Kilimanjaro ecological zones

Rainforest zone:

  • Altitude: 6,000 to 9,200 ft (1,800 to 2,800 m)
  • Precipitation: 79 to 40 in (2,000 to 1,000 mm)

The most biodiverse vegetation zone is the lush evergreen rainforest on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. During the day, it is warm and humid in this densely forested climate zone. Be sure to have raingear with you for this Mt. Kilimanjaro zone. At night it can be cold, especially during the rain. This ecological zone has a very diverse flora and fauna. Various species of orchids, ferns, sycamore figs, olive trees, and palms dripping with hanging mosses are found here. Camphorwood trees reach as high as 130 feet through the canopy grasping for sunlight. Blue and Colobus monkeys are swinging through the trees and there are many bird species to be seen. Climbers approaching the summit from the Rongai, Lemosho, Shira or Northern Circuit routes may be lucky enough to spot elephant, buffalo, antelope and an occasional predator.

Bushland/Cultivated Zone:

  • Altitude: 2,600 to 6,000 ft (800 to 1,800 m)
  • Precipitation: 20 to 70 in (500 to 1,800 mm)

The lowest climate zone of Mt. Kilimanjaro is the bushland. This climate zone is characterized by cultivated land, grasslands and populated human settlements. Because of the fertile volcanis soil, the Chaga tribe settled on these lower slopes to farm crops such as coffee and fruits. The grounds are irrigated by underground channels tunneling through the earth from the lush rainforest nestled above. Large wild animals are rarely seen here, but you will see a lot of different bird species. At night, you have a chance to see galagos and tree hyrax.

Heath/Moorland zone:

  • Altitude: 9,200 to 13,200 ft (2,800 to 4,000 m)
  • Precipitation: 51 to 21 in (1,300 to 530 mm)

As we continue from the rainforest into the Heath/Moorland zone, the air becomes drier and the temperature is cooler. This semi-alpine zone is characterized with heath-like vegetation and wild flowers. According to mountain medicine, the heath zone is in the high altitude region. If you want optimal acclimatization, it is wise to spend a couple of days in this ecological zone to gradually acclimatize to the decreasing oxygen and the higher elevations to come. The most prominent flora are the unique and iconic Senecios (also known as groundsels) and Giant Lobelias. The Senecios, which translates from Latin to “old man,” have thick weathered stems topped with large, succulent rosettes. Lobelias resemble oddly-shaped palm trees with rosettes that close in the evenings to guard against the chilly night temperatures. The most common birds in this zone are the white and black crows. Sometimes you might see bigger birds, such as the crowned eagle or lammergeyer.

Alpine desert zone:

  • Altitude: 13,200 to 16,500 ft (4,000 to 5,000 m)
  • Precipitation: 10 in (250 mm)

This zone has little vegetation, as it does not receive a lot of water. The temperatures can be high, sometimes around 100 Fahrenheit (37 C) or even higher. As the solar radiation levels are high in this zone, we advise you to apply sunscreen regularly. At night, the temperature often drops to well below zero. This zone is in the “very high altitude” region of mountain medicine. For optimal acclimatization, climbers should spend a few days here. Our preferred itineraries/routes encourage clients to “climb high, sleep low” which will reduce the ill effects of altitude. The most prominent plants that you can find in this zone are the everlastings. Furthermore, you will see varieties of mosses and grasses. It is very rare to see animals in this zone.

Arctic zone:

  • Altitude: 16,500+ ft (5,000+ m)
  • Precipitation: <4 in (100 mm)

The final ecological zone of Mt. Kilimanjaro is the arctic zone. Characterized by ice and rock, there is virtually no plant or animal life at this altitude. The sun is very powerful during the day, but the nights are extremely cold and windy. Mountain medicine classifies this zone as “extreme altitude.” Oxygen levels are roughly half of what they are at sea level, making breathing slower and harder. It is likely to have altitude sickness symptoms in this zone. Therefore, we try to avoid spending too much time here. After the summit and the beautiful views from the top, we will shortly start to descend.