Searching for some facts about Africa? I know it sounds cliche, but there is just nothing like Africa. There are so many wonderful countries, animals to see, unique cultures, and a variety of unique activities to partake in that it makes picking one place impossible almost.
We spent a wonderful year traveling Africa and there is simply nothing in this world like it. I do realize Africa is a whole continent and there are many things to know about different parts of Africa. It’s a varied land with many Africa facts, so we wanted to pick out just a few that may pique your interest.
1. Africa is HUGE
It is very, very big. Yes, the giant that is Asia takes the number one spot for the largest and most populous continent on Earth, but Africa comes in at second and takes up a lot of space.
2. Earth’s surface area is 6% Africa
To give you an idea of just how big Africa is, it covers 6% of the entire world’s surface area. Not impressive enough? Well then, how does 11.7 million square miles sound? And 16% of all humans live in Africa, with 1.2 billion people living on the continent as of 2016. Basically, it’s vast.
3. Africa isn’t just continental Africa
Madagascar – a huge island off the southeast coast – and various other archipelagos make up just a portion of the 54 countries that comprise this massive continent. Aside from those recognized countries, there are nine territories and two largely unrecognized independent states.
4. Africa is also very young
Africa actually boasts the youngest population, on average, in the world. In 2012, for example, the average age was 19 years old – that’s pretty young. In the same year, the worldwide average was 30 years old.
5. Africa straddles the equator
With countries in the Northern Hemisphere as well as the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the only continent to encompass temperate zones in the north and temperate zones in the south – and with a whole lot of other climate areas and biospheres in between.
6. Algeria is the biggest player in terms of land, Nigeria for its population
Algeria definitely hogs the land area here, taking up almost a million square miles (919,595 to be exact). Meanwhile, Nigeria boasts 186 million inhabitants, making it easily top dog in terms of population in Africa; it’s also the 7th most populous country in the world. The smallest country in Africa is Seychelles, an island archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
7. It began in Africa
The evidence suggests that, yes, humans originated in Africa. Specifically, in East Africa. And that evidence is…? 200,000-year-old human remains. That’s right; early Homo sapiens (that’s modern humans to you and me) have been unearthed in Ethiopia dating back all those thousands of years.
8. Ancient Egypt is one of the world’s earliest civilizations
Beginning in around 3300 BC, historical records of the pharaohs started. That is a mad fact about Africa. What’s crazier still is just how long this civilization lasted. The Egyptian state, in all its pyramidal glory, continued until 343 BC. That’s almost 3,000 years of Pharaonic influence, with evidence of the civilization as far as Libya and even Crete.
8. There were thousands of states and kingdoms in pre-Colonial Africa
There was the already-Christian Ethiopia Empire (1270-1974). There was the Wadai Empire in Chad (before the French took over in 1918, anyway). There was the Kingdom of Kongo, which went on for 500 years or so before Portugal suppressed the monarchy and absorbed it into Angola. There was the Empire of Benin, one of the longest-lasting, most developed of any African empire… before the British came along in 1897. The list goes on.
9. There was a colonial scramble for Africa
It was actually referred to as the “Scramble for Africa.” European powers went crazy for controlling the African continent. From about 1881 to 1914, Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany all wanted a slice of the pie. Cue decades of messed-up-ness.
10. Decolonization hit the African continent hard
Many African countries were “made” independent from the early 1960s to the 1980s. Many of these countries had never, ever existed before, with borders drawn by European powers. This resulted in a lot of craziness. During this period, there were more than 70 coups and 13 presidential assassinations continent-wide. Border, territorial, ethnic, and political disputes were – and still are – common.
11. The Second Congo War was the deadliest worldwide conflict since World War II
This fact about Africa is sadly very true. Beginning in 1998, and with treaties signed in 2002 (though not actually ending till 2003), this horrific conflict claimed over 5.4 million lives. It has left a legacy of instability ever since.
12. Africa is the world’s second-driest continent (after Australia)
It’s very, very dry many parts of Africa. An average of 1,000 millimeters of rain falls across the entire continent each year. Though the (quite substantial) deserts definitely bring that average down, let’s put that into perspective: Naples, Italy gets over 1,000 millimeters of rainfall each year!
13. The African Union (AU) is a 55-member federation consisting of all of Africa’s states
Just like the European Union for Europe, it’s a known fact about Africa that it has its African Union, with the headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Unlike the EU, however, all countries are included. Interestingly, there are “officially” 54 countries in Africa, so where does the last one come from? The unrecognized country that is Western Sahara (claimed by Morocco), a Spanish colony until 1975.
14. Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world
One of the craziest facts about Africa is that there are well over one thousand languages spoken across the continent. UNESCO had a go at estimating and come up with around 2,000 languages. Whatever the actual number, it’s a lot.
15. Arabic is the most widely spoken language in Africa
One hundred seventy million people speak Arabic. The second-most widely spoken language is English, with 130 million speakers, followed by 115 million French-speakers. Swahili is next; with 100 million speakers, it’s the most widely spoken African language on the continent.
16. The continent’s population will more than double by 2050
If you were paying attention to your Africa facts, you’d know that doubling the continent’s current population will equal around 2.3 billion people.
17. African art and architecture reflect the diversity of African cultures
The oldest known jewelry on the continent is thought to be… beads. These were made of Nassarius shells. People were rockin’ these around 72,000 years ago. Then there’s the Great Pyramid at Giza: the tallest structure on Earth for thousands of years. The ruins of Great Zimbabwe showcase an amazing Iron Age power. The ancient churches of Ethiopia will leave you in awe. Morocco’s medieval mosques are stunning. Africa is ultra diverse.
