Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. It culminates at almost 20,000 feet or 5,895m. So when you look at all the necessary preparation and the costs, you may ask yourself, ‘Is Kilimanjaro worth it?”.
Mount Kilimanjaro is not worth it for the landscapes.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I loved what we saw during the hike. The landscapes changed, and we had an excellent connexion with our guides and great opportunities to learn more about Tanzania. But what I will remember the most are the challenges we faced and the life lessons I learnt on my way to the summit.
If your aim is to enjoy beautiful landscapes, I wouldn’t pick Mount Kilimanjaro. There are probably other hikes that are less strenuous and require less preparation but offer surroundings as lovely as Kilimanjaro. However, you won’t get the experience of reaching the roof of Africa, at almost 6,000m high. Planes fly at this altitude, and it’s incredible to reach it on foot. And the sensation of achievement when you reach the summit after all your efforts is unreal.
If you’re trying to tick something off the bucket list, it may not be the best reason to climb Kilimanjaro.
Make sure you realise what climbing Kilimanjaro means before deciding if the adventure is worth it. It’s about walking a lot. It’s about putting yourself at risk. It’s often about suffering and pushing your limits mentally, physically, and sometimes painfully. But, on the other hand, if you’re only interested in reaching the top and not on the journey that will get you there, you may face even more challenges.
So to the question, “Is Kilimanjaro worth it?” I’ll answer a big YES if you’d like to test yourself. And maybe your relationship with your buddies.
Mount Kilimanjaro is not worth it if you cannot afford the right operators.
Mount Kilimanjaro is not an adventure you can do at a reduced price. Many people are involved in your success, mostly your guide and porters. When you try to lower your costs for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, you likely reduce your chances of having a beautiful adventure and reaching the summit.
A cheap trip to the top of Kilimanjaro is not worth it. It would likely mean your porters are not treated right. They are desperate for jobs and accept bad conditions. And we’re not even only talking about their low pay here but also about food and sleeping conditions. You may be putting their lives at risk. I hope no tourist does that on purpose.
But I cannot imagine the feeling when you start realising during your hike that you are exploiting people. A Tanzanian non-profit organisation, Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), shares crucial information online that will help you make the right decisions to plan your Kilimanjaro expedition responsibly. I wished I had read their guidelines for tipping before my trip; it would have made the entire thing a lot easier.
Is Mount Kilimanjaro worth it if you have to turn around?
Mount Kilimanjaro is only worth it if you are ready to turn around. If you are in the mindset that you will reach the top no matter what, Mount Kilimanjaro is not worth it. You could be risking your life thinking like that.
If you have to turn around, like I almost did, climbing Kilimanjaro is still worth the adventure. Mount Kilimanjaro will teach you a few things about yourself and the people you are climbing with. It’s an experience you will keep with you for the rest of your life.
Mount Kilimanjaro is worth it for the experience.
The success rate for reaching the summit is around 66%. And the ones we all think would do the best don’t necessarily have the highest success rate. I have read in a guide that young males between 20 and 30 surprisingly fail more than we’d expect. There are many wise lessons to learn from the experience, whether you make it to the summit or not.
I did reach the summit, and here are the lessons I learnt:
1. Patience leads to success
At the early stage of the project of climbing Kilimanjaro, you have to select a route and the number of days to spend on the mountain. There are seven routes to choose from and many criteria to consider: budget, overall trip plan, difficulty, scenery, comfort, and popularity of the trail.
My first thought was to go for the cheapest, easiest and quickest option to reach the summit. Here, it would have been the Marangu route. With a smooth and gentle gradient, it is economical and can be done in only five days. We’d sleep in hut shelters – more comfortable than the other route options (camping).
As good as it looks on paper, this could have been a big mistake. Success in climbing Kilimanjaro is highly linked to the effects of altitude on your body. Therefore, altitude sickness has to be taken seriously. It is the main reason why people would not make it to the top, along with the weather.
The best way to limit the risks of failure due to the body not reacting well to the altitude is to take our time. They recommend spending time on the mountain at a reasonably high altitude so the body can adapt to it. Limiting efforts and allowing time to rest and walk slowly is also necessary. Hence, the 5-day trip, as attractive as it can be, is not the best option to better the odds of reaching the summit.
From readings and friends’ recommendations, we opted for the Machame route. And we added to it an extra day to acclimatise. This way, we had enough time to go “Pole Pole”, as they say in Swahili, which means “slow”, and limit our efforts.
