The 6 best peaks to summit in Africa

These six summits offer accessible mountaineering experiences, unique challenges and incomparable vistas in remote corners of Africa, from Malawi up to Morocco.
Written by Matthew Sterne
02 May 2021

You’ll start in a rainforest, surrounded by the calls of monkeys and trees you can’t see the tops of. A day or two later, the vegetation will thin out, an eerie silence will replace any sign of birds or wildlife. Shortly after that you’ll enter a high-altitude desert, where you’ll find nothing but rocks and scree and an unfamiliar frostiness. Next comes the final ascent, a snowy field, a glacier and the summit. Welcome to mountain climbing in Africa, where the terrain is as diverse as the landscapes below. These are the six most challenging and interesting peaks to summit across this mammoth continent.

1. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Often surrounded by clouds, we get a rare glimpse of Kili’s upper peaks on our final day of hiking. Source | Matthew Sterne

At 5 895m, Africa’s tallest mountain is also the highest freestanding peak in the world, which means that as you climb you don’t stare onto surrounding mountains but rather across the African savannah far below. Lying in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro is the most popular of the world’s seven summits (the highest mountain on each continent) primarily because it’s the most attainable. You don’t need ropes, special gear or even any previous mountaineering experience. This does not mean, however, that it’s easy or risk-free. Rockslides and acute mountain sickness cause fatalities every year, and helicopter rescues are common. It generally takes six days, a team of porters, a bout of altitude sickness and a summit day of around 16 hours to complete this iconic hike.

 

2. Mount Kenya, Kenya

Hiking this monster normally take three to seven days according to fitness levels. Source | The Times

Mount Kenya is the second-highest in Africa, and Kenya’s highest peak (5,199m). This extinct volcano is located in the middle of the country, in Kenya National Park. The pristine wilderness surrounding this UNESCO World Heritage Site is stunning, with lakes, glaciers, dense forest, mineral springs, and a broad range of African wildlife. Referred to as ‘Place of Light’, Mount Kenya has three summits – Batian, Nelion, and Lenana, the highest of which is 5,199 meters. Like Mount Kilimanjaro, it’s possible for inexperienced climbers to summit Mount Kenya, and there’s a range of guided trek options available. Keep an eye out for duiker, hyena and Verreaux eagle.

 

3. Mount Stanley, Uganda

The upper reaches of Mount Stanley requires crampons, ropes and other technical gear. Source | Shane Quinell

My dream peak to bag in Africa, Mount Stanley offers the biggest adventure of the lot in my mind. The third-largest mountain in Africa (5,109m) is UNESCO World Heritage Site Mount Stanley, located in the vast Central African Rwenzori Range which forms the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. It’s the tallest mountain in Africa that forms part of a range, and I think that’s a big part of the allure for me. Like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, it’s tall enough to support glaciers, but unlike the other two, Mount Stanley is not frequently visited by tourists. Due to this, the mountain range still remains a mystery to many climbers.

 

4. Ras Dashen, Ethiopia

One of the great attractions of climbing Ras Dashen is the landscape that leads up to it. Source : Estadventure

In the Horn of Africa you’ll find the Ethiopian Highlands – a range of rugged mountains that form the largest elevated area in the continent, stretching across Ethiopia and Eritrea, sliced in half by the Great Rift Valley. Here lies the Simien Massif, a high plateau which includes dozens of peaks above the 4,000-meter mark, amongst them Ethiopia’s highest mountain and the fifth-highest in Africa, the 4,533m Ras Dashen. Hiking the Simien Mountains is a world-class experience which offers stunning views of awe-inspiring jagged peaks and sharp precipices, as well as the chance to spot some endemic wildlife such as the rare Ethiopian wolf and the elusive Walia Ibex.

The most popular trek is the one that takes you from Debark to the Chennek campsite, which usually takes four days and includes some of the most fantastic scenery in the Simien Mountains. Another four days of trekking will take you to Ras Dashen’s peak. Although less visually intriguing than the first part of the trek, climbing the highest peak in Ethiopia will definitely grant you bragging rights and will take you to lesser-visited parts of the park.

 

5. Mount Mulanje, Malawi

Mount Mulanje rises above the tea plantations like a geological surprise. Source | Pinterest

Known locally as the ‘Island in the Sky’, Mulanje rises almost sheer from the plains below, which have an average altitude of just 650m, to a height above 3,000m. Unlike some of the world’s peaks that are somewhat ‘hidden’ in surrounding ranges, there is a genuine sense of wonder and awe as you draw closer to Mulanje and see it looming over all that surrounds it. The slopes of Mount Mulanje, the highest peak in Central Africa, are lush and green, with deep forest ravines and tea plantations in its foothills. Once on the mountain, the vegetation changes with altitude and there’s plenty of wildlife from the klipspringer, a tiny antelope, to various other small mammals and, of course, a variety of birds. A three-day hike here can be combined with a more relaxing stay on Lake Malawi.

 

6. Toubkal, Morocco

A small Berber village below Mount Toubkal. Source | Pinterest

From the summit of Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak (4,167m), you’ll be able to see the city of Marrakesh, across the breadth of the High Atlas Mountains, and on to the Sahara Desert in the south. With such compelling vistas, it’s understandable that on most mornings of the year a twinkling line of hikers’ headlamps snakes its way to the top of Toubkal. The goal is to complete Morocco’s most popular climb before sunrise and then slowly descend back down the rocky slope to base camp and the villages beyond. Hikers on this two-day trip stay in huts along the way, with a trusty pack of mules heading up your crew as you pass through the Berber mountain villages.

If you’d like to climb any of these peaks, or plan trips that include summiting them, get in touch with us and we’ll put you on a path to the top of Africa. 

Book your next trip with us

South Africa Namibia Morocco Kenya Ethiopia Madagascar Rwanda Mozambique

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