Africa Hiking - 13 Lesser-known hiking trails to avoid crowds
I think it is time to admit the truth, I am obsessed with hiking and exploring our breathtaking Planet as much as possible.
If you are just like me – an outdoor adventure lover, then you understand and I am sure you are always dreaming about where your next trek is going to take you.
Africa is one of the most amazing destinations for outdoor adventures, and some of the most impressive hikes in the world.
I personally love to find out about lesser-known hiking trails, remote places and avoid the crowds while I connect with nature. For this reason, I have asked some amazing travel experts to help to put this list with the top 13 off-the-beaten-treks in Africa that you will love to add to your bucket list.
Most of us must have a long bucket list of hikes to explore and fulfill our dreams, and I am here to share amazing destinations and inspire you to choose your next epic trek adventure.
Plan, Prepare and be Safe!
Before we jump to this amazing list of hiking, let’s talk about some basic preparation for your next hiking.
If you are planning to go on a long hike, it is recommended to have a fitness preparation plan before your hike. Check my YouTube Channel for workout ideas, as short as 20 minutes a day, and you can do it from pretty much anywhere.
Also, always be a responsible traveler, respect the environment and remember to follow the travel advice and safety guidelines from the local authorities from the places you are going to hike
One last thing, but EXTREMELY important, before you get stared. Make sure to get your travel insurance before you go hiking in any off-the-beaten-trek in Africa. I always use and recommend World Nomads because they have the best deals on travel insurance and it is very easy from requesting a quote to making a claim.
Best hidden treks in for your bucket list
1- Drakensberg Royal Natal National - South Africa
Any hiking enthusiasts visiting Africa should not miss an opportunity to explore Drakensberg Royal Natal National Park. As the home of the highest mountain ranges in South Africa and the second highest waterfall in the world, Tugela Falls, nature lovers will find plenty to explore at this UNESCO world heritage site.
The highlight of our trip was without a doubt the Tugela Falls and Amphitheatre hike. Both incredible features can be combined via the 13 kilometre Sential Trail. However, there are many more day-hikes and multi-day treks for hikers with an extended stay in the park.
The Sentinel trail starts as a dirt track and then zig zags up the mountain slope. Along the way you’ll find monkeys frolicking in the grass before happening upon the chain ladders which take you to the top of Sentinel Peak. Here you’ll be able to see Tugela Falls cascading into the valley below.
Just a bit further up, is the Amphitheatre lookout. It is one of the most impressive in the park and known for its incredible 360 degree views of the canyon below and the vast Drakensberg mountain ranges. For hikers, Drakensberg Royal Natal National Park offers some of the most memorable hiking on the continent. We recommend you don’t miss it if you
2- Sabyinyo Volcano - Uganda
One of my favourite hiking experiences in Uganda was a Mount Sabyinyo hike.
Mount Sabyinyo is an extinct volcano located on the border of three countries – Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in East Africa. What is special about it is that when you get to the top, you can stand on the borders of these three countries at the same time. The peak is only accessible for tourists from the Ugandan side.
The volcano is a part of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which is famous for the rare mountain gorillas. Many people travel to Uganda to see these apes. Hiking in the same area where they live creates a special atmosphere.
Mt. Sabyinyo has three peaks, and thanks to that it looks like a tooth. This is what its name translates to. The first peak is at 3421 meters, and the summit is at 3,669 meters.
The hike is quite strenuous, and it takes around 7-10 hours for the return trip. During that time you also need to deal with altitude, which might make the trek harder. Another challenge is the ladders that you need to climb to get to the top. Some of them are very unstable. But this adds to the fun and makes the hike very unique and special.
To climb Mount Sabyinyo, you need to get a special permit, which costs $80. After that, you join the group with the guide and an armed ranger (in case of wild animals or illegal immigrants that go through the borders), and set off for the adventure.
The hike is truly spectacular. The stretching views onto the surrounding mountains and volcanoes, together with unusual plants and animals make it an experience worth trying when you are in Uganda.
