How Do I Prevent Altitude Sickness on Kilimanjaro?

Reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro stands as a monumental achievement for adventurers worldwide. Towering majestically over the African plains, this dormant stratovolcano beckons climbers with its snow-capped peak, offering not just a physical challenge but a journey through diverse ecosystems and breathtaking vistas.

prevent altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro

However, ascending to Kilimanjaro’s summit is no easy feat. At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) above sea level, the altitude presents a formidable obstacle. Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a common concern among trekkers. It occurs when the body fails to acclimatize to the reduced oxygen levels at higher altitudes, leading to symptoms ranging from mild headaches and nausea to more severe complications like pulmonary edema or cerebral edema. So what can you do to prevent altitude sickness?

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude Sickness, or acute mountain sickness (AMS), occurs due to reduced oxygen levels at higher altitudes. As you ascend Kilimanjaro, although the percentage of oxygen in the air remains the same, the lower air pressure causes oxygen molecules to be more dispersed. This means less oxygen is available with each breath.

To compensate for this oxygen deficit, the body adapts by increasing both breathing and heart rates, as well as producing more red blood cells. However, despite these adaptations, altitude sickness can still occur if the body doesn’t acclimatize sufficiently to the altitude changes.

Altitude Zones

During a climb on Kilimanjaro, trekkers pass through three altitude zones:

High altitude (8,000 ft – 11,000 ft)
Very high altitude (11,000 ft – 18,000 ft)
Extreme altitude (above 18,000 ft).

The effects of altitude sickness become more pronounced as you ascend through these zones, regardless of physical fitness or age.

Symptoms of AMS include headache, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, and dizziness.


Proper acclimatization is crucial to minimize the risk of altitude sickness. Acclimatization allows the body to adjust to the lower oxygen levels over time.

Train: Being in good shape puts less stress on your body. This in turn allows your body more energy to acclimate to the extreme elevation.

train for kilimanjaro
Photo by Maksim Goncharenok

Slowly: It’s recommended to ascend slowly, allowing for adequate rest and hydration.

Eat and Drink: Climbers are advised to eat well and drink plenty of fluids, despite potential challenges like reduced appetite at higher altitudes.

Sleep: Additionally, sleep at altitude can be difficult due to irregular breathing patterns necessary for maintaining oxygen levels. Trekkers are encouraged to rest when tired and use aids like earplugs and sleeping masks to improve sleep quality.

rest at camp
Get plenty of rest once you reach camp

Listen: Listen to your guides, they have been through this many times. They know what you need to do to have a successful summit attempt.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, understanding and preparing for the effects of altitude is essential for a successful climb on Mount Kilimanjaro. By respecting the mountain’s altitude zones, listening to guides, and prioritizing acclimatization, climbers can prevent altitude sickness and increase their chances of reaching the summit safely.

Are you ready to book your trip of a lifetime?

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