Safety on Kilimanjaro

IMG_0765- knapp- kilimanjaro- picture- boma africa

Managing Risk

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is also sometimes called “Acute Mountain Sickness”. At high altitudes, the oxygen content in the air is lower, and this results in less oxygen delivery to organs and tissues of the body. The body can adapt to an environment with less oxygen, which is why it is possible for people to live at high altitudes, and why slow steady climbing is recommended. The best advice your guide will give you is “Pole, Pole”, meaning SLOWLY in Swahili. Keep a slow steady pace to reduce your risk. The longer you spend ascending to high altitudes, the less likely you are to have severe symptoms.

Most climbers will have some of the mild symptoms. Generally climbers can continue to climb with these symptoms. These include:

  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty sleeping

Some climbers will have moderate symptoms. Be sure to tell your guide if these present. Your guide might suggest you discontinue your climb to avoid a serious case. These include:

  • Severe, worsening headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Inability to sleep
  • Inability to eat
  • Mild Disorientation
  • Diarrhoea

In rare cases, severe symptoms will indicate a serious case of altitude sickness. They can be signs of a pulmonary or cerebral oedema (swelling of the brain or lungs). These include:

  • Blue lips and fingernails
  • Confusion
  • Unable to walk or perform normal functions
  • Fainting
  • Respiratory distress (hearing the sounds of crumpling paper when breathing)

The first treatment for altitude sickness is always descending to lower altitude. Depending on the severity of the case, fly-in doctors may be called, a stretcher may be used, or a patient may be assisted to walk. Oxygen therapy may be used. Boma Africa guides are very carefully trained to watch for early signs and symptoms, and to recommend clients discontinue their ascent, or begin to descend before a mild or moderate case becomes severe. Be sure to take the advice of your guide very seriously. Your guide wants everyone to make it to the summit, but of course your health and safety come first.


All climbers have the Kilimanjaro National Park Rescue Service available on the mountain, and this fee is included in the climbing cost. Boma Africa also has its own rescue team, which may be used depending on the situation. Boma Africa also provides emergency transport from the mountain gate if a climber is evacuated.


Diamox (acetazolamide) can be used as prophylaxis against acute mountain sickness. While it may improve your chance of summiting, its effectiveness is debateable, and there can be some side effects. Consult with your medical doctor regarding the use of this drug.


All climbers must have travel insurance. Climbers who are unable to produce proof of insurance will be refused, and a refund will not be granted.

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