A Cable Car Up the Slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Eh?

Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak on the African continent, rises majestically 19,341 feet above the grasslands of Tanzania. Each year, roughly 50,000 people visit the volcanic peak, some to climb to the summit, some to gawk in wonder from below. Mountaineering skills are not generally required to reach the roof, which is certainly an attraction, though the altitude and steep trail are plenty difficult for even the fittest of hikers. Many people who make the attempt spend about a week on the mountain, assisted by paid porters and a cook. Tanzania would like to greatly shorten that process. Like, seriously, big-time shorten it.

With a cable car leading up the slopes.

Tanzanian tourism authorities think the cable car could boost tourism to the country by as much as 50 percent. People physically unable to climb Kilimanjaro would be able to ride the cable car to take in some of the planet’s most astounding views. Tourism is a massive driver of the Tanzanian economy and a main source of hard currency in the country. Feasibility studies with three different construction companies examining engineering plans and route placement are underway.


The porter community is not pleased with the idea.

Porters on the Kilimanjaro beat. Photo: Tom Cleary

“One visitor from the US can have a maximum of 15 people behind him, of which 13 are porters, a cook, and a guide,” Loishiye Mollel, a spokesman for the Tanzania Porters Organization told Reuters. “All these jobs will be affected by a cable car,” he said. “We are of the view that the mountain should be left as it is.”

“Most of the tourists will definitely choose the cable car to reduce costs and length of stay,” said Edson Mpemba, chairperson of the porters organization.


250,000 guides and porters work on Kilimanjaro.

It is unclear how high the car would actually ascend if built. The Shira Plateau, at roughly 12,000 feet above sea level is a natural end point for the project, though still one that could present serious altitude sickness problems. Day hikers often hike to Shira, where they spend a night or two, even if they don’t intend to continue on to the summit. Paid porters often accompany these hikers too.

The companies contracted to study the project and potentially operate the cable car come from China and at least one Western nation, which may violate a key tourism law in Tanzania that requires mountain trekking groups to be fully owned by Tanzanians.

In 1968, a similar car was conceived of by French builders but was abandoned when discouraged by the Tanzanian government.


Top photo: Sergey Pesterev