Kilimanjaro trek through the clouds

Trekking ahead of the clouds
Photo: Lauren & Frank Boitano

We hear it all the time: “when is the absolute best time to climb Kilimanjaro?”

Not to be fence-sitters but: whenever?

There absolutely is a worst time to attempt your trek; in fact, there are two of them: April/May and mid-November through mid-December. During those times the entire country receives serious rainfall (especially during April, when the heavy rains come), and Kilimanjaro is too soggy to camp on comfortably (that’s what you get for standing head and shoulders above a continent).

So that just leaves you…the other 9 months to choose from.

Here’s a (possibly hard) truth that may make it MUCH easier to make a decision: no matter when you climb, it’s likely to be warm in the foothills and cold at the summit. Depending on the month, that might change to “slightly warmer” or “marginally less frosty,” but Tanzania’s seasons aren’t the climate you need to be concerned about when scheduling your trek.

The rest of the country has “winter” and “summer” (there’s still only about a 10-15 degree difference between the hottest months in Tanzania and the coolest, so those terms are still relative), but Kilimanjaro starts off with a hot and humid trek through the foothills and rainforest, and ends with a shivery last push to the top, no matter when you climb.

The mountain also has different weather patterns than the country at large, which means that while late summer and early fall is extremely dry on the ground, it’s possible you’ll get rain showers on Kili no matter when you climb.

So if there’s no real “best time,” how should you plan your trip?

One great way to decide when to climb is thinking about what else you might like to see in Tanzania; the differences between green season (when everything’s blooming, millions of animals are giving birth, and resources are abundant) and dry season (when animals concentrate more and more upon scarce water sources, increasing the odds of dramatic predator-prey encounters) are more pronounced on the plains than they are on the mountain. Likewise, a beach vacation to Zanzibar might be something you’d rather enjoy in the middle of your winter (or you might prefer the beach during the slightly cooler days of Tanzanian winter, i.e., June-August).

Basically, once you realize that Kili’s pretty much always the same Kili, it gives you a lot of flexibility! So plan for anything on the mountain…and plan your trip any time you want!