Wildlife and traditions are probably what come to mind when you think about a trip to Africa. However, for outdoor enthusiasts and avid hikers, the mountains in Africa offer fantastic trekking opportunities.
Of course, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania needs no introduction, being one of the highest peaks in Africa. We teamed up with fellow travel bloggers and trekkers to compile a list of top trekking adventures across the mountains in Africa.
Explore the Mountains in Africa
Beside the famous African peak, discover what other Africa trails and treks to consider for your next trekking adventure. In addition to an Mt. Kilimanjaro trek, read the thrilling trail descriptions about the mountains in South Africa, plan your Ethiopia travel, climb tall peaks in Madagascar, and chill by the waterfalls of Mauritius, among a few of these best hiking trails. So start packing and go hiking in Africa!
Trekking in Ethiopia
Danakil Depression / Erte Ale Volcano Trek
Hiking an active volcano and seeing boiling lava has been on my bucket list for many years. By the end of last year, I finally got to fulfill this dream with a trip to Erta Ale volcano in Northern Ethiopia. In the town of Mek’ele, we joined one of the daily groups that set out to discover the Danakil Depression – the hottest inhabited place on our planet.
We spent most of day one of the tour driving through surreal landscapes dotted with extinct volcanoes before we reached the base camp in the afternoon. After a filling meal, we started on our adventure hike up Erta Ale volcano. Due to the extreme heat during the day, it is only possible to reach the lava lake after sunset. We found our way up the mountain with torches and headlights as we continued walking on the lava rock surface. Our excitement grew while the sky became increasingly red, lit up by the smoking lava lake. The distance of the hike was a total of 7.5 miles (12 km) with a climb of about 1,500 feet (500 m). After three hours into the moderately steep hike, we reached the rim of the crater. And it was incredible. The strong winds blew the toxic smoke away from us, and we could look down into the bubbling and boiling lava inside the crater.
We spent a bit over an hour on the crater edge, before we started preparing for our night at the volcano a few hundred yards (meters) away from the crater. We spent a couple of hours resting on thin mattresses under the starlit sky before hiking back down to the base camp at around 4 am – we had to make it back before sunrise because of the strong sun.
Bale Mountains Trek
One of the most incredible treks I’ve ever done in Africa was a 3-day trek from Dodola through the Bale mountains in Southern Ethiopia. The trek is done on horseback, but you walk and hike when the terrain is too steep or too slippery for the horses. The landscape is spectacular, and you pass by local mountain villages, rivers, and remote waterfalls. The trek goes right up into the mountains, reaching heights between up to 14,000 feet (3,000 – 4000 meters).
There are small huts and tents inside remote camps up in the mountains that you stay in each night, and while you need to bring most cooking and drinking supplies with you, local shepherds approach you with goats if you want to add some meat to your diet. This trek definitely requires a guide, which can be arranged in the tow of Dodola or online in advance.
By Janet at Journalist On The Run
Simien Mountains Trek
The Simien Mountains is one of the most beautiful and least visited hiking areas in the world. Not only does the area offer lush mountain landscapes, but is home to the endemic and rare Gelada Baboon. Trekking in the Simien Mountains will be an experience of solitude as it is very much off the beaten path. Routes range from 2-day hikes to 14-day backcountry treks, ranging in difficulty. We can highly recommend a 3-day trek that includes two nights of hut camping. All visits to the Simien Mountains need to be registered at the main office in the town of Debark before setting off. It can be tempting to set off into the Simien Mountains independently, but you must hike with a certified guide and a licensed gunman at all times. A visit to the park is met with lots of rules, and hefty fines are issued if not obeyed.
Despite wanting to spend at least a week hiking in the Simien Mountains National Park, we were limited to the 2-day option with an overnight at the Sankaber Camp. Depending on your skill level, you have the option of hiking the trails in their full distance or by starting them mid trail for a shorter amount of walk time. Most point to point sections of the trail take 6-8 hours of hiking each day at a steady pace.
Altitude can be an issue as you start at 8,860 feet (2,700 m) in Debark and will climb above 9,840 feet (3,000 m) to sleep at the Sankaber camp. The highest peak in the park is over 13,120 feet (4,000 m).
Costs for trekking in the Simien Mountains are always changing, but you can expect to pay roughly US$300 per person for a 4-day trek. Keep in mind, this is a group price, if you are traveling solo or in a small group, your price will be more.
