The highest mountain in Africa and the highest single mountain in the world, Kilimanjaro’s slopes support five distinct vegetation zones at various altitudes. From lowest to highest, these are the cultivated lower slopes, the montane forest, heath and moorland vegetation, alpine vegetation and the barren zone at the summit.
The base of Kilimanjaro used to be forested but is now covered almost entirely by farmland. The volcanic soil is extremely fertile, and a dense human population lives on the lower slopes of the mountain, but the most interesting feature is probably the huge number of wildflowers that occur between Marangu and the gate of the park.
Montane forest occupies Kilimanjaro’s slopes between 1,800 and 3,000m. This is probably the most biodiverse area of the mountain, supporting many different species of fauna (including large mammals and four endemic species of butterfly) as well as flora, and receiving an annual rainfall of about 2,000mm.
The moorland zone between 3,000 and 4,000m is more sparsely vegetated with heath-like vegetation and wild flowers. Animals are rare here, but you’re quite likely to see pairs of klipspringers watching you timidly or bounding nimbly up or down impossibly steep inclines.
The alpine zone between 4,000 and 5,000m receives less than 250mm of rain a year, and is classified accordingly as a semi-desert. Vegetation here is mostly lichen, moss and grass – whatever is hardy enough to survive freezing temperatures at night and more than 30°C during the day.
The arctic zone is at the peak of Kilimanjaro, above 5,000m. There’s hardly any life here except for lichen, since the area receives hardly any rainfall. The most interesting features here are the deep ash pit, the Great Northern Glacier and the craters of Kibo peak.
At the foot of majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, lie bustling towns like Moshi and Marangu where you may catch a glimpse of the colourful, village life.