"At points, your quads are on fire, your knees are screaming, the sun's beating down and you're hiking in sand," says Marybeth Bentwood, 32, from New York, who climbed Kili's most challenging trail, the Western Breach, with her sister and cousin.
"The guides say, 'pole, pole,' (Swahili for slowly, slowly) as you trudge on. Then altitude sickness strikes. But with every step you muscle through, you're eliminating any self-doubt. Even when you're lying nauseous in a leaky tent with tissues blotting your bloody nose, you find humor in experiencing it all. You feel alive doing these things!"
Emerging from Tanzania's plains, Kilimanjaro contains three volcanoes—Shira, Mawenzi, and Kibo, the highest. The exact origins of the name are unknown, but legend has it that it means "Mountain of Light" or "Mountain of Greatness." Making your way to the snow-capped summit involves hiking through rainforest, highlands, desert, and meadows, and on most of the five main routes, you'll enjoy striking views of surrounding glaciers.
At 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest peak on the African continent. It's so hard to breathe at such high elevations, though, that many trekkers never make it all the way up. Kilimanjaro National Park awards summit certificates to climbers who reach either Uhuru Point, at the very top, or Gillman's Point, which sits on the lip of the crater at 18,635 feet.
The Trek: 6 to 8 days (23 to 40 miles)
Book It: Zara
Cost: From $1,050 plus airfare
Includes: Porter, all meals, park fees, an English-speaking guide, and a tent and sleeping mat.
Prime Time: September, October, January and February are the driest, warmest months (although snow can fall year-round in the higher elevations). March to May and November to January are the wettest months (you can still trek then, but hiking conditions are less than optimal).