Everest, Denali, K2—the very names of these mountains command awe and respect, both from mountaineers who brave the elements to reach their summits and from armchair travelers who are less compelled to try. Mount Kilimanjaro, the world's tallest freestanding mountain and Africa's highest peak at 19,341 feet, is the ultimate climb—except that it is attainable even for novice climbers who lack corporate sponsors, specialized equipment, and technical skills. Call it Everest for everyone.
With enough physical training, any trekker can simply walk up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro—or "Kili," as it's affectionately known. It's significantly easier than other mountains of its height; no crampons or ropes required. Nevertheless, it's still challenging: climbing Kili takes you well above 8,000 feet (where altitude sickness can be a problem), through several climate zones—from the tropical heat to an arctic chill—and requires at least a week even if you're an Olympic sprinter. But remember, there's no prize for being the first to the top.
Though the hard-won adrenaline rush of reaching the summit of Kili's Uhuru Peak is the ultimate goal, the experience of the actual climb varies by route. A word to the wise: although this is Africa, don't expect to see the Big Five en route to the top. Read on for three distinct ways to experience Kilimanjaro.
Kilmanjaro three ways:
THE SCENIC ROUTE International Mountain Guides (www.mountainguides.com; 11-day treks from $3,050) and Alpine Ascents International (www.alpineascents.com; seven-day treks from $4,300) take hikers on the Machame route, a challenging path that many regard as the mountain's most beautiful. The circuit goes from heath and moorland through jungles draped with lianas, past volcanic scree, and up to the (now shrinking) snowcapped peak.
THE QUIET ROUTE Few companies follow the off-the-beaten-track Western Breach route made famous by David Breashears' IMAX film. But Geographic Expeditions (www.geoex.com; 11-day treks from $4,500) takes hikers up this conduit, stopping at its private camp in Kili's glaciated crater. While many treks require a predawn push for the top, this camp near the summit lets you get a full night's sleep and have a hot breakfast before the final ascent.
THE NEWEST ROUTE Starting next March, Crystal Cruises' Serenity sailings to and from Cape Town (www.crystalcruises.com; nine-day cruises; price not available at press time) will give a whole new meaning to "shore excursions" when the luxury liner teams up with Micato Safaris for their own Kili trek.
THE FACTS Getting there KLM operates flights from major U.S. cities via Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport. Air Tanzania (www.airtanzania.com) offers daily service from Dar es Salaam. Visas Tourist visas (mandatory) are available at all Tanzanian embassies (www.tanzanianembassy-us.org), or at the first port of entry to the country, and cost $50. Immunizations Yellow fever, hepatitis, rabies, and typhoid vaccinations are recommended.
As the explorer Francis Younghusband said, "The mountains reserve their greatest secrets for those who attain their summits." Here are five other peaks with particularly spectacular gifts, listed by height. T+L recommends you check with your doctor before going on a climb above 10,000 feet.
Mount Everest Base Camp, Nepal, 17,600 feet
Though only the most intrepid travelers attempt Everest's summit, Mountain Travel Sobek (www.mtsobek.com; 25-day treks from $3,190) escorts those with enough time and stamina along ridges, with staggering views of four of the eight highest peaks on earth, to Mount Everest Base Camp.
Mount Rainier, Washington, 14,410 feet
Mount Rainier is often used as a training ground for Everest. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (www.rmiguides.com; three-day treks from $795) teaches basic climbing skills that enable novices to reach Columbia Crest while attached to a guide by ropes.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru, 13,776 feet
With Geographic Expeditions (www.geoex.com; 12-day trips from $3,950), you can take a four-day trek up through cloud forests and down flagstone trails, then spend a night in the Incan ruins. Alternatively, the luxe Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (www.inkaterra.com; $374), in Cuzco, has just launched helicopter service, allowing you to reach the ruins in 30 minutes.
Mount Toubkal, Morocco, 13,670 feet
Trek the High Atlas through Berber country with Adrar Adventure (www.morocco-travel-adventure.com; $290). Based in Marrakesh, this local outfitter leads two-day hikes through rugged lunar landscape to North Africa's highest peak.
Mount Fuji, Japan, 12,388 feet
It's possible—and relatively easy—to scale Mount Fuji in a single day. But the most popular way is to begin the six-hour climb from the 5th Station (reached by bus) in the afternoon, spend the night near the top, and then resume climbing in the early morning to watch sunrise from the summit. Japan National Tourist Organization July and August only; www.jnto.go.jp; $396.