What is the Weather on Kilimanjaro?
The short answer is that the temperatures on Mount Kilimanjaro range from hot to bitter cold. Climbing Kilimanjaro is unique for many reasons, and one of these is that from origin to summit, climbers find themselves weaving through several distinct climate zones. It is said that the journey from the gate to the peak is like traveling from the equator to Antarctica in a matter of days! Mount Kilimanjaro has five major ecological zones, each approximately 3,280 feet (1,000 m) in altitude. Each zone is subject to a corresponding decrease in rainfall, temperature and flora/fauna as the altitude increases.
Moshi, the gateway town from which our climbs are organized, is located just south of the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. At 2,667 feet (900 m) above sea level, the town is located in the lowest, warmest ecological zone. Average temperature, humidity and precipitation figures for Moshi are reflected in the following table.
As shown, January and February are the warmest months, April and May are the wettest months, June and July are the coolest months, and August and September are the driest months. These generalities about the weather in Moshi hold true for Mount Kilimanjaro as well.
Due to its proximity to the equator, Mount Kilimanjaro does not experience wide temperature changes from season to season. Instead, the temperatures on Mount Kilimanjaro are determined more so by the altitude and time of day. At the beginning of the climb, at the base of the mountain, the average temperature is around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 27 degrees Celsius). From there, the temperatures will decrease as you move through Mount Kilimanjaro’s ecological zones.
At the summit, Uhuru Point, the night time temperatures can range between 20 and -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 to -29 degrees Celsius). Due to Mount Kilimanjaro’s great height, the mountain creates its own weather. It is extremely variable and impossible to predict. Therefore, regardless of when you climb, you should always be prepared for wet days and cold nights.
Kilimanjaro’s Five Ecological Zones
Below are Mount Kilimanjaro’s zones from the lowest to the highest altitude along with the average annual precipitation, zone characteristics, and links/feeds to the current weather in each particular zone.
Altitude: 2,600 to 6,000 ft (800 to 1,800 m) Precipitation: 20 to 70 in (500 to 1,800 mm)
The lowest elevation climate zone is the bushland, resting a half mile or more above sea leve. Cultivated land, grasslands and populated human settlements characterize this zone.
Natural bush, plains, and lowland forests once covered the region. However, because this area is rich with fertile volcanic soil, it makes an ideal land for agriculture. The Chaga people settled on these lower slopes to farm a variety of crops, such as highly prized coffee and tropical fruits. The grounds are irrigated by underground channels tunneling through the earth from the lush rainforest nestled above.
Many of the local mountain guides hail from the nearby villages. Large wild animals are rarely seen here, having been eliminated by farmers generations ago. However, small nocturnal mammals such as galagos and tree hyrax still thrive. Birds, such as speckled mousebirds and tropical boubou, are also are plentiful.
Rain Forest Zone
Altitude: 6,000 to 9,200 ft (1,800 to 2,800 m)
Precipitation: 79 to 40 in (2,000 to 1,000 mm)
The rain forest is drenched by six to seven feet of rain per year and bursts with biodiversity. During the day, warm temperatures and high humidity characterize this densely forested climate zone. However, rainy nights can produce surprisingly low temperatures. Climbers definitely want to have their rain gear handy to protect themselves from the constant drizzle.
The rain forest presents the most abundant opportunities for viewing unique types of African flora and fauna. Various species of orchids, ferns, sycamore figs, olive trees, and palms dripping with hanging mosses are found here. Camphorwood trees reach as high as 130 feet through the canopy grasping for sunlight. Blue and Colobus monkeys gallivant through the trees, loudly beckoning mates, and a vibrant cacophony of sounds emanate from the diverse population of birdlife.
Climbers approaching the summit from the Rongai, Lemosho, Shira or Northern Circuit routes may be lucky enough to spot elephant, buffalo, antelope and an occasional predator drifting through in search of a wayward meal.
Altitude: 9,200 to 13,200 ft (2,800 to 4,000 m) Precipitation: 51 to 21 in (1,300 to 530 mm) Also known as moorland, this semi-alpine zone is characterized by heath-like vegetation and abundant wild flowers. According to mountain medicine, the heath zone is in the “high altitude” region. The first symptoms of acute mountain sickness may begin to appear in some climbers. Most of our clients wisely choose spend several days at this altitude to gradually acclimatize to the decreasing oxygen and the higher elevations to come.
As we move higher, the humidity and dense forest surroundings begin to give way to drier air and cooler temperatures. The flora thins into smaller shrubs like heather, and the presence of fauna becomes increasingly scarce. The most prominent flora are the unique and iconic Senecios (also known as groundsels) and Giant Lobelias. Kilimanjaro’s giant Senecios and Lobelia are endemic to the region. The Senecios, which translates from Latin to “old man,” have thick weathered stems topped with large, succulent rosettes. Lobelieas resemble oddly-shaped palm trees with rosettes that close in the evenings to guard against the chilly night temperatures.
