The Machame route to Kilimanjaro 

by Kshaunish Jaini, on Dec 31, 2016

The Machame route is one of the first official trekking routes developed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is also the most popular route on the mountain, meaning that it is the most trafficked route. There are two main reasons why this route is the most popular route on Mt. Kilimanjaro :

Keep in mind that the Shira route as well as the Lemosho route do eventually meet up with the Machame and therefore hold many of the same views. Therefore, the way to describe Machame is that, it is the most beautiful route to do on a budget.

The Machame route is considered to be one of the more difficult routes to climb on Mt. Kilimanjaro. The route has inherited the nickname of “Whiskey Route” because of this. Yet, despite being difficult, the “Whiskey Route” still has quite a high success rate. The reason for this is the climbing is not very technical, as compared to the Marangu Route. The trek is simply long and there are plenty of steep inclines and declines. It wears you out more than anything but does not take any technical experience. Some backpacking experience and a good fitness level will do.

During the hike, you may hear of the section called the Barranco Wall. Keep in mind that this is not an actual cliff face. This section includes a steeper incline where you may have to resort to basic rock scrambling to surpass this section. For those of you with fitness concerns for this section, see the Rongai route to Kilimanjaro as another potential option.

The route begins from the south side of the mountain. It meets up with the Shira and Lemosho Route typically on the second night at Shira 2 camp. You then traverse below a series of glaciers/ice fields before you summit.

Ice fields on the Kilimanjaro trek. Photo by UNITE

The Machame route to Kilimanjaro takes a minimum of six days (five nights), yet the suggested amount of time for the route is seven days (six nights). This allows for more time to acclimatize and in itself provides a greater potential for success. The descent usually takes place on the Mweka route.

Machame Route Itinerary

Here is a general summary of what a typical seven-day summit via the Machame Route may look like. Keep in mind that slight alterations may take place during the actual hike depending on weather conditions or fitness level:

Trailhead/Starting Point: Machame Gate (1,830m)

Day 1 – Machame Gate (1,830m) – Machame Huts (3,030 m)

Hike Distance: 5.5 km
Hike Time: 5-7 hours

Day 2 – Machame Huts – New Shira Camp (3,850m)

Hike Distance: 5.5km
Hike Time: 4-6 hours

Day 3 – New Shira Camp through Lava Tower (4,640m) – Barranco Huts (3,985m)

Hike Distance: 10km
Hike Time: 5-7 hours

Day 4- Barranco Huts – Karanga Camp (4,040m)

Hike Distance: 5.5 km
Hike Time: 4-5 hours

Day 5 – Karanga Camp – Barafu Huts (4,680m)

Day 6 – Summit attempt to Uhuru Peak (5,895m) – Descent to Millennium Camp (3,820m)

Hike Distance: 5km ascent + 10km descent
Hike Time: Overall trekking with ascent and descent 10-16 hours

Day 7 – Millennium Camp (3,820m) – Machame Gate (1,830m)

Hike Distance: 20km
Hike Time: 5 hours

Detailed Itinerary for the Machame Route

To get a better understanding at what the Machame route will actually look like we will take a look at a more day-by-day itinerary. The itinerary will follow a typical Machame ascent taking into consideration the itinerary used above.

Machame Route Day 1

On your first day, you will typically wake up in Moshi. From here you will drive a typical one-hour until you reach Machame Gate. With good weather, you will be able to drive up to the actual gate. If there are any heavy rains you will have to walk the final couple of kilometers. Heavy rains may make it impossible to cross this final section with vehicles.

The Machame Gate (1800m above sea level) where the trek to Kilimanjaro starts. Photo by Anwar

Regardless of whether your vehicle enables you to arrive at the actual gate or you have to walk the final bit, once you arrive you will complete your final registration to start the trail. Often you will meet your guide and porters now. This is also the time where equipment will be distributed and you will start the hike.

Make sure to have good boots especially for this first day. You will often see quite a lot of rain during this point of the trek. The southern side of the mountain is responsible for 96% of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s rain. This leads to a lot of mud specifically at the start of Machame.

This first day is truly beautiful and shows true meaning to why it is called the “cloud forest”. This whole day you will be walking in the clouds. You will find yourself walking amongst dangling tree branches with flowers covering various parts of the ground.

Throughout your first day, the forest will slowly open up where you will have a great view of your first peak, Kibo. This, of course, is weather permitting.

Machame Route Day 2

On the second day, you will find yourself starting with quite a steep incline. On this day you start to climb above the forest and enter areas a more spread out vegetation. You will see concentrations of senecios and lobelias along your trail and begin to reach the edge of the Shira Plateau.

After lunch, you will start to see that shrubbery and vegetation begin to become sparser, indicating that you are entering the mountainous parts of Kilimanjaro. Although you may have not hiked much distance, you will start to feel the effects of altitude much more on this day.

Machame Route Day 3

During this day you will truly start to feel the altitude as you ascend to Lava Tower just over 4,500 meters. You will be hiking over lava type ridges and almost all of the vegetation has now disappeared. Once you reach Lava Tower you will begin to descend into Barranco Valley where you will camp this evening. Barranco Valley has fantastic views where you get your first glimpses of some of the southern glaciers as well as the Barranco Wall which you will climb tomorrow.

Successfully climbing the Barranco Wall on the Machame Route Kilimanjaro. Photo by Joren

One of the great things about this third day is that you ascend to over 4,500 meters yet you will be sleeping below 4,000. This provides an excellent opportunity to acclimatize efficiently using the method of climbing high but sleeping low.

For the rest of the Machame Route you will join up with hikers from Lemosho as well as Shira.

Machame Route Day 4

Day four is the day of the Barranco Wall. Rumors are stated by many that the Barranco Wall is the equivalent of climbing a sheer face, perilous and/or life threatening. These are all rumors and may have been made by some that have never seen a mountain before.

The Barranco Wall does have some steeper inclines where you may have to use both your hands and feet to “scramble” up some points. However, rock climbing or previous mountaineering experience is by no means necessary. For the most part, it is a steeper walk with points where you may need your hands to steady yourself. The climb will take approximately 90 minutes where you will then get absolutely amazing views of the famous Kibo.

The remainder of the day will consist of a gradual incline over volcanic rock before reaching the Karanga Valley Camp.

Machame Route Day 5

The fifth day of the Machame Route is a short and sweet one. The day is shorter as to give you a little bit of a rest before the following summit day. You will leave the Karanga Valley where you come across more and more volcanic landscape where there is almost no sign of life.

Barfu Camp on Machame route. Barafu means ice in Swahili. Photo by Anwar

As you see southern glaciers encroaching on your left you eventually reach Barafu Camp where you can have lunch and spend the rest of the day preparing yourself for the summit attempt.

Machame Route Day 6

On summit day, you will wake up at 2 am. Your first objective will be to arrive at Stella Point at 5752 meters where you have the opportunity to see an absolutely gorgeous sunrise.  From there you will have a final hour push to the summit where you will finally be on the highest point in Africa.

After summiting, you have a long descent of almost 2,000 meters to Millennium Camp where you will spend your final night on the mountain.

Machame Route Day 7 (Final Day)

On this day, you will continue your descent of almost 20 more km, until you arrive at Machame Gate. Although the distance seems very far, the hike is not strenuous since it is all downhill. You will find the vegetation and scenery change dramatically during your quick descent and before you know it you will be back at Machame Gate.