This may be mind-blowing: Mount Kilimanjaro is so big that it basically generates its own weather. So before you finishing packing for your trip to Tanzania, it’s important to know what type of weather you should expect on Kilimanjaro and what time of the year they occur.
How Does Kilimanjaro Control its Weather?
To understand how Kilimanjaro does what, we need to break down the predominant trade and anti-trade winds that roam the region.
How does the wind control the weather? Well, winds take on moisture from the ocean, and as a result rise, cool and condense to form rain and snow.
Two types of winds, the South-east and the North-east anti trade winds, run weather pattern of Kilimanjaro. The South-east trade wind comes from the Indian Ocean around March and stays till May. Then the North-East anti trade winds come and dethrones its predecessor around late May.
March to May is Kilimanjaro’s wettest season because the SE winds smash against Kilimanjaro’s structure and move upwards forming thick rain clouds. However, only the SE corner of Kilimanjaro is affected at this time of the year. The Northern Slopes, Rongai route are dryer.
The NE anti trade winds doesn’t carry as much moisture as its SE counterpart when it hits the side of Kilimanjaro. But what the NE winds lack in moisture, they make up for in strength. They push the SE winds down when they pass through. At such point, rain is rare and is often confined to the southern slopes.
The relation between these two winds splits Kilimanjaro’s trekking season into two: January to March and June to October.
Trekking Times for Kilimanjaro
There are basically four trekking seasons for tourists climbing Kilimanjaro. Each season has its uniqueness, and some are more suitable to trekking than others.
This is always Kilimanjaro’s first dry season every year. It makes for a very nice time trek the mount. It’s not as dry as June to October season though, as you can still encounter snow on the upper mountain reaches.
These two months are the wettest months in Kilimanjaro’s calendar year. It is not ideal for trekking at all.
This is this good time this trek but is often this busiest trekking season of the year. The reason, it falls within the European and North American summer holidays. June to March is a very dry season, making it the best choice for trekking. You can hardly encounter snow or sleet at this time of the year. The only downside of this season is that the slopes and routes are often filled with people. It may even be difficult to find cost saving your guides at such a period.
November is a rainy month. But this doesn’t stop anyone from trekking the mount. However, if you plan to take the trek in November, the Rongai route is the best recommended route to follow because it is always very dry. December, on the other hand, is a very cold month. You could trek during this month if you can withstand the cold.
What to Expect from Kilimanjaro Weather
Snow is a very common thing on Kilimanjaro. It often occurs all year round. The main determinant of Kilimanjaro weather is the changes in altitude. Because Kilimanjaro is so big a phenomenon, it has four distinct climate zones of its own.
On the start of your trek, you will encounter the tropical rain forest. It stretches from 800 metres to 3000 metres. In this zone, you won’t experience anything more than light mist or a drizzle. In this zone of the mount, you may see antelopes, buffalos and elephants.
Low Alpine Zone
The moment your trek exceeds the 3,000 meter mark, you will begin to see grasslands and moorland. The moment this happens, you’re in the low alpine zone. The weather is less humid and temperature levels could go below zero from even fall. You won’t see so many animals here, just a couple faunas and a troupe of crows.
High Alpine Zone
High alpine zone (~4,200 meters – 5,000 meters)
Resembling an arid desert, this isn’t the place to be on Mt Kilimanjaro. The temperature is very hot. Solar radiation is also very high, so you should ensure that you use lots of suncream. At night, the temperature levels dip significantly to a freezing point. This zone covers 4,200 meters to 5,000 meters).
The glacial zone covers from 5,000 meters to 5,895 meters. The oxygen levels are half that of what lies in the lower reaches of the mount. Wildlife is very rare in this part of Kilimanjaro. Its weathers contrast considerably, scorching hot during the day and freezing cold at night. This isn’t a place you want to linger in.
Usually, you’ll have tour guides to educate you on Kilimanjaro weather variations. But it doesn’t hurt to have a little knowledge of yourself beforehand, especially when deciding the time you want to visit.