What is Africa Known For? 7 Things That Make Africa the Continent it is

Africa is a vast and diverse continent which is home to more than a billion people from all different backgrounds. As such the culture is rich and varied and changes not only from country to country, but between towns, tribes and villages too! While Africa is mainly known by travellers for its array of intriguing wildlife, it is also home to cities, jungles, desert and even glacial landscapes, which mean that you could continually explore this fascinating continent and always discover something new.

What is Africa Known For?

Africa is known for Mount Kilimanjaro, Victoria Falls, Nile river, and game reserves such as the Maasai Mara and Serengeti. Africa is also famous for its diverse ethnic groups, Egyptian Pyramids, the Sahara Desert, Mining, and for being the second driest, and the poorest continent in the world.

1. Wildlife

a gorilla in the wild

Wildlife is one of the real highlights of Africa, with beasts, bugs and birds big and small enticing travellers from all over the world. Of course, The Big Five (lion, leopard, African elephant, rhino and buffalo) are one of the main draws to Africa, with nations such as Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa being popular tourist destinations. Safaris in sprawling wildlife reserves allow travellers to witness these majestic animals in their natural habitat, with much of the money from the safaris going back into the protection of the species.

In addition to The Big Five, there are also The Ugly Five, The Little Five, The Shy Five and The Impossible Five, not to mention gorillas, chimpanzees and birdlife (of which Africa boasts over 25% of the world’s population!).

As you can imagine, you could easily spend a lot of money and time discovering Africa’s array of wildlife, so you might want to prioritise which species are top of your bucket list before planning your trip. Of course, wildlife is just that though, wild, so sightings are never guaranteed, but you’re likely to see some friendly giraffe, zebra and antelope at the very least!


2. Diverse Ethnic Groups

an african tribe

Another thing that makes Africa famous is its collection of diverse ethnic groups. It is thought that there are over 1500 languages in Africa (although some scholars think it’s closer to 2000!), so it’s not surprising that there are hundreds of different cultural traditions, festivals, costumes and rituals to discover.

From the Maasai in East Africa and the San Bushmen of the Makgadikgadi Pans to the Yoruba ethnic group based in and around Nigeria and the Himba tribe found in Northern Namibia, there are so many different groups to learn about.

Each tribe takes great pride in protecting their cultural heritage, which is what has ensured the traditions and rites remain intact to this day.


3. Ancient Egyptians

going towards egyptian pyramids

Going back even further than many of the tribes of sub-Saharan African are the Ancient Egyptians. Their history is thought to have begun around 3200 B.C. with King Menes uniting the Upper and Lower Kingdoms to create a powerful dynasty.

It is the famous Pyramids of Giza that we admire today though, The Great Pyramid having been built with mammoth limestone blocks each one weighing around the same weight as two and a half elephants! This feat of engineering, as well as Ancient Egyptian rituals of mummification, their knowledge of astronomy and their hieroglyphic language still continue to fascinate both historians and travellers.

The murals, statues and carvings found on the site of the Pyramids of Giza give great insight into the lives of the Ancient Egyptians. We now know that they loved bread and beer, worshipped more than 1000 different gods and goddesses and that they were the first to create a calendar of 365 days split into 12 months.


4. The Sahara Desert

camels in the sahara desert

The Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert covering approximately 3.6 million square miles (around the size of the United States!). The desert sprawls into 11 countries (Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Morocco, Eritrea, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and Sudan) yet only around 2 million people actually call the desert home.

It is not the largest of all deserts though, that crown going to Antarctica, a region that despite being covered in ice and snow actually does not receive very much (if any) rainfall!

Although much of the Sahara is now a dry, barren landscape, it is thought that before 8000 B.C. this region featured lush savannah and grassland which would have been home to grazing animals and fertile farmland! Even today the desert is surprisingly home to around 1200 species of plant.

For many people, visiting the sand dunes of the Sahara is on their must-do list but some, who are even crazier, have the famous Marathon de Sables – the world’s toughest footrace – on their bucket list!

5. Mountains

If mountains are more your scene, then you’re also in luck in Africa as the continent features a range of towering peaks including Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Mount Menu, the Atlas Mountains and Mount Elgon just to name a few. That’s not to mention the Virunga range, home to mountain gorillas and the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda which feature many species such as forest elephants, chimpanzees, L’Hoest monkeys and the colourful Rwenzori turaco bird.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, with its summit standing at 5895m above sea level. This is a challenging climb and one which is high up on the bucket list of many travellers. The hike to the top takes around five to seven days, with walkers battling against cold, exhaustion and altitude en route to the summit.

