The little brother of Mount Kilimanjaro is often overlooked and brushed aside. Despite being the second-highest mountain in Tanzania, the climb up Mount Meru is considered an alternate adventure. Having now summited both Meru and Kili, I can tell you it’s worth adding a Mount Meru climb to your Tanzania itinerary.
After an incredible summit morning, I remember thinking Mount Meru must be one of the most underrated treks in the world. It had it all. Adventure, fun mountain huts along the way, and uniquely breathtaking views and scenery from the summit of the ash cone and crescent volcano crater.
In this blog post I’m going to share with you the brief details of the Mount Meru Climb, then take you through my experience day-by-day with a journal and photos. The article will finish with a comprehensive section covering everything you need to know from the best time to climb, costs, difficulty, and where to stay before and after the trek. I hope you enjoy this blog post about climbing Mount Meru as much as I enjoyed the adventure.
MOUNT MERU TREK DETAILS
Distance: 43 km round-trip from Momella Gate to Summit and back.
Days required: 3-4 days.
Total Incline: (Undulation) – 3,480m/11417 ft
The highest point on the trek: Mount Meru peak is 4,566 meters above sea-level.
Difficulty: It’s moderately hard for an average hiker but spread out over four days it is well within most people’s reach. The altitude is just low enough not to trouble most hikers.
Cost per trek: The costs (including permits and fees) range from $800 to $1400 depending on the size of your group and your support crew including rangers, guides, porters, and a chef.
Guide: You do need a ranger for the trek as it is required for protection from wildlife like buffalo and leopards. A guide is also the norm on this trek due to hiking the summit route in the dark. There are no signs on the trail and the guides are invaluable. Porters and a chef are also part of most tour packages.
Accommodation: There are two mountain huts on the route, which have dorm-style beds, toilets, dining hall, solar electricity, and kitchens.
Who did I trek with: I booked my trek with Altezza and I can honestly say they were awesome. Our guides were the most organized, our food was incredible (other hikers looked jealous) and we were looked after from start to finish.
My Mount Meru Strava Map: Mount Meru Route
MY EXPERIENCE CLIMBING MOUNT MERU IN TANZANIA
Our adventure began with a pick-up from the hotel in Arusha. As I looked up, I could see Mount Meru was covered in clouds. Hopefully, our journey up to 4,560m wouldn’t be in the midst of a storm.
We were driven to Momella Gate where we met the entire Altezza crew who would be our awesome tour company for this hike. In addition to our two guides, our support crew consisted of a few porters an armed ranger, and the most important team member, the chef.
There were a few nerves before our Western Breach climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. However, I was quite relaxed before our Mount Meru Climb. With the summit at 4,560m, the altitude was a little less intimidating. The incline per day is much higher on Meru as you basically trek a vertical kilometer each day. I was excited to see how it all unfolded.
The journey on day one takes you from Momella Gate (1500m) to Miriakamba Hut (2500m). You can take either the Northern Circuit, which takes just four hours or the Southern Circuit, which takes six hours. Interestingly enough for us, we took the Southern Circuit and we arrived at Miriakamba Hut after four hours.
For some reason, I was under the impression the Mount Meru climb was quite a dry, dusty, and gravel-laden route. However, the trek on day one was a scenic pass through the lush forest and grasslands of the lower regions.
Within minutes of leaving Momella Gate, we were within a hundred meters of zebras, giraffes, a herd of buffalo, monkeys, and warthogs. Who needs a safari when these are the encounters you can have on a trek!?
The lush greens surprised me from the first moment. We spent the entire day surrounded by dense forest, which provided great shade from the hot sun in mid-March. The early parts of the trek are on the road, which is always a little demoralizing when a car passes by as you are putting in the effort on foot. However, our guides and the ranger did a good job taking forest shortcuts to immerse us in our natural surroundings.
The smell of a python in the vicinity and the sighting of leopard poop had us wide-eyed hoping to make a unique sighting amidst the intertwined branches of the trees but to no avail.
Day one on Mount Meru was a moderate challenge. A vertical kilometer is never easy. We battled our way up 1100m of incline throughout the 11km journey to Miriakamba Hut. The incline was gradual although the last hill in the clearing before the camp was a solid way to cap off the day.
