trekkers ascending to kibo peak


Jambo! Trekking Kilimanjaro is a multi-disciplinary adventure. You need strong legs, formidable resolve and…an elementary proficiency in the local language?

While knowing the language is far from mandatory, even a sprinkling of Swahili will go a long way in your quest to Kili’s peak. Your conversations on the mountain will be richer and more rewarding, and you’ll breeze through the hellos, how-are-yous and I’m-goods like a true Tanzanian.

So warm up your vocal cords–here’s your (non-exhaustive) Kili dictionary; your Uhuru encyclopedia; your climbing language crash course!

Twende, rafiki!


Common Swahili Words and Phrases


[ JAHM-boh ]




[ Hah-BAR-ee ]

“How are you?”



[ nn-ZUR-ee ]

“Good, fine.”


Poa kichizi kama ndizi ndani ya friji

[ POH-ah kah-CHEESE-ee CAH-mah en-DEE-zee en-DAH-nee YA FREE-jee ]

“Crazy cool like a banana in the fridge.”

When someone asks “How are you?” you could answer with the standard “nzuri” (Good). But why, when you could give a more colorful response instead?

Plus, it’s way too fun not to say!


Uchovu sana

[ oo-CHOVE-oo SAH-nah ]

“Very tired.”


Lala salama

[ LAH-lah sah-LAH-mah ]



Asante sana

[ ah-SAHN-tay SAH-nah ]

“Thank you very much.”



[ kah-REE-boo ]



Pole pole

[ POH-lay POH-lay ]

“Slowly, slowly.” You’ll hear it a thousand times a day on Kilimanjaro! It’s a friendly reminder to slow down, trek carefully and rely on smaller steps as you ascend to Uhuru Peak. A slow-as-molasses pace will help you acclimatize and conserve energy better than a broad step and brisk gait.

There are tons of ways to take your time on Kili; the rest step is a guest favorite.



[ MAA-jee ]




[ cha-COOL-ah ]




[ HON-gerra ]

“Congratulations!” You’ll hear this on summit day.


Hakuna matata or Hakuna shida

[ hah-KOON-ah mah-TAh-tah, hah-KOON-ah SHE-dah ]

Both mean “No problem,” but in practice, it’s more common to hear Tanzanians say hakuna shida. Hakuna matata was popularized by the “Lion King.”



[ RAh-fee-kee ]

“Friend.” On Kilimanjaro, you’ll often hear it used as a term of endearment. For example, “Asante sana, rafiki” is a popular way of addressing others casually.



[ too-poom-ZEEK-kay ]

“Let’s rest.”



[ TWEHn-deh ]

“Let’s go.” Your guide may say this whenever you’re heading out for the day’s hike or after a break on the trail. Combine with “rafiki” to rally your friends!



[ kwah-HAIR-ee ]



The Jambo Song

The Jambo Song is Kilimanjaro’s anthem. Your crew-turned-choir will surprise you with this upbeat, cheery tune at least once during your trek, complete with clapping, dancing and wide smiles.

Even if it hasn’t won any Grammy’s (yet), it’s an unforgettably joyful celebration of your endeavors on the mountain! Check out the lyrics in Swahili and English here.


Common Locations on Kilimanjaro

Uhuru Peak

[ oo-HOO-roo ] organ recipient at the summit of mount kilimanjaro

At 19,341’, Uhuru Peak is Africa’s tallest point, earning it the nickname, the “Roof of Africa.” But “Uhuru” has a special origin rooted in Tanzanian history.

In December 1961, when Tanzania became independent of colonial rule, Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere dubbed the peak Uhuru, Swahili for “freedom,” to commemorate the occasion.

Trekkers today will find an iconic wooden sign at Uhuru Peak. It serves as a reminder of the flag that once flew there, and the spirit of human achievement this lofty spot represents.


The Kissing Rock

kissing rock on barranco wall

Towering 843 feet over the Kili slopes is the imposing Barranco Wall, the only part of the trek where you’ll need your hands to negotiate a safe but steep façade. Located on that wall is Kissing Rock, a relatively narrow section of Barranco that requires you to spread your arms as you pass.

With the mountain in their embrace, it’s no wonder some climbers give the rock a quick kiss as they pass!


Lava Tower

camp at lava tower on kilimanjaro

Located at just over 15,000’, Lava Tower is a 300-foot-tall cork. Yep–it’s a lava flow that cooled and solidified inside the vent, plugging off the volcanic flow beneath. On active volcanoes, this kind of stoppage can increase volcanic pressure below the surface, but Kili’s been “chill” for 150,000 years and counting.

Now, Lava Tower is a staggering rock structure and a popular place to set up camp!


Shira Cathedral

[ SHEAR-uh ] shira cathedral optional hike

Found just off the Shira Plateau, around 12,300’, Shira Cathedral is one of a scattering of rocky spires that thrust upward into the sky. This formation is beautiful and climbable; many trekkers choose to hike to the top of the outcrops to aid in acclimatization and take in the views.


The Saddle

the saddle on grand traverse route

The Saddle is a large, flat expanse that connects the cones of Kibo and Mawenzi. Just over three miles wide, the Saddle’s lunar landscape offers plenty of excellent views of the summit. Only trekkers on the Grand Traverse hop in the Saddle–all other routes skirt the edge, which still offers a great vista.



Now you can talk the talk – when you’re ready to walk the walk, learn more about Thomson’s 98% Summit Success Rate.