Getting to experience Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is a once in a lifetime adventure. Kilimanjaro rises steeply out of a level farmland valley. It is not part of a mountain chain, but rather a lonely volcano. Because the hike leading to the top of Kilimanjaro starts near the valley floor, you will experience many different climates and eco-zones on your journey to the summit.
When I visited Kilimanjaro in 2006, our group traveled the scenic Machame route to the summit. I remember the first day of the expedition, I was profusely sweating while traveling through a rainforest environment. However, two days later we were wearing jackets and pants while traveling through a rocky landscape with trees that looked as if they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book. By the time we reached the summit, I was breathless (literally) staring around at the ashen blue moonscape capped with majestic glaciers.
The beauty was far more grand than I could have imagined, but so was the challenge! I thought I was in good shape before the hike, but I learned that everyone has a different aptitude for altitude. On the day that our group summited, several of the younger more fit group members had to turn back, and many of the older or overweight members made it to the top. When I reached the nearly 20,000-foot summit I was stumbling, mumbling, and I had a terrible headache. I decided that was as high as I EVER wanted to go.
The journey to the top would have never been possible without the help of porters. The African porters made the ascent of Kilimanjaro look easy. They carried their belongings, as well as ours, and they always had camp set-up and dinner prepared before we hiked into camp. It is a requirement to hike with the porters – and it should be. They not only protect the health and safety of the tourists, but interacting with the local people will give you a deeper appreciation of the history and mystique that surrounds the mountain.
One of the best aspects of climbing Kilimanjaro is that your journey does not have to end once you return to the base of the mountain. Tanzania is home to some of the best wildlife preserves in the world, and within a few hours of the mountain you can start viewing elephants and giraffes, lions and tigers, all in their natural environment. So sit back and enjoy the wildlife on your safari – after all, you’ve earned it!