Altitude Sickness

It is important to remember that altitude sickness is a serious and real risk when climbing Kilimanjaro, killing several climbers every year. While most people will get a minor headache and some nausea as they ascend, almost everyone will feel the effects of the altitude above 15,000 ft.  Serious signs of altitude or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) include a severe headache , vomiting, dizziness, staggering or slurring of speech.  These symptoms are a signal that your body is not adjusting to the lack of oxygen as you ascend.  The two biggest things you can do to help you body adjust include drinking lots of liquids (4-5 liters a day) and going slowly.  On Kilimanjaro you'll repeatedly hear "polepole" (slowly).  If symptoms persist or get worse the best solution is to descend.  American mountaineer Ed Viesturs always says "the summit is optional, coming home safely isn't." Peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro in misty clouds.


Many climbers also consider using Diamox to counteract altitude sickness. If you don't have a lot of experience with altitude, you may also want to get a prescription from your doctor for this, even if you don't intend to take it. It's better to be safe than sorry. If you decide to take Diamox, it is better to start the day before you climb. Diamox is a diuretic and can make it hard for you to keep hydrated if you don't start until you're already climbing.


kilimanjaro guideMost people tend to feel the effects of the altitude at 15,000 ft. or higher. You might feel nauseous or have a splitting headache. One of the easiest and best prevention for altitude sickness is to be properly hydrated. Most guides recommend drinking at least 1 full litter of water before you even leave your tent in the morning. Then at least 3-4 more throughout the day. Ideally you should have 4-5 litters a day. If you do feel sick, try to rest and take some medication. On summit day all bets are off. Nobody feels good on the summit. You just have to know how far to push yourself. But remember, the summit isn't the top of the mountain, it's getting back safely!


  1. Natosha
    May 29, 2014 | Permalink

    Hi – thanks for all of the post and guidance! does Zara take extra safety precautions/measures on the climb? (i.e., oxygen, hyper-barics chamber, check vitals along the way etc) do they go down with you if you can not ascend? Meaning your not alone the entire time? I have heard some outfitters take a lot of precautions to ensure climbers are safe the entire trip. Does Zara have the same measures? thank you!

    • ddorr
      June 16, 2014 | Permalink

      Hi Notosha,

      I encourage you to reach out to Zara directly. In my own experiences, their guides do carry oxygen and a guide or assistant guide does go down with anyone who needs to descend.


  2. Patricia Evans
    March 28, 2011 | Permalink

    Please give me the name of the medicine for diarrhea for altitude sickness

    • ddorr
      March 28, 2011 | Permalink

      The medication I took was called Ciporol or just Cipro. But if you just tell your doctor about your plans to visit a developing country and your desire for something in the event of severe diarrhea. He/she may have a different recommendation.

      • Dee Wilson
        June 9, 2011 | Permalink

        Daniel—just read your book—loved it!! Very informative as my husband and I are planning our 50th birthdays by climbing Kilimanjaro. Your info helped greatly by deciding on our route and even our flight to Africa–thanks!

        • ddorr
          June 10, 2011 | Permalink

          Thanks Dee,
          Glad to be of help. Hope you both have a wonderful adventure! Please share it with everyone by posting your story or pictures in our Climber Community when you get back and help inspire others.

          Best of luck.

          • Chris Davis
            December 20, 2011 | Permalink

            Loved your book as well. What outiftter did you do your trip through?

          • ddorr
            December 21, 2011 | Permalink

            Thanks Chris,
            I booked with Zara for both of my climbs.

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