3- Otter Trail - South Africa
Considered one of the most beautiful routes on the African Continent, Garden Route, is where you can also find the Otter Trail Hike.
What makes this one of the best hiking in Africa, the scenery on this trek. It is truly breathtaking; evergreen indigenous forest, unspoiled sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, waterfalls, deep canyons, and diverse wildlife. Out of many multi-day treks we’ve done, the Otter Trail is definitely one of our favorites.
The total distance of the trek is 45km (28 miles), and will take hikers 5 days to complete it. The route is well-marked with yellow paw prints painted on rocks and trees. For the entire 5 days, the trail follows the coast of the Indian Ocean offering stunning views of the rugged coastline.
Otter Trail is a great hike for nature lovers every day on the trail hikers can see different animals such as sea otters, monkeys, whales, dolphins, genets, crabs, birds, etc. Along the route, there are many rivers, small bays, and hidden beaches that are great for swimming and chilling in the sun.
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4- Cape Verde
Are you looking for the best hiking destinations in Africa? Well, then, Cape Verde is a must! While the Cape Verdean islands are often known for the large all-inclusive resorts such as in Boa Vista or Sal, the country boasts countless hiking trails that will catch your breath.
No matter what your hiking level is, you’ll definitely find a trail that will suit you. As there are 10 islands, you may wonder which island is the best for hiking. In my opinion, Santo Antao, Brava, Fogo and to some extend Santiago island are the best places to go hiking.
The most spectacular trail is without any doubt the Mount Fogo trail on Fogo island. Other gorgeous trails are hiking Cova Crater and trekking to Fontainhas village in Santo Antao. This island, also known as the green lung of Cape Verde has so many hiking trails, that you can easily spend here 20 days…and not do them all!
Thus, for your next hiking holidays, look no further and head to Cape Verde!
5- Tsingy de Bemaraha - Madagascar
In western Madagascar, you find one of the world’s most unique landscapes in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, with 5.6 (3.5 miles) and around 5 hours to complete this hiking.
Tsingy, meaning “walking on tiptoe” in Malagasy, is a huge area of razor sharp rock formations towering up to 100 meters. It’s hard to imagine people walking barefoot across the Tsingy in the old days. There are two parts of the park so you’ll need two days to do both the hiking routes through the Small Tsingy and the Big Tsingy.
I recommend you do the small Tsingy the first day. You will be amazed by its beauty and uniqueness, starting with a ride in a wooden, traditional Malagasy canoe through the Manambolo River to the trailhead, this is a half-day hike.
Though the second day, getting on your harness for the Ferrata in the Big Tsingy will blow your mind! It’s such an incredible experience, walking beneath the Tsingy through tunnels in the rocks, seeing the odd lemur hanging about, climbing on the rock side to get to the far top views, and staggering across dilapidated hanging bridges.
Getting to the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is a day’s mission on dusty roads with 4×4 from Morondava, passing the Baobab Alley. Unless you have your own vehicle, you need to get a driver, thus not many people go there.
6- Amatola Trail - Amathole Mountain Range, South Africa
Amatola Trail is probably one of the most amazing treks in the Africa continent.
The whole area that the trek goes through looks like a fairyland. The trail goes over the beautiful Amathole Mountain range offering stunning views of the area. The indigenous forest covering the big part of the mountain range looks like the perfect decoration for a Lord of the Rings kind of movie.
The massive yellow-wood, white stink-wood, and chestnut trees look impressive. The scenery on the Amatola Trail is fantastic; rocky mountains, lush green forest, crystal-clear rivers, stunning waterfalls, massive boulders, natural pools, and breathtaking lookout points. There are many beautiful places to see along the route.
7- Mount Toubkal - Atlas Mountain, Morocco
Located at the highest point in Morocco, is the Mount Toubkal , situated in the High Atlas Mountains at an impressive altitude of 4,167 m (13,667 ft). Hiking the Mount Toubkal is a pretty challenging and tough trek but it was worth it for the spectacular views.
