Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Africa's magnificent mountains: Seven amazing climbs

By Teo Kermeliotis, for CNN
July 9, 2013 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
Known as the "Roof of Africa," Kilimanjaro is the continent's highest mountain and the continent's most popular destination for trekkers. Peak: 5,895 meters. Known as the "Roof of Africa," Kilimanjaro is the continent's highest mountain and the continent's most popular destination for trekkers. Peak: 5,895 meters.
Kilimanjaro - Tanzania
Kilimanjaro - Tanzania
Atlas Mountains
Atlas Mountains
Mount Kenya - Kenya
Mount Meru - Tanzania
Simien Mountains - Ethiopia
Simien Mountains - Ethiopia
Mount Elgon
The Drakensberg
The Drakensberg
  • African mountains offer all kinds of climbers a wide range of trekking experiences
  • Magnificent scenery, rare wildlife and cultural exchanges are major draws
  • Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa's tallest mountain, is the most popular destination
  • We pick seven picks of the best hikes in the continent

(CNN) -- Yes, safaris are great and the beaches are diverse and dramatic. But an Africa getaway doesn't just have to be about 4X4 game drives or lazy strolls on cotton-soft sands by crystal blue waters.

If you're looking to soak up the continent's breathtaking scenery, and have an eye for adventure, then there's only one place to be: at the top.

From the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro, through the forest-clothed slopes of Mount Kenya, to the Alpine meadows of the High Atlas Mountains, Africa's magnificent rooftops offer glorious views and a wide range of trekking experiences that appeal to all kinds of climbers, from hardcore mountaineers to weekend warriors and families.

"It's the terrain and the ability to combine a wildlife experience with the climb," says Sunit Sanghrajka, president of U.S.-based travel group Alluring Africa, explaining what draws outsiders to the continent's mountainous areas. "Also, Africa being kind of distant and lesser known, there is an allure to it," he adds.

Sanghrajka says the continent's growing political and economic stability, coupled with improvements in communications and airlift, have all helped attract more and more tourists in recent years.

"The overall interest in Africa has grown exponentially, especially from the U.S. market," he says.

Here, Inside Africa picks seven of the best treks and hikes from across the continent.

Who are the people of Mount Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro tour guide defies dangers
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro


Make it to the summit of Tanzania's 5,895-meter Kilimanjaro, and you'll be standing at Africa's highest point. The majestic mountain is Africa's most-visited trekking destination, attracting tens of thousands of tourists and adventurers every year.

"You don't have to be a technical climber to climb Mount Kilimanjaro; you just need to be pretty physically fit," explains Sanghrajka. "We've had more people requesting Kilimanjaro in the last three or four years because it's something they feel is attainable -- it can be combined with a family vacation and that's why I think it's so popular."

There are six routes to choose from, each with varying degrees of difficulty, scenery and success. No special equipment is required.

On the way to the "Roof of Africa," you will travel through five different climactic zones, reaching arctic cold temperatures around the glaciers that cap Kibo, Kilimanjaro's summit.

You'd better hurry, though, as climate change experts say that the ice and snow in the mountain's upper slopes are melting and could disappear within decades.

Watch this: Climbing Kilimanjaro

Atlas Mountains

The High Atlas is an impressive mountainous range in central Morocco that hosts North Africa's highest peak, Mount Toubkal, at 4,165 meters. There's a variety of routes to follow during your ascent but inexperienced climbers should note that the trek through the mountain's challenging terrains is quite demanding.

Passing though the rugged landscape you'll get the chance to explore spectacular gorges and rolling valleys as well as encounter the local Berber people who've inhabited these tough terrains for centuries.

The best time to climb the High Atlas is during the summer months.

Click to expand  Click to expand
Click to expandClick to expand

Mount Kenya

A long-extinct volcano, Mount Kenya is Africa's second-highest peak, at 5,199 meters. Lying just south of the equator, the mountain's glacial valleys, successive vegetation zones and diverse wildlife will guarantee you spectacular scenery and a fantastic trekking experience.

The ascent, however, to the mountain's steep ice-capped peaks is quite challenging. "Mount Kenya is the most technical, probably, in that East African area," says Sanghrajka.

