north of Kilimanjaro and is the most popular international flight hub in the area. Flights here rather than to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) are usually quite a bit cheaper, however, you still need to get to Kilimanjaro. British travellers should note that British Airways offers many flights to Nairobi. Flight options to JRO from Nairobi include Air Kenya, Precision Air and Kenya Airways. If flying into Tanzania from Kenya, you’ll need a Kenyan tourist visa which you can buy on arrival in Nairobi airport.
There are plenty of buses available daily connecting Nairobi to Arusha and continuing to Moshi, including “luxury buses” (by luxury, we mean buses that are more like western style coaches with toilets and TVs). The bus takes around 6 hours and is a much cheaper option than flying. Some shuttles can be booked in advance or through accommodations in Nairobi. They cross the Kenyan border at Namanga. Be aware that like the flight option, you need a Kenyan tourist visa for this trip (buy on arrival in Nairobi airport). You also need to buy a Tanzanian tourist visa at the Namanga border (prices vary depending on your nationality).
An expensive option but possibly affordable for groups (or the rich) is to arrange a private transfer vehicle from Nairobi airport to Arusha or Moshi. Expect to pay many hundreds of US dollars for the privilege though, and be aware that the dodgy road conditions are even less favourable for smaller vehicles than buses! This could be an option for those who are on a very tight timeframe (night journeys are also available but we do not recommend it road safety at night is terrible!).
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital airport, serves as an international carrier destination and offers domestic flights to Kilimanjaro International Airport through companies like Fastjet and Precision Air. It’s worth noting that Nairobi airport (see above) is actually closer to Kilimanjaro despite being in a different country, so is generally a cheaper and faster option than going via Dar es Salaam.
Sunrise over Dar es Salaam. Photo by Andrew
Another option to reach Kilimanjaro from Dar es Salaam is a very cheap 8 hour bus journey to Moshi or Arusha. Reports are that some buses use very basic latrines on the route but “luxury” buses are becoming popular with tourists and are available on some routes. Be aware that some luxury bus companies do not depart from the regular city bus stations and have their own stops instead. Check the situation before you go, you never know when a new company is going to jump on the Kili bandwagon!
When arranging airport transfers in Dar es Salaam, either do it via your accommodation or tour company. If you need to take a taxi, do some research into safe taxi usage in the city, as crime and cons against travellers aren’t unheard of.
The town of Arusha near Kilimanjaro does actually have its own small airport. However, it is small and for light aircraft only, with the vast majority of air traffic in the region going via Kilimanjaro International Airport instead. But it’s worth noting that it’s possible to arrange chartered and domestic flights and even a few from Nairobi to Arusha airport for those who might find this a better (but more expensive) option.
Be aware that when arriving in Tanzania, travellers may require a yellow fever vaccination and a certificate to prove it. This can depend on which country you flew via, where you are from and also your travelling history. Be sure to research the current vaccination requirements as they do change from time to time. It is possible to get the vaccination on arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport but usually cheaper and safer to do so at home before you leave. Also remember to check for other vaccinations that are wise to get depending on where else you might be travelling during your trip.
A Tanzanian tourist visa is required on arrival in the country. Although many people say that this must be purchased in advance (at great expense and time-consuming process via agencies), in reality it’s usually possible to buy it at a much cheaper price at the Tanzanian airport that you arrive at, or the country border (like Kenya) if you are arriving by land. Just make sure you have the cash on hand to pay for it, your passport is valid for at least 6 months more and you have any accompanying documentation that’s required. Also, for people entering Tanzania via Kenya (flight or land), you will usually require a Kenyan tourist visa, and may need a multiple-entry one. This depends on your nationality and nature of your trip, so make sure to research this in advance. Visas can usually be bought on arrival at the airport.
There are regular public buses and tourist shuttle services travelling between these Kilimanjaro towns. Tickets can be bought at stations or at your accommodation in the towns. Be aware that popular tourist services often get full in peak season, so book well in advance if you are relying on a particular service. Marangu can be a little trickier to get to, check in advance whether you need to book a shuttle service as buses can be unreliable or irregular.
Taxis or chartered vehicles can also be hired to get your around the area, and can be rented by the day as well as for individual trips.
The bus stopping on the Tanzanian border. Photo by David Thomas
A few nuggets of wisdom for the Tanzanian buses:
As most Kilimanjaro trekkers will arrive by air into Tanzania or Kenya, we won’t delve too deeply into the other methods of reaching the Kilimanjaro region. Travellers on longer expeditions around Africa can reach Tanzania via its neighbouring countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Burundi, and Kenya. Most of these are possible via air, bus or even boat in some cases, but make sure you have the relevant visas and documentation for entering Tanzania and you have the correct immunizations and their records.
Now you know all the best ways to get to Kilimanjaro, you can begin planning your trek! Obviously, the most simple option is to get a flight direct to Kilimanjaro International Airport, and have your accommodation or tour provider arrange your transport from there. Smooth sailing! However we hope we’ve given you a good starting point for those who want other possibilities. Here’s to safe and speedy travels, and whilst you’re sitting in your plane or bus, just think about the amazing Kilimanjaro trek that’s waiting for you!