The most common birds seen in the heath zone are the easily recognizable black and white crows which forage around camp. Sometimes, large birds of prey such as the crowned eagle and lammergeyer soar overhead.
Alpine Desert Zone
Altitude: 13,200 to 16,500 ft (4,000 to 5,000 m)
Precipitation: 10 in (250 mm)
The alpine desert receives little water and correspondingly light vegetation exists here. The temperature can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. The thin air and proximity to the equator result in very high levels of solar radiation. Applying liberal amounts of sunscreen an absolute must. During the night, temperatures often plummet to well below freezing, leaving a dusting of morning frost on the tents.
This zone is in the “very high altitude” region of mountain medicine. For ideal acclimatization, climbers should spend a few days here. Our preferred routes encourage clients to “climb high, sleep low” which will reduce the ill effects of altitude.
This arid zone has thin soil that retains little water, making it inhospitable to most plant and animal species. Everlastings are one of the main plant species that can withstand such harsh conditions, as well as tussock grasses and varieties of moss. A few of the animals that make appearances in the moorland will wander to these elevations, but the occurrences are very rare.
Current weather conditions for Mount Kilimanjaro’s alpine desert zone can be found here.
Altitude: 16,500+ ft (5,000+ m)
Precipitation: <4 in (100 mm)
The final region of the climb up Kilimanjaro is the arctic zone. Finding a region like this in Africa’s equatorial belt is like finding a swath of rainforest in the middle of an Arctic glacier. Characterized by ice and rock, there is virtually no plant or animal life at this altitude. Glacial silt covers the slopes that were once concealed by the now receding glaciers visible from Kilimanjaro’s crater rim. Nights are extremely cold and windy, and the day’s unbuffered sun is powerful.
Mountain medicine classifies this zone as “extreme altitude.” Oxygen levels are roughly half of what they are at sea level, making breathing slow and labored. It is likely that climbers will experience varying degrees of altitude related symptoms at these elevations. To combat this, we try to avoid spending too much time here. We summit and descend expeditiously before AMS can escalate.
Best time to Climb Mountain Kilimanjaro or Mount Meru in Tanzania.
The Mount Kilimanjaro weather affects your climb and your success chances. When to climb Kilimanjaro is an important decision.
Bad weather on Kilimanjaro not only makes for a miserable trek and ruins your photos, most importantly it simply makes the climb twice as hard!
You are a lot more likely to reach the summit if the weather on Kilimanjaro is good.
Mount Kilimanjaro is near the equator. In the tropics there is no such thing as summer and winter. There are only dry and rainy periods. Or “dry seasons” and “wet seasons”.
Climbing Kilimanjaro during the wet season means you have to slog through very deep mud during the first days. At higher altitude you have fog and drizzle, and slowly but surely the moisture will creep into your clothes, your gear, your bones…
At the top you may have to fight your way through ice and snow. Having moisture in your clothes and everything is not going to help with the cold up there.
But there are other aspects to consider as well. The temperatures, the views, and of course the number of people on the mountain. As so often, there is no hard and fast answer and no single best time to climb Kilimanjaro.So lets look at the Kilimanjaro weather details over the year.
The Weather on Kilimanjaro – When to Go?
April – June
The main rainy season lasts from the end of March through to mid June. As elsewhere in the world, when exactly it rains and when it stops is impossible to predict. It’s the warmest time of the year in Tanzania, but those months are so wet that many operators simply do not offer climbs in April/May at all.
June – August
The rain gradually decreases, and so do the temperatures on Kilimanjaro. The weather on Kilimanjaro is fairly dry and clear but the nights will be bitter cold. June is quiet, but the number of climbers increases as the year progresses.
August – October
August and even more so September is the peak climbing season on Kilimanjaro. The weather is good with many clear days and warmer than in June/July. You may, however, get clouds blanketing the forest/moorland zone, and on the southern routes you may get rained on on the first days. But once you leave the rain forest behind all is good! The good conditions last into about mid October when the build up for the short rains begins.
The weather on Kilimanjaro becomes more unstable and the number of climbers drops. As in all tropical regions of the world, the wetter time of the year announces itself with afternoon clouds and occasional thunderstorms. As long as you are equipped to withstand the occasional shower, this should not present any major problems.
November is the small rainy season, and the rain lasts into mid December. The temperatures have dropped and the rain brings with it all the hazards that I described at the top of the page. Not the best time to climb Kilimanjaro.
The four to six weeks around Christmas and New Year are the second peak climbing season on Kilimanjaro. Traffic is extremely high despite there still being a good chance of rainfall and thick clouds in the lower regions. It’s not a time I would choose.
Mid January to mid March is also a good time to climb Kilimanjaro. The weather is reasonable, not too cold, not too wet, and there aren’t as many climbers. The days are mainly dry, beautifully clear with few clouds and occasional brief showers.