Kilimanjaro Northern Circuit Route – Recommendation & Best Offers

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The Northern Circuit is the longest route on Kilimanjaro. It starts in the west along the Lemosho Route.

On the Shira plateau, or latest at Lava Tower, the Northern Circuit branches off to avoid the busy southern circuit and circumvents the peak on the rarely visited northern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, near Kenya.

It approaches the summit from the east and descends in the south. As such, it offers stunning 360° degree views of the peak and afar away from the crowds.

The Northern Circuit can be completed in 8 or 9 days, or up to 10 days including an overnight stay at Crater Camp.

We recommend the 9-day Northern Circuit Itinerary over the 8-day Northern Circuit Itinerary for maximum acclimatization to the high altitude.

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Hiking Routes
Northern Circuit
What is the Northern Circuit route on Mount Kilimanjaro like?

The Northern Circuit is the longest route on Kilimanjaro. It starts in the west along the Lemosho Route.

On the Shira plateau, or latest at Lava Tower, the Northern Circuit branches off to avoid the busy southern circuit and circumvents the peak on the rarely visited northern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, near Kenya.

It approaches the summit from the east and descends in the south. As such, it offers stunning 360° degree views of the peak and afar away from the crowds.

How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro on the Northern Circuit?

The Northern Circuit can be completed in 8 or 9 days, or up to 10 days including an overnight stay at Crater Camp.

We recommend the 9-day Northern Circuit Itinerary over the 8-day Northern Circuit Itinerary for maximum acclimatization to the high altitude.

Would you recommend the Kilimanjaro Northern Circuit?

Together with the Grand Traverse, the Northern Circuit is the only route that circumvents the peak on the northern slopes, providing the most authentic wilderness experience away from the crowds.

If you're looking for a more quiet and meditative experience, it would be recommendable to escape to the far less visited northern slopes. If you suffer from vertigo, you might also prefer to take the Kilimanjaro Northern Circuit route in order to avoid the scramble atop the steep Barranco Wall.

What are the advantages of the Northern Circuit?

The Northern Circuit on Kilimanjaro is your best choice if you want to maximize your summit success chance due to its good altitude profile and the fact that it gives you plenty of time to acclimatize. With the right guide and preparation, this routes guarantees a summit success chance of close to 100%.

As the route takes longer, it's less popular than some other routes. The advantage of this is that it may feel more comfortable for you personally as you will get to experience quiet campsites, more privacy and unspoilt wilderness.

What are the disadvantages of the Northern Circuit?

The scenery is special on Kilimanjaro, no matter which route you take. However, please be aware that the Northern Circuit misses two scenic highlights of the southern slopes. These are the Dendrosenecio forest, though you will still get to see a few Dendrosenecio trees, and, the Barranco Wall. However, this is honestly a blessing in disguise if you suffer from vertigo.

Generally speaking, we'd say that these are small sacrifices for your authentic wilderness experience!

If you are looking for an open group climb, the Northern Circuit isn't your best bet either. While there still are a few options available for the 8-day Northern Circuit, there are hardly any open group climbs for the 9-day Northern Circuit.

What is the altitude profile of the Northern Circuit?

The Northern Circuit offers plenty of opportunities to acclimatize to the high altitude and therefore also has a very high summit success chance. It has a good altitude profile of hiking high and sleeping low.

Even though it is the longest route, it might as well be one of the easiest!

Is the Northern Circuit dangerous?

The biggest cause of fatality on Kilimanjaro is altitude sickness. Therefore, the safest route will be the one which allows for the best acclimatization.

The Northern Circuit is the longest route on Kilimanjaro. It offers plenty of opportunities to climb high and sleep low. This is the best way to get your body used to the high altitude and reduce the severity of altitude sickness.

Therefore, the Northern Circuit has among the highest summit success rates.

However, on any route, it is most important that you don't push beyond your limits and follow an experienced guide who will assist with descent if required. If you do so, all the popular routes may be considered more or less equally safe or risky.

Besides acclimatization, Northern Circuit avoids the dangerous Western Breach and the Barranco Wall. It can be considered considerably safer than routes that include one or both of these places.

How difficult is it to climb Kilimanjaro via the Northern Circuit?