By Lina at Divergent Travelers
Trekking in Madagascar
Andringitra National Park / Pic Boby Trek
A while ago my husband and I decided we would climb a mountain or go for a trek in every country we would visit. When we headed to Madagascar, we found the perfect hike – climbing Pic Boby, the country’s highest peak at 8,720 feet (2,658 m) above sea level. We planned a three-day hike across Andringitra National Park, where the mountain is located. On Day 1 we headed to Pic Boby base camp via a spectacular granite valley. On Day 2 we summited the mountain and continued across a boulder field to another camp at 6,560 feet (2,000 m) surrounded by palms, and the third day we walked out of the valley, past some stunning granite walls that would make for great climbing.
The trek was fairly easy since the altitude is not excessive and the terrain is usually flat and even, save for the climb between base camp and the summit, which was quite tricky in the darkness. You’ll definitely need to hire a guide or go with a group since signage is pretty much non-existent and there are no shops or facilities in the National Park – not to mention that it’s compulsory to be accompanied by a local guide for accessing the park! The nearby town of Ambalavao has several trekking agencies, and guide who will approach you for sure.
Trekking in Mauritius
Tamarind Falls Trek
A lot of people visit Mauritius for their honeymoon or a family vacation, so the main draw is usually laying by the pool or chilling on the beach. Yet the nature in Mauritius is beyond beautiful and there are several options for breathtaking hikes. A great moderate to difficult day trip (from 10 years old and up) is trekking up to Tamarind Falls (7 Cascades Falls). The guided hike allows for two hiking routes, which you will learn on the morning of departure as it varies due to the weather.
The two routes to the Falls are practically the same in difficulty, yet the difference lies in the scenery as the first option is through the forest, while the second is in an open area near the water on the basalt rocks. The difficulty level increases once you actually reach the seven-tiered waterfall which stands at the height of around 951 feet (290 m).
Those who prefer a moderate hike will only scale the 5th falls, but the intrepid and more experienced hiker will want to venture all the way to the 7th tier. Expect an additional hour or two for the inclusion. The best part about the falls is that you can either relax in the pools surrounded by lush greenery, or you can jump and abseil down the falls; the choice is entirely yours.
Expect to hike the full day from about 8 am to 3 pm for a total of 4 miles (6.5 km). The price will vary depending on factors such as how many people in the group if you want to experience abseiling and so on, but usually starts at around US$30 per person just for the hike. A picnic lunch is served at the waterfalls and is usually included in the fee.
Trekking in Namibia
Fish River Canyon Trek
Fish River Canyon hike in Namibia is considered to be one of the toughest hikes in Africa due to its climate conditions; very hot and dry. The hike is opened only during Namibian winter between May and September the rest of the year it’s too hot to hike here. The route goes on the bottom of the canyon, by the way the second largest canyon in the world. Total distance is 53 miles (86 km), it takes between 4 to 7 days to complete the hike depending on hikers’ fitness level. The trail starts at canyon viewpoint (Hobas) and finishes at Ai-Ais Hot Springs resort.
Fish River Canyon is a self-guided hike; the trail is well marked and easy to follow, it goes along the riverbed most of the time. The terrain is rocky/sandy and absolutely flat. There are no designated campsites or huts on the trail most people don’t even bring a tent only mattress and sleeping bag. Hikers carry all the rubbish with till the last day, no open fires allowed in the canyon. Though it’s hot during the day, it gets quite chilly, and night warm sleeping bag is a must-have. The hike costs US$25, plus park entrance fee US$5 per person.
Trekking in South Africa
Tsitsikamma Coast / Dolphin Trail Trek
The Dolphin Trail is a 2-day 10 miles (17 km) organized hike along the Tsitsikamma Coast, with the option to add another 6 miles (10 km+) hike on the third day. The trail is a collaboration between Sanparks, the organization that oversees South Africa’s National Parks, and several local guesthouses in the area.
This type of hike is known as slackpacking, which is essentially hiking for softies. Your luggage is taken to your accommodation each day, and your accommodation isn’t just the hiking standard of a tent or a hostel – it’s a guesthouse or a hotel. That isn’t to say there aren’t some strenuous parts of the route. There are, and they’re particularly challenging when the weather is at its warmest, but at the end of the day, you get a cooked meal and a very comfortable bed.
