20 October 2014

how to climb mount meru.

Check out this picture. 

Yes, that’s Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance! Last week, Michael and I climbed to the top of Mount Meru, the fifth highest mountain in Africa and the tenth highest in the world! As we would later find, this was no small feat. Although it was incredibly difficult to get to the top, it was a lovely vacation, full of nature, meeting both Tanzanians and ex-pats, and gaining some more perspective on this country we now call home.

Mount Meru is located about an hour’s drive outside of Arusha, the main tourist destination in Tanzania outside of Zanzibar. Mount Meru is pretty much the reason tourists visit Arusha National Park. Although there are safaris and other activities offered there, mountain climbing is where it’s at.

Why hike Mount Meru?

Sitting at 4,566 meters high (or 14,980 feet for us Americans), Mount Meru is right across the way from Kilimanjaro so although Kilimanjaro gets all the hype, Mount Meru is the perfect mountain to climb if you want to actually see Kilimanjaro.

And since Kilimanjaro and Meru compete for tourists, you can imagine that Meru would be much cheaper to climb. That got our attention right away. In coming to Tanzania, we were hoping to get out and see some of the beautiful landscapes and greenery that the country is known for but we couldn’t afford to do it at the high rate that most tourists pay.

How does Mount Meru work?

Mount Meru is typically done as a four-day climb. You can do it in three, but it is not recommended by Arusha National Park and we second that as well. Best to give yourself as much time as possible for what turns out to be a very challenging climb!

Day One
Kilometers Hiked: 14
Time on Foot: 5 hours, 35 minutes
Altitude Gained: 906 meters

The first day was a nice, although slightly misleading, start to our climb. (Misleading because it made us think the whole hike would be this relaxing! Not so, my friends.) We arrived at Arusha National Park a little after 9AM. We were joined by our park ranger, who would also act as our guide, and six other hikers, from Germany, France, and South Africa.

Arusha National Park, at lower altitudes, is incredibly lush and green, giving us a perfect tropical rainforest backdrop. The weather was warm, but not humid. After spending months in a dirty, dusty city, we soaked up a day outside in the sun, breathing in fresh air.

We passed through the infamous arched fig tree, with a hole big enough for an elephant at the bottom, and took a snack break at the lovely Maio Falls. We arrived at Miriakamba Huts ready to settle in for our first night on the mountain.

Day Two
Kilometers Hiked: 7
Time on Foot: 6 hours
Altitude Gained: 1,057 meters

The second day presents you with the harsh reminder that you have, in fact, agreed to hike up a mountain. The entire four hours, though short, is up, up, and more up. Steps, slopes, and hills are all that greeted us. That being said, the views are gorgeous.

We had to remind ourselves to turn around, for there was Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance! We were starting to rise above the first layer of clouds. After the first day of being in the rainforest, unable to see how high you are, you appreciate the second day for giving you some perspective on the work you’ve done!

The landscape changes throughout the day as well, from rainforest to low-lying shrubs and lichens. After taking a quick break at Saddle Huts, our home for the second night, we got to keep on trekking to the peak of Little Meru, at 3,779 meters. Once the clouds broke, it was a breathtaking view from the top. We could see Meru’s summit above and Arusha’s villages and fields below. We couldn’t dwell on it for too long before we knew we had to get some shut eye for the inevitable rough day ahead.

Day Three
Kilometers Hiked: 5.5
Time on Foot: 11 hours, 15 minutes
Altitude Gained: 1,002 meters

Uffda! That’s all I have to say about Day Three on Mount Meru. We had heard it was a difficult climb, but I wish I had known just how difficult it would really be! (Then again, maybe it was better that I didn’t know?) Most experienced climbers, without a doubt, admit that Mount Meru is a far more challenging climb than Kilimanjaro, because of Day Three alone. The length of time spent hiking, mixed with the challenging terrain and the steepness of the last push, gives every hiker a run for their money!