I am so glad we made that choice. From the 2nd day of the ascension, my body strongly reacted to the altitude. I believe I could not have safely climbed Kilimanjaro quicker.
2. You need to trust others to succeed
As we reached our campsite on day two at the Shira Plateau, we had a perfect view of the summit of Kilimanjaro breaking up the bright blue sky. On the other side, a magic sea of clouds was stabbed by Mount Meru’s top.
The group was excited in front of this overwhelming scenery. But, I had a much different feeling. It was when I had my first big migraine because of the altitude. I have had intense headaches before, but this pain was incredibly stronger – and different than what I had ever experienced. And as Paracetamol and rest had no effect, I was losing hope of getting any better.
Our doctor back in Australia warned us that we must consider going down at the first symptoms of altitude sickness (headaches, nausea). From our guide’s point of view, it was too early: we must be careful and monitor the symptoms, but it is usual to have headaches and to vomit at some time during the climb.
Here I was, watching the summit that looked so close to us and thinking my body would not let me reach it. I had tears running down my cheeks as I figured it was already over on the second day, so early in the adventure. It was when our guide came to talk to me. I cannot clearly remember his speech, but he believed in me, in my courage to fight the pain and to carry on to the top.
I knew I could carry on with the pain. It was a pain I had chosen to go through, and that will go away as soon as we would go down. But I was afraid to take risks for my health considering the altitude sickness. That’s when I opened up to him, shared my fears and understood we both had the same objectives—reaching the summit safely. I chose to trust him and his experience to carry on the adventure. From that moment, he was the one deciding if I needed to stop the climb and go down.
I was way out of my comfort zone, as I never relied on others to make decisions for me. Not to mention that this was a major decision for my health! But to succeed and have a chance to reach the top, I needed to trust him.
3. Getting help and slowing down can, in the end, take you further
I was the only one of our group of five to be affected that much by the altitude and that early in the climb. The slow rhythm dictated by our guides was frustrating for my friends, who could have run in the first days. My point of view was much different. I was struggling with pain, as every single step was an effort resonating in my aching head.
I am fit, and I like to perform. I target to be amongst the leaders of these types of activities. That may have been the first time I was the one falling behind the group. At some point, I had to accept that our guide would carry my bag in addition to his pack. Mentally, even though the entire team showed support and even some admiration for the perseverance, this situation was hard to accept. But help and a slow pace were necessary to manage my efforts to acclimatise better to the altitude.
4. Admitting that not reaching your final goal is not a failure but part of the experience
When planning Kilimanjaro, reaching the summit is the ultimate goal. So at first, I had never imagined not trying everything to succeed. But a few weeks before our climb, a young, experienced French guy died on Kilimanjaro. He reached the summit by pushing his body too hard. So he never came back to the base as he died of a pulmonary embolism on the way back.
Deaths are not usual on Kilimanjaro, but it happens. That’s when I took the altitude sickness issue more seriously into consideration. While reading about it, I realised we might not all reach the top. From my migraine at Shira Plateau, I understood I might be the one that would not reach the top. If it has to happen, no one should consider this a failure. The failure here would be not to recognise the signs that the body is sending. The failure would be not to listen to the advice given by people with knowledge of the mountain and the body.
It taught me that stopping before the end when the risks are judged too high is a noble decision for yourself, your team and the people counting on you.
And even if you don’t reach the summit, attempting to climb Kilimanjaro is worth it. You’ll live an extraordinary experience that you couldn’t have anywhere else.
There are risks associated with climbing Kilimanjaro. Most travel insurance won’t cover you for such an experience. Make sure you double-check if you are covered at an altitude of 5,895m! Cover-More Adventure Travel Insurance* may have the solution for you.
5. Preparation and a positive attitude are the keys to succeeding. So can be luck.
I often hear I am lucky, but I firmly believe that luck does not come from scratch. You have to create good opportunities to get lucky. I know that proper preparation coupled with a positive attitude leads to success, as much as hard work. Kilimanjaro taught me that there is a luck factor that can’t be ignored. And this luck can dramatically impact the success rate.
Indeed, we had perfect weather during our trip. We could see the summit every day, and it was highly motivating. We were never too cold or too wet. Before starting the climb, our guide warned us we would not be able to spend more than 15 min at the top because of the temperature. On the summit day, he had to ask us to go down after 20 minutes of wandering near the glacier.