Reaching Miriakamba camp was a nice moment about an hour or so before sunset. The team from Altezza sprung into action and provided us with hot water to clean ourselves up. Popcorn, tea, and snacks were ready to go and a beautiful fish dinner came shortly after. Luxury up in the mountains.
Unlike our Mount Kilimanjaro trek, this time we had the pleasure of staying in a mountain hut with bunk-style accommodation. The huts are actually very high quality and a big dining hall had me reminiscing about Swiss mountain huts. There was even a balcony area to view the sunset. So far this expedition had been a very enjoyable cruise through the forest.
We are promised tomorrow will be short but steep as we head up to Saddle Hut. Tonight we sleep well and warm within our mountain hut in the shadow of Mount Meru. Tomorrow is a new day with new blessings.
A red glow on the horizon announced a new day on the mountain. A brief alpenglow braised the peak of Mount Meru, which was perfectly clear for the first time since we began trekking. Looking away from the peak, Mount Kilimanjaro peeked above the clouds, looking as ethereal as ever. With clear skies and warm weather, we were looking forward to another day on the trail.
A huge breakfast of porridge, fruits, eggs, sausages, toast, yams, cereal and coffee had us primed for the day. So far the food and service from the Altezza team have been more than we could’ve imagined.
Today’s hike takes us up through the forest as we dodge baboon and buffalo poop along the path. Moss strands draped on branches sway alongside the winding switchbacks.
With 1000 meters of elevation gain to reach Saddle Hut, it’s a steep morning from the first moment. During our hike, the sun was in full force and it made for a sweaty journey even in shorts and t-shirts. However, the journey takes just 3-4 hours depending on your pace. We were up at Saddle Hut by midday in time for lunch.
Saddle Hut is another huge establishment with multiple dormitory rooms, a dining hall, bathrooms, and offices. The infrastructure in Mount Meru has been much more prominent than on Mount Kilimanjaro, which is a camping-style trek.
At Saddle Hut we were meant to rest for a few hours before heading up on an acclimatization hike to Little Meru, which is just a few hundred meters higher. However, heavy rains and hail kept us huddled together inside the mountain huts. Luckily the Altezza chef had us sorted with snacks and hot chocolate.
The storm cleared up for a beautiful, pink sunset. Hopefully, this clear weather remains for our summit attempt tomorrow morning. I’m warm inside my sleeping bag in our dorm room, ready to clock five hours of sleep before waking at 1:30 am to begin our sunrise summit climb at 2:30 am. It was quite a relaxing day so I’m ready to take on Mount Meru tomorrow morning.
Day Three: Summit Day
Four hours of restless sleep at 3,500 meters in Saddle Hut isn’t ideal preparation but I’ll take it. Summit day had arrived and at 1:30 am, we were woken by one of our crew. By 2am we were in the dining hall for some fruit, toast and coffee to prepare us for a long day of trekking. Peering out the window of the cabin, we could see a star-filled sky signaling clear weather.
The journey to the summit involves 1300 meters of climbing and 1000 meters of altitude gain. Although the summit push is just under six kilometers, the climb can take up to five hours at a slower pace resulting in a higher success rate when considering the potential impacts of altitude sickness. If you want to be at the summit for sunrise, I suggest leaving a bit earlier than 2:30 am as we did, but that’s what our guides suggested and it turned out okay for us. We were near the summit for sunrise and had quite a good little spot on the rim to take it all in.
The trek began with a single-file line in the dark as we wound our way up the switchbacks through the shrubs to reach the crater rim. I have to admit, we went so slowly that I was falling asleep while walking. Yes, it is possible. In the dark, you don’t really get to appreciate the route to the summit but luckily you do retrace your steps to see this beautiful path on the way down. For some, they will be glad they can’t see a few of the drops as they follow their guide step for step. Before reaching the crater rim, there is a steep section with chains. If I had seen it in daylight, i might have held onto the chains a little tighter as the drop down the slope looked like a mighty fall.
I didn’t take any photos in the dark but as soon as the morning glow began to hit, I whipped out my camera and began to snap a few shots as we continued our trek along the crater rim. A purple, hazy glow meant the sunrise was near and it was a beautiful sight.