Depending on its variation (8 or 9 days, including or excluding an acclimatization detour to Lava Tower), the Northern Circuit has a total length of 80km (49mi) to 94km (58mi). This makes it the longest route to climb Kilimanjaro.

Because of its length, the Northern Circuit has the reputation to be difficult. However, the average distance covered per day is 9-10km. Therefore, we do not consider it to be more difficult.

Furthermore, the Northern Circuit has a good altitude profile and offers plenty of opportunity for proper acclimatization as there simply is more time.

As a result, both the 8-day and 9-day itinerary have summit success chances of close to 100%.

How popular is the Mount Kilimanjaro Northern Circuit?

The Northern Circuit route is one of the less popular routes because of its length.

However, if you are looking for a unique wilderness experience away from the crowds, and you have time, the Northern Circuit is an excellent route.

Furthermore, fewer climbers also means more privacy, quieter campsites and more unspoilt wilderness. If this is important for you, then the Northern Circuit is well worth considering.

 

Do you recommend the 8-day Northern Circuit?

If you prefer to save time and energy, you will like this 8-day northern circuit itinerary which also has some great group tour offers. This makes it not only shorter but also more affordable than the 9-day route.

Alternatively, for an even easier and more luxurious experience, we recommend the 8-day Grand Traverse.

Do you recommend the 9-day Northern Circuit?

We recommend the 9-day Northern Circuit route over the 8-day itinerary for two reasons. First, the 9-day route offers better acclimatization than the 8-day route which results in a very high summit success chance. More specifically, the 9-day route includes an acclimatization climb to Lava Tower on your 4th day.

Its altitude profile and duration make the Northern Circuit one of the routes with the highest summit success chance.

And second, it provides an authentic wilderness experience away from the crowds.

Furthermore, the 9-day Northern Circuit also offers a somewhat more difficult alternative to the Grand Traverse (similar to Lemosho), yet with more opportunity to acclimatize and more scenic variety compared to the Grand Traverse.

 

Do you recommend the 10-day Northern Circuit with Crater Camp?

We recommend the 10-day Northern Circuit if you have time and are looking for a totally off-the-beaten-track experience. The additional thrills of an overnight stay at Crater Camp will make this an experience you won't soon forget.

Furthermore, this climb guaranties maximum time for proper acclimatization prior to your stay at Crater Camp. This drastically decreases the risk of getting altitude sickness.

Map of Northern Circuit

Crater Camp
Which is the best route to combine with Crater Camp?

Longer routes are ideal to combine with a stay at Crater Camp. These are, for example, the Lemosho Route, the Northern Circuit and the Grand Traverse.

The tours that we recommend most are the 9-day Lemosho Route with Crater Camp and the 10-day Northern Circuit with Crater Camp.

The Lemosho Route has an ideal altitude profile that lets you walk high and sleep low. It's ideal preparation for a stay at Crater Camp and it also increases your summit success rate. A potential downside of this otherwise very scenic route is that you'll share this route with many other travellers.

The Northern Circuit is the longest route on Kilimanjaro and one of the only routes that circumvents the peak on the Northern slopes. This route provides you with the most authentic wilderness experience away from the crowds. It has an excellent altitude profile and even though it's one of the longest routes, it is one of the easiest.

An alternative option is to pre-acclimitize by climbing nearby Mount Meru. This will allow you to climb Kilimanjaro on a shorter itinerary. However, this means that you will hike a lot more and is therefore only recommendable for very strong and experienced hikers.

Comparison
What is the difference between the Lemosho Route and Northern Circuit?

The biggest difference between the Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes on Mount Kilimanjaro is the way they circumvent the peak. Both start in the west of the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, at Lemosho Gate, and are identical for the first two to four days (depending on the variation).

On the Shira plateau, or latest at Lava Tower, they split: The Lemosho Route continues along the popular and most scenic southern slopes to join with the Machame Route, while the Northern Circuit branches off to avoid the busy southern circuit and circumvents the peak on the rarely visited northern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, near Kenya.

Both routes join again at Stella Point on the summit for the final path to Uhuru Peak, and follow the same descent route down to Mweka Gate.

In terms of difficulty, we consider both routes roughly equal. At 72km (44mi) of total length, Lemosho is a little shorter than the Northern Circuit, which is the longest route on Kilimanjaro.

