What is the Weather in Kilimanjaro?
The short answer is that the temperatures on Mount Kilimanjaro range from hot to bitter cold. Climbing Kilimanjaro is unique for many reasons, and one of these is that from origin to summit, climbers find themselves weaving through several distinct climate zones. It is said that the journey from the gate to the peak is like traveling from the equator to Antarctica in a matter of days! Mount Kilimanjaro has five major ecological zones, each approximately 3,280 feet (1,000 m) in altitude. Each zone is subject to a corresponding decrease in rainfall, temperature and flora/fauna as the altitude increases.
Moshi, the gateway town from which our climbs are organized, is located just south of the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. At 2,667 feet (900 m) above sea level, the town is located in the lowest, warmest ecological zone. Average temperature, humidity, and precipitation figures for Moshi are reflected in the following table.
|Average Temperature, Humidity, and Precipitation in Moshi, Tanzania
As shown, January and February are the warmest months, April and May are the wettest months, June and July are the coolest months, and August and September are the driest months. These generalities about the weather in Moshi hold true for Mount Kilimanjaro as well.
Due to its closeness to the equator, Mount Kilimanjaro does not experience wide temperature changes from season to season. Instead, the temperatures on Mount Kilimanjaro are determined more so by the altitude and time of day. At the beginning of the climb, at the base of the mountain, the average temperature is around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 27 degrees Celsius). From there, the temperatures will decrease as you move through Mount Kilimanjaro’s ecological zones.
At the summit, Uhuru Point, the night time temperatures can range between 20 and -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 to -29 degrees Celsius). Due to Mount Kilimanjaro’s great height, the mountain creates its own weather. It is extremely variable and impossible to predict. Therefore, regardless of when you climb, you should always be prepared for wet days and cold nights.
Kilimanjaro’s Five Ecological Zones
Below are Mount Kilimanjaro’s zones from the lowest to the highest altitude along with the average annual precipitation, zone characteristics, and links/feeds to the current weather in each particular zone.
Altitude: 2,600 to 6,000 ft (800 to 1,800 m)
Precipitation: 20 to 70 in (500 to 1,800 mm)
The lowest elevation climate zone is the bushland, resting a half-mile or more above sea level. Cultivated land, grasslands, and populated human settlements characterize this zone.
Natural bush, plains, and lowland forests once covered the region. However, because this area is rich with fertile volcanic soil, it makes an ideal land for agriculture. The Chaga people settled on these lower slopes to farm a variety of crops, such as highly prized coffee and tropical fruits. The grounds are irrigated by underground channels tunneling through the earth from the lush rainforest nestled above.
Many of the local mountain guides hail from the nearby villages. Large wild animals are rarely seen here, having been eliminated by farmers generations ago. However, small nocturnal mammals such as galagos and tree hyrax still thrive. Birds, such as speckled mousebirds and tropical boubou, are also are plentiful.
Rain Forest Zone
Altitude: 6,000 to 9,200 ft (1,800 to 2,800 m)
Precipitation: 79 to 40 in (2,000 to 1,000 mm)
The rain forest is drenched by six to seven feet of rain per year and bursts with biodiversity. During the day, warm temperatures and high humidity characterize this densely forested climate zone. However, rainy nights can produce surprisingly low temperatures. Climbers definitely want to have their rain gear handy to protect themselves from the constant drizzle.
The rain forest presents the most abundant opportunities for viewing unique types of African flora and fauna. Various species of orchids, ferns, sycamore figs, olive trees, and palms dripping with hanging mosses are found here. Camphorwood trees reach as high as 130 feet through the canopy grasping for sunlight. Blue and Colobus monkeys gallivant through the trees, loudly beckoning mates, and a vibrant cacophony of sounds emanate from the diverse population of birdlife.
Climbers approaching the summit from the Rongai, Lemosho, Shira or Northern Circuit routes may be lucky enough to spot elephants, buffalo, antelope, and an occasional predator drifting through in search of a wayward meal.
