It’s well known that Africa is one of the most — if not THE most — geographically diverse places in the entire world. It should come as no surprise then that it would also feature some of the most interesting and unique mountain ranges and peaks.
For travelers this is a bonanza: Whether you fancy hikes in the foothills or have Everest-like ambitions, there’s something for every type of explorer.
Here are 15 of the most spectacular mountain ranges in Africa; some obvious, and some less well known.
1) Atlas Mountains
Stretching over 1,600 miles (2,000 km) from Western Sahara through Morocco and Algeria to Tunisia, the Atlas Mountains are the longest unbroken range of mountains in Africa and separate the Atlantic from the Sahara. Largely populated by Berbers, forests, rivers, and snow-capped peaks are waiting to be explored and break your preconceived notion of Africa.
2) Drakensberg Mountains
Stretching through eastern South Africa and tiny Lesotho, the Drakensberg Mountains have enchanted travelers for centuries. With some of the most dramatic vistas on the continent, Drakensberg Park was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world, unique peoples, ancient cave paintings, and dozens of trails are just a few of the reasons to make this an essential stop in your South Africa adventure.
3) Rwenzori Mountains
Also called the Mountains of the Moon, the Rwenzoris feature some of the last remaining glaciers in equatorial Africa. Located in western Uganda, the plant species range from tropical rainforest to alpine meadow until the snow prevents anything from growing. Go soon though, as the glacier has been shrinking due to climate change.
4) Nuba Mountains
Located on the new border between Sudan and South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains feature some of the most ancient and interesting tribes of Sudan. Only accessible by foot or four wheel vehicle, the towns, villages, and people of this beautiful area are the main attractions here. Try to catch some traditional Nuba wrestling competitions while you’re here!
5) Virunga Mountains
Straddling the borders between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, the Virungas are home to the last living populations of the critically endangered mountain gorillas which many visitors trek for hours through the jungle peaks to see. Mount Nyiragongo in the DRC, has one of the largest lava lakes in the world.
6) Simien Mountains
Part of the Ethiopian Highlands and also a World Heritage Site, the Simien Mountains abound with wildlife including dozens of birds, ibex, wolves, and thousands of gelada baboons which travel in packs. Camping and trekking is the most popular way to get up close and personal with the wildlife.
7) Marrah Mountains
These beautiful and ancient volcanic massifs peppered with crater lakes aren’t likely to be visited anytime soon unfortunately as they sit in the heart of conflict-riddled Darfur in western Sudan. Hopefully, peace will return to the region soon and the beauty of the Marrahs can be enjoyed by all again.
8) Tibesti Mountains
Ancient oases, Neolithic rock art, wandering packs of camels, and a lunar landscape make the Tibesti Mountains in northern Chad some of the most stunning and inaccessible in Africa. There are some tour groups that visit them, but provisions for every circumstance must be taken due to the remoteness of the range. An almost untouched world awaits those who make the journey, however.
While not technically a range and rather a series of dormant volcano peaks, what list would be complete without Kilimanjaro and its surrounding peaks? One of the most visited sites in Africa, most visitors spend a week trekking to its summit to be rewarded with views over the Serengeti and to set foot on the glacier which is quickly receding due to changing global climates. No trip to East Africa would be complete without at least viewing Kilimanjaro’s majesty which can also be done from the train over the border in Kenya on clear days.
10) Tsaratanana Massiff
The Tsaratanana Massiff in northeastern Madagascar is one of the lesser visited but no less impressive ranges. Rising almost two miles, the landscape changes from lush valleys to volcanic peaks and like the rest of the island, features some plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
11) Hoggar Mountains
If you can make it to Algeria, get a permit to go south, and are okay with spending 16 hours on a bus, you will be rewarded with some of the least visited mountains on the continent. Incredible towering stone bluffs border oasis villages and date palm trees while the cries of endangered painted hunting dogs cut through the night. Another one of the Sahara’s hidden gems.
12) Mount Sinai
Located deep in the heart of the ancient Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, visitors have come for thousands of years to feel the solitude of the desert. Many now visit nearby ancient Coptic monastaries before hiking for hours in the dark to have their breath taken away by the dramatic sunrises that can be viewed from the summit.
13) Baviaanskloof Mountains
Located in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, the Baviaanskloof range offers ample opportunity for hiking and wildlife viewing. You can find the whole gamut of accommodation ranging from luxurious resorts to simple campsites. There is even a guesthouse set inside a cave.
14) Cameroon Volcanic Line
The Cameroon Volcanic Line which extends from the Western High Plateau into the islands in the Gulf of Guinea features a dramatic chain of volcanic peaks that terminate into the ocean. Mount Cameroon, roughly halfway in between is also the tallest peak in West Africa at 13,255 ft (4,040 meters).
15) Aïr Mountains
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Ténéré Desert in Niger, the Aïr Mountains are equally as remote and enchanting as the country in which they are located. Formed by ancient volcanic lava flows and surrounded by the unforgiving dunes of the Sahara, if you are able to find an outfitter to take you through this land of Tuareg nomads, you can be sure that you will be one of the few people to make it this far into the heart of the mighty Sahara.
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This article was originally published September 29, 2014.