At the mountain's crest, temperatures rarely rise above freezing point. There are several routes on the way to the mountain's summit, the majority of which take between three and seven days to complete.

Mount Meru

Mount Meru may forever be destined to exist in the shadow of its imposing neighbor, Kilimanjaro, but Tanzania's second-highest mountain (4,565 meters) has its own devotees.

"It's lesser known, but Mount Meru is for the true enthusiast who wants to experience what very few people actually do," says Sanghrajka.

A beautiful volcanic cinder cone, Mount Meru will treat you to stunning views and diverse wildlife. Its slopes are coated with dense rainforest up to about 2,900 meters, which then give way to rocky areas.

Mount Meru is often used by mountaineers for acclimatization before trekking Kilimanjaro, or by those wanting a trek with the local Massai.

Read more: Maasai's 'last stand' to keep land from game hunters

Click to expand  Click to expand
Click to expandClick to expand

Simien Mountains

With its stupendous rock-hewn churches and medieval castles, northern Ethiopia's rich cultural heritage has long attracted tourists from around the world. But visitors to the area are also increasingly being drawn to the spectacular Simien Mountains, a natural marvel where several jagged peaks of solidified lava are separated by deep valleys to form an overwhelming landscape.

The mountains are also home to some of the world's rarest animals, including the walia ibex, which is not found anywhere else in the world. Since 1978, the region's national park has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The highest point is Ras Dejen, at 4,533 meters.

Read this: Rock churches 'built by angels'

Mount Elgon

Mount Elgon is a magnificent extinct volcano dominating the skyline along the Uganda-Kenya border. Its enormous crater is surrounded by several jagged peaks, including Wagagai, which is the highest point at 4,321 meters.

Here you can explore ancient caves and zip past spectacular cliffs, over which Mount Elgon's streams cascade as dramatic waterfalls. Elgon's slopes are covered in ancient dense forests and bamboo belts which then give way to a spectacular moon-like moorland zone blanketed by tree heaths, massive groundsels and lobelias.

There are several routes to the mountain's peaks, and the full trekking circuit takes up to five days. A descent into the vast caldera, at 40 kilometers long and 8 kilometers wide, is also a must.

The Drakensberg

The Drakensberg is a vast mountainous range in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, rising to 3,475 meters and stretching for some 1,125 kilometers.

The giant mountains are ideal for both casual day hikes through indigenous forests and more serious expeditions along tough terrains and rocky terraces. They also host several game reserves and parks, attracting thousands of tourists every year.

"A lot of people like to go and hike there because it's absolutely stunning," says Sanghrajka. "The scenery is fantastic."

Part of complete coverage on
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Photojournalist Daniella Zalcman asked Uganda's religious leaders their views on homosexuality. Their answers might surprise you.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
In Africa, royalty is an endangered species. Meet the man on a mission to photograph the last remaining kings and queens.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1035 GMT (1835 HKT)
Getty photographer John Moore captured the spirit of those who survived the epidemic
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
Nazis, bomb raids, and a mysterious man with a mustache. The search for the spinosaurus reads like a spy novel.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Can a rat be a hero? It can if it saves lives. Meet the giant rats that sniff out landmines and TB
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
In Africa, royalty is an endangered species. Meet the man on a mission to photograph the last remaining kings and queens.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1110 GMT (1910 HKT)
Can state-of-the art schools in rural Africa rescue the environment? One charity is betting on it.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
To save the rhinos, one charity is moving them out of South Africa, where poaching is at an all time high.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1542 GMT (2342 HKT)
mediterranean monk seal
Many of Africa's animals are facing extinction. Is it too late for them? Our interactive looks at the many challenges to survival.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
April 3, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
A picture shows the Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 8, 2014. At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Mount Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.
The 'African Alps' are melting, and it may be too late. Now may be your last chance to see the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1438 GMT (2238 HKT)
One company thinks so. They're investing in insect farms in Ghana and Kenya. Could bugs build an industry and curb malnutrition?
March 21, 2014 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1016 GMT (1816 HKT)
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.