Here are a few Swahili words and phrases that you may find useful while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and traveling in East Africa more broadly. While a handful of words are simple to learn, they may go a long way in making your adventure even more enjoyable. Locals will appreciate your effort to communicate in their language, and your simple exchange of Swahili words may help you will feel more connected with them and proud of your mutual understanding.

Some of the below words and phrases—such as pole pole, asante, or karibu—no doubt you will hear so often that you will remember them long after your climb. Other phrases—such as poa kichizi kama ndizi—will surely impress your guides if you remeber them correctly, or make them laugh otherwise. Have fun!

Basic Kilimanjaro Swahili Words and Phrases



Slow Pole pole
Thank you (very much) Asante (sana)
(Very) welcome Karibu (sana)
Yes Ndio
No Hapana
Let’s go! Twende!
I’m sorry / excuse me! Samahani!
OK! Sawa!
Danger! Hatari!
Great! Nzuri!
I’m tired Nimechoka
Water Maji
Toilet Choo
Hot Moto
Cold Baridi
Much Mengi
Little Kidogo
Fast Haraka


Hello Jambo
How are you [informal greeting] Habari
(Very) good [response to habari] Nzuri (sana)
Hello [to an older person; literally “I touch your feet”] Shikamoo
Fine [response to shikamoo; literally “I acknowledge your respect”] Marahaba
What’s up [casual slang greeting] Mambo (vipi)
Cool [response to mambo (vipi)] Poa
Crazy cool like a banana (in the fridge) [reponse to mambo (vipi) if you feel particularly well] Poa kichizi kama ndizi (ndani ya friji)

Addressing people

Sir Bwana
Madam; grandmother [addressing a woman of older age] Bibi
Grandfather [addressing a man of older age] Babu
Friend Rafiki
Sister [addressing a woman of similar age] Dada
Brother [addressing a man of similar age] Kaka


What is your name? Jina lako nani?
My name is … Jina langu ni …
Where are you from? Unatoka wapi?
I’m from … Natoka…
Naomba … I need …
Naraka … I want …
Congratulation Hongera
European (white foreigner) Mzungu
Strong like a lion Nguvu kama simba