The 10 Amazing Natural Wonders of Africa


6. Ituri Forest

Lombi tree supported by buttress roots, in the Ituri Forest, DR Congo.
© Alan Watson/Forest Light

This dense tropical rainforest is located in Central Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Ituri Forest covers some 24,300 square miles (62,900 square km). It takes its name from the Ituri River, which flows through the forest.

The tropical rainforest, with some trees towering some 170 feet (52 meters) into the sky and blocking much sunlight, has a dark humid interior filled with constant background noise from the buzzing of insects and the screeches and squawks of the forest’s diverse variety of animal life.

Some visitors are struck by the magnificence of the rainforest; others find it ominous and oppressive—the famed author Joseph Conrad called the forest the “heart of darkness.” The forest supports the greatest diversity of primates of any similar such area in the world. In addition to monkeys and chimpanzees, other animals found in the Ituri Forest include hyenas, antelopes, elephants, and hundreds of species of birds.

7. Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria© Catherine Falconer/

The largest lake in Africa and chief reservoir of the Nile River, this freshwater body has an area of 26,828 square miles (69,484 square km), which makes it one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Lake Victoria has more than 2,000 miles (3,220 km) of coastline.

The lake is primarily contained in the eastern African countries of Tanzania and Uganda, with a portion in Kenya. Victoria contains many island groups; the largest island in the lake is Ukerewe. It is also home to more than 200 species of fish. It has only one outlet: the Victoria Nile, which forms the upper section of the mighty Nile River.

8. The Sahara

Sand dunes in the Sahara, near Merzouga, Morocco.iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The Sahara, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “desert,” is the largest hot desert in the world. With a total approximate area of 3.32 million square miles (8.6 million square km), it encompasses almost all of northern Africa, spanning from the Atlantic Ocean on the western side of the continent to the Red Sea on the eastern side.

About one-fourth of the Sahara’s surface consists of sand sheets and dunes; other principal features include sand seas, gravel-covered plains, rocky plateaus, abrupt mountains, shallow basins, and large oases.

In general, vegetation in the Sahara is limited to areas around oases, wadis (riverbeds that are usually dry outside the rainy season), and the highlands. The desert has a perhaps-surprising amount of wildlife, including hundreds of types of birds (including resident as well as migratory birds), gerbils, jackals, mongooses, frogs, lizards, cobras, and snails that can remain dormant for several years until they are revived by rainfall.

9. Congo River

The hydroelectric dam on the Congo River at Inga Falls, near Matadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.Georg Gerster/Comstock Inc.

Coursing through the heart of Africa, the Congo is the continent’s second longest river, after the Nile. It is contained primarily in, or marks the border of, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The river is approximately 2,900 miles (4,700 km) long and, with its many tributaries, forms the largest network of navigable waterways in Africa; this is in spite of the difficulty in navigating the lower course of the river, which has 32 cataracts (waterfalls).

The Congo River is home to hundreds of species of fish, many of which are endemic to the river. There are few aquatic mammals in the river, but various types of reptiles, such as crocodiles, semiaquatic tortoises, and water snakes, reside there.

10. East African Rift System

© Brian A. Vikander/West Light

The East African Rift System, with a length of about 4,000 miles (6,400 km) and with an average width of 30–40 miles (48–64 km), is one of the most far-reaching rifts in the world.

It runs from the Middle Eastern country of Jordan in the north and heads south through eastern Africa before ending in the southeastern African county of Mozambique.

The East African Rift System has two branches: the Eastern Rift Valley, which runs the entire length of the rift, and the Western Rift Valley, which runs northward from the northern tip of Lake Malawi and forms an arc that includes several other eastern African lakes: Rukwa, Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert.

The rift system is responsible for much of eastern Africa’s most-breathtaking scenery, including the snowcapped peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ruwenzori mountain range, and numerous valleys (and the aforementioned lakes).

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