Altitude: 9,200 to 13,200 ft (2,800 to 4,000 m)
Precipitation: 51 to 21 in (1,300 to 530 mm)
Also known as moorland, this semi-alpine zone is characterized by heath-like vegetation and abundant wildflowers. According to mountain medicine, the heath zone is in the “high altitude” region. The first symptoms of acute mountain sickness may begin to appear in some climbers. Most of our clients wisely choose to spend several days at this altitude to gradually acclimatize to the decreasing oxygen and the higher elevations to come.
As we move higher, the humidity and dense forest surroundings begin to give way to drier air and cooler temperatures. The flora thins into smaller shrubs like heather, and the presence of fauna becomes increasingly scarce. The most prominent florae are the unique and iconic Senecios (also known as groundsels) and Giant Lobelias. Kilimanjaro’s giant Senecios and Lobelia are endemic to the region. The Senecios, which translates from Latin to “old man,” have thick weathered stems topped with large, succulent rosettes. Lobelias resemble oddly-shaped palm trees with rosettes that close in the evenings to guard against the chilly night temperatures.
The most common birds seen in the heath zone are the easily recognizable black and white crows that forage around camp. Sometimes, large birds of prey such as the crowned eagle and lammergeyer soar overhead.
Current weather conditions for Mount Kilimanjaro’s heath zone can be found here
Alpine Desert Zone
Altitude: 13,200 to 16,500 ft (4,000 to 5,000 m)
Precipitation: 10 in (250 mm)
The alpine desert receives little water and correspondingly light vegetation exists here. The temperature can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. The thin air and proximity to the equator result in very high levels of solar radiation. Applying liberal amounts of sunscreen an absolute must. During the night, temperatures often plummet to well below freezing, leaving a dusting of morning frost on the tents.
This zone is in the “very high altitude” region of mountain medicine. For ideal acclimatization, climbers should spend a few days here. Our preferred routes encourage clients to “climb high, sleep low” which will reduce the ill effects of altitude.
This arid zone has thin soil that retains little water, making it inhospitable to most plant and animal species. Everlastings are one of the main plant species that can withstand such harsh conditions, as well as tussock grasses and varieties of moss. A few of the animals that make appearances in the moorland will wander to these elevations, but the occurrences are very rare.
Current weather conditions for Mount Kilimanjaro’s alpine desert zone can be found here.
Altitude: 16,500+ ft (5,000+ m)
Precipitation: <4 in (100 mm)
The final region of the climb up Kilimanjaro is the arctic zone. Finding a region like this in Africa’s equatorial belt is like finding a swath of rainforest in the middle of an Arctic glacier. Characterized by ice and rock, there is virtually no plant or animal life at this altitude. Glacial silt covers the slopes that were once concealed by the now receding glaciers visible from Kilimanjaro’s crater rim. Nights are extremely cold and windy, and the day’s unbuffered sun is powerful.
Mountain medicine classifies this zone as “extreme altitude.” Oxygen levels are roughly half of what they are at sea level, making breathing slow and labored. It is likely that climbers will experience varying degrees of altitude related symptoms at these elevations. To combat this, we try to avoid spending too much time here. We summit and descend expeditiously before AMS can escalate.
Current weather conditions for Mount Kilimanjaro’s artic zone can be found here.
What Gear Do I Need to Carry in my Day Pack?
You are only required to carry items from your gear list that you may need prior to reaching your next campsite. A small to medium-sized backpack, with a volume capacity of up to 2000 cu in (30 liters), is appropriate. The specific items to carry generally depend on the time to reach camp and trail and weather conditions. Typically, you will have inside your daypack: waterproof gear, extra clothing, water, snacks, gloves, hat, sunglasses, and other small items, such as bug repellent and sunscreen. Consult your guide if you are unsure of what you need
Everything else should be placed into your duffel bag, which the porters will carry. The weight limit of the duffel bag is 15 kgs. The porters will carry the duffel bag from campsite to campsite. Use plastic bags or dry bags to separate and waterproof your gear. You will be expected to pack your daypack and duffel bag each morning. Note that it is acceptable to use a backpack instead of a duffel bag. However, since porters bundle the bag with other items and carry the load on their heads, a duffel bag is preferred.
