Mount Kilimanjaro, with its gleaming glaciers and wreathing veils of clouds, will greet visitors with its awesome appearance that can be viewed from afar.
Standing majestically on vast open plains, it calls adventurous from across the world to explore an ascend through the farms, forest and giant heather. To cross moors and highland desert up to the snow capped Kibo, placing you on the highest point in Africa.
Kilimanjaro has inspired wonder and respect throughout history, and will humble even the strongest if not approached with respect and patience. Only by taking a slow pace on Kilimanjaro will you truly be able to appreciate the surroundings, explore the vast mountain below and enjoy the unique fauna and flora on offer.
Kilimanjaro National Park
The Kilimanjaro National Park only covers the land area above 2 700 meters above sea level, a total of 756 sq kms.
The park includes the moorlands, highland zones, Shira Plateau, Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. Only six corridors or right of way through the Kilimanjaro Forest Reserves are available, that also forms part of the 6 Kilimanjaro routes, Machame route, Marangu route, Rongai route, Lemosho route, Umbwe route and Mweka route (used for descending only).
The Forest Reserve was established in 1921 and the Kilimanjaro National Park in 1973 and officially opened in 1977.
Mount Kilimanjaro is located on the northern boundary of Tanzania and stands 330kms south of the equator.
The location of Kilimanjaro on an open plain, it’s close proximity to the Indian Ocean, and the size and height strongly influence the vegetation, animal life and the climbing conditions. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and is composed of three extinct Volcanoes namely Kibo 5895 m, Mawenzi 5149 m, and Shira 3962. It is also one of the world’s highest free-standing mountain in the world, with “free-standing meaning it stands alone and is not part of a mountain range.
The largest part of Kilimanjaro looms 4800 m above an undulating plain that averages around 1 000 meters above sea level.
Zones on Kilimanjaro
There are five major zones are found on Kilimanjaro. The zones occupy belts of approximately 1 000 m of altitude each. Generally the temperature drops about 1 degree Celsius every 200 meter increase in altitude and the rainfall also decreases with altitude from the forest upwards. The pant life decreases because of colder and drier conditions, and the same with animal life being dependent on plants.
Zone 1 : Lower slopes on Kilimanjaro
Altitude: 800 m ~ 1 800 m
Rainfall: 500 millimeter per year on plains to 1800 millimeter per year at forest boundary.
Evidence of human use, with reference to grazing of livestock and cultivation, are around most of Kilimanjaro’s lower slopes. This has totally changed the natural vegetation patterns what used to be scrub, bush and lowland forest.
The lower slopes of Kilimanjaro receive water that fell as rain in the forest zone, and then percolated through underground channels. It is this water together with the fertile volcanic soil that supports the densely populated settlements.
Large wild animals are not found this this zone, but many small animals like the Greater Galago and Tree Hyrax can be spotted at night time.
An abundance of birdlife are found here, where cultivated areas and natural forest meet providing varied food supply and many nesting sites. Usually seen are the Common bulbul, White-browed Robin Chat, The Tropical Boubou, Speckled Mousebird and the Bronze Sunbird.
Zone 2 : Forest on Kilimanjaro
Altitude: 1 800 m ~ 2 800 m
Rainfall: about 2 000 millimeter per year on the southern slopes and less than 1 000 millimeter per year on the western and northern sides.
The forest zone on Kilimanjaro is the richest on the mountain with a wide band of beautiful montane forest that encircles the mountain. 96% of the water on Kilimanjaro originates in this zone, with the water being absorbed by the thick carpet of leaves and then percolates through the soil and the porous lava rock, to emerge as springs lower down the mountain.
The dampness of the forest and the altitude frequently forms a wide band of clouds. Protected from the sun by clouds, the moisture evaporation is limited creating high humidity, dampness and fog. When the cloud cover clears at night cold temperatures can be felt.
Flowers in the dense forest are not plentiful, but there are a few orchids and violets, with the most noticeable balsams (impatiens) forming a thick carpet in damp shady places.
In clearings giant lobelia can be seen, which can reach a height of 10 meter.
Zone 3 : Heath and Moorland on Kilimanjaro
Altitude: 2 800 m ~ 4 000 m
Rainfall: about 1 000 millimeter per year,
This low alpine zone is mostly cool and clear with the exception of mist and fog at the forest boundaries. The zone also consist of two communities, heath and moorland, and above 3 000 m frost in the morning are regular and the sunshine during the day intense. Highly recommended to where sun protection to avoid sunburn when walking in this zone.
Heath – the part of this zone that is characterized by the heather and heath-like shrubs found. The many grasses that grow here are useful in protecting the soil and conserving moisture.
Moorland – clusters of giant lobelias and senecios found here in valley bottoms and beside streams characterize the higher elevations.
Zone 4 : Highland desert on Kilimanjaro
Altitude: 4 000 m ~ 5 000 m
Rainfall: about 250 millimeter per year.
In this alpine zone it is summer every day and winter ever night. Here you find intense radiation, high evaporation and huge fluctuations in temperatures, with nights well below 0 degree Celsius and in daytime as high as 40 degree Celsius in direct sun light. Water is scarce and there is little soil to retain any moisture.
Plant life in this zone has to cope with a phenomenon called “solifluction”. This occurs when the ground freezes, soil-water expands and moves the soil around so plant struggle with uprooted root and freezing water. Under these inhospitable conditions only the hardiest plant survive.
The highland desert does not offer much in the way of wildlife, but its close views of the glaciers are spectacular.
Zone 5 : Summit on Kilimanjaro
Altitude: above 5 000 m
Rainfall: less than 100 millimeter per year, precipitation is usually not rain but snow.
This area is characterized by arctic conditions – freezing cold at night and burning sun during the day. Oxygen is about half that at sea level and there is little atmosphere to protect a person from the sun’s radiation. There is also virtually no liquid surface water as its locked up in snow and ice.
The few lichens found in this zone grow extremely slow at a pace of 1 mm per year. Animal life are hardly ever found in this zone, but in 1926 a local missionary found a leopard frozen in the snow. Another recorded sighting was in 1962, where three climbers were accompanied to the summit by five African hunting dogs.
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Additional reading material on Kilimanjaro
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