At the beginning of this hike, you can admire the incredible views of rural Morocco. As you move up you walk along waterfalls, gentle brooks, lush green river banks, and walnut groves. The best part is meeting up cute mules on the way.
The trails become very rocky after 3,207 m (10,522 ft). There are parts with gigantic rocks you need to climb over.
If you want to conquer Mount Toubkal, you need to travel to Imlil first and stay there one day to organize your hike for the next day. Imlil is a lovely small village at the foot of Mount Toubkal.
No one is allowed to go on this adventure without a guide due to a horrible homicide that happened in 2018. This unfortunate situation happened once and it doesn’t mean it can happen again. I’ve recently been there and I can tell you that it’s an absolutely safe place
If you are a hardcore hiker, you can make it in one day from Imlil to the top and back. Most people complete the hike in 2 days and stay in the base camp at 3,207 m (10,522 ft). If you really want to take it easy and enjoy nature, you better off dedicating 3 days for the hike.
My second advice would be to hire mules to carry the stuff you don’t need while hiking.
8- Manchewe Falls - Livingstonia, Malwai
You’ve probably heard about Lake Malawi, but have you heard about Manchewe Falls?
This spectacular waterfall can be found high up on the Rift Valley Escarpment above the lake. The water plunges 125 meters down the sheer escarpment, surrounded by lush greenery. That’s right, 125 meters! This makes Manchewe Falls even taller than the most famous waterfalls in the world, including Victoria Falls and Iguazu Falls.
You can reach the falls on a short day 4 km (2.5 miles) hike from Livingstonia, a small town with a couple of eco lodges on its outskirts that make a great base for exploring the area. I definitely recommended to take a local guide with you on this hike, as the many trails are not signposted, and some of them are just dead ends. At the Mushroom Farm, one of the nearby eco lodges, you can hire a guide for just a few dollars. He can show you the right path to go all the way down to the bottom of the falls to see it from a different viewpoint.
Along the way, he’ll also take you to some natural pools where you can swim, and to the cave hidden behind the falls, where local people are said to have hidden from slave traders.
Alternatively, there’s another eco camp called Lukwe that’s located just 300 meters from the falls. I haven’t stayed at Lukwe so can’t comment on it, but I’ve stayed at the Mushroom Farm and can tell you that they give back to the local community in a number of ways. Their restaurant also serves some of Malawi’s best food and is all vegetarian. Ask at the lodges about other hiking possibilities in the area, such as hikes to smallholder coffee farms or to the nearby Chombe Plateau.
9- Ngare Nadare - Kenya
Ngare Ndare Forest, a few hours drive from Nairobi and an hour northeast of Nanyuki, makes for a great weekend getaway from the capital. It is a vital wildlife corridor linking Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to Mount Kenya. The park is home to 7 stunning waterfalls and the longest canopy walk in East Africa, with its 450-meter length.
In the park you can do various activities, one of which is a 7 km (4.3 miles) hike through the forest, passing by 2 of the waterfalls.
After entering the park you will be assigned a ranger that will accompany you on the hike because the animals do roam free. Upon reaching the waterfalls you’ll be allowed to swim in the pools, so bring a change of clothes or swimming gear.
You can end the day with the canopy walk, giving you a birds-eye view, 10 meters from the ground.
This walk you can enjoy by yourself, the ranger will just accompany you to the first platform. High up, on the wobbly walkway, you’ll have a great view over and through the trees. All around you you will hear and see various types of loud and colorful birds. While you’re walking you pass a river and swamp below where, if you’re lucky, you can see elephants and other wild animals drinking.
This trek ends on the platform on the other side where the ranger will bring you safely back to your starting point.
10- Fish River - Namibia
Famous for stunning deserts and massive dunes, Namibia is also home to the second larges canyon in the world and number one in Africa, Fish River Canyon., with 86 km (53 miles) taking about 4-5 days to hike.
The hiking along the canyon is the best way to discover its beauty. The trek starts at Hobas campsite and finishes at Ai Ais Hot Springs.The terrain is quite challenging; sand, small rocks and boulders.