Where Will I Sleep?
Climbers will sleep in state-of-the-art, four-season mountain tents during the trek. Our Mountain Hardwear tents are warm, waterproof, and roomy – perfectly suited for your Kilimanjaro adventure. We understand that some climbers are anxious about camping for so many days, so we aim to have them be as dry, warm, and comfortable as possible.
Mountain Hardwear is built for the toughest alpine conditions. Trango 3 tents are a standard issues for refined basecamp shelters on mountaineering expeditions worldwide.
Each three-person sized tent will comfortably house two climbers and their gear. The interior floor space is 48 square feet, with a large vestibule, dual doors, and internal mesh pockets. The Trango 3 is a fully waterproof tent with fully taped seams and welded corners.
A 1.5-inch foam sleeping pad is provided to all climbers. These locally sourced sleeping pads are better than any commercially available sleeping pad. They are thick, warm, and comfortable, even for those not used to camping. The pad is placed inside a washable cover for cleanliness.
What is a Typical Day’s Schedule?
On a typical day on the mountain, you will be awakened from your tent around 6:30 AM by a staff member. Hot drinks will be available in the mess tent at this time while breakfast will be served around 7:00 AM. Before eating breakfast, you should pack your day pack and duffel bag and bring them outside of the tent so the porters can take down the tent. Meals are served in a mess tent or occasionally outdoors if the weather is nice – complete with chairs, tables, dinnerware, and silverware. You usually begin walking around 8:00 AM, while the porters stay behind to clean up the campsite and pack up the tents and other equipment. A health check will also be performed in the morning.
While the hours vary from day to day, your average walking time will be around four to six hours per day. During the walk, your guide will decide the pace and when to take breaks depending on his assessment of the party’s performance. The porters consistently move ahead of the group in order to prepare food, collect water, and set up tents so that everything is ready when the party arrives. A hot lunch is served part way through your day’s trek though on occasion a boxed lunch may be provided.
Once you arrive at the campsite, snacks are served. Then, dinner is served around 6:00 PM. Another health check is performed in the evening. The guide will discuss the next day’s events with the group after dinner. Down time is spent chatting with your fellow climbers, staff, and others sharing the campsite, reading, or otherwise relaxing.
Clients commonly express concern that they will be “too slow” and lag behind the guide and the rest of their group. This concern is unwarranted. Being slow is fine, and in fact, recommended. The guides set a very slow hiking pace to give everyone the best chance to acclimatize to the increasing altitude. People who are turned around on the mountain typically do so because they have succumbed to altitude sickness, not because they were physically too tired to keep up or continue.
Summit day is a tough, 11 to 16 hour day. This monumental effort is what makes climbing Kilimanjaro an achievement. It begins very early as guides try to time their trekking party to reach Uhuru Point at sunrise. Climbers go to sleep after an early dinner the night before and are awoken around midnight to prepare for the summit attempt. After a light snack, climbers ascend in the darkness, cold and wind. It goes without saying that under these conditions, climbing is difficult, especially on loose rock and up a very steep slope. This is where your physical prowess and mental toughness will be tested.
Our team of Ultimate Kilimanjaro® guides will be with you every step of the way to assist you during your ascent. Short breaks, usually lasting less than ten minutes, will be taken along the way for a quick snack and drink. This is to make sure the climbers stay energized and hydrated but do not get cold by sitting still. The guides will regularly check to see how everyone is feeling and offer a hand to those who may need extra help.
