Kilimanjaro is made up of three volcanic cones, namely; Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira large stratovolcano composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, the highest; Mawenzi at 5,149 metres (16,893 ft); and Shira, the lowest at 4,005 metres (13,140 ft). Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, while Kibo is dormant and could erupt again

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the largest stratovolcanoes in the world. A stratovolcano is formed by a series of layers of ash and lava laid on top of each other as a volcano goes through different eruptive phases. It is also known as a composite volcano comprising numerous layers of lava, tephra (cinder) and volcanic ash. This is the world’s highest free-standing, snow-covered equatorial mountain. It is the highest mountain in Africa, rising 4,877 m above the surrounding savanna plains to 5,895 m and covers an area of about 388,500 hectares. It stands alone but is the largest of an east-west belt of volcanoes across northern Tanzania.

How was the Mount Kilimanjaro Formed?

Mount Kilimanjaro formed about 3 million years ago during the formation of the Great Rift Valley, Many volcanoes busted through in the Kilimanjaro region. Then nearly a million years ago volcanic activities centred on the three points, Shira, Mawenzi & Kibo. Shira was the first to become extinct, eventually, it collapsed and was covered from materials from the other two. Mawenzi and Kibo continued to grow. Later on, Mawenzi became dormant but in an enormous explosion, the entire eastern rim gave way forming a very spectacular gorge. Lave, later on, seeped through the cracks, which after much erosion, helped to give Mawenzi its jagged outline. Kibo continued to grow. About 100,000 years ago, a huge landslide from the summit breached the southwest crater and formed a magnificent precipice. Eventually, magma retreated from the central vent of the volcano, but a final puff of smoke deposited a perfect cone of ash around the rim. Kilimanjaro remains a dormant but not an Extinct Volcano. Ice and Fire have helped shape the summit of Kilimanjaro. Even though Mt. Kilimanjaro is a Dormant Volcano its last eruption was about 200 years ago.

The mountain is a combination of both shield and volcanic eruptive structures. Over time different flows have produced a variety of different rock types. The predominant rock types on Shira and Mawenzi are trachybasalts; the later lava flows on Kibo show a gradual change from trachyandesite to nephelinite. There is also a number of intrusions such as the massive radial and concentric dyke-swarms on Mawenzi and the Shira Ridge and groups of nearly 250 parasitic cones chiefly formed from cinder and ash.

Since 1912, the mountain has lost 82% of its ice cap and since 1962, 55% of its remaining glaciers. Kibo still retains permanent ice and snow and Mawenzi also has patches of semi-permanent ice, but the mountain is forecast to lose its ice cap in 2030. Evidence of past glaciation is present on all three peaks. The mountain remains a critical water catchment for both Kenya and Tanzania but as a result of the receding ice cap and deforestation, several rivers have dried up, affecting the forests and farmland below.

Trustpilot Logo Icon Transparent

Book Now

Mount Kilimanjaro Peaks

Kilimanjaro has three main volcanic peaks of varying ages lying on an east-southeast axis.

Shira Peak

To the west, the oldest peak Shira (3,962 m) of which only the western and southern rims remain, is a relatively flat upland plateau of some 6,200 hectares. About one million years ago molten lava started to burst through the fractured surface of the Rift Valley at the location of Kilimanjaro. The initial lava flows were thin and low viscous magma. Because of this the lava spread out and created a gently sloping base for Kilimanjaro. Over time the lava becomes cooler and more viscous. The huge pressures behind the eruption pushed part of the Earth’s crust skywards, creating the Shira volcano, the oldest of the volcanoes forming the Kilimanjaro massif. Around 500,000 years ago Shira ceased erupting and collapsed forming the Shira Plateau.

Shira Peak
Mawenzi Peak

Mawenzi Peak

The rugged peak of Mawenzi (5,149 m) lies to the east. The volcano known as Mawenzi formed as a result of another eruption within the Shira caldera. Mawenzi has eroded over the last millennia but has kept some of its volcanic shapes. The top of its western face is fairly steep with many crags, pinnacles and dyke swarms. Its eastern side falls in cliffs over 1,000 m high in a complex of gullies and rock faces, rising above two deep gorges, the Great Barranco and the Lesser Barranco.

Kibo Peak

Kibo (5,895 m) is the most recent summit, having last been active in the Pleistocene. Around 460,000 years ago, a massive eruption barely west of Mawenzi produced Kibo. Continual subterranean pressure forced the earth’s crust even higher and caused Kibo to erupt several more times. This forced the summit ever higher until reaching a maximum height of about 5900 m.

A further huge eruption from Kibo 100,000 years later led to the formation of Kilimanjaro’s characteristic shiny black stone – which in reality is just solidified black lava or obsidian. This spilt over from Kibo’s crater into the Shira caldera and around to the base of the Mawenzi peak, forming the so-called Saddle. Later eruptions created a series of distinctive mini-cones, or parasitic craters, that run in chain south-east and north-west across the mountain, as well as the smaller Reusch Crater inside the main Kibo summit.

Kibo Peak
Reusch Crater

Reusch Crater

The last volcanic activity of note, just over 200 years ago, left an asymmetrical inverted cone of ash in the Reusch Crater, known as the Ash Pit, that can still be seen today. It consists of two concentric craters of 1.9 x 2.7 kilometers (km) and 1.3 km in diameter with a 350 m deep ash pit in the center. Between Kibo and Mawenzi there is a plateau of some 3600 hectares, called the Saddle, which forms the largest area of high altitude tundra in tropical Africa. There are deep radial valleys, especially on the western and southern slopes.

Mount Kilimanjaro Packages

8 days Lemosho Route
Best seller!

8 days Lemosho Route

The 8-day Lemosho route itinerary gives you an extra day advantage for acclimatization purposes on Mount Kilimanjaro. This 8-day Mount
8 days Lemosho Route

7 days Machame Route

The Machame route which goes by the popular nickname, the "Whiskey" route, is probably the most popular route used to

7 days Lemosho Route

The shorter 7-day Lemosho route variant does not include the extra acclimatization day as the 8-day Lemosho route itinerary. The

6 days Machame Route

The 6 days Machame route does not include the extra day for acclimatization and is therefore recommended for mountain climbers

9 days Northern Circuit Route

The 9 days Northern Circuit Route is one of the easiest routes on Mount Kilimanjaro. It is a recently introduced

7 Days Rongai Route

This is a 7-day Rongai route itinerary variation with an extra day for acclimatization. Gradually sloping towards the summit, Uhuru

6 Days Rongai Route

This 6-day itinerary takes you to the summit of Kilimanjaro using the Rongai Route. Tranquil Kilimanjaro offers treks up the

6 Days Umbwe Route

The 6 days Umbwe Route itinerary on Kilimanjaro is unpopular with many climbers especially first-time climbers for many reasons. First

9 Days Crater Camp via Lemosho Route

This 9-day crater camp trek combined with the 8-day Lemosho route climb is a uniques experience. Crater Camp is a

11 Days Western Breach Route

The 11 days Western Breach route itinerary is rarely or barely used at all due to the risks that come
Shira Route 7 Days

7 Days Shira Route

The 7 days Shira route package is seldom used mostly because Shira is an ancient route that does not follow