Depending on its variation (8 or 9 days, including or excluding an acclimatization detour to Lava Tower), the Northern Circuit has a total length of 80km (49mi) to 94km (58mi).

Therefore, the Northern Circuit takes one more day to complete: While Lemosho can be completed in 7 or 8 days, the Northern Circuit takes 8 or 9 days.

The average distance covered per day, however, is 9-10km for both routes. Therefore, even though the Northern Circuit is longer overall, we do not consider it to be more difficult.

In terms of acclimatization and summit success chance, we don't see a major difference as both routes have a very high summit success chance (read the golden rules of altitude acclimatization).

To maximize your summit success chance when climbing Kilimanjaro, taking 8 or 9 days is recommendable over 7 days or less, such as for the 7-day Lemosho Route.

However, the 8-day Lemosho Route, 8-day Northern Circuit and 9-day Northern Circuit all have a summit success chance of close to 100%. So which one should you take? Read more here.

Which is the most difficult hiking route on Mount Kilimanjaro?

The Umbwe Route is one of the most challenging routes on Kilimanjaro, despite being one of the shortest routes. It involves steep climbs from day one and you need a reasonable level of fitness to be able to handle this path.

This route does not allow sufficient time for acclimatization as you will be trekking at altitude for the majority of your journey. Therefore, it is best to only attempt this route if you are an experienced climber.

On the opposite end, the Northern Circuit also has a reputation for being difficult, due to its length. However, it offers more time to acclimatize, so most climbers should find it easier to reach the summit when following the Northern Circuit.

What is the difference between Northern Circuit and the Grand Traverse?

The Northern Circuit and the Grand Traverse are the longest routes on Kilimanjaro. They both circumvent the peak on the northern slope and offer 360° degree views of the peak and afar. It offers some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery on Kilimanjaro.

The biggest difference between the two routes is that climbers on the Grand Traverse get driven up to a fairly high altitude of 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) on their first day, along the old Shira evacuation route. This makes the Grand Traverse a shorter and less challenging variation. The route is typically completed in 8 days: 8-day Grand Traverse Itinerary.

What is the safest hiking route on Mount Kilimanjaro?

The biggest cause of fatality on Kilimanjaro is altitude sickness. Therefore, the safest route will be the one which allows for the best acclimatization.

The Northern Circuit and Grand Traverse are the longest routes on Kilimanjaro. They also offer plenty of opportunities to climb high and sleep low. This is the best way to get your body used to the high altitude and reduce the severity of altitude sickness. Therefore, they have the highest summit success rates.

However, on any route, it is most important that you don't push beyond your limits and follow an experienced guide who will assist with descent if required. If you do so, all the popular routes may be considered more or less equally safe or risky.

Besides acclimatization, the routes that avoid the dangerous Western Breach are definitely safer than the routes that don't. To go even further, some routes also avoid the Barranco Wall. Therefore, the Northern Circuit, the Grand Traverse and the Rongai route could be deemed safest.

Choosing Your Itinerary
Recommendation
Should I take the Lemosho Route or Northern Circuit?

Choosing between the Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes to climb Kilimanjaro is a  tradeoff between best scenery versus serene wilderness. Which is more important to you?

If you don't want to miss out on the fairytale-like Forest or the infamous Barranco Wall on Mount Kilimanjaro, you have no choice but to take the Lemosho Route, or another route that follows the southern circuit.

On the flip side, the southern circuit is very busy which means that you'll share your path and campsites with an entire village of hikers, guides and porters. If you're looking for a more quiet and meditative experience, it would be recommendable to escape to the far less visited northern slopes. If you suffer from vertigo, you might also prefer to take the Northern Circuit in order to avoid the scramble atop the steep Barranco Wall.

Another consideration is the time you're planning to spend for your Kilimanjaro climb. If you're in a rush, then you might prefer the Lemosho Route which can be completed in 7 days, while the Northern Circuit takes a minimum of 8 days.

Finally, if you're looking to join an open group climb, you'll be spoilt for choice for both the busier 7-day Lemosho and 8-day Lemosho routes, while there's fewer options for the 8-day Northern Circuit and hardly any open group climbs for the 9-day Northern Circuit. Read more about the differences between the Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes here.

 

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