Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. Home to over 1.3 billion people, Africa contains 54 sovereign nations and territories that cover an area of approximately 11.7 million square miles. But where exactly is this diverse and dynamic continent located on the world map?
The Location and Regions of Africa
Africa is situated south of Europe, southwest of Asia, and east of South America. The continent essentially straddles the equator and is bisected by the prime meridian, making Africa the only continent to extend across all four hemispheres.
Geographically, Africa can be divided into 5 key regions:
- Located above the Sahara desert
- Comprised of countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco
- Influenced historically and culturally by the Middle East
- Stretches along the Atlantic Ocean
- Major countries include Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Senegal
- Known for ancient civilizations like the Ghana, Mali, and Songhai empires
- An equatorial region covered by thick rainforests
- Nations like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon
- Home to the second largest rainforest in the world
- Bordered by the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea
- Countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Somalia
- Rift Valley is a key geographical feature
- Located south of the Zambezi and Kunene rivers
- Major nations include South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini
- Boasts exceptional diversity, from the Kalahari Desert to the Drakensberg Mountains
The Vast Geography of Africa
Spanning over 5,000 miles north to south, Africa’s sheer size and scope is difficult to comprehend. Here are some key geographical features and landscapes that define the continent:
The Sahara Desert
- The world’s largest hot desert
- Covers approximately 3.5 million square miles
- Sparsely populated but rich in mineral resources
The Sahel Region
- A semi-arid transition zone between the Sahara and fertile savannas
- Prone to droughts and desertification
- Includes parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and Eritrea
The Horn of Africa
- A peninsula jutting into the Arabian Sea
- Comprised of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia
- Strategically important shipping route to the Suez Canal
The Great Rift Valley
- A vast canyon stretching over 3,700 miles from Syria to Mozambique
- Formed by tectonic plate activity over millions of years
- Stunning vistas and excellent conditions for fossil finds
The Atlas Mountains
- A range stretching 2,500 km across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia
- Peaks reach over 13,000 feet, with snow-capped summits
- Traditionally inhabited by indigenous Berber people
The Nile River
- The world’s longest river at 4,258 miles
- Flows north through 11 African countries before emptying into the Mediterranean
- Ancient civilizations depended on its annual flooding
The Congo Rainforest
- The second largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon
- Spans six countries and covers over 1.5 million square kilometers
- Incredibly biodiverse region home to mountain gorillas
The Kalahari Desert
- A large semi-arid savanna spread across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa
- Supports unique flora and fauna adapted to the harsh climate
- San people have lived in the desert for over 20,000 years
The East African Rift
- A divergent tectonic plate boundary
- Includes the African Great Lakes and many volcanic peaks
- Rift valley lakes host enormous flamingo populations
The Cape of Good Hope
- A rocky headland on the Cape Peninsula marking the southern tip of Africa
- Strategic sea passage between Atlantic and Indian Oceans
- Scenic vantage point to see the mingling of two oceans
The Climate and Ecosystems of Africa
Africa’s vast size means it contains a spectacular diversity of climates and ecosystems.
- Found in Central and West Africa along the equator
- Hot year-round with very high rainfall
- Dense jungle vegetation filled with diverse wildlife
- Grasslands dotted with shrubs and isolated trees
- Found extensively in East Africa
- Distinctive fauna like lions, zebras, giraffes, and elephants
- Arid regions like the Sahara, Namib, and Kalahari
- Extreme temperatures and minimal vegetation
- Camels, fennec foxes, and other desert-adapted lifeforms
- Cool, rainy winters and hot, dry summers
- Found along the north African coast
- Olive trees, grapes, and wheat are commonly cultivated
- Cooler mountainous areas like the Ethiopian Highlands
- Consistent rainfall supports agriculture
- Home to unique flora and fauna like the walia ibex
This range of major biomes and climates allows Africa to support an extremely diverse array of plant and animal life.
Famous Geographic Landmarks in Africa
Africa is home to many iconic geographic features and stunning natural landmarks:
- Mount Kilimanjaro – The tallest freestanding mountain on Earth at 19,341 feet. Located in Tanzania with glaciers and diverse vegetation zones.