Of course, preparation helped. We had the right equipment to protect us from the wind and the cold (check out my packing list for more info about Kilimanjaro equipment). We also took a longer route to adapt as much as possible to the altitude. But this equipment would not allow us to fight a snowstorm at 5,895m. And there is not much we could have done if severe altitude sickness hit one of us.
So yes, I agree: we have been lucky, which impacted our success a lot.
6. Difficulties along the path can make success easier in the end
As mentioned, I was the one who suffered early in the trip compared to the rest of my group. Luckily, it finally never went worse on the summit climb. That night, I was leading the team just after my guide. We had a decent pace as we passed many groups who started earlier than us. We walked in the night for hours, lacking oxygen more and more. But my migraines were gone, and it was such a relief that I think I could have done it without a break. It was easier than the previous days when I was fighting pain.
On the contrary, the climb had been smooth for two people in my group until that night. They were jumping for the photos, doing yoga or gym for fun at the camps… Too easy! But on the final ascent, they started to suffer physically and mentally. One of them described it as the most challenging day of his life. And we had to stop a couple of times for the second who requested some rest. Such a big difference from the day before when I was the one going through difficulties and hoping for rest!
We all happily made it together to the top, but we did not have the same experience during this adventure!
Do you think Kilimanjaro is worth it? Leave a comment below!
Are you planning to climb Kilimanjaro? You’ll be interested in this post: How to prepare for Mount Kilimanjaro: my five big tips for the climb.
Where is Mount Kilimanjaro?
Mount Kilimanjaro is in the northeast of Tanzania, very close to the border with Kenya.
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I loved this! Kilimanjaro is one of my life goals. It sounds like you really took a lot from the hike! Good for you to continue even though it was tough. Must have felt so rewarding!
Thanks Nikita. The feeling when you reach the top is hard to describe. We were all very emotional. I highly recommend it. It’s not easy, but it’s good!
Great article, that is what I love about climbing and mountaneering, it is a deep conection with yourself. Looking fowar to climb Kilimanjaro someday!
Thanks for your comment Victor. It was my first challenging and altitude climb. I wouldn’t do it for every holidays that I have, but the experience at least once is great and I’d actually be keen to try it again 🙂 The good think with Kilimanjaro is that it’s not technical, so it’s a great way to start! I hope you’ll get to do it!
Have to say I’m suprised to learn that young males are the most likely to give up! I knew a lad who was about 18, drank and smoked etc, who climbed Kilmanjaro with his whole family, who were real athletes. He was the only one who actually made it to the top! I recently did a three day trek in Lombok and learned that while I could never do anything more challenging, you certainly do learn a lot about yourself and life itself while going on these adventures. Well done to you!
I don’t have statistics to support this fact, it’s just something I read somewhere… But that’s what I’ve found online as an explanation:
“Do you know which group has the lowest success rate? Young males between 20 and 30, exactly the people you think would do the best.
But they overestimate the role of fitness and underestimate the mountain. Often they feel they have to lead, they don’t like being overtaken, and being the strongest and fittest makes it just sooo easy to walk too fast.
Do you know that older people have a good success rate? They are wiser than that. And many of them just aren’t fit enough to make the mistake of walking too fast.
Extreme fitness can be a trap. You don’t feel the strain, but your body uses lots of oxygen all the same.” http://www.ladiestrekking.com/thinking-about-climbing-mt-kilimanjaro/
And you’re right, you can learn from any adventure. Going out of our comfort zone is always a great opportunity to learn about yourself – whatever the activity 🙂
bucket list for sure!!!!! 🙂
Great point you made. Just like hiking in general, these epiphanies can be applied to the struggle of reaching the top.
Beautiful and inspirational article Eloise Will save it for later. You never know when I might need it! 🙂
My latest post: http://www.worldtravelbug.com/phototravelguide/11-things-to-do-in-siem-reap/
Eloise, What a fantastic article. As a school teacher, I’m always trying to tell my students stories about perseverance, relying on others, in essence all the lessons you’ve learned here. I might read this to them. Thanks!
Thank you Corinne!
I’ve found school too focus on Math, History and Grammar or other theoretical lessons. It’s amazing if you’re able to tell your students about some more practical life lessons 😀
What an inspirational post! And you are right, not reaching the top should not be perceived as a failure…but that’s the way of life, isn’t it? Most of us push ourselves beyond our limits and do so without strategy or having alternatives (in the case our initial plan does not pan out).