As the sun began to rise, we realized we weren’t really within touching distance of the summit. Our plan had been to get to the summit at 6am but our pace was well off. I think if you pushed you can reach the summit in under four hours. Otherwise, If you want to be at the summit for sunrise, I would begin the trek at 1am. Most times, the guides want to be trekking during sunrise to avoid waiting at the top in the cold. It turned out to be a pretty beautiful strategy as we caught the sunrise from a perfect viewing spot. Views of Mount Kilimanjaro above the clouds out in front and the crater rim on either side.
With just a few hundred meters of incline remaining, our trek around the crater rim to the peak of Mount Meru was much more scenic with the golden light pouring in. The final part of the climb is a rocky scramble and the trail is quite unclear. With the light now pouring into the crater, the ash cone at the center became the focal point of the scene.
After five hours on the trail, we had made it to the peak of Mount Meru. At the summit, we had sweeping views over the entire crater, which is crescent-shaped due to the destruction of half the crater centuries ago in an eruption. Mount Kilimanjaro provided a beautiful backdrop as it sat perched above a sea of clouds. It was one of the best summit views I’ve ever experienced due to the unique nature of the ash cone, sea of clouds beneath us, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the rocky ridge we sat upon.
The descent back down to Saddle Hut took just a couple of hours but it was such an incredible part of the journey. We walked the crater rim ridge above a sea of clouds, which poured up from the valley below. By the time we made it back to Saddle Hut, we had been awake and active for ten hours. It was time for a quick lunch and then a tired walk all the way down to Miriakamba Hut, where we would stay the night. That journey from Saddle Hut to Miriakamba Hut is only six kilometers but there’s a 1000-meter elevation drop so it takes its toll on your legs.
Finally, back at Miriakamba Hut, we took a nap, had dinner, watched the sunset, and then passed out as we entered dreamland until sunrise the next morning.
With the emotion, nerves, and excitement of the summit day behind us, we woke to a calm morning at Miriakamba hut. Just one other climber was on his way up, the rest of the campsite was just us and the crew. The sunrise was another beautiful show as it has been every morning on our trip. We’ve truly been blessed, especially so close to the rainy season.
My legs are quite sore today. Nothing dramatic but the vertical kilometer ascent followed by the 2000m+ of descending definitely took its toll on my quads and feet with a heavy camera backpack weighing me down. It’s always good to keep your eye on the porters who are carrying three times the weight, although they don’t go further than the Saddle Hut to venture towards the summit.
Our journey today is a short and sweet descent with 1000 meters of the slope to get down. After another great breakfast, we packed up our gear for the last time and headed off into the jungle below Miriakamba Hut. The trek begins on the same route you took to climb up to the hut but it then veers off to the left so you can explore a new route and unique scenery. The forest trees covered in moss were spectacular just as on the way up and create a mysterious vibe, especially on a day where fog flows through the branches.
The highlight of the descent was stopping off at a beautiful waterfall, just thirty minutes before the gate. You wouldn’t expect to find such gigantic falls nestled in a small canyon amidst the forest.
After the falls there was one final spot of sightseeing as we made our way through the open field. Here you can expect to spot giraffes, families of warthogs, and a huge herd of buffalo. Unlike on safari when the animals scattered as the car neared, the wildlife here remained calm. I think they must be quite used to small groups of hikers passing through. Nevertheless, it was quite amazing to be within twenty meters of a herd of buffalo or a small family of warthogs.
Leaving the plain signaled the end as we completed the final short walk back to Momella Gate. It had been an incredible four days of adventures and we were sad for it to end. However, it was time to celebrate. Altezza pulled out all the stops offering us beers and champagne with our final lunch back at the gate.
After lunch, we said our goodbyes, thanks, and offered our tip to the crew. They were very appreciative of the extra tip and it felt good to reward the crew for the committed efforts to our mission of reaching the summit.
I truly can’t recommend climbing Mount Meru enough. Once you hit the summit, you will realize this is just as much of an adventure as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain huts and scenery along the way make this one of the most enjoyable multi-day treks I’ve ever done. The scenery speaks for itself. I hope I’ve convinced you to take a chance on Mount Meru. It’ll be the best decision you make during your trip through Tanzania.
