The Rongai route to Kilimanjaro

by Kshaunish Jaini

The Rongai route to Mt. Kilimanjaro is almost a guarantee to a wilder experience in comparison to other routes. It is considered a more remote route and is known for a wilderness experience that to this day remains.

The high season for Mt. Kilimanjaro is from August to mid-October, so if you do choose to climb Kilimanjaro via Rongai during this time, you may still experience some crowds. One of the major interests for the Rongai route is that it does have less traffic in comparison to the Machame and Marangu trails. In addition, it is considered the easiest route on Mt. Kilimanjaro. This being said, choosing to climb the Rongai Route means you have potentially the best chance for success in reaching the summit.

In addition, in comparison to the Machame and Marangu routes the Rongai trail is also the only route that starts on the north side of the mountain. An advantage to trekking this route is that you will descend on the south side. Therefore, you have the opportunity to see both the north side of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the south. The northern side of the mountain receives much less rain than the other sides. Keep in mind that the southwest side of the mountain receives 96% of the mountains rainfall . Because of this, for the first couple days of the climb, you are unlikely to have any showers or be walking in the mud. This is very possible with the other routes.

One thing to keep in mind with regards to your budget is that the Rongai route will typically cost more than the Machame or Marangu routes. It takes you a couple of hours to drive to the northern side of the mountain, which will increase the cost. Also, the first day of the Rongai route is considered by some to not be as beautiful as the other routes because you will be walking through more of a countryside as opposed to a luscious rainforest. However keep in mind that you will descend on the southern side and see the rainforest at that time, so you are just getting a variety of views.

 
Clouds-Roll-Into-Camp-Rongai-route-Kilimanjaro

Clouds Roll Into Camp, Rongai route Kilimanjaro. Photo by Steve

All in all, the Rongai route is a great choice for those hikers that do not have much backpacking experience. It is also a great way to escape the crowds and, in addition, is perfect for those that may want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro during the rainy season.

The route can be climbed in five days (four nights), six days (seven nights), or seven days (eight nights). The seven-day Rongai option is recommended for those that have very little trekking experience or may be worried that their bodies will have a difficult time acclimatizing. Regardless keep in mind that the Rongai route has a very high success rate.

Rongai route Itinerary

Below is a basic itinerary of what a general six-day ascent on the Rongai route may look like. For those of you that would prefer to do the route in seven days, you will typically spend two nights at one of the campsites to better acclimatize. This itinerary will also include a detour to Mawenzi Tarn camp which you will most definitely want to include in your trek of the Rongai route, it is considered to have some of the best views of the mountain.

Day 1 – Nalemoru (1,950m) – First Cave Campsite (2,650m)

Hike Distance: 6.5 km
Hike Time: 3-4 hours

Day 2 – First Cave Campsite (2,650m) – Kikelewa Caves (3,600m)

Hike Distance: 9 km
Hike Time: 6-7 hours

Day 3 – Kikelewa Caves (3,600m) – Mawenzi Tarn (4,330m)

Hike Distance: 6 km
Hike Time: 3-4 hours

Day 4 –Mawenzi Tarn (4,700m) – Kibo Huts (4,700m)

Hike Distance: 9 km
Hike Time: 4-5 hours

Day 5 – Summit Attempt from Gliman’s Point (5,700m) to Uhuru Peak (5,895) descend to Horombo Huts (3,700m)

Hike Distance: 5 km ascent + 15 km descent
Hike Time:  Overall ascent and descent approximately 10-16 hours

Day 6 – Horombo Huts (3,700m) – Marangu Gate

Hike Distance: 20 km
Hike Time: 5 hours

Detailed Itinerary for the Rongai Route

Below is a more detailed description of your ascent via the Rongai Route

Rongai Route Day 1

On your first day on the Rongai Route, you will spend a decent amount of time driving to the start point. You will be traveling to the northern side of the mountain, where you will get to see many different African villages along the way.

You will typically eat at a town called Nalemoru, where you will then start your journey. The first day you will walk among open African countryside with small glimpses of the forest. Although the scenic views are nothing to rave about, you have a better opportunity at seeing African wildlife.

You will camp at First Cave Campsite where you will very likely see many birds and colobus monkeys. Try and make sure you are heading on a low traffic day, that’s when the real wildlife comes out.

 
Colobus-monkeys-seen-on-the-Kilimanjaro-trek-Rongai-Route

Colobus monkeys seen on the Kilimanjaro trek Rongai Route. Photo by Brad

Rongai Route Day 2

During this day, any crowds that you may have seen at the last camp will often disappear. There are many variations on the Rongai Route, therefore many people will start to branch off onto different trails.

If you are on the six-day version of the Rongai Route you will move towards Mawenzi. This section has beautiful views of Kibo, Mawenzi as well as beautiful ice fields in the distant east.

This day you will gain almost 1,000 meters in altitude so you will be more than happy when you reach your second camp.

Rongai Route Day 3

 
Kilimanjaro-Vegetation-along-the-Rongai-route-Groundsels

Vegetation along the Rongai route. Groundsels are common here. Photo by Sam

Your day will begin similar to how your day ended yesterday. However, your path will slowly start to steepen and you will start to rise out of the vegetation from senecios (or groundsels) that line this section.

Once the path really starts to steepen you know that you are almost finished with you hiking for the day. You will arrive at Mawenzi camp that beholds some of the best views of the mountain. You will have views of the beautiful Mawenzi right in front of you.

You can do a fair amount of exploring in this campsite to get various picturesque views.

Rongai Route Day 4

On the fourth day, you will walk on a beautiful plain in between the two peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo. If it is a clear day the views are absolutely breathtaking.

Just before getting to Kibo Huts you will join up with the Marangu route, which becomes more of a wide beaten path. It will help put into perspective how desolate the last couple of days have been. Make sure to really have a good rest tonight as the next day will be your summit day.

The next two days then follow the same trail as the Marangu summit trail. Read about summiting Kilimanjaro via the Marangu route here .

Rongai Route Day 5

You will have wanted to rest well at Kibo Huts the night before summit day. This main be one of the most physically strenuous days of your life, as the guides wake you up at 11:00 pm or 11:30 pm. The switchbacks that will lead you to the summit will take away from some of the steepness of the climb. However, it will still be quite difficult due to the lack of oxygen as you have climbed to such a high altitude. You may see a large landmark called Williams Point, on the way up, during the climb, that will mark the altitude as 5,000 meters.

The most difficult part of the climb will start at the landmark of the Jamaican Rocks. From there you only have one hour left of climbing before you reach Gilman’s Point, which for many of you may be the highest altitude you have ever been in your life. You will gain another 200 meters as you climb to the summit and to Uhuru Peak where you will finally be on top of the highest mountain in Africa.

By the time you arrive at Horombo camp, you will be utterly exhausted, but feel truly rewarded for accomplishing such a great feat.

Rongai Route Day 6

Heading-for-Horombo-Camp-Kilimanjaro

Heading for Horombo Camp, Kilimanjaro. Photo by Steve

This will be the final day for you on the mountain taking with you an experience that you will never forget. Starting from the Horombo Camp, you will pass through all the vegetation that you climbed including the beautiful rainforest where you may relish some rain to help wash off some of the sweat from the climb.

You will climb into the vehicles and the climbing Kilimanjaro via Rongai route will become an unforgettable experience.

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