Standing tall as the highest mountain in Africa, you would think Kilimanjaro is used to all the attention she gets. She is the world’s highest free-standing mountain, was declared a National Park in 1973, was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987 and even got named one of the Natural Wonders of Africa in 2013. But turns out, she gets really shy this time of year, and employs her trusted group of clouds to hide her all-day long.
I am currently in her home country – Tanzania, in the quiet town of Arusha, 83km from Kilimanjaro. Although Kilimanjaro’s highest snow-capped peak (Kibo) can be seen from Arusha, seating at the foot of this great beauty was top of my list and achieving that was my weekend quest. With a few tips from my lovely host and nothing but excitement, we hit the road;
- Fun facts about Kilimanjaro: it has 3 major peaks;
Kibo – a dormant volcano, is the highest peak and is always covered in snow. Its highest point is the Uhuru peak and is the highest point in the world that can be reached without any technical or life-supporting facilities.
Mawenzi – rugged in nature, is the second highest peak and a more technical climb.
Shira – it used to be the highest of the 3 peaks, but after collapsing formed a plateau that is home to migratory large mammals like buffaloes, elephants and elands.
2. Transportation from Arusha to Kilimanjaro
If you use public transport from the taxi-park, it costs TZS 3,000 (USD 1.3) to get from Arusha to Moshi, after which you take another taxi (dala-dala) to Machame. However, you can hire a private vehicle at approximately TZS 100,000 (USD 44) one way, that will transport you from the taxi-park in Arusha to the Machame gate/Kilimanjaro (the hustle free option). It is worth noting that the preferred town of lodging for travellers interested in Kilimanjaro is Moshi. It is closer to all 6 entrance gates to the Kilimanjaro National Park. We opted to use the entrance gate at Machame.
- Lunch at Salinero Millie Lodge – Machame
We arrived in Machame at 1pm, and as such opted to dine at Salinero Millie Lodge. The lodge is located only 50 metres from the Machame gate/entrance to the park. Meals are prepared on order and that takes approximately 45 minutes. It’s better to pack your own drinks and snacks as there are no restaurants along the Machame hiking trail.
- Shopping the Masai way
As we strolled from Salinero lodge to the park entrance, enthusiastic sellers displayed their finest merchandise for the day – Masai blankets. Given the cold weather and grey skies, they made a more compelling pitch than of the hat sellers and we eventually bought two (2) blankets.
- Grand entrance at the Machame gate
The giant triangular entrance gate is clearly marked with signs to welcome you to the park. All payments are made via card and no cash exchanges are allowed. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of a trained tour guide as this is mandatory for all hikers. Guides are in plenty at the entrance gate and operate within the Park’s allocated time frame. More details about the park are given here.
- The drive back home
As mentioned earlier, at this time of year, Kilimanjaro is hidden by thick clouds and visibility was at 0%: we did not see the snow-capped peak. Nevertheless, the drive back home was still as lively and cheerful as the morning drive. We had enjoyed the fresh mountain air, were proud owners of Masai blankets and the sunflowers kept smiling back at us. Like the true Ugandans we are, we wrapped up the day at a “Kitimoto” joint along Njiro road.
I still have a few weeks in Arusha and will make a second attempt at getting an up-close view of the mountain. Till then keep posted for other adventures in this great volcanic belt.