The hike is guided, and along the way, the guide stops to show you interesting fauna, shrubbery, and wildlife. There’s definitely a lot to see in the way of wildlife including snakes, birds, dassies, vervet monkeys, baboons, and snakes.
Thankfully the guide is there to watch out for that last one, and to make sure you get a good look without putting yourself in danger. Cost for the trek is US$550 (R6,400).
Drakensberg / Sentinel Peak Trek
This is one of the longest treks that one can do in the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa and even partly in Lesotho. It takes three days and is a proper adventure hike that includes climbing ladders, as well as standing on the mighty escarpment. But you actually don’t really need a guide, although there are tour operators out there offering this trek as a guided tour.
After an overnight stay at Sentinel Peak car park (dorm bunk bed from US$10 / R110) you start hiking along the so-called amphitheater route until you reach the mighty Tugela Falls. From there, you have to head southeast until you reach the Icidi Gorge at a pretty high altitude of around 9,840 feet (3,000 m).
Be aware: The views up there are amazing! Also be aware that some parts of this trek up until the gorge can be pretty tough. After spending the night at the gorge (it is safer to camp close to or in the caves), the route to Mnweni Cultural Centre is much easier to do. At some point, you end up walking along lush vegetation, beautiful grass plains, and pass rivers and might easily forget about the harder parts of the hike.
Garden Route / Otter Trail Trek
The Otter Trail in South Africa is one of the country’s most legendary hikes. It’s so popular that it books up more than six months in advance, only driving more people to want to experience this epic five day four night 28 miles (45 km) trek.
The hike starts inside the beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park and follows the rugged South African coastline into Nature’s Valley.
You’ll sleep in rustic huts, carry everything you need on your back with only 12 other people.
The trek itself requires a moderate fitness level, and you have to comfortable carrying a 44-pound (20-kg) day pack. There are loads of ascents and descents, with varied terrain.
The hardest part of the hike is crossing the Bloukrans river. You have to arrive at low tide to able to across. If you don’t make it in time, you’ll have to take the exit next to the river.
No guide is required, and it costs US$100 (R1,150) to obtain the permit from SANParks.
Trekking in Tanzania
Mt Kilimanjaro Trek / Lemosho Route
The hike to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, one of the seven highest peaks in the world, is arguably one of the most exciting and challenging treks you can undertake in Africa. Mt Kilimanjaro towers at 19,340 feet (5,895 m) above sea level and is divided into five climatic zones, each with its fauna and flora. There are seven routes officially available for climbing Kilimanjaro and two routes used for descent. The routes range in difficulty and length (from 4-9 days), but all require hikers to be in excellent physical shape to successfully summit the peak.
Ascends are usually undertaken as a part of a tour, or with a private guide/porter as it is impossible to carry your own gear and food up Kilimanjaro. Accommodation is usually in tents with absolutely no luxuries, with the exception of Machame route that offers hikers the chance to stay in basic cabins.
During our hike to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, we followed the Lemosho Route and were blown away by the scenery and variety of landscapes we encountered along the way. The beauty that surrounded us every day of the hike made the experience that much more special. More information about climbing Mt Kilimanjaro here.
Udzungwa National Park / Forest Monkey Trek
Udzungwa Mountains National Park is a small (by African standards)National Park in the south of Tanzania which offers some stunning treks for all abilities. During my visit, I was based in the camp of Hondo Hondo, an expansive site that is open for camping as well as having small huts that can be booked for a little extra comfort.
The most popular hike that can be taken from the camp it the waterfall hike, an epic 4.40 miles (7 km) trail that ascends to the top of the 560-feet (170 m ) Sanje Waterfalls for so amazing views across the plains and various swimming stops along the way.
However, my highlight was the guided monkey trek where I set out with a guide to discovering wild mangabey monkeys. The trek was pretty hard going, not so much the distance, but it was in the sweaty heat of the rainforest and off the paths, so it involved a lot of hacking and slicing through the undergrowth, slippery slopes and dodging giant mounds of elephant poo. Learning that elephants live in forests was new to me. After a couple of hours searching we found a family of the furry primates and were able to quietly watch as they played and groomed each other.
I have seen monkeys many times on my travels, but normally in shared areas with humans, however, seeing them in their natural, untouched was something special that will stay with me forever.
Have you been on any of these treks? Any other trails and trekking opportunities in Africa we missed? Please let us soon so we can update and add to this list of treks exploring the mountains in Africa.
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