Due to the extreme heat the hike can be done only in winter between May and September. Even in winter it’s extremely hot in the canyon and there is no shade to hide.
There are no designated campsites, hikers can camp anywhere next to the river. Most people don’t carry a tent, only a sleeping mat and a light sleeping bag. It’s warm enough at night to sleep outside.
11- Ngong Hills - Kenya
The Ngong Hills are 25 miles out of the chaotic capital of Kenya, Nairobi.
Standing atop the hills and to the north you gaze at the impressive sight of the Nairobi skyline. Skyscrapers in the distance and the tin roof tops of small villages spread out from its towering center. Turn around and you are staring at wild, unencumbered Africa.
East of the Ngong Hills lies the Great Rift Valley, that rent in the face of the earth that is so vast that it can be seen from space. Within the Rift are rumbling volcanoes, great lakes, volcanic geysers.
Far to the south is Maasai land, a shimmering heat haze of barren desert reaching to Tanzania. And to the west the relatively civilized views over Nairobi National Park and its safari of wild animals.
The whole of the Ngong Hills area is a protected reserve. Until the 1990’s lions were frequently sighted on the hills Today leopard, hyena, buffalo and bush pig still reside here, as well as their less fearsome fellows, Dik Dik, duiker, zebra, wild pig and myriad monkeys.
To hike the Ngong Hills is to experience the magic of Africa. Start at Ngong town and walk the 7 unassuming hills to the Corner Baridi side. The walk from end to end takes 4 – 5 hours and public transport is available back to Nairobi at each end. You will need to pay a park fee and take lots of water, snacks and sunscreen with you.
12- Rwenzori Mountains - Uganda
The Rwenzori Mountains are a mountain range with several glaciers right on the equator in the middle of Africa. Originally called The Mountains of the Moon by Ptolemy 2,500 years ago, they were once considered to be the source of the Nile. Today, they form the Rwenzori Mountain National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Rwenzori trek is hard, but the rewards are many. Mystical valleys shrouded in mist; groves of trees covered in hanging Spanish moss; huge trees topped with cabbage-like branches, endemic to the mountains; and glaciers on the equator (though they are disappearing more and more each year). This is one of the truly unique places on earth.
The Rwenzori Mountains are safest visited in Uganda. The main access town is Ibanda near Kasese. The environment is fragile and it is mandatory to hire a guide and porters for the trek.
There are a couple of different trails, the Central Circuit Route (7-9 days) and the less-visited Kilembe Route (6-9 days). Primitive mountain huts are spaced along the routes, and porters will not only carry your bedding, but also carry and cook your food.
The guide is essential, as the trail, which often goes through muddy bogs, is not always easy to find and follow. Having a guide and porters also means that locals are employed and invested in preserving this amazing environment. There are several local companies that can arrange everything for you.
13- Outeniqua Trail
Outeniqua Trail is one of the lesser-known hiking trails in South Africa, a real hidden gem of the Garden Route.
It’s a great hike to do to get away from the bustling city life. A 7-day trek takes hikers through the indigenous Knysna forest, one of the most beautiful forests in the country. 100 years ago the forest used to be home for Knysna elephants. Unfortunately, in 2019 there was only one adult female elephant spotted in the forest.
Walking for days through the fantastic Knysna Forest is an incredible experience. The vegetation here is so dense that some parts of the trail look like a tunnel. Huge tree trunks covered in moss, long lianas hanging from tree branches, massive ferns, rivers with big boulders, all these give you a feeling of hiking through a Jurassic forest. Outeniqua Trail is a 120km route. It starts at Beervlei Hut and finishes at Harkerville Hut. It’s possible to shorten the trek and walk only a part of it, 2 or 3 days. Some parts of the route are
accessible by car. There are 8 overnight huts along the trail. The huts have good facilities and are located in the most stunning spots of the park. There is only one shop/cafe on day 6 where hikers can get food. It’s essential to carry food supplies, a portable gas stove, pots, and cutlery.