We woke up at midnight — yes, you read that right, midnight — on Day Three to put on many, many layers of clothes and drink some tea to warm ourselves from the cold that was awaiting us. By 1AM, we were off and hiking. The first four hours of the hike are done in a zombie-like trance. Barely awake and unable to see much of anything, except for the little light each hiker’s headlamp provides, you plod along, one after the other. I don’t know about Michael, but I continued to lie to myself, saying, “Just ten more minutes, just ten more minutes.”

Unknowingly, we hiked over steep ridges and around a crater rim to make the final push to the summit, known as Socialist Peak. As the sun began to rise, our hopes went with it. “This is it!” we thought.

We got to the top! Only to find… we were completely enveloped in thick, white clouds. Completely exhausted, we took a couple of pictures, signed the book… and headed back down. In the moment, we were so depressed! How could we have come all that way to see absolutely nothing at the top? The weather at the summit is just luck of the draw, unfortunately, and we drew a bad one that day.

Thankfully, as we descended back, the clouds lifted and we saw some of what we had accomplished. I have to admit, I tried to appreciate the views but I was so tired, all I could think about was getting back to camp to rest!

Day Four
Kilometers Hiked: 7
Time on Foot: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Altitude Lost: 906 meters

Thankfully, Arusha National Park plans the hike so that by the last day, you only have a very short trip ahead of you. I, for one, was extremely grateful! We enjoyed the last of the views - rolling, green hills, tropical rainforest plant life, and cool streams. Just like that, it was over! 4,566 meters and back again.

Outside of our hike, we were able to spend some time in Arusha, which is a beautiful city to visit. It’s truly worlds away from our current hometown of Mwanza, so it was really eye-opening to see such a modern city in a country we usually don’t see as such.

Our Details

Holy Ghost Congregation Spiritan Guesthouse - This guesthouse was recommended to us through our organization. It was very clean and comfortable, despite the fact that you share a hallway bathroom. If we were to return, though, we would try another spot, since we thought 66,000 shillings a night was a bit steep.

Africafe - We absolutely loved this restaurant/coffee shop located on the east side of Arusha. The atmosphere is cozy, with booths for all to sit in. We stopped in for lunch, picking a veggie burger and a spinach, mushroom, and cheese panini, and were not disappointed.

Maasai Cafe - This restaurant was a five-minute walk from our guesthouse, so we ended up going twice! All of the seating is outdoors, with a backyard feel. We tried pizzas, calzones, and pastas and didn’t have much to complain about.

For those planning their own Mount Meru hike, please see our very detailed TripAdvisor Review, which goes into more depth concerning planning out your trip, tips, and budget. If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or reach out to me through TripAdvisor.

All in all, we were extremely grateful for the opportunity to see another part of Tanzania. While I didn’t love every minute of the hike (ahem, Third Day), looking back, I’m glad we went for it. We hiked a mountain!?! And we had a lot of fun doing it.


  1. Wow! Congrats on conquering mt meru! I live in Arusha so I wake up to seeing it every day but I really am not all the interested in climbing it (and not much of a hiker anyway... hah). If you're ever back in Arusha I could probably give you some cheaper ideas for a guest house, more in the 15,000-25,000 tsh range, self contained. (that sounds like a sales pitch but what I mean is I know a few places from being in between living spaces from time to time.... haha)

    1. Thanks Kelly! You are lucky to live in Arusha. It's truly a beautiful place. I will definitely keep you in mind if we find ourselves back in Arusha for housing. Karibu Mwanza!

  2. Pretty impressive! I am envious y'all got to do that. It's been five years since I climbed a mountain, and it wasn't nearly that tall. Although I'm not sure if it's tenth in the world, based on the "List of highest mountains" article in Wikipedia. But day 3 sounds intense, and gaining a kilometer in altitude three days in a row (with packs, I assume?) is quite the feat, more than I've ever done. Wow, suddenly the Texas hill country doesn't seem so great. :(

    1. Well, you and Rachel are always welcome to come over to Tanzania and join us for another climb! :) We did climb with packs but in all honesty, we shared a pack and most of the time, Michael carried it so I had it pretty easy. Texas Hill Country is beautiful in its own right - we miss it!


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