6. Rivers, Lakes and Waterfalls

a view of victoria falls - africa
Victoria Falls, ZIMBABWE

In addition to mountains and desert, Africa is also home to myriad rivers, lakes and waterfalls, some of which are the most famous in the world! These include Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Tugela Falls, the tallest waterfall in Africa and the Kalambo Falls on the border between Zambia and Tanzania. This last one is situated at the end of Lake Tanganyika (the longest freshwater lake in the world) which is only second in fame standings in Africa to Lake Victoria, a vast expanse of water that spans between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Of course, it would be amiss to mention things that Africa is known for and not mention the River Nile, the longest river in the world stretching 6,695km! The Nile flows through 11 countries (Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt) with tributaries stemming from South Sudan (the White Nile) and Ethiopia (the Blue Nile).

These water sources, among many others, are popular tourist destinations in Africa, with thousands of travellers coming to admire their power and beauty.

7. Outdoor Adventure Activities

Thanks to Africa’s stunning natural landscapes (as mentioned above), there are many outdoor activities that are offered across the continent that allow travellers to make the most of the natural beauty, while also getting their hearts racing and ticking things off their bucket lists. These activities include things like bungy jumping, white-water rafting, shark cage diving, sky diving and hiking and can be found in countries such as Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa. These are certainly once-in-a-lifetime experiences and are worth considering when planning a trip to southern Africa!

Even for those who aren’t adrenalin-junkies, there are plenty of gentler outdoor activities such as fishing, bird-watching, snorkelling, walking safaris and hot air ballooning.


8. Timbuktu

The word Timbuktu is often used in the English language to refer to somewhere extraordinarily remote or far-flung, but what you might not know is that it is actually a place in the Republic of Mali in West Africa.

Historically, Timbuktu was both a centre of Islamic culture and an important trading post on the trans-Saharan caravan route. Today, the city of Timbuktu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring three grand mosques and 16 significant mausoleums and cemeteries. The town also boasts an important scholarly history, with libraries, university buildings and cultural centres playing a vital role in society.

9. Being the Origin of the Human Race

One of the things that stands Africa apart from other continents is that it is thought to be the origin of the human race. Charles Darwin suggested this back in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1974 when a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton (nicknamed ‘Lucy’) was discovered in Ethiopia, that the Western world really started to believe it.

The East African Rift zone has since been an important site for anthropologists who have looked into human ancestry and evolution. Unlike other severely fragmented finds, Lucy’s skeleton and the surrounding fossils allowed scientists to inquire into bipedalism and ancestral rituals and helped them begin to gain a clearer understanding of the timeline of Homo Sapiens.

10. Nelson Mandela

nelson mandela poster

Nelson Mandela is another of Africa’s famous Homo Sapiens, a man regarded for his tireless work against racism and apartheid in South Africa and beyond. After years struggling against white rule in South Africa, and a long stint in jail for conspiring to overthrow the National Party government, Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president, a major step in the right direction for reconciliation between South Africa’s racial groups.

Mandela and President F.W de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993 for their work bringing about a peaceful transition to non-racial democracy in South Africa. Even after retirement, Nelson Mandela continued to have a strong international presence in conversations around peace, social justice and conflict resolution.

11. Minerals and Mining

a table of diamonds

Thanks to the diverse geology of Africa, the continent is rich in minerals, particularly coal, petroleum, gold, platinum and diamonds. However, due to the lack of technology and money in Africa, minerals and mining have become one of the more controversial things that Africa is known for.

This is because of the poor conditions in which the miners are forced to work, and the corruption that is at play within these industries, which sees most of the money earnt by the mining projects going to small groups of individuals or worse, to large foreign corporations. Most notable in this field is the topic of blood diamonds, diamonds that are mined in a war zone and are sold to finance violent insurgencies.

More than half of the world’s diamonds are mined in Africa, and while some of these are ethical and sustainable, it is not always the case.

12. Poorest Continent

Unfortunately, alongside many of the positive things that Africa is known for, there is also the fact that Africa is the poorest continent in the world. As such, many people in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, survive on less than $1 a day and do not have access to basic amenities such as running water, electricity and sanitation systems that we consider standard in the West. In fact, more people in New York have access to the internet than in the whole of Africa!

Poverty affects the African population in many ways, with around one-third of sub-Saharan Africa being undernourished, 40% of the continent being illiterate, 25 million people being affected by HIV, and women and children having to walk an average of 3.7 miles a day just to get the water they need to survive.

While this is slowly changing for the better, many people are still living without their basic needs being met, and it is something that we all need to continue to support.

Hopefully, you now know more about Africa, the world’s second-largest continent, than you did before, and you’ll be even more inspired to visit. Whether you want to add Africa to your bucket list to see some of the incredible wildlife, to try some of South Africa’s delicious food and wine, to experience some epic outdoor activities or just to learn more about the continent’s history and culture, the choice is yours. We just hope we’ve helped inform and inspire you about this awesome continent and given you more ideas about where to travel next!

Let us know what you learnt from this article in the comments below and tell us which part of Africa you’re most excited to visit!

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