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Tanzania (Day 1): Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro to Machame Camp

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Summary: On our first full day in Tanzania, we took on the challenge of hiking the first leg of one of the Mt. Kilimanjaro routes. As a day hike, this is 14 miles roundtrip with a 4,000 ft elevation gain over the first 7 miles. The trails are well-maintained and wide, with bathrooms conveniently situated along with way. Even without ever getting a glimpse of the mountain (hello, fog), it was an overall fun experience. Besides, how often can you say you hiked part of the tallest mountain in the African continent?

For our first full day in Tanzania, we got up early at Kaliwa Lodge, where we had arrived very late the night before. As the plan was to take on a pretty hefty hike, our tour guide, Nelson, wanted to get an early start. Kaliwa Lodge first served us breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee and also packed us a boxed lunch to go.

At the Lodge we also filled four large water bottles with filtered water. In Tanzania, like most parts of Africa, you cannot drink the tap water. Instead, take special care to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking and even brushing your teeth.

With our backpacks full of water and lunch, we got into our van and headed to Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park to hike a portion of the Machame Route. At the entrance, Nelson registered us with the office and while we waited, we watched a large group of porters gather. Later we learned what all the commotion was about. A group of 47 Americans with plans to summit the Mountain would be arriving. With a group that big, they were required to hire 150 porters. These porters, as Nelson explained, would haul equipment such as tents, stoves, and chairs, along with a week’s worth of food, up the mountain with the group. On average, a group that size will take 7 days roundtrip to the top and back. Each day the hikers will hike approximately 6-8 miles between each base camp. At 19,341 feet, Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest volcano in Africa.

For us though, we were day hikers so we hiked just to the first base camp. In total, our hike was 14 miles – much longer than a summiting group. However, we know that they would be facing a much harder challenge as they made their way up the high elevation.

The Hike. Hiking to the Machame Hut and back is still a challenge. The total elevation gain is 4000 feet and that’s all in the first half of the hike. Machame Hut is the first base camp and also the turn-around point. At 9,840 feet elevation, we could already feel the elevation. Kuddos to those that make it to the summit.

As for our hike, the landscape is surprisingly green and thick with vegetation on this side of the Mountain. The trails are well-maintained, wide, and apart from being a bit slippery in parts due to early morning rains, quite nice. Along the way, there are also two toilet huts.

The only bummer for the day was the thick fog. We were unable to get photos of the Mountain. Actually, we couldn’t even see more than 20 feet ahead of us, let alone the Mountain. Still, we made the best of it because how often can you say you hiked to the first base camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Base Camp. The Machame Hut has an indoor set of tables available for hikers to use. We sat here and ate our boxed lunch and warmed a bit too. At 9.840 feet, on a foggy day, it was pretty darn chilly so the use of the Hut was especially welcomed.

Hike back. After lunch we launched ourselves down the hill. We can be kind of competitive and because the return to the car was downhill all 7 miles, we jockeyed for first position as we quickly made our way down. There may have been some thrown elbows. We also saw the team of porters from earlier in the day making their way up the mountain.

Another Great Hike in the Books. This hike is lovely and we recommend it for sure. It’s not for everyone because it was quite the challenge. If you can swing it though, give it a shot. It’s one way to have a part of the Kilimanjaro experience without actually having to summit the Mountain.

Afterwards, we spent the night at our next lodging destination, Arumeru Lodge, where we enjoyed a nice dinner and a well-deserved Serengeti beer.

About Duma Explorer Safari Company. This Tanzanian and American-owned company came recommended by a family friend. The American owners, Stacy Readal, happens to live close-by to our house so we were able to meet with her in person ahead of our trip. While convenient for us, we could have done everything by email and phone just the same. We have nothing but great things to say about this awesome company. From door-to-door, they had us covered for everything we needed on our trip. Our driver Ebinezer (after Kilimanjaro and for the rest of the week), was so talented at locating animals on our game drives, in addition to just being an over all, fun guy to be around. The lodging at each stop was perfect and each had surprisingly tasty food, along with amazing service. We highly recommend booking with Duma Explorer.


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