18. Africa is famous for animals
This is such an obvious fact about Africa, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. It’s one of the most biodiverse places and has large populations of some fantastic creatures. Lions, hyenas, cheetahs, as well as giraffes, elephants, camels are all safari animals to look out for. Then there are snakes. Mountain gorillas. Crocodiles. A whole range of insects and amphibians. Don’t forget the million-strong wildebeest migration. We forgot hippos. And rhinos. It’s a truly wild continent.
19. Africa has over 3,000 protected areas
And all that wildlife needs protecting. There are thousands of protected areas scattered across Africa. We’re talking 198 marine protected areas. We’re talking 50 biosphere reserves. We’re talking 80 wetlands reserves. That’s just for starters.
20. Some of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa
The region, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, is developing. Post-colonial democratization, broader access to mobile phones and the internet are resulting in the rapid development of many economies. Ethiopia’s economy is set to grow by 8.5% in 2019, Ghana by 7.6%, Côte d’Ivoire by 7%.
21. Most African migration happens within Africa
Sensationalist news stories would have you thinking otherwise, but this is an interesting fact about Africa: it’s not to Europe or North America that most African migrants go, but to other African countries. Increasing ease of movement between African nations is making it more and more of a viable option. It’s showing no signs of slowing down. Escaping poverty and looking for work are the most common reasons.
22. China is the African continent’s top trade partner
For real. That trade is pushing (almost) $200 billion per year. The direct investment in Africa by China, we’re talking direct, already is much more than $50 billion. The only country that may not have China knocking on its door anytime soon is Eswatini (Swaziland). China has no diplomatic relations with Eswatini because it recognizes Taiwan as a country.
23. Angola alone has a population of over 350,000 Chinese
There is, however, a threat of neocolonialism. China actually has a long history of investment in Africa, dating back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), but only now is it reaching a state that might be called exploitation. Debts could easily be racked up, which China know can’t be paid. There are currently one million Chinese citizens on the African continent, too.
24. Rwanda was one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags
This wild fact about the African nation of Rwanda comes after the relatively recent Rwandan Genocide (1994). In 2008, the country banned plastic bags. Bangladesh banned them in 2002, but Rwanda has banned everything about them: their use, importation, manufacture, and sale. Even travelers entering the country are searched – no joke – it’s so amazing!
25. Africa is the hottest continent on Earth
We’ve established that it’s the driest continent, but yes – Africa is the hottest continent, too. That’s probably something to do with the fact that 60% of all of Africa’s land area is made up of actual desert (or just really, really dry land). There’s the Kalahari Desert, the Namib Desert, the Sahara Desert… Hot.
26. Africa is losing over four million hectares of forest per year
That’s around twice the international rate of deforestation, on average. For example, 90% of Madagascar’s original forest has disappeared since humans first arrived 2,000 years ago.
27. But Africa is high in minerals
The continent boasts 30% (give or take) of the Earth’s mineral resources. The whole of the Earth’s remaining mineral resources. We’re talking a lot of the remaining gold (40%), cobalt (60%), and platinum (90%) reserves.
28. Music and dance are super important
There are influential genres of music like highlife and afrobeat, more localized styles like the upbeat guitar-based sungura music of Zimbabwe, and the soulful African blues of Mali; there’s a whole lot more. North Africa shows Arab influences, Southern Africa shows Western influences, but all of it shows a love of music that is undeniable.
29. Almost 40% of adults in Africa are illiterate
Not exactly a heartwarming fact about Africa, but a fact nonetheless. Literacy is not widespread. Two-thirds of that 40% are women. In some countries – Benin, Guinea, Niger, to name a few – literacy rates sink below 50%.
30. The Sahara is the largest (hot) desert in the world
Much of Africa is dominated by desert or desert-like landscapes, sure, but none quite as massive as the Sahara Desert. At 3,600,000 square miles in area, this vast expanse of sand, camels and Bedouin tribes takes up 25% of Africa. It is actually bigger than the Contiguous United States, which weighs in at just under 3 million square miles. The Arctic and Antarctica count as larger deserts, but they’re, y’know, cold.
31. And Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa
And it’s the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, with an area of 26,590 square miles. The actual largest freshwater lake in the world is Lake Superior (31,700 square miles).
35. Africa boasts one of the oldest universities in the world
No way? Yes way. It’s in Timbuktu, Mali. In fact, in the 12th century, there were three universities in Mali. One of these had over 25,000 students in attendance. Unlike modern universities, you got to choose your teachers. Though primarily Quran studies, academic stuff was covered too, thankfully.
36. Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest point
It soars up from almost nowhere to tower 19,340 feet above sea level. It’s also the 4th most prominent peak in the world, with nothing anywhere near as tall anywhere in the vicinity. Oh, and it’s also a volcano. It has three craters; two are extinct, but one is active. It last erupted 360,000 years ago – who knows when it will happen again.
37. The Nile is the longest river in the world
Our final, and grandest fact about Africa, is obviously about the Nile. It has supported various civilizations throughout the ages; the Ancient Egyptians actually worshipped the flooding of the Nile as a god (the androgynous Hapi). It runs 6,670 kilometers from Tanzania, through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, and finally Egypt before erupting into the incredible Nile Delta.
What To Pack For Africa
There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari. We help you create your safari packing list and share some of our favorite safari products.
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
I used this a lot in the on my Ruaha safari. Early mornings in the park can be pretty chilly so it helps break the cold. Once the sun comes out temperatures climb and things get very dusty. So, I use the shemagh to cover my face and electronics.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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