Kilimanjaro National Park

    Kilimanjaro National Park

    At 5896m Mt. Kilimanjaro the highest point on the continent, but what makes it all the more impressive is the incredible rise of 4600 m with its snowy peak and glaciers often protruding above the clouds. Few mountains can claim the grandeur of Mt Kili; the breathtaking views of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, the Rift Valley, and the Masai Steppe. And unlike many of the world’s other high peaks no climbing is required and even first-time enthusiasts can hike to the top of Africa.
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    On the morning of May 11, 1849, Johannes Rebmann, accompanied by a guide, came across an amazing sight; the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, its peaks covered with something white. At first, he mistook the mysterious whiteness for a huge cloud. His opinion was partly grounded on the notion, popular among academics of the time, that mountains close to the Equator could not have ice caps. You can then imagine his shock when, upon further investigation, he found out that the 'cloud' was actually snow! Even today, some tourists stare at the mountain's hoary peaks in wonder, trying to figure out how snow can exist in such balmy weather.

    Jutting 5,895 meters, or about 19,300 feet, into the sky, Mount Kilimanjaro is home to Africa's highest peak. It is also the highest freestanding mountain on the planet. Presently, the mountain and a large part of its surrounding forests make up the renowned Kilimanjaro National Park.

    History of the Park

    At the dawn of the twentieth century, the German colonial government decided to set apart the area around Mount Kilimanjaro as a game reserve. The administration eventually designated it as a forest reserve in 1921. In 1973, the Tanzanian government classified the area above the mountain's tree line, which is about 2,700 meters above sea level, as a national park. In recognition of the valuable plant and animal species the park harbored, UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site in 1987. In 2005, the park's size was expanded to include the area that was formerly covered by the Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve.

    An Overview of the Park

    The park is located near the town of Moshi. It extends from the Kenyan border and includes six forest corridors passing through the montane forest belt. The park covers 1,688 square kilometers, which is about 650 square miles. It is home to a large number of unique plant and animal species. A study conducted in 2001 uncovered 179 bird species, 140 mammal species, and 2,500 plant species. The area around the park is heavily populated, principally by the Chagga. These are the 'Jagga' that Rebmann wrote about the first time he saw Mount Kilimanjaro.

    For most people, the park's biggest attraction remains the mountain's hoary peaks. There are seven officially sanctioned routes to get to, and descend from these peaks; Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Rongai, Shira, and Umbwe. The most popular route is Marangu, also known as the Coca Cola route. This is because the popular beverage is available for sale at some points along the route. In contrast, Machame, also known as the Whiskey route is more taxing. However, it is the most scenic of all the routes.

    Kilimanjaro's Peaks


    Shira is located west of Mount Kilimanjaro, and lies at an altitude of 3,962 meters, which is about 13,000 feet. Of the mountain's three peaks, it is the oldest. Only its southern and western rims remain. Its northern and eastern flanks are covered by volcanic material originating from Kibo, the highest peak. The rest of the peak is composed of a relatively flat plateau.


    Mawenzi lies east of Mount Kilimanjaro at an altitude of 5,149 meters, which is about 16,900 feet. Of the three peaks, Mawenzi is the most rugged. Dyke swarms, pinnacles and a large number of crags make up the top of its relatively steep western face, while the eastern face is made up of steep cliffs, plunging to depths of over a 1,000 meters, or slightly over 3200 feet. Located below these cliffs are two deep gorges, the Great Barranco and the Lesser Barranco. Mawenzi has patches of snow that wax and wane depending on the season.


    This is the youngest and best known of the three peaks. It lies at an altitude of 5,895 meters. The peak is an almost symmetric cone made up of two concentric craters and an ash pit at the center that is 350 meters, or about 1,200 feet, deep. The inner crater is named after Dr. Richard Reusch. While Kibo is blessed with a permanent ice and snow cap, it is receding rapidly, the victim of an increasingly warmer climate.

    Kibo is separated from Mawenzi by an iconic feature known as the Saddle. This is an expansive plateau. No high altitude tundra in Africa surpasses the Saddle in elevation.

    Where Goeth the Hoary Peaks?

    Sadly, the ice cap that bedazzled Rebmann over two hundred years ago is receding rapidly. By the last measure, the mountain had lost 85% of its ice cap since 1912. Between 2000 and 2007, the mountain lost a whopping 26% of its snowy crown. Scientists estimate that by 2033, Mount Kilimanjaro's hoary cap will be no more.

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