You are currently viewing Africa’s 5 different regions: introduction to this extremely exotic continent

Africa is by far the continent least explored by travelers. Yet it has so much variety to offer too, being the one with the biggest number of countries, 54!!!! The African continent is also the 2nd-largest (3 times larger than Canada) and the 2nd-most populous in the world (30 times more than Canada). Warning, culture shock guaranteed!

Because many people don’t know the 5 different regions of Africa, I wanted to give you a brief overview of this captivating continent. Especially since Flytrippers’ other co-founder, Kevin, is currently spending a few months in one of these African regions.

I’ll also be sharing detailed posts about my experiences in 4 of the 5 different regions of Africa over the next few weeks. We’ll have more content about our own trips with our newly doubled team!

Here are the 5 different regions of Africa (we’ve already covered the 6 different regions of Asia, if you missed it).

 

Basics of the regions of a continent

Generally speaking, the regions within a continent are more than just geographical: they’re also groupings of countries that share a similar culture, history, and territory. At least up to a point. 

The regions of one continent can often be very different from one another.

Ideally, then, you should try to experience each region of each continent at least, in the absence of the desire to visit every country in the world (not everyone is as extreme as we are).

 

Overview of the 5 different regions of Africa

There is no universal definition of the different regions of Africa. It’s a continent where the precise boundaries of the regions are less clearly defined. There is still much debate and disagreement on this subject (as there is in Europe, the next part of this series of posts). 

The regional definitions used by the African Union are our preference for grouping countries together, but this is obviously a little subjective. The UN, for example, has slightly different definitions.

Here are the 5 different regions of Africa, clockwise (and in order of total area too coincidentally, even if it’s very similar):

  • North Africa (6 countries)
  • East Africa (14 countries)
  • Southern Africa (10 countries)
  • Central Africa (9 countries)
  • West Africa (15 countries)
5 different regions of Africa (image credit: Wikipedia Commons)

 

Here’s an overview of the 54 countries in each of these 5 different regions of Africa, with a few territories thrown in for good measure.

 

North Africa (6 countries)

Population of North Africa: 

  • 220 million (#3 out of 5)
    • 5X more than Canada

Total area of North Africa:

  • 6.9 million km2 (#1 out of 5)
    • 69% of Canada’s size
Giza, Egypt (photo credit: Spencer Davis)

 

Definition of North Africa

This is the region that stands out most from the others, without a doubt. The term “Sub-Saharan Africa” is often used to specifically exclude North Africa, because it’s so different. North Africa is often grouped with the Middle East, for obvious common culture reasons.

These 6 countries (and 1 disputed territory) have a very different culture and history from the rest of the continent — and it’s the most developed region too.

Location of North Africa (image credit: Google Maps)

 

6 countries in North Africa:

  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Algeria
  • Tunisia
  • Libya
  • Mauritania

1 disputed territory in North Africa:

  • Western Sahara (Sahrawi Republic)

1 territory in North Africa:

  • Ceuta and Melilla

The only country that is sometimes excluded is Mauritania, which can be classified in West Africa. And the only one that is sometimes included is Sudan, which is classified in East Africa by the African Union. Some islands in Macaronesia (Canary Islands and Madeira) and in the Mediterranean are geographically in Africa but politically in Europe.

 

Traveling in North Africa

The Human Development Index (HDI) is one of the least imperfect measures of a country’s development. The HDI top 4 in Africa includes 4 of the 6 North African countries (among the 47 continental countries in Africa; I’m excluding island countries).

Another country in North Africa is in 8th position — and the last of the region is Mauritania, which is often not included with the North. North Africa also has the best infrastructure on the continent. 

So these are very interesting places to visit. This part of the world can easily appeal to less experienced travelers who want a first taste of the African continent. The region has the famous Sahara Desert and so much fascinating history and culture to discover too!

Carthage, Tunisia (photo credit: Noelle Guirola)

 

Don’t miss our more detailed post about North Africa soon.

 

East Africa (14 countries)

Population of East Africa: 

  • 427 million (#2 out of 5)
    • 10X more than Canada

Total area of East Africa:

  • 6.7 million km2 (#2 out of 5)
    • 67% of Canada’s size
Nungwi, Tanzania (photo credit: Dmitry Limonov)

 

Definition of East Africa

We’re starting the “real” Africa, as many people say. East Africa is home to many of Africa’s most popular travel destinations.

These 14 countries form a few somewhat distinct sub-regions, such as the islands in the Indian Ocean, which are classified with East Africa for cultural reasons, the Great Lakes of Africa (which border 2 other regions of Africa), and the Horn of Africa.

Location of East Africa (image credit: Google Maps)

 

14 countries in East Africa

  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Rwanda
  • Eritrea
  • Somalia
  • Djibouti
  • Sudan
  • South Sudan
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritius
  • Seychelles
  • Comoros

1 disputed territory in East Africa:

  • Somaliland

2 territories in East Africa:

  • Réunion
  • Mayotte

Rwanda is sometimes classified in Central Africa. The offshore islands are sometimes classified with southern Africa, as is Tanzania. In terms of additions, Mozambique, Burundi, and Malawi are also sometimes included in the East. On very rare occasions, Zambia and Zimbabwe are also classified in this section of the continent.

 

Traveling in East Africa

The scientific consensus is that this region is the cradle of all humanity! East Africa is the region closest to Asia by land and sea, and is, therefore, the most influenced by this neighboring continent too.

The islands obviously attract a lot of travelers, thanks to their exoticism and their much higher standard of living. The 2 most developed countries in Africa are those among the islands off the coast of East Africa. And the islands that are French territories are also highly developed, as territories that are politically European.

