Cable Car Plans Hang in the Air on Mount Kilimanjaro

Have you dreamed of completing the bucket-list challenge of a trek to the “roof of Africa?” This challenge may no longer be a feat. In the near future, travelers may be able to take a cable car to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania according to Reuters and other local sources who are familiar with the area.

According to a recent announcement from the Tanzanian government, the journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro might get a lot easier in the near future. This past summer, plans were announced to entertain the construction of a cable car route that would ferry tourists up and down Africa’s most famous mountainside. 

Accessibility seems to be the primary motivator for the proposed project, with the goal of allowing more climbers to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Each year, roughly 50,000 adventurers attempt the arduous ascent, a typically week-long endeavor that takes hikers up through montane forests, moorlands and alpine deserts—and a careful regimen of altitude acclimatization. The strenuous hike can present a problem for younger and elder tourists, as well as those with physical disabilities and health concerns; a cable car ride would be a boon for such visitors, and would make the trip up a considerably shorter venture for everybody. Constantine Kanyasu, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, says that he expects to see an increase of 50% more visitors to Kilimanjaro with the completion of the cable car project. 

Tourist at the top of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Photo Credit: ranplett

Mt. Kilimanjaro Cable Cars: An Opportunity for Increased Revenue

With tourism bringing in the lion’s share of the country’s GDP—the travel sector topped $2.43 billion in revenue in 2018—such a lofty increase in visitation to Tanzania’s highest draw could mean a significant boost to the nation’s bottom line. As promising as those figures seem to be, the potential of an automated climb up Kilimanjaro has raised some controversy.

Members of some 250,000 families find employment in the park’s tourism system, and nearby towns like Moshi are reliant on the many thousand jobs, as well as tens of millions of dollars, that flow from the national park’s economic system. A single hiker on the slopes of Kilimanjaro can provide direct employment for a team of up to 15 workers—porters, cooks, and guides—according to Loishiye Mollel, a spokesperson from the Tanzania Porters’ Organization. Porters alone account for nearly 20,000 jobs between Mount Kilimanjaro and nearby Mount Meru. These jobs, plus the logistical network of positions supporting them, are threatened by the possibility of a mechanical gondola to the top of the mountain, say some critics of the plan. 

An example of a cable car transport that could possibly be constructed on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Environmental Impact of the Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car Project

Employment issues aren’t the only complaint of the cable car opposition—environmental concerns have also been brought up. The national park comprises several delicate ecosystems and hosts populations of threatened and vulnerable species like the bush elephant, Cape buffalo, and African leopard. Even rarer species, such as the endangered Abbott’s duiker, also make their homes in the forests below the upper slopes. Years of construction work on the permanent structures required for the project would undoubtedly have an enormous impact on the careful balance of the flora and fauna around the park, say critics, with the distinct possibility of lasting and irreversible changes to the biomes of the mountain. Further operational elements like power lines and cables may pose an ongoing threat to the animals most likely to encounter them regularly—like branch-swinging colobus monkeys or wide-winged and imposing bearded vultures. 

Other detractors have brought up the impact of construction pollution, and have noted that UNESCO may have something to say about the matter as well. Kilimanjaro has been recognized as a World Heritage site since 1987, a title that comes with some modicum of scrutiny. 

Aerial photo of the Table Mount Aerial Cableway near Cape Town in Africa
Aerial photo of the Table Mount Aerial Cableway near Cape Town in Africa

Despite the controversy, Tanzanian government officials remain optimistic about the benefits of the proposed cable cars. Proponents have pointed out the prevalence of some worldwide support—similar transportation projects have found success in comparable situations around the globe, from the Aiguille du Midi cable cars in the French Alps to Africa’s very own Table Mountain Aerial Cableway near Cape Town. 

So What are Next Steps for the Mount Kilimanjaro Cable Car Project?

As yet, not much information has been released about the details of the plan for a Mount Kilimanjaro cable car, but firms from China and an unspecified western nation are reportedly in talks with project leads. The exact location of the projected cable car path is also unknown, though many speculate that it will run along the existing Machame route—a well-trafficked southside approach known for its jaw-dropping vistas and demanding difficulty. Endpoints are also up in the air—the route may deliver riders to lower areas like the sweeping Shira Plateau, or possibly to the unmistakable, yellow-lettered sign at Uhuru Peak, spelling out the apex of Africa at 5,895 meters above the oceans.

Emblem with Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania
Photo Credit: flavijus

For now, officials are conducting a social and environmental impact study, led by Crescent Environment and Management Consult Limited, to help determine the overall costs of the project. While controversy and debate keep tensions high—perhaps appropriate for a suspended-cable operation—hope remains for a smooth ride into a shared future between those who challenge the great Kilimanjaro by foot, and those who’d like to swing above it in a cable car. 

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What are your thoughts about the possible cable car project on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro? Would you look forward to riding the cables up to volcanic cone of Kibo? Feel more inclined to tackle the slopes with boots and backpacks? We’ll help you find your path to the roof of Africa—drop us a line at Penwell Safaris, and let’s write your Kilimanjaro adventure together.

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