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO CLIMBING MOUNT MERU
WHERE IS MOUNT MERU?
Mount Meru is located in Tanzania, East Africa. The peak is often visible from the town of Arusha, where most hikers stay before their Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro trek. The peak of Mount Meru is 70 kilometers to the west of Mount Kilimanjaro and is visible on many of the days throughout the trek to Mount Kilimanjaro.
MOUNT MERU HEIGHT
Mount Meru stands at 4,562 meters or 14,968 feet above sea-level. It is the second highest mountain in Tanzania after Mount Kilimanjaro.
WHICH TYPE OF VOLCANO IS MOUNT MERU?
Mount Meru is a stratovolcano, which is a term for a very large volcano made of ash, lava, and rock. Much of its bulk was lost approximately 7,800 years ago when the summit collapses. There was a minor eruption of Mount Meru in 1910. Several small cones and craters can be found in and around the summit, which indicates numerous instances of volcanic activity.
HOW HARD IS CLIMBING MOUNT MERU
Mount Meru is a non-technical mountain. The route will take you anywhere from 3-6 days with 46 kilometers of trekking distance and approximately 3,300 meters of incline. However, don’t be intimidated by those numbers because when you break it down to a day-by-day schedule it is quite manageable. The two biggest parts many people struggle with are the altitude when they get above 4000 meters and the steep summit push. If you can manage the following list below, you should be capable of climbing Mount Meru. In the end, reaching the summit of Mount Meru is more mental than physical.
Mount Meru Fitness Checklist
- You can walk 8-10 kilometers every day for a week
- You can hike a vertical kilometer (1000m of incline) in one day
CLIMBING MOUNT MERU COST
The cost of your tour will depend on the tour operator and the route you take. The prices range from $800 to $1400 depending on the size of your group. There are some key differences that lead to this wide range. For example, some treks are just three days while other treks can be up to six days. Also with a higher quality of food and equipment, a company might require more porters, which would increase the cost again.
I booked my trip with Altezza and had an absolute blast on the trek. I loved Kilimanjaro but climbing Meru with Altezza was another huge highlight of my Tanzania trip and a bit more challenging with the steeper incline. The Altezza crew were awesome, made us comfortable along the way and we had a lot of good laughs with the guides. It was everything you could ask for on a multi-day trek.
There is no way to climb Mount Meru independently. You need to go with a guide and an armed park ranger due to the animals in the surrounding area and there are a minimum number of porters required. The mountain is very regulated to ensure local employment and fair working conditions.
It is possible to book the trek once you arrive in Arusha or Moshi but I advise booking online in advance so you have no hassles and everything is lined up. If you book with someone you meet on the street, you might not be quite sure what you can expect on the mountain. However, if you book on the street in Arusha or Moshi, you can probably haggle a much lower price than you will find online.
Booking with Altezza costs approximately $800-1400 USD per person (as of 2021) depending on how many in your group. If you are just 1-2 people it will be about $1400 approximately but if you are in a group of 8 or more it will be under $1000. You can ask if there are dates available to join a group to lower your costs.
PACKING FOR YOUR MOUNT MERU CLIMB
When you’re packing for Mount Meru, it’s a bit different from packing for a regular trek by yourself. You will have porters who will carry your food, gear, clothes, and water supplies for the entire trek. You will carry your day pack with a rain-jacket, water bottle, phone, camera, and anything else you might need on the hike between camps. For my trek, I had a weight allowance for my duffel that a porter would carry. In that duffel, I packed clothes, toiletries, electronics, chargers, and other essentials. I carried my daypack with most of my camera gear I needed each day.
MOUNT MERU TIPPING GUIDE
Tipping is standard for a Mount Meru climb. About 10% is the average amount to tip although it can slightly depend on the company and cost of the tour. On our trip, it was recommended to tip $150 USD per person, which is what we did. Tipping is always a bit of a touchy subject so we asked our tour operator and he suggested $150 as a good amount.
