Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro on the Rongai Route
Most people start climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro on the South side in Tanzania by taking the Marungu Route. But, we took the North side of the Mountain on the less used Rongai Route and really preferred it.
We had read that the Rongai Route was a bit easier and far more pleasant than the other routes, and that it takes the group up a trail that is less used, which means less people.
We did find that to all be true.
We came from Loitokitok in Kenya, which is a small town, and has a central market worth checking out. We stayed with a Massai village just outside Loitokitok, and then stayed one night in town. From there we were able to book a taxi which took us across the border to the trail head.
We did our trek in February, and had great weather. We did the 7-day trek, paying for an extra day. We did not want to feel rushed up the mountain. This meant only about 3-4 hours of hiking per day up to the basecamp. Due to the Rongai Route being less popular, in some of the camp sites we were the only team present. In others there was just one other small group. The Rongai Route ends at the same base camp that all the other routes use, including Marungu Route.
On the descent we took the Marungu Route down, and we were able to see the packed campsites and large groups of hikers. Each group has large teams of porters, cooks and guides with them. Our group of 5 hikers had a total team of 16 people. These porters all sit around chatting and visiting when they get to camps, sometimes late into the nights. On the Rongai Route we only had our own team in the entire campsite, so, it was rather peaceful and quiet. Starting at the basecamp and then down the Marungu Route, however, there were 1000s of porters, and they would talk into the night keeping us up. Lack of sleep is not something you want when climbing a mountain!
When we saw how many people were at the basecamp, and at the top on the final day, and on the hike back down the Marungu Route, then we realized what a fortunate choice we had made to take the Rongai Route on which we had nearly been the only hikers for 4 days. We had a solo-hike experience up, unlike those that took all those other routes.
So I definitely recommend taking the Rongai Route up, and then the Marungu Route down. This allows you to see the ecology and natural systems on both the North and South sides of the mountain as well, which differ dramatically as ecology always does on these two sides of any mountain. It also allows a peaceful and easier ascent, and then a quick and people-filled descent.
We traveled in Kenya for a week, and then just passed through Loitokitok to Tanzania to hit the Rongai Route trail head, then coming down the Marungu and ending in Moshi where we headed off to see the Serengeti and Nogorongoro crater. It was a good way to pass from our time in Kenya to Tanzania.
The downside to the entire trip was that I contracted food poisoning the night before we went to the trailhead. I was violently ill all night long, but dead-set on climbing the mountain anyhow. We had paid a lot of money to do this trip, and there would be no refunds. Three days into the hiking though, where the non-stop diarrhea was making my life a misery on Earth, I started to doubt the decision.
We spoke to the head guide, and mentioned that I might need to turn around. He proceeded to speak in fast Swahili with the assistant guide. They debated loudly, and then in English he turned to me and said, "We make you herbal remedy with that plant." He pointed to a bushy plant near our campsite. This seemed a bit fishy to me that there just happened to be a plant right next to me that would solve my dilemma. They made a tea with it, and, ugh, it was awful tasting, and in the end didn't solve my issue, which I had all the way up to the top and down. I was so dehydrated and tired by the time we reached the top that I started to hallucinate. At Gilman's Point I looked over and saw my mother sitting on a rock. I was at least aware enough to realize that this had to be a hallucination.
I made it up and down though. Probably not one of the smartest moves in my life, but when I set my mind to something I do it. I would have been very disappointed to have planned so long only to be foiled by food poisoning.
But, all in all this means one important thing for you: if I could reach the top while extremely ill and dehydrated, you can certainly do it!
See photos from my trek here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mestable37/albums/72157711291873607