The 7 most famous baobabs in Africa

More than the lion, Serengeti or Kilimanjaro, we think that the baobab tree best represents Africa.
Written by Matthew Sterne
05 August 2021

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Baobabs hold a power over our imagination. Living for thousands of years, they’re steeped in mystique, surrounded by superstition and seen as a way to communicate with ancestors. In West Africa, prominent trees even receive special funerals. One in Namibia has a flush toilet in it. Here’s our up-to-date list of the continent’s best baobab trees.

The more you learn about baobabs, the more fascinating they become. Their fruit can stay ripe for 10 years and the trees can produce fruit for a thousand, yet the flowers bloom for just one day. They’re the world’s largest succulent and can hold up to 4 500 litres. The baobab’s array of uses (more than 300) is legendary. The leaves can be boiled and eaten like spinach, while the seeds can be roasted like coffee. The fruit has six times more vitamin C than oranges, and three times more potassium than bananas. It’s been hailed as the ultimate superfruit and its powder is now stocked in Walmart in the USA and Boots in the UK. 

They grow in 32 African countries. And these are the most famous individuals or groupings.

1. Kondanamwali, Zambia

In Kafue National Park in Zambia, one of the largest baobabs is known as Kondanamwali – The Tree That Eats Maidens. This enormous tree fell in love with the four beautiful girls who lived in its shade. When they reached puberty, they sought husbands and made the tree jealous. One night, during a raging thunderstorm, the tree opened its trunk and trapped the young women inside. Now, they say that on stormy nights, people can hear the crying of the imprisoned ladies.

 

2. Sagole Baobab, South Africa

It feels as if six normal-sized baobabs have been welded together to form one colossal one | Source: Matthew Sterne

The biggest baobab in the world can be found in the far north of South Africa, not far from Kruger’s Pafuri Gate. It’s 22 metres high and 46 metres in circumference, making it the second-thickest tree in the world, after a cypress in Mexico, and requires at least 20 people to fully embrace it. Its cavernous hollow is home to the world’s biggest colony of mottled spinetails. Normal colonies number around 20; here there are 300. These small birds, of the swift family, gather in the sky every evening and enter the hollow in the big tree while bats leave through the same opening. It’s called Sagole, but in Venda they call it Muri kungulwa – The Tree That Roars. 

 

3. Green’s baobab, Botswana

There are a number of extraordinary baobabs in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan area, but the ones best to visit are Chapman’s and Green’s baobabs in Ntwetwe Pan and Baines Baobabs in Nxai Pans National Park. Unfortunately, however, the broad Chapman’s baobab toppled over a few years ago. 

In the days of early European explorers, a small pan beside the Green’s baobab was filled with perennial water, giving the great old tree special significance as a beacon of hope that signalled a spot to replenish supplies after a long trek through the saltpans. The intrepid Green brothers were one of the many early traders, hunters and explorers to carve their names here, leaving “Green’s Expedition 1858–1859” scrawled into the tree’s bark and giving the tree its name. Perhaps the most intriguing mark on this baobab though is the date 1771, which was before Livingstone’s time and was possibly left by an early Portuguese explorer. 

 

4. Baines Baobabs, Botswana

Baines Baobabs Nxai Pan
Baines immortalised the setting in a watercolour signing it, ‘A group of Baobab trees on the north west spruit of the Mtwetwe pans, May 1862‘ | Source: Melanie van Zyl

Located in the south of Nxai Pans National Park are the seven baobabs known as Baines Baobabs or the Sleeping Sisters. This stunted cluster of Africa’s most iconic tree was immortalized by the paintings of Thomas Baines, a British landscape artist commissioned by the Royal Geographic Society. Baines camped beneath these trees in 1862 en route to Victoria Falls. The pans at Baines Baobabs are dry and bare for much of the year, as are the branches of the baobabs themselves, but during the wet season the pans are covered in sheets of water and green canopies emerge from tree’s branches.

Read more: What’s so special about Baines’ Baobabs anyway? 

 

5. Ombalantu baobab, Namibia

Today, the tree is a tourist attraction and features a display of its history and role in the Owambo community, as well as the history of the Namibian struggle for independence | Source: Heike Pander

Believed to be the oldest baobab in Namibia, the 800-year-old Ombalantu is situated in Outapi. It is 28 metres tall and 26.5 metres in circumference. The tree trunk has a door going into it and can accommodate about 35 people. It has served as a chapel, post office, house, and a hiding site during various stages of Namibian history

During tribal wars in the 19th century, the headman of the Ombalantu people decided that a hole should be cut into the top of the tree and hollowed out so that women and children could hide inside, whenever the village was attacked. It is said that about 45 people could fit into that space. It literally saved lives – no wonder the tree is also known as the Tree of Life.

But the tree also played many other roles in its lifetime. In 1940, a small entrance was carved into the tree trunk and the tree became Outapi’s first official post office, which was used by Owambo families to receive money and goods sent to them by their men, who worked in the cities. Thereafter is was used as a South African Defence Force army base during the Angolan Civil War for its close proximity to the border. 

 

6. Sunland Baobab, South Africa

One of the oldest and biggest baobabs in the world was best known for the pub within its trunk. Amazingly, the rustic bar had 13-foot high ceilings and could comfortably fit 15 people. It became a popular tourist attraction after 1993 when the owners of Sunland farm established a bar and wine cellar in its hollow trunk. The hollow centre of the tree was cleared of a substantial compost layer to uncover the floor at about a metre below the present ground level. A door was placed in a squared off natural vent in the trunk, and a railway sleeper pub was constructed inside, complete with draft beer, seats and a music system. A wine cellar was installed in the second hollow, which remained at a constant 22 °C temperature thanks to the tree’s natural vents. The owners even claimed to have once put 50 adults inside for a party. Unfortunately, the ancient tree collapsed in 2017.

 

7. The Avenue of Baobabs, Madagascar

The best time to visit is at sunset and sunrise when the colours of the trunks change and the long shadows of the trees are most pronounced | Source: Shutterstock

The Avenue of the Baobabs is a group of baobab trees lining a dirt road in Morondava in western Madagascar. There are around 25 imposing trees along a 260-metre stretch. The striking landscape draws travellers from around the world, making it one of the most visited locations in the region. You can find seven out of eight species of baobab trees in the world in Madagascar and six of them are endemic to Madagascar.

 

If you’d like to include a visit to any of these baobabs on your trip to Africa, simply let us know and we can arrange your itinerary with our expert travel planners. Let’s make it happen.

Book your next trip with us

South Africa Namibia Morocco Kenya Ethiopia Madagascar Rwanda Mozambique

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