There are seven trails that lead up to the peak of Kilimanjaro but only one trail leading back down. Each of the trails has its advantages and disadvantages, and nearly all of them would make for very fine adventures!
For the Roaming Parkers’ 2018 Kilimanjaro Trek, we chose the Lemosho route because it was described to us as very scenic and very good acclimatization profile so we will have good chances of successfully summiting,
Here is the low-down on the different Kilimanjaro routes.
Marangu (Coca-Cola route)
Marangu is one of the three Southern approaches to Kilimanjaro. It is the oldest route up the mountain and has dormitory-style huts built at strategic spots along the trail. Marangu is a 40-mile, 5-6 day hike. Because of the permanent huts, tour operators may be able to get by with fewer porters (no tents to carry) so you might get a price break. The downside to this trail is that it is less scenic and shorter (faster) so less opportunity for acclimatization might reduce your chances of summiting safely.
Machame (Whiskey route)
Another Southern approach, Machame is a 7-8 day 30-mile hike and is currently the most popular route on the mountain. Machame is described as very scenic and beautiful, but can be crowded with people especially during peak seasons.
The third of the Southern routes, Umbwe is described as very beautiful but it is also the steepest, shortest, and most difficult of the routes. It is a 23-mile, 6-7 day route. Because of the short, steep ascent, acclimatization time is poor so your chances of success are also low.
Lemosho, or Shira route
Lemosho is a long approach from the west – basically a 3-day extension onto the beginning of the Machame route. The benefits of Lemosho include greater acclimatization time, better success rates, fewer people on the trail with you, and more varied, beautiful scenery.
Another name for Lemosho route is the Shira route, but they are actually two slightly different routes. Shira was the original route but at some point the trail was re-routed and improved and named Lemosho, so the original Shira route is rarely used.
Rongai is the only northern approach to Kilimanjaro, and as such, it is very remote and has a very long access time (assuming you are starting in Moshi or Arusha). It is a 40-mile, 5-6 day trek. The scenery is not as varied, but you might see more wildlife and it is described as having more of a wilderness feel.
The newest, longest, and most expensive option is the Northern Circuit.The Northern Circuit is a 9-10 day, 56-mile route that starts out on the Lemosho trail and then circles all the way around the northern slopes before summiting. Because acclimatization time is greatest, so is your likelihood of success.
The Western Breach is not really (or should not really be) an option for climbing Kili because it is intensely dangerous. There have been numerous recent highly-publicized deaths from rockfalls on the Western Breach. The advantage (if there is one) to the Western Breach is that it leads directly to the floor of the crater, so if the crater is your destination (say, for a scientific expedition) then the Western Breach will take you there without having to climb all the way to the rim of the crater and then down to the floor.
Mweka is the road home! Most all of the previous routes are all one-way ascents (there are a few exceptions) and all the up-routes generally use Mweka as the descent route.