As an Australian (the land of no tips), I’ve never liked tipping. I lived in Hawaii and Oregon for four years and have traveled around the world for five years. Wherever there are tips you will find controversy and disappointment from someone involved. So why do we need to tip on Mount Meru? Basically, instead of including the tip in the price, tour operators can make their fees appear lower but stipulate a tip is required so the wages of the porters are still acceptable. I don’t love this system but it requires systematic change and if one tour operator doesn’t co-operate they all need to require tipping to compete with the tour prices. The bottom line is that as of 2021, you need to tip your guides and porters, and somewhere around 10% will be suitable.
BEST TIME TO CLIMB MOUNT MERU
The best time to climb Mount Meru in Tanzania is from October to February. But also June to September, while it is colder then. March to June is the rainy season but you can get lucky. I did my climb in mid-march and got lucky with the weather window for the most part. Mount Meru is not as busy as Mount Kilimanjaro so there is no need to plan ahead to avoid the crowds in peak season.
ALTITUDE SICKNESS WHILE CLIMBING MOUNT MERU
They say the mountain decides if you summit or not, which is mostly due to either bad weather or altitude sickness. Neither of which you have much control over. Altitude sickness happens when you climb too quickly. Basically, there is less oxygen available at higher elevations and you can have headaches, diarrhea and vomiting, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping. Symptoms of altitude sickness can start at about 3000m (10 000 ft) above sea level.
The treatment is basically to go down in elevation, which is tricky when you are trying to climb further up the mountain. If you keep climbing you can make the situation worse and it could become High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). These are very serious and would require immediate medical attention and evacuation.
It’s less common to have some altitude sickness while climbing Mount Meru compared to Mount Kilimanjaro, which is 1500m higher in elevation at the peak. If you do have some symptoms, usually your body will adjust and it should improve overnight or during your acclimatization day. The general rule is to hike high and sleep low. So always do a hike a little higher and then return to sleep a bit lower. You should also not climb more than 5-600m of elevation per day. The longer your trek the less you climb each day in elevation and the more likely you are to the summit and avoid altitude sickness.
INSURANCE FOR YOUR MOUNT MERU CLIMB
It is a requirement from most tour operators that you have travel insurance. Make sure you check that you have emergency evacuation included in your plan as you never know what might happen up on the mountain. Medical costs in Tanzania are actually quite low for general pharmacy visits and dentist appointments as I experienced but emergency operations and hospital visits might be a whole other story. I’m insured with World Nomads Insurance who lets you select the countries you will be visiting (cheaper that way) and bill you accordingly rather than giving global coverage, although they do offer that also. I’ve made a few claims with them over the years and never had any issues. If you want to check out their rates just click here to check the rates for your trip: World Nomads Insurance
WHAT WILL YOU EAT WHILE CLIMBING MOUNT MERU
The menu on the Mount Kilimanjaro trek will vary a lot depending on your trekking company. With Altezza, we had a dedicated chef and had three beautiful meals per day. They took great pride in having hearty, gourmet meals even up at high altitudes. You can request a vegetarian or vegan menu but need to specify this in advance.
Our meals were always different and there were very few repeated lunch/dinner dishes. A typical day of food on Mount Meru looked like this:
Breakfast: Hot porridge with honey, fruit platter, toast with jam, omelette, bacon, coffee, tea, juice box
Lunch: Pumpkin soup, pasta, vegetables, sauce, chicken, fruit platter, coffee, tea
Afternoon Tea: Popcorn and tea/coffee
Dinner: Chicken noodle soup, potatoes, beef stew, cucumber and tomato salad, fried banana
Dessert: Cake with chocolate sauce, hot chocolate
WHERE TO STAY IN ARUSHA BEFORE CLIMBING MOUNT KILIMANJARO
I stayed in Arusha before and after all of my treks and safari trips in Tanzania. There’s not a ton to do in Arusha but it’s a good base with lots of restaurants and shops for before and after trekking. You can find hostels or luxury accommodations. Below are my top picks based on what I saw while in Arusha.
Best Budget Picks
- Wakawaka Hostel – Great budget hostel option
- Where I stayed: Outpost Lodge – Pool and a great buffet with a cheap nightly price
- Where I stayed: Kibo Palace – Slightly more expensive but nice pool, gym, sauna, breakfast
- Gran Melia – Amazing luxury hotel with a stunning pool