It often happens that you have a spontaneous desire, a feeling that makes you want to accomplish something you’ve always wanted. From all around the world, there have been countless such climbers whose lives have changed after they decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. However, when you’ve hardly been on a few long treks in your life, making the leap to climb Kilimanjaro seems much easier said than done. Read on and you’ll know that this climb is much more doable than you ever thought; and how that little ember of accomplishment that burns ever so slowly inside you might explode in flames right after you’re done here! Discussing the two most popular routes up Mount Kilimanjaro is also an education in the history of how climbers and tourists populated these paths, and slowly over time, made them accessible to amateur and professional climbers alike.
The Marangu and Machame routes are two of the most popular routes up Mount Kilimanjaro. Combined, they make up for more than 85% of the climbers that take to the mighty peaks annually. Known as the Coca Cola and Whiskey route, they have acted as catalysts to inspire amateur climbers to conquer one of the seven summits of the world! The Marangu route is the oldest and considered the easiest of routes, boasting a long-held tradition of serving Coca Cola bottles at their dormitory style accommodation – something peculiar and specific only to this route. Hailed as the most tourist friendly route, its nickname adequately signifies the relatively low difficulty level associated with it. The Machame route is, in fact, called the Whiskey route primarily because of the fact that it makes for a relatively harder climb – thus named after the less palatable Whiskey as against its Cola counterpart. Both these routes have been vying the top popularity prize for years now, as amateurs flock to the Marangu route while the more adventurous supposedly take to the Machame route. With a more gradual slope of ascent, the Marangu route is considered easier than the Machame route, but the immense popularity of Machame translates to noisy and crowded climbs all around the year.
The Marangu route certainly qualifies as the flagship tourist route, owing to the fact that it is the only way up that has dormitory style accommodation, not burdening climbers with the need to carry tents, gear and equipment along with porters. This also means it would be cheaper too – something that always lights up tourists’ eyes. The Machame route expects climbers to hike steeper trails for longer durations as they spend nights in tents pitched at small campsites along the mountain face. They certainly need that whiskey more than the Marangu folk curled up inside their huts!
The Marangu route is the preferred way up Kilimanjaro during the rainy season, largely owing to the convenience of the hut accommodation. One can gauge how tourists and amateur climbers would not be enamoured by the idea of spending 6 damp and moist nights in freezing temperatures. Marangu is also often chosen by those who have only 5 days to complete the climb. You must be warned, however, that success rates on climbing Kilimanjaro depend largely on the number of days you spend at the mountain, because acclimatisation is the most significant determinant of a successful climb. The lesser time you allow for your body to adapt to the altitude and air pressure, the harder it is for the body to sustain its performance. These 5-day attempts are the reason behind the Marangu route boasting a deflating success rate of approximately 50% – a stat that starkly contrasts the commonly held notion of it being the easiest way up. The success rate goes up by almost 15% with every additional day you spend at Kilimanjaro. So don’t be in a hurry unless you want to push your body right to the limit!
The Machame route, on the other hand, reveals mores scenic and panoramic views of the mountain, gives more time to the body for acclimatisation, and thus boasts higher success rates than Marangu. Not only this, climbers often pick Machame also because, unlike Marangu, the way down is not the same as the way up. This gives climbers a greater variety of views and experiences. The entire distance covered is also shorter up the Machame route (62 km vs. 70 km on Marangu), however the climbs are more physically challenging. The 6-day Machame route climb has a success rate of 75% which goes up to 85% for the 7-day climb. This makes the Machame route a much safer choice as compared to the Marangu route, while also enticing the climber with better views, more diverse scenery and a calmer overall climb. But remember, you will spend your nights in windy and uncomfortable tents with basic amenities under torch lights.
To sum things up, both Machame and Marangu routes have their pros and cons. A tourist or amateur climber with a shoestring budget might be aided by the short timespan and hut accommodation on the Marangu route. Guides also prefer this route because of its no-nonsense nature, quick turnaround and a lesser effort in setting tents and gear up. However, my pick for the adventurous and excitable tourist/climber would be the 7-day Machame route, packed with strenuous climbs, jaw-dropping panoramic views, roughed up campsites and novelty at just about every corner as you sip away at that whiskey!