What Are The Risks Of Climbing Kilimanjaro?

What Are The Risks Of Climbing Kilimanjaro

It’s normal for you (or your loved ones) to have concerns about climbing Africa’s highest mountain.

Really, any adventure activity – including mountain climbing – comes with some risk – that’s all part of the adventure, right? 

There are some risks involved in climbing Kili the World’s Most Walkable Mountain, but rest assured, this is one of the safest multi-day mountain treks you can take anywhere in the world.

Don’t be Naive

While there are risks, it is essential that you be informed. It’s foolish to ignore the risks and go into any mountain trek blindly. 

Being prepared is one of the most important factors that can mitigate your risk, after all.

So, let’s discuss what risks there are, and how to handle each of them to have the best (and safest) Mount Kilimanjaro climb.

The Risks Of Climbing Kilimanjaro

Health Risks

There are very few health-related risks for healthy, fit individuals looking to climb Kilimanjaro.

However, if you have any pre-existing health conditions, make sure to talk to your doctor before booking your climb.

The most important health risks to consider are:

Heart conditions


Respiratory issues

Climbers over the age of 50

What to do:

Talk to your doctor about your concerns, and if your condition may be safely managed while climbing in a remote location.

Reach out to your tour operator and ask about carrying oxygen tanks, too.

Safety Risks

There are other safety risks when mountain climbing that even healthy individuals can face. Fortunately, in most cases, these issues can be avoided by choosing a reputable tour operator, instead of the cheapest option out there.

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is caused when humans reach higher altitude levels with a change of barometric pressure and lower oxygen levels before their body has had time to properly adapt. 

Depending on the route you choose, you could be looking at an elevation gain of 1,200 meters in a single day (for example, on Marangu or Machame Routes).

Kilimanjaro’s elevation is 5,896 meters (19,344 ft), but where you will really feel it is on the third or fourth day of your climb, especially if you are trying to do a route ‘fast’ instead of going slow and steady to properly adapt to the lower levels of oxygen

Some forms of Altitude Sickness are mild and don’t require major medical intervention, while others are an emergency that requires an evacuation off the mountain.

Acute Altitude Sickness

Symptoms of Acute Altitude Sickness are:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Headache

What to do about it

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, tell your guide immediately.  In most cases, you should rest and drink plenty of water. You may be able to continue ascending if your symptoms resolve themselves.


Don’t go too fast up the mountain, longer climbs allow you to acclimatize better and reduce your chances of altitude sickness.

Be cautious of any climbing tour operator encouraging you to complete a climb in 5 days or less, as this greatly increases one’s chances of getting altitude sickness.

There are other, severe forms of Altitude Sickness, called HAPE and HACE.


High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or HAPE, is a very dangerous altitude-related condition that affects your lungs. It requires an evacuation and medical intervention.

HAPE may occur after Acute Altitude Sickness has been ignored and symptoms allowed to advance. 

Symptoms of HAPE:

  • Mental confusion 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty walking
  • Coughing
  • A cough that produces a frothy (sometimes pink) discharge


Choose a climbing route with a good acclimatization profile and opt for a longer itinerary, giving your body more time to adapt to the elevation changes.


High-Altitude Cerebral Edema, also known as HACE is a serious medical condition affecting one’s brain. It requires immediate evacuation off the mountain and emergency medical attention.

In most cases, it proceeds symptoms of Acute Altitude Sickness that have been ignored, or the individual continues ascending the mountain despite feeling altitude sickness.

Symptoms of HAPE:

  • Mental confusion 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty walking
  • Sudden fear or discomfort in light
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle weakness, or involuntary muscle movements
  • Poor coordination
  • Fever
  • Finally, loss of consciousness or coma


Choose a climbing route with a good acclimatization profile and opt for a longer itinerary, giving your body more time to adapt to the elevation changes.

If you feel even mild symptoms of Altitude Sickness, tell your guide.

Choose a Reputable Climbing Operator

These risks can be avoided by booking with responsible climbing operators. Before booking, inquire with your perspective operator about the mountain guide’s training and if they do daily health checks. 

Do not climb with a company that does not offer health checks or monitors heart rate or oxygen levels.

Some companies, like Altezza Travel (the lead operator on Mount Kilimanjaro), do twice-daily health checks to ensure the overall health and safety of every single climber, including their staff members. They are considered the safest tour operator on Kilimanjaro.


There is always a question about the potential of dying during a Kilimanjaro climb, so it is pertinent to mention the risk of death.

Yes, there have been deaths on Kilimanjaro, however, compared to other major mountains, the risk is incredibly low.

Based on the number of recorded deaths on Kilimanjaro, the percentage is 0.03 percent – less than half of a percent!

Alternatively, you can think of it as only 1 death out of every 3,300 + climbers in Kilimanjaro. 

Understanding the risks, and how to prevent them by reducing altitude-related issues should surely reduce your own personal risk when climbing Kilimanjaro.

Despite the risks, tens of thousands of people climb Kilimanjaro every year, without incident.

Famous Climbers who overcame the risks

If you want some more motivation, consider the inspiring Kilimanjaro climbers:

Although individuals over the age of 50 face some health concerns for climbing Kilimanjaro, that shouldn’t be a huge deterrent when considering that Anne Limor summited Kilimanjaro at the record-breaking age of 89!

On the other hand, Keats Boyd was only 7 years old when he broke the record for the youngest climber to summit Kilimanjaro in 2008. He climbed with his parents.

Be Informed, Make a Plan to Reduce Risks

Yes, there are risks involved when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: health risks which you may need to discuss with your doctor, and safety risks which you can manage with a little planning.

Choosing a reputable tour operator, climbing a route that has a good acclimatization profile, and climbing ‘smart’ will greatly reduce your risks while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Yes, a 5-day climb is certainly cheaper, but trying to race up the mountain poses potential health risks, specifically for Altitude Sickness.

You can reduce the risk of Altitude Sickness and other potential mountain-related risks by simply taking a longer trek, adding one or two additional days to reach the top of Kilimanjaro. 

Book with a reputable climbing operator (like Altezza Travel, which has the highest safety rating and leads the most climbs up Kilimanjaro every year) that values client safety over profit to ensure a safe climb.

When you stand successfully at the peak of Africa’s Highest Mountain, you won’t be counting how many days you took to make it there, you will just be glad you made it safely.

If your loved ones have concerns, be prepared to openly discuss their worries and share your knowledge about climbing Africa’s highest mountain. Being informed is your greatest tool for a safe and successful climb.

Safe climbing!