The highest mountains in Africa may not compete with the Himalayas in height, but they’re at the summit when it comes to sheer beauty and biodiversity.
Panoramic vistas from volcanic peaks reward climbers who scramble up slopes packed with unique flora and fauna. At the highest altitudes, you may even glimpse a glacier or see snowfall – a relative rarity on the continent.
Ranking Africa’s highest mountains can be tricky, however. Records aren’t always reliable, and it can be hard to accurately measure a mountain’s height. Definitions of what makes a mountain, versus a subsidiary peak, also differ.
Given these challenges, few lists are identical, though there’s no doubt which is number one.
Whether you want to scale Africa’s highest peak, traverse alpine trails off the beaten track, or combine a climb with some wildlife watching, this list of the top 10 highest mountains in Africa will prepare you for the trip of a lifetime.
#1 – Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (5895 m)
There’s no surprise that Mount Kilimanjaro tops the list of Africa’s highest mountains, since the postcard-worthy peak is one of the continent’s most famous sights.
Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano, made up of three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira.
Kibo, Kilimanjaro’s highest peak, towers over Tanzania at 5895 metres above sea level. This makes it the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
The stunning snow-capped mountain is also visible just across the border in Kenya. In fact, those famous pictures of elephants and giraffes in front of the mountain are taken in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is demanding but requires no specialist climbing equipment, making it a hugely popular ascent.
#2 – Mount Kenya, Kenya (5199 m)
Coming in at number two is another volcanic mountain: Mount Kenya.
There are no prizes for guessing where Mount Kenya is located. You may not know that the country is named after the mountain, rather than vice versa. Mount Kenya has an integral role in the local ecosystem, providing water to millions of people via snowmelt and rainfall.
The highest point, Batian peak, stands 5199 m above sea level. Though it’s comfortably behind Kilimanjaro on the list of highest mountains in Africa, it’s a more challenging climb.
Those wishing to climb Mount Kenya have a few options, depending on experience level and budget. Many climbers opt for the slightly lower Point Lenana, at 4985 m. Batian peak presents a tougher proposition, requiring ice-climbing skills and equipment.
At higher altitudes, alpine species like the rock hyrax thrive, along with its main predator, the Verreaux’s eagle.
#3 – Mount Stanley, Uganda & Democratic Republic of Congo (5109 m)
The Rwenzori range includes several of the highest mountains in Africa. The highest of these is Mount Stanley, on the border of Uganda and the DRC, standing 5109 m above sea level.
Those who intend to scale the summit of Margherita Peak will need to trek for at least a week. Glaciers cover the upper parts of Mount Stanley, and you’ll need ropes and crampons for the ascent.
Mount Stanley lies within the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mountains are home to 70 mammal and 177 bird species, though many are hidden in dense forests and rarely seen.
Perhaps more impressive is the local flora. Unique species grow in various distinct zones, from jungle to grassland, bogs, heather, and endemic alpine flowers. Misty vistas and moss-covered trees make for an atmospheric trek.
#4 – Mount Speke, Uganda (4890 m)
You don’t have to travel very far to find the fourth-highest mountain in Africa. Mount Speke, the second-highest mountain in the Rwenzori range, is just 3.55 km from Mount Stanley.
Mount Speke boasts multiple jagged peaks, with Vittorio Emanuele being the highest at 4890 m. If you want to reach the summit, you’ll have to go one better than its namesake John Speke, a European explorer who never climbed the mountain.
Climbing Mount Speke is easier than it used to be, as most of the glaciers that used to cover the summit have sadly disappeared.
That said, the surrounding areas have very high rainfall, so trekkers will have to negotiate many rivers, streams, and thick vegetation.
#5 – Mount Baker, Uganda (4844 m)
Rounding out the top 5 highest mountains in Africa is Mount Baker, not to be confused with its namesake in Washington, USA.
Mount Baker forms a triangle with its two slightly taller neighbours in the Rwenzori range. Much like these other mountains, there are multiped jagged peaks; Edward Peak is the highest at 4844 m.
