At about 30.37 million km² and being the second-largest continent in the world, Africa is more than just its renowned savanna grasslands and unique safari experience. The region also features spectacular mountain ranges, a testament that it’s one of the most geographically diverse places on Earth. From the Atlas Mountains to the Ethiopian Highlands, here are the major mountain ranges in Africa that will break your preconceived perception of the continent.
Located in northwestern Africa, the Atlas Mountains stretches 2,000 kilometers (1,600 miles) from Morocco through Algeria and Tunisia. Mainly inhabited by the nomadic Berbers, the mountain range is also home to an impressive array of flora and fauna. It’s famous for its highest peak, Mount Toubkal, with an elevation of 13,671 ft, and is also the longest unbroken mountain range in the continent that separates the Sahara from the Atlantic.
A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Drakensberg Mountains is part of the Great Escarpment and runs 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from eastern South Africa to Lesotho. It offers some of the most awe-inspiring vistas on the continent, composed of stunning sandstone cliffs, steep river valleys, ancient cave paintings, and rich flora. Boasting a diverse animal life, the mountain range is also home to iconic animals, such as the eland, reedbuck, lesser kestrel, and the Cape vulture.
Often dubbed as the “Roof of Africa,” the Ethiopian Highlands is home to 80 percent of the continent’s tallest mountains, with many of its peaks reaching above 1,500 meters (4,900 feet). Its highest point is Mount Ras Dejen at 4,533 meters (4,872 feet). Boasting a diverse landscape, the area includes montane grasslands, moorland, hear meadows, woodlands, and heathland, which also serve as a dwelling for a unique array of plants and wildlife.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a part of the Ethiopian Highlands, the Simien Mountains is composed of jagged mountain peaks, steep precipices, and deep valleys. Its geological origin is the same as that of the Drakensberg Mountains, resulting in their close resemblance in appearance. Extremely rare animals thrive in the Simien Mountains, which includes the caracal, ibex, wolves, and the famous gelada baboons.
Situated on the Sudan-South Sudan border, the Nuba Mountains extend 48,000 square kilometers (19,000 square miles). It’s one of the most isolated areas in Africa, mainly inhabited by 100 ancient and fascinating African tribes around the mountains.
Situated between the border of Uganda and DRC, the Rwenzori Mountains, also called the “Mountains of the Moon,” showcase some of the remaining glaciers in eastern equatorial Africa. It is most renowned for its vegetation, composed of tropical rainforests, meadows, to snow-capped plains. Some iconic plants found in the area include varieties of giant lobelia, giant groundsel, and moss.
Also called the Mufumbiro, Virunga Mountains stretch from the border of Rwanda to DRC and Uganda. It is composed of eight major volcanoes, with six of them dormant. The two active volcanoes Mount Nyamuragira and Mount Nyiragongo both lie in DRC. The Virunga Mountains is home to the last thriving populations of mountain gorillas, which are now registered as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List.
Marrah Mountains is a chain of beautiful and ancient volcanoes stretching 160 kilometers (100 miles) located in western Sudan. Its name was derived from the Arabic word that means “woman mountains,” given the woman-like figure that’s visible from the southeast view.
Swartberg Mountains is located in South Africa’s Western Cape province. It runs 240 kilometers (150 miles) from east to west, straddling near the Willowmore town until the fringe of the Witteberg Mountain range. Also called the Black Mountains, it divides the Great Karoo and Little Karoo plateaus and is considered a geological part of the Cape Fold Belt.
Magaliesberg Mountain Range
Located in South Africa, the Magaliesberg Mountain Range runs 120 kilometers (105 miles) from Gauteng Province to the North West Province. Unlike other mountain ranges in this list, the Magaliesberg is pretty modest in terms of elevation but draws its beauty in its well-defined structure. Mainly composed of quartzites, the Magaliesberg Mountains are among the oldest in the world and are considered to be half of the age of Earth.