Thank you Catherine 🙂
I think it is very good to push ourselves beyond our limits (exploring outside our comfort zone), but you’re right it has to be done with a plan / a strategy in order not to go too far. Especially when it can become life threatening!
It’s been a big dream of mine to summit Kilimanjaro. I love these lessons and tips. I had no idea you should spend some time in high altitude beforehand, but now thinking about it it makes total sense. Very surprising about the lowest success rate too.
Thanks for commenting Natasha. I hope you’ll make this dream come true one day, the feeling is so special up there! Definitely keep the altitude sickness and the need for the body to accommodate in mind when you plan your trip, that’s the key for success!
Great post, I think that often these huge achievements and efforts can really make use see things from a different perspective.
I’ve never tried to climb that much, but I would love to, I’m very glad to come across your article. Will definitely keep this in my mind before I start my biggest climb. Thanks!
I admire people who can and want to climb mountains. For my Dad, I participated in a walk for cancer in Vancouver, and there’s a small group of people who raise money with an annual climb to Kilimanjaro. Their stories sounded like a real adventure, and that was only the part traveling from Vancouver to Africa.
Thanks for sharing your story Henry.
We also associated the Kilimanjaro climb with fundraising and raising awareness for Breast Cancer. It was my friend’s initiative for his mum who had breast cancer. It gives another dimension to the adventure to associate it with a cause. And another way to look at the pain and the difficulty when you think of people who are fighting against cancer.
Love your nr 3 really! Cause it seems contradictive at first, but it is very true 🙂
Love the mountains and anyone who loves them as well. Kiliminajaro has been described as a life changing experience by friends who’ve climbed it. It seems we’ve got to do it soon 🙂
I am no longer able to climb mountains but the lessons you learned are valuable! Hope you put them to good use!
Kilimanjaro is on my dream list hike I hope one day I get to see it
I have only recently got the taste for hiking up a mountain and Snowdon in Wales was my first , I loved it. Kilimanjaro would be amazing. Congratulations on summiting it in spite of all the pain, very inspiring.
Put Kilimanjaro on your list, it’s achievable! We trained with mounts that were not higher than Snowdon! 😉
What an awesome accomplishment! I admit that I just don’t think I’m cut out to accomplish something so challenging as taking on such a challenge. I admire those that can though. Great example of persevering and accomplishing so much by relying on others besides yourself. Congrats!
Thanks Erica! It’s a challenge linked to my passions for hiking and traveling so I guess it makes it easier to persevere and accomplish it… I suspect I may have a harder time with some other types of challenges…! 😉
I’ve been preparing for Kilimanjaru. Hoping to do it next year. Thanks for all this help. I really need to prepare myself emotionally and physically. I am still hoping I don’t get altitude sickness.
Hi Karla, I hope you managed to put Kilimanjaro on your 2016 list. My advice for altitude sickness would be to do all things you can to prevent it (starting now with planning a slow ascend). And once there, try to stop thinking too much about it. Listen to your guide, focus on your pace, manage your efforts… And hopefully it will all go fine. That’s the case for the majority of people climbing the mountain 🙂
Very nice adventure, Eloise, really! I like it. Good luck in other such travels!
This must have been an incredible experience – when I worked as a travel agent I booked someone to climb Kilimanjaro and ever since I’ve been intrigued – looks like it was a life learning trip 🙂
Thanks for your comment! I highly recommend Kilimanjaro… but only if you are up for a bit of challenge! It’s not something everybody would enjoy as holidays, but if you like nature / hiking and you are ready to push yourself a bit… Go for it. It was really incredible 🙂
What a great post. Every time I go on a big climb I always end up crying and moaning the whole way but in the end its so worth all the crying and moaning! Such an experience!
Hehe… so do you also cry tears of joy at the end? 😉
The difficulties along the way is really part of the experience, I like it when it is not easy and straightforward – it makes the whole trip more interesting in the end!
Wow what an amazing adventure. I really admire people who do things like this im more of a “look at the pretty mountain” lets go now kind of girl lol
Ahah, yes it’s an adventure. It’s not that hard for everyone, though. But you do have to like challenges to enjoy the trip up there! If you manage to see it from the bottom, you could have an amazing experience with the “look at the pretty mountain” style – but I think you’ll need to be quite lucky with the weather. I’ve seen some photos with zebras at the bottom, it’s so unreal.