It is possible that someone may have to turn around on the mountain due to altitude sickness, exhaustion or a variety of other matters. Each group will have a lead guide, a number of assistant guides depending on the party size, and summit porters – all of whom are able to escort climbers down. Therefore, if a person cannot continue the ascent, one of the staff members will accompany this climber while the lead guide takes the group onward. The remaining party is unaffected and continues their climb as scheduled.
Once you reach the summit, some time is spent celebrating and taking photos, before returning to high camp, either Barafu or Kibo Hut. There, you eat lunch and regain your strength before continuing the descent to a much lower camp. The long descent immediately after summiting is where most people get tired, due to the partial night’s sleep, the expenditure of energy required to reach the top, and the particularly long-distance covered that day. This is completely normal. For those who may be feeling ill from the altitude, getting to this lower elevation can relieve symptoms often quickly and completely.
How one reacts to high altitude is uncertain. Some people’s bodies adjust well to the decreased oxygen levels; others do not. Being physically fit and in good health, although helpful, is no guarantee of your ability to acclimatize. Therefore the best advice we can give is to take 7 or more days on the mountain.
There is a strong correlation between the amount of time spent on the mountain and the summit success rate. Because the human body adapts to high altitude slowly, the more time it has, the better the chances of acclimatization. A successful summit is usually a question of how well a climber can acclimatize to the high altitude, rather than the climber’s ability to ascend. By trekking standards, most of the day hikes on Kilimanjaro are not very strenuous. The big exception to this is the summit attempt, which requires tremendous effort and is hard for nearly everyone. Climbers who acclimatize well to the altitude have a great chance of making it to the top.
What are the Trail Conditions?
The trails on Mount Kilimanjaro are well marked and maintained. Technical skills are not required on our routes. There are only a couple of spots where scrambling (climbing on hands and feet) is required, such as the Barranco Wall, the Western Breach approach (now closed), and the optional Lava Tower climb. The path to and from Uhuru Point is on scree, which can be especially tiring and slippery.
Bad weather conditions can complicate matters. Climbers should be prepared to trek through all types of weather, such as fog, rain, snow, and all types of earth, whether loose, dusty, muddy, wet, snowy or icy.
There are “long drop” public toilets at every campsite. Essentially, they are wooden structures built around a deep hole dug into the ground. There are no commodes in the public toilets. You relieve yourself in a hole cut into the bottom of the shack in a standing or squatting position. Given the crowds on Kilimanjaro, these public toilets see a lot of use and therefore can get rather dirty.
Private toilets are included at extra cost on all of our climbs. Private toilets consist of a plastic toilet and a privacy tent.
There are no shower facilities on the mountain.
What Food and Water Will be Provided?
You will be provided with breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day spent on the mountain. The food, specifically selected to help your climb, are high-energy carbohydrate foods that are easily digestible.
The primary carbohydrate of the meals is rice, potatoes and pasta. Fresh fruit and vegetables accompany every meal. Meat is served on the mountain but not in large quantities because it is not easily digestible at high altitude and nor does it keep well on the mountain. We resupply the team with fresh food throughout the climb.
Water is collected from mountain streams and treated with water purification tablets. Water is provided only at the campsites so you need to carry enough water, usually about 3 liters, to stay hydrated while you hike.
You may want to bring some supplementary “comfort” foods, such as candy, gum, chocolate, health bars, or powdered energy drinks.
We can accommodate vegetarian and vegan diets. For those with special diets, please contact us to discuss what we can or cannot do. Note that food selection is limited in Tanzania, so although we will try to please all clients, in some cases clients will be asked to bring their specific food items to us, which our cooks will prepare.
What are the Accommodations Before and After the Climb?
We provide hotel accommodations before and after climbing Kilimanjaro. We use several different hotels, all located in Moshi, for our guests. Each hotel is comparable in its class though not all amenities are available in every location.
Our standard hotel is the Keys hotel which is located in Moshi town. This simple, clean hotel is about 60 minutes by vehicle from Kilimanjaro International Airport.