Hiking Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro

Stand on the roof of Africa.
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Stand on the roof of Africa.

The Perfect Circle: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit | Chile's Torres del Paine Circuit | Corsica's GR 20 | Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Picchu | Italy's Alta Via 1 | New Zealand's Milford Track | England's Pennine Way | Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro | Everest Base Camp, Tibet | Tour du Mont Blanc

Classic cred Sure, you've climbed mountains. But 19,340-foot Kili, the tallest peak in Africa, is unlike any of them. For starters, it's 4,930 feet higher than Mt. Rainier. Yet it's a backpacker's peak, requiring no technical mountaineering skills to summit. And this volcanic hulk is so massive that it supports five distinct eco-zones, from the banana trees growing at its base to the glaciers draping its upper slopes. To see it in all its glory, go now: Its melting ice will linger only seven to 10 years more. After 27 miles of climbing, you'll watch Kili's pyramidal shadow disappear as dawn spreads across an auburn sea of savanna that's home to lions, elephants, and more. A giant standing alone, Kili offers a view unlike any in the world.

Beta Europeans swarm the peak in the summer. Go in January or February, and plan on seven days for the 42-mile Machame Route. It's twice as long as the standard Marangu Route, but less traveled and more scenic (or "the whiskey to the Marangu's Coca-Cola," as one guide puts it). All Kili hikers must climb with a licensed guide. Pack for jungle heat and glacial freeze, and stash anything your porters will haul in a waterproof duffel.

Local's tip Kili's porters have helped many a flatlander gain the summit; if you hear pole, pole (Swahili for slowly, slowly), heed their advice and steady your pace.

Plan it Alaska Mountain Guides International has a perfect safety record: no major accidents in its 15 years on Kili. AMGI guides live in Africa for months at a time to learn Swahili and gain local knowledge (mountainguidesinternational.com). Get in the mood with Kilimanjaro: The Trekking Guide to Africa's Highest Mountain, by Henry Stedman (Trailblazer Guides, $20).

Cost Guided: $$$$$