The second-highest mountain of Tanzania, Mount Meru is often regarded as the little brother of Mount Kilimanjaro. People treck up Mount Meru as an acclimatization exersice before hiking up the big brother. Although Mount Meru is with 4,566 AMSL considerably lower than Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 AMSL), the trek up is much more challenging and not to be underestimated.
It takes four days to the top of Mount Meru Tanzania
The standard hike route takes four days in total. There is also a cheapter three day track available. However unless you are a trained and experienced mountaineer go for the four day option. Especially the third day demands a lot as you hike up to the summit and back to the first base camp in one day. You aim to reach the summit of Mt Meru at sunrise. It is an unforgettable memory to see Mount Kilimanjaro covered in beautiful sunlight and hues of pink and purple – we promise!
Day 1: Momella Gate to Miriakamba Hut
The first day starts early as the tour agency picks you up at your hotel. We separated our stuff in three bags: one small back pack to carry ourselves containing daily necessities, one the porter to carry with stuff needed for the night and one to leave behind at the agency. The back pack with the daily necessities contains of a big water bottle, rain jacket and throusers, insect repellant and sun lotion. You will have no access to the other bag the porter carries during the day. Make sure you have everything you need for the day with you.
You start at the Momella Gate at 1,500 AMSL. There are two options: either the northern circuit which is the steeper but shorter or the southern circuit which is easier but also longer. Most tours do the long one up and the short one down. We took the southern circuit. This route is approx. 10 km long with an ascent of 1,000 m. You are done hiking this part after five to six hours. The trek takes you through an impressive jungle easily serving as a backdrop for a Jurassic Park movie. On the way you encounter an enormous Fig Tree Arch, a parasitic wild fig that originally grew around two other trees, eventually strangling them.
If booking the standard tour package your team consists of a guide, a cook, a deputy-guide and a porter (maybe two depending on your group size). You meet the team at the Momella Gate, the entrance to the national park. There are bison roaming the area so a ranger is mandatory. He escorts you until the second base camp and will not climb to the summit.
The two base camps on the route are exact copies of each other. The huts feature simple rooms with two bunk beds on each site of the wall. If you book a tour with an agency they will provide you a sleeping bag and carry it for yourself. Otherwise bring your own sleeping bag. However it should withstand temperatures down to 0 degrees celsius as the nights are cold up on the mountain. The huts don’t have hot running water, the team however will heat some up for you in the evening.
Day 2: Miriakamba Hut to Saddle Hut
After a good night’s rest and a proper breakfast (our cook outperformed himself every day) you start your journey to the second base camp named Saddle Hut. The trip are 4 km up with another 1,000 m ascent. You hike this pasage in 3 to 5 hours.
From the Saddle Hut you can visit the Little Meru (3,820 AMSL) to furhter acclimate for the big summit. Follow the rule “Climb high and sleep low”, which helps battling altitude sickness, spend some time at the Little Merus summit and enjoy the views of Mt Meru, the horseshoe crater, the top of the Ash Cone and the cliffs of the crater’s wall. It takes you 45 minutes from the camp to reach Little Meru. Take some hot tea with you and watch the sunset bathing Kili into lights of orange and pink as the light fades.
Day 3: Saddle Hut to Meru summit and down again to Miriakamba Hut
The third day is by far the most challenging one. We woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning after a rather restless and short night. After a light but caloric breakfast you equip yourself with your headlight, walking sticks, warm clothes, the rain repellant layers as well as water and some snacks. As you walk through the pitch dark night with the moon shining from above it is hard not to feel like one of the great adventurers.
Strategies to successfully conquer the summit
Our guide insisted on going polepole (Swahili for slowly slowly) and making little to no breaks. This method helps to further acclimatize to the altitude. This strategy slowley grew anxious on us as it seemed that we were making only little progress. Several times he assured us that we will reach the top of Mt Meru in time for sunrise and there is no point going faster, we only freeze on the summit while waiting. Every time we thought we are about to start climbing the final passage to the summit, it turned out to be just another steep spike. Being out there in the dark with absolutely no orientation you fully rely on your guide. We advice to do exactly as they instruct you. Luckily there was no rain during our climb as this adds another level of difficulty to the already challenging trek.
In addition to the physically demanding trek the cold and the altitude give you some additional challenges to bite on. If you plan to have a more or less enjoyable climb we strongly recommend you to prepare for this trip well in advance. You can improve your endurance by long distance running or biking at home. Also bring adequate gear to the mountain to keep you warm. Muscles and gear will prevent you from cooling down. Heating you up will put extra challenge on your body as all the energy is needed to move you up the mountain.
