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The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa but this incredible continent has even smaller island nations.

So where might you find the smallest country in Africa? What can you do there? And how small is this small country?

Africa is surprisingly big. It’s the world’s second largest continent in fact, made up of 54 different nations. 48 of these countries are on mainland Africa. The remaining six are island nations that are politically and geographically counted as part of the continent of Africa.

The largest country in mainland Africa by area is Algeria in North Africa, which has an area of 2,381,741 km². This makes it roughly a quarter of the size of the United States. But what about the smallest country in mainland Africa?

What is the Smallest Country in Mainland Africa?

Boats on the shores of Barra, in The Gambia

With a population of around 2 million people, but an area of only 10,689 km², The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa. Should you want to, you could fit The Gambia into Algeria an incredible 222 times!

Found in West Africa, The Gambia is surrounded by Senegal on three sides, with the Atlantic Ocean forming its western border. It takes its name from the River Gambia that flows right through the heart of this tiny country, which is just 50 km across at its widest point.

Legend has it that its border was decided by firing a cannon from a British warship. Wherever the cannonballs fell, that was where the border was placed.

Though first colonised by the Portuguese, The Gambia became a part of the British Empire in 1765, when English became the official language. The country gained its independence exactly 200 years later.

What can you do in the smallest country in Africa?

Today, The Gambia is known for its warm sunny climate and wonderful Atlantic beach resorts. Think gently lapping waves, hotel swimming pools, and pristine sands shaded by coconut palms.

Its Atlantic Coast is also linked to the transatlantic slave trade, which saw the people of Africa shipped to the New World against their will. Kunta Kinteh Island (once James Island) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has several remains from this terrible period.

Another attraction are the country’s national parks, which stretch down much of the country’s length. They offer visitors the chance to see various species of monkey, crocodile, porcupine, and 270 types of bird.

What is the Smallest Country in Africa?

We’ve covered the smallest country in mainland Africa, but is The Gambia the smallest country in Africa as a whole?

The answer is no! When taking all Africa’s 54 countries into account, the smallest country in Africa is actually the island nation of the Seychelles. In fact, the five smallest nations in Africa are all islands.

Discover the Seychelles, the Smallest Country in Africa

The Aldabra giant tortoise, pictured here in the Seychelles, is one of the largest land tortoises in the world

Sitting in warm Indian Ocean waters on the east coast of Africa, a little north of Madagascar, the Seychelles measure just 459 km². That makes it almost 24 times smaller than The Gambia.

The Seychelles is also the least populated of Africa’s countries, with a population of just 100,000, compared to The Gambia’s 2 million. However, the Seychelles is one of the richest ten countries in Africa too.

While known as an island nation, the Seychelles is actually a single nation made up of 115 different islands. It is 1500 km from mainland Africa, a beautiful little destination thanks to clear turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and excellent snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities.

Over 1000 different species of sea life have been noted around the islands, including a number of shark species and sea turtles, that nest each year on the beaches. Further inland, the Seychelles are home to giant tortoises, which have been saved from extinction.

Another former British colony, its capital is named Victoria after the nineteenth-century British queen. It can be found on Mahé Island, the largest in the country. First colonised by the French (and before that used as a base by pirates), French is one of the country’s official languages, in addition to English and Seychellois Creole.

What is the Second Smallest Country in Africa?

São Tomé palace, with "Our Lady of Grace Cathedral" emerging from behind

The second smallest country in Africa is the nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, a small group of islands on the other side of the continent.

Lying off the coast of central Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, beneath West Africa’s bulge, the country is close to both the equator and the Greenwich (or Prime) meridian.

Its name, which translates as Saint Thomas and Prince, comes from the Portuguese sailors who first discovered the two main islands. Príncipe was named in honour of the son of King John II, Prince Alfonso.

Unlike other island nations, these offshore volcanoes were uninhabited when the first Portuguese ships arrived on their shores. They quickly became an important base for the shipment of slaves from Africa to the Americas during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

At 1001 km² in area, the country is roughly two times larger than the Seychelles. Considered one of Africa’s most stable and democratic states, São Tomé and Príncipe is a popular destination for those looking to explore the relics of the Portuguese colonisation, together with its staggering natural beauty.

Its geographic location makes the islands an attractive stop-off point for exotic birds, while offering plenty of opportunity for those looking for a little more adventure, in the form of the 2024 m-high Pico de São Tomé mountain.

The Other Smallest Countries in Africa

Serra Malagueta mountain range on the island of Santiago, Cape Verde

Check out the other smallest countries in Africa – they are dream island destinations direct from any travel bucket list.

There is Mauritius at 2040 km², a famous cluster of islets for a private island escape, if you can afford it.

The Comoros at 2235 km² offer something more distinctive in feel. Here you can go back to basics, but getting to the Comoros is a real challenge.

Then there is Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) at 4033 km², a place to connect with your wild side and sail into an Atlantic sunset.

There you have it, the smallest country in Africa uncovered!