- Victoria Falls – One of the world’s largest waterfalls on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Called “The Smoke That Thunders” by locals.
- The Great Pyramids of Giza – Ancient wonders of the world built around 2,600 BC as monumental tombs for pharaohs. Located on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt.
- Table Mountain – A flat-topped mountain overlooking Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula. Recognizable landmark that draws visitors with cable car rides.
- Sphinx of Giza – A limestone statue depicting a mythical creature with a lion’s body and a human head. Built around 2,500 BC and located near the Great Pyramids.
- Mount Kenya – Africa’s second highest peak and the eroded stump of an ancient volcano. Its jagged spires offer excellent hiking and climbing.
- Sudd Wetlands – Vast swamp fed by the White Nile that constitutes one of Africa’s great wildernesses teeming with wildlife. Located in South Sudan.
Famous African Historical and Cultural Sites
Beyond geography, Africa boasts many famous historical and cultural sites that provide windows into ancient civilizations:
- Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela – 13 churches carved out of pink granite in Ethiopia during the 12th-13th centuries. An engineering and artistic marvel.
- Great Zimbabwe – Enormous stone ruins of an ancient city in the south of Zimbabwe. Capital of a major African empire from the 11th to 15th centuries.
- Timbuktu – An ancient center of education and trade. Home to Sankore University and madrasas, and pivotal point on the trans-Saharan caravan routes.
- Valley of the Kings – Rock-cut tombs built for pharaohs and nobles over 500 years in ancient Egypt. Contains incredible paintings and treasures.
- Djenne-Djenno – A UNESCO World Heritage Site containing ruins from one of the oldest known sub-Saharan urban settlements dating to 250 BC. Located in Mali.
- Abu Simbel – Two massive rock temples originally carved out of a mountainside in 1244 BC under Ramses II. Relocated in 1968 to avoid being flooded by the Aswan Dam.
Africa’s Natural Resources and Economic Activities
Africa’s wealth of natural resources drives much of its modern economy:
- Oil – Countries like Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya have substantial reserves that make Africa a major global oil producer. Offshore drilling is also expanding.
- Diamonds – African nations like Botswana, DRC, and South Africa account for the majority of diamond mining in the world.
- Gold – South Africa is a top producer globally. Deposits are also mined extensively in Ghana, Mali, Tanzania and Guinea.
- Uranium – Africa provides 18% of the world’s uranium production. Key miners include Namibia and Niger.
- Platinum Metals – South Africa produces close to 80% of the global total of platinum. Palladium and rhodium deposits are also mined.
- Phosphates – Morocco possesses about 3/4 of the world’s phosphates reserves, widely used to manufacture fertilizer.
- Iron Ore – Key iron ore exporters include South Africa, Mauritania, and Liberia. Important for the steel industry.
Agriculture remains fundamental, with major exports like coffee, cocoa, cotton, tea, tobacco, and palm oil. Tourism also makes up a vital part of GDP for many African nations.
Although Africa may appear relatively small on maps, its true immensity becomes apparent when exploring the continents great diversity of landscapes, climates, ecosystems, resources, and cultural treasures developed over millennia of human habitation. From the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro to the scorching sands of the Sahara, Africa’s grandeur is unmatched. The cradle of humankind continues as a wellspring of history and culture.
Frequently Asked Questions
On which continents does Africa border?
Africa is bordered by Asia to the northeast, Europe to the northwest, and is separated from the Americas by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest.
How many countries are located in Africa?
There are 54 fully recognized sovereign states in Africa. This includes UN member states, as well as territories with partial recognition like Somaliland and Western Sahara.
What are the largest countries in Africa by land area?
The top 5 largest countries by land area are Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Libya, and Chad. Algeria is the largest at over 2.3 million square kilometers.
Where are most of Africa’s major diamond reserves located?
Many of Africa’s diamonds are concentrated in southern countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Large reserves have also been found in Namibia and Sierra Leone.
What is Africa’s highest mountain peak?
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the tallest mountain in Africa at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) above sea level. It is also the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.