Check out our blog post on how to prevent altitude sickness.
On the way down
After endless 5 hours and additional steep 1,000 m ascent we climbed the final passage to the summit. The summit plateau is very small and there is only space for about ten people. We pulled ourselves up just in time to see the first rays of sunshine coming up behind the Mt Kilimanjaro. What an achievement and absolutely worth the pain!
The way down was actually not easier than up. We stopped several times to take a break and pictures from the impressive views. The crater looks exactly like a landscape on the moon. The impressive Ash Cone where you need to walk down the narrow edge for almost one hour. Luckily you are not able to see how narrow the edge is during the night. When reaching the Miriakamba Hut after another five hours the clock hit 11 o’clock. We went to sleep for another two hours as rest was darely needed. After lunch we packed and started our way down to the Miriakamba Hut. At this point latest walking was not enjoyable anymore.
Day 4: Miriakamba Hut to Momella Gate
We spent the last night again in the Mirikamba Hut. The fourth and final day was an easy walk through the jungle back down to the Momella Gate. We took the northern circuit back, passed a beautiful waterfall as well as some giraffes sunbathing.
When reaching the Momella Gate it is time to say goodbye to your team. This is usually also the point in time when you tipp them. Therefore prepare to have enough cash with you.
The following breakdown shows how we tipped our team:
- Guide – 15 USD per day
- Assistant Guide – 12 USD per day
- Cook – 12 USD per day
- Porter – 9 USD per day
- Ranger – 30 USD per group (we split this price with the other groups as we where sharing one ranger)
We advise to check the how tips developed over years since this blog post was published.
Book the Mount Meru Tanzania trip
Going up by yourself
Some sites (e.g. Lonely Planet) suggest that you can do the trek up the Mount Meru in Tanzania by yourself. In order to do that you need to pay the entrance fee at the Momella Gate where you also will be assigned a ranger. Doing the trip by yourself means that you need to bring and carry all your stuff incl. sleeping bag as well as food and water yourself. However porters can be hired independently at the Momella Gate if you would like to have one.
For the way until the Saddle Hut you really don’t need a guide as there is pretty much only one possible way to go and the ranger will know. However if you like to attemnt the hike to the summit during night time you need someone guiding you. There are no visible signs indicating the way to the summit and the passage is a bit tricky at some points. Of course you can do the summit hike during daylight so you are able to see where you are stepping.
Booking an organized tour
Easiest and safest way is to book a tour with an agency. You can do so online from your home country. Via the Tanzania Tourist Board (Boma Road close to the clock tower) we researched some of the local tour agencies located in Arusha and visited them to chat and investigate the prices. We booked our tour with one of the operators nearby, a local African owned agency. Please note that this is recommendation is based on personal experience and is not part of any paid recommendation.
Price for the 4 day Mount Meru Tanzania trip
We chose the 4 day package. This includs the entrance fee, the fees for the huts, a guide, cook, deputy guide and one porter, the fee for the ranger, sleeping bags, food for you and your team, transfer to and from the camp. You can calculate approx. 1,000 USD per person for the 4 day package. The more people are in the group, the cheaper the price per person.
We were confused upon arrival at the Momella Gate as we met 6 independant groups of 2 to 3 people. Each of this groups with their own entourage of guides, porters and cooks. It is possible to search for fellow travelers in advance to join forces and bring down the price a bit. You can try to find them in the Hostels around Arusha or via Tripadvisor.
Packing list for Mount Meru Tanzania
The most important item are the shoes. Don’t even think about going up there in sneakers. You need proper walking boots, ideally already broke in. Good technical shoes are a deal-breaker when hiking, trekking and hillwalking. If a walking boot doesn’t fit, it’s sure to cause pain and frustration. Be sure to mitigate any frustration factors bevore hand as there will be enough pain points on the way up anyhow.
With regard to clothing you need almost everything from light summer clothes for the lower altitudes up to winter gear for the high altitudes. Make sure to wrap your things into waterproof bags to prevent them getting wet in the rain. You hike the last passage during night time and rain can surprise you anytime. Bring proper gear like gloves, hat, a warm water and wind repelling jacket and trousers. Walking sticks, a big water bottle as well as a head light come in handy. You can borrow this items at the tour agencies in case you don’t have them. We were happy to bring some kinesiology tape along. This elastic therapeutic tape is applied on the area below the knees to support the joints. Especially on the way down this tape made a huge difference.