Numerous magnificent natural attractions dominate the landscape in many parts of East Africa. From wild animals and impressive mountains to large lakes, coastlines, and beaches, there’s so much more to discover!

Black River, Mauritius (photo credit: Xavier Coiffic)

 

Don’t miss our more detailed post on East Africa soon.

 

Southern Africa (10 countries)

Population of Southern Africa: 

  • 197 million (#4 out of 5)
    • 5X more than Canada

Total area of Southern Africa:

  • 5.9 million km2 (#3 out of 5)
    • 59% of Canada’s size
Cape Town, South Africa (photo credit: kylefromthenorth)

 

Definition of Southern Africa

The region is called Southern Africa, instead of South Africa. This is obviously to differentiate it from the country called South Africa, which is one of the best-known countries on the continent.

But there is a total of 10 countries in Southern Africa. It’s also the region I’ve explored the most on the continent. I loved my experience in the 7 countries I visited, and it really is a great part of Africa for travelers.

Location of Southern Africa (image credit: Google Maps)

 

10 countries in Southern Africa:

  • South Africa
  • Namibia
  • Botswana
  • Lesotho
  • Eswatini
  • Mozambique
  • Zimbabwe
  • Zambia
  • Malawi
  • Angola

1 territory in Southern Africa:

  • Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Angola is often classified in Central Africa. The sparsely populated British territory of St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha is sometimes classified as West Africa. 

 

Traveling in Southern Africa

South Africa, the country, is the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa (so excluding North Africa and the islands). It is one of the most popular destinations in the whole of Africa.

It’s particularly famous for its safaris, but there’s so much more to this region. Waterfalls, mountains, deserts, beaches… Nature lovers are in for a treat.

The Southern African region also has a very unique and interesting history, with countries well worth discovering. There are several beautiful hotels where you can get 22 nights free that are located in Southern Africa. Another good reason to go!

Sandwich Harbour, Namibia (photo credit: Sergi Ferrete)

 

Don’t miss our more detailed post on Southern Africa soon.

 

Central Africa (9 countries)

Population of Central Africa: 

  • 179 million (#5 out of 5)
    • 4X more than Canada

Total of Central Africa:

  • 5.3 million km2 (#4 out of 5)
    • 53% of Canada’s size
Bansoa, Cameroon (photo credit: Edouard Tamba)

 

Definition of Central Africa

Sometimes called “Middle Africa”, Central Africa is the continent’s least-populated and least-known region… and therefore the least-visited, of course. The truth is, unfortunately, that most people just like to travel to the places they’ve heard of. 

It’s also the only region that doesn’t really have any “popular” countries, so there are plenty of unexplored (or less explored, let’s say) gems.

Location of Central Africa (image credit: Google Maps)

 

Countries in Central Africa:

  • São Tomé and Príncipe
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Cameroon
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Republic of Congo
  • Gabon
  • Chad
  • Central African Republic
  • Burundi

 

Traveling in Central Africa

This is the only region of Africa where we can truly say that all countries are definitely off the beaten track, by absolutely all definitions.

Of the continent’s top 5 least developed countries, 3 are in Central Africa. Many of these countries have very little infrastructure for travelers.

Some of these countries can still be visited fairly easily, but it’s certainly less touristy: this is the least-visited region of the least-visited continent, after all.

São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe (photo credit: Joao Ferreira)

 

Don’t miss our more detailed post on Central Africa soon.

 

West Africa (15 countries)

Population of West Africa: 

  • 435 million (#1 out of 5)
    • 11X more than Canada

Total of West Africa:

  • 5.1 million km2 (#5 out of 5)
    • 51% of Canada’s size
Ada, Ghana (photo credit: Yoel Winkler)

 

Definition of West Africa

Finally, last but not least, West Africa. It has the most countries, but many of them are very small. Of the 15 countries, 11 are coastal and 1 is island (only 3 are landlocked). 

It’s also the region of sub-Saharan Africa that’s geographically closest to Canada, and therefore the region where flight deals are most frequent. There are lots of different cultures to discover.

Location of West Africa (image credit: Google Maps)

 

Countries in West Africa:

  • Senegal
  • Gambia
  • Nigeria
  • Ghana
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Guinea
  • Benin
  • Togo
  • Liberia
  • Sierra Leone
  • Mali
  • Niger
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cabo Verde

This is really the best-defined region of Africa. It’s the only one of Africa’s 5 different regions that almost always includes these countries.

 

Traveling in West Africa

This is the region of Africa with the strongest demographic and economic growth. Unsurprisingly, this makes it one of the regions where tourism is on the rise. Many of the countries in this beautiful region are increasingly trendy destinations. 

Of course, that is all relative. It is still Sub-Saharan Africa. But tourism is certainly developing, and that makes many places a little easier to explore. On the other hand, many West African countries are still underdeveloped.

But that’s not a generalization that applies to the whole enormous region! One valid generalization is that people are very warm and welcoming throughout almost all of West Africa, where many ethnicities and cultures cohabit.

Boa Vista, Cabo Verde (photo credit: Victor Svistunov)

 

Don’t miss our more detailed post on West Africa soon.

 

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Summary

Africa is still a little-known continent for many travelers, who are reluctant to visit. Yet it’s home to a panoply of extraordinary countries, diverse cultures, and breathtaking landscapes. We cared about helping you better understand the division of this continent, which contains 5 distinct regions, each with its own specificities.

 

What would you like to know about the different regions in Africa? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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Explore awesome destinations: Travel inspiration

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Featured image: Tsavo East, Kenya (photo credit: Damian Patkowski)

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about traveling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself. He shares his experiences to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveler, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to travel rewards points... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 71/193 Countries, 47/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

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