The routes up Mount Baker are some of the most popular and picturesque in the Rwenzoris, passing beautiful alpine streams and waterfalls.
#6 – Mount Emin, Democratic Republic of Congo (4798 m)
Part of the Rwenzori range, but just across the border in the DRC, Mount Emin is Africa’s sixth-highest mountain.
It was named after Mehmet Emin Pasha, a German physician, explorer, and governor who travelled much of the region.
Of its twin peaks, Umberto and Kraepelin, Umberto is slightly taller at 4798 metres. The glaciers that once covered the mountain are gone, though climbers will find the narrow ridges, jagged rock, and crevasses a stern test.
The word “Rwenzori” means “rainmaker”, a fitting name given the area’s high rainfall. Because of this, Mount Emin is best hiked during the dry season of January-August.
Flora and fauna are similar to the other mountains in the range. Moorland, bamboo, and montane forest blanket the lower slopes, giving way to tree heathers, mosses, and giant lobelia flowers.
#7 – Mount Gessi, Uganda (4715 m)
Mount Gessi lies in the northern portion of Rwenzori Mountains National Park, on the border of Uganda and the DRC. It’s named after Romolo Gessi, an Italian explorer who mapped the course of the White Nile.
Climbers can tackle Mount Gessi from either Uganda or the DRC, and with local guides and several trails to choose from, it’s a relatively straightforward trek.
Birders may well see (or hear!) many of the hundreds of bird species living here.
#8 – Mount Meru, Tanzania (4566 m)
Tanzania’s second-highest mountain is nowhere near as popular as its taller neighbour, yet Mount Meru offers a worthwhile trek for climbers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Mount Meru lies 70 km west of Kilimanjaro and – like Africa’s highest mountain – it’s a stratovolcano. Opinions vary on whether it’s active or dormant; its last minor eruption was in 1910.
Meru’s highest point is Socialist Peak, at 4566 m. Climbers sometimes use it as a “warm-up” for its big brother, helping them acclimatise to higher altitudes. For those who enjoy peace, quiet, and wildlife, it’s rewarding even as a stand-alone hike.
There’s only one official route to the summit: the Momella route, which usually takes four days.
Meru is in the middle of Arusha National Park, and the lack of crowds means you’re much more likely to spot some of the area’s diverse wildlife.
Anyone scaling Mount Meru will almost certainly see monkeys, buffalo, and a vast array of birdlife. Lucky climbers might spot elephants and giraffes.
#9 – Ras Dashen, Ethiopia (4550 m)
Ras Dashen, or Ras Dejen, is the highest of the Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia, standing 4550 m high.
Physically fit adults shouldn’t have a problem climbing Ethiopia’s highest mountain, as it requires no technical skills. Those who summit Ras Dashen will get panoramic views and plentiful wildlife along the way.
Simien Mountains National Park is home to several endangered species, including the Walia ibex and the Ethiopian wolf.
More common sights include gelada monkeys grazing on grass by the trail, and majestic birds of prey – like the bearded vulture – soaring overhead.
#10 – Mount Karisimbi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (4507 m)
Last but not least in this list of the top 10 highest mountains in Africa is Mount Karisimbi, the tallest of the volcanic Virunga Mountains.
Mount Karisimbi is on the border of Rwanda and the DRC, in the aptly named Volcanoes National Park. The route up the mountain is a two-or three-day trek through the jungle.
While expensive, gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this spectacular species on atmospheric misty mountain slopes.
Climb the Highest Mountains in Africa
Whether you’re a mountaineer or nature enthusiast, visiting Africa’s highest mountains gives a memorable taste of these tectonic wonders.
If you’re looking to climb any of the top 10 highest mountains in Africa, it requires planning and preparation. Knowing which time of year is best, what fees and permits you require, and whether you need a guide is essential.
What flora and fauna you’ll see depends on your destination. Those wanting more can combine their climbs with wildlife watching in nearby national parks.
Plan your dream, tailor-made safari here to experience all Africa has to offer.