Best Time to Climb Kilimanjaro
Because Kilimanjaro is close to the equator, it is not nearly as restricted as other big mountains in terms of when it is climbable. In fact, you could feasibly climb Kilimanjaro any time of the year (and many do!). However, it is important to consider several factors into your decision in order to make the best decision on when exactly you should book your trip.
There are really two main climbing seasons per year: January-March and June-October. Deciding what the best option is for you depends on several factors. Key factors to consider are:
- Snow (and temperature) on peak
- Crowds (busy season)
- Moon phases
- Other activities in Tanzania/Kenya
January-March OR June-October are the best months for weather
June-August have the absolute least rain
As with any large mountain climb, weather is an extremely important factor to deciding when to climb Kilimanjaro. However, unlike other large glacier-laced mountains where the climbing season may be only a few months long, Kilimanjaro may be climbed any time of year.
Fortunately, there are fairly predictable rainy seasons that most climbers want to avoid. Although rain and snow will not usually thwart climbers from reaching the summit, it’s just much less pleasant to walk in the rain for week than it is to walk in fair weather (you also get much better views without the heavy clouds).
The heavy rains are caused by the southeast trade winds that travel over the Indian Ocean. They carry with them a tremendous amount of moisture from the sea and when they hit the giant mountain called Kilimanjaro, they are forced up into the air, condense into clouds and land on you and your gear in the form of rain (or snow if you are high enough on the mountain). This happens primarily during March and May, making those months the wettest season of the year.
If you must climb the mountain during those months, we recommend taking the Rongai Route, which starts at the north side of the mountain. Because the trade winds come from the east, it is the southern end of the mountain that gets the most rain. However if you can avoid late March through May, you are generally better off.
There is another rainy season that occurs from November through mid-December that is considered the monsoon season. All areas of the mountain get rain from this weather system, however it is generally lighter than the rain received in March-May. If your top priority is to minimize your chances of rain, your best time of year is June, July and August.
Snow on the peak / Temperature
January-March is colder and snow will likely be on peak
June-October is warmer with less snow on the peak
People will have different opinions as to whether having snow on the peak is a good thing or a bad thing. For some, the excitement of summiting a glaciated mountain and getting a peak photo with snow all around is big attraction. For others, the idea of slogging through the snow to reach the summit seems an annoyance.
If you like the idea of getting a snow-laden peak photo, you will have to endure slightly colder weather at the peak. But since you will be hiking hard to get there, the extra chill will be minimal.
If you wish to avoid the snow, June through October are better months (with September-October offering the least snow on the ground). It will also be slightly warmer both at the peak as well as on the trek itself.
January-March has fewer crowds
June-August has the most crowds
Because the United States and Europe generally go on holidays in the summer months of June-August, you will see much higher crowds during this time. The annual migration of animals in Africa occurs in July/August, which also draws more people to Tanzania, and many of those people seek to do a climb and safari, so those months can be very busy. However, you can somewhat avoid the large crowds by picking less popular routes such as the Lemosho or Northern Circuit routes.
If you want to remain in the dry season, but avoid some of the crowds, September- October are good options.
January – March is also a great option to avoid crowds. In fact, if you take the Northern Circuit during this time of year, you will experience the most solitude that is possible on the mountain as there will likely only be 2 or 3 other groups with you at most of the camps.
We realize you may not have the luxury of picking specific months due to work, school or other obligations. But if you do we highly recommend January-March or September-October to experience the most solitude on the mountain.
A full moon offers maximum visibility while hiking on summit day
A new moon offers terrific views of the stars on summit day
One thing that some climbers like to consider is what phase the moon will be on their summit day. Note that it is really the summit day that is the most important day to consider, since you will likely be sleeping during the darker hours on every other day of your journey.
In general, your guide’s goal is to have your group reach the crater of the summit right at sunrise. In order to accomplish this, you will likely be leaving your camp somewhere between 11pm and 1am (depending on the overall pace of your group). As such, most of the hard uphill climb that day is done in darkness. How dark it is will mostly depend on what phase the moon is (once it is over the horizon).
So which is better – full moon or new (dark) moon? Well, that entirely depends upon your taste. A full moon offers the opportunity for you to see very well in the dark during your hike. Some climbers don’t even use a headlamp and instead just rely on moonlight to see the trail! However, the real benefit of a full moon is that when you reach the actual rim of the crater -- either “Stella Point” or “Gillman’s Point” depending on your route. This is the point when you can actually look down into the crater. And for the next 45-60 minutes, if you are in a full moon, the snow in the crater will appear to “light up” in the moonlight. Pretty great, right? Note that the effect is better if you are hiking in the January-March season, since there is more snow during that time.
However, summit day during a new moon (meaning the moon is totally dark) has a huge benefit as well! Unlike a full moon, whose brightness tends to drown out many of the stars, hiking in a new moon brings you a mesmerizing view of the stars that make up our galaxy! You have lots of things that work together to bring you some of the most vivid views of the skies that you have likely ever seen.
The first is that there is little to no light pollution. You will likely see some cities off in the distance in Kenya but African cities do not pollute the skies with light like American and European cities do. In addition they are hundreds of kilometers away. No light pollution means much darker skies, which means you can see even the faintest of stars. In addition, you are so high up in the atmosphere, the air is much thinner and there is far less distortion to blur your view of the stars. This is exactly why they place telescope observatories as high as elevation as possible. And you will stand almost 1000 feet higher than the highest observatory in the world!
If you let your eyes adjust to the darkness (many climbers use a red-colored headlamp which helps with your night vision), you will likely see the best view of stars in your life (8+ magnitude stars for you astronomy geeks). And, as an extra bonus, because you are so close to the equator, you will likely be able to see stars than are generally considered mutually exclusive to viewing. A skilled eye can see the North Star (generally only viewable in the northern hemisphere) AND the Southern Cross (generally only viewable in the southern hemisphere). Pretty neat!
If you are interested in catching either a full moon night or new moon night for your summit day, be sure to calculate it properly based on the number of days of your trek. Your summit day will almost always be the next-to-last night of your trip, so plan accordingly. And keep in mind that if you are day or two off “true full moon” or “true new moon” there is very little difference if you are plus or minus a couple of days. In fact, you might reduce your crowds a bit if you are slightly off.
One final note…don’t be too concerned with moon phases unless it is of particular interest to you. Any summit day between new moon and full moon will give you a taste of both effects (and many climbers actually prefer this).
Other activities in Tanzania/Kenya
Many climbers that make the long journey to Africa will couple their climbing expedition with a safari. We strongly encourage this! Although you may see some animal life on your Kilimanjaro trek, it will be nowhere near the number of animals you will see on a well-run safari. Similar to Kilimanjaro, safari trips can be scheduled year round. But you will want to avoid the wet season (March through May) for your safari as well as your climb.
Many safari goers flock to the area to witness the Great Migration. While this great event is not always at the same exact time of year, it is generally at its peak in July and August. So if one of your goals is to see it, you’ll want to book during this time. July and August are terrific for both safaris and Kilimanjaro climbing. However, do to this fact, it is also the busiest season and you will encounter the most crowds.