I’m jealous, this is definitely on my bucket list! These are some good lessons too. Unfortunately, I’ve never made it to Africa, but soon!! Great post, I just followed you on Instagram too (@trvl101) let’s keep in touch!
Thanks Alexander, I’ve followed you back. I hope you’ll make it to Africa. I really love our trip to Tanzania and I’d really like to go back to experience more of Africa.
Love this, like many others it’s on my bucket list! I am not a winter person but this month went winter camping in Colorado. I recently went through some big personal things and that night, camping in a snow cave, really let me reflect and it was emotional. Nature is powerful in the ways you are able to truly connect with yourself and surrounding, no matter what the weather.
Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Alyssa. You’re right, Nature has a huge power. I hope that night helped you with your personal things and you feel better now! Otherwise, it might be a great excuse to try now to make it to the Roof of Africa 😉 Good luck and take care!
Great recap…and I totally believe the statement about the 20-30 y.o. males having the most trouble…being one myself, I can attest to being overconfident, which can really work against you if you’re inexperienced at high elevation. I went straight to 10,000 ft in the Sierras recently and after a day or two the altitude sickness really came on and I had to retreat back to lower elevation…
Thanks Trevor for sharing your experience. Very interesting. Although this statement is not backed with actual statistics and sources, I think mentioning this might help this group to be more careful and have a better experience!
Just like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race! Luckily, I wasn’t one of the 20-30 year old males that didn’t make it. Not a statistic I wanted to be a part of haha! I love this mountain(first major peak outside the US I’ve climbed) and can’t wait to climb it again! Great tips and article! I will be sharing it!
Thank you, Joe! I hope you get to reach the top again soon!
Glad you shared the link to the blog! You sound like you had some similar people in your group- some did yoga at camps while others went ahead during the day to get photos. By the end of the trip everyone felt like it was a very challenging hike though! I love that mountain! It definitely teaches some great lessons!
Thanks for visiting Cathy! Going to almost 6,000 meters high is for sure a challenge for any human being (except the guides…!!! ahah). That’s not where we’re meant to be – but that’s why the feeling is great!! 😉
I don’t like climbing mountains, mainly because of the effort. But I do admire those who do it a lot. Good thing your migraine went away eventually. I don’t think I’d still push through if I were in your shoes. I admire your spirit.
Thank you for passing by and leaving nice words, Marge! You definitely need to like efforts to climb mountains, physically and mentally. I don’t know why but I am thrilled to bits by this type of challenge 😉
You had a blast exprience here. I really love what mountains can do to us – realizing life lessons 😉 Hats off to you for making it 🙂
Thanks, Jessica! 🙂
Just added to my bucket list. First of all: Thank you for sharing such an amazing trip with us! It just made me wanna go out and climb that mountain. I’d really like to do this kind of activities, but the problem is that I do not know a lot about them. For example: how could I prepare my body? I mean, what kind of excersices should I do? Maybe I’ll be going there like in two years, so I still have enough time for me to prepare myself. I’m afraid that when the time comes, I will not be prepared to do it right or maybe my body won’t be able to resist such long trip. I would be very thankful if you could give me more advise about it or just some other tips about how you prepare mental and physically 🙂
Thank you for your comment, Anyelina! It is very exciting that you are planning to climb Kilimanjaro! Two years give you plenty of time to be well prepared. I am currently drafting an article with tips to prepare for Kilimanjaro. I will share it soon on the blog, stay tuned! 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I also climbed Kilimanjaro via the Machame (“Whisky”) route. I, like you, was the only one in our group to suffer from strong symptoms of altitude acclimatization. I had not as strong a headache as you describe, but played human altimeter for a day, getting nauseous every time we topped a 15,000 ft. ridge (I’ll spare any further details). I also trusted in our guide’s advice, and did make the summit, because we were well guided and cared for, and had good fortune in weather and health.
Thank you for so sharing your experience and bringing back such vivid memories, 19 years later. I love the lessons you draw from your climb and agree whole heartedly.
Thank you for your comment, Tim. It’s awesome to bring back memories from 19 years ago. I’m sorry you struggled with the altitude sickness as well. But in the end, I feel that all the efforts and challenges – and the help I received from my mates and the staff – made the climb memorable. More than the beautiful landscapes.
Hi Eloise! Great article, thanks for sharing your thoughts. One question – in which month did you climb Kilimanjaro? Am asking cause of the weather conditions that were so great, as you mentioned. Thank you!
Hi, Andrea! We went there in August! 🙂