When we heard about Africa, most of us often thought about vast stretches of hot and deserts on Earth. It is usually a misconception that the large territory of the continent is mainly desert.
Being the second-largest continent in the world, Africa is more than a desert. The continent has diverse ecosystems ranging from deserts to lush rain forests. There is a small percentage of rain forests in the Guinea Coast and even in the Zaire River Basin.
Extensive vegetation of tropical grassland is also found in Africa. It is called the savanna. Most of the parts of the West African region are comprised of savannas.
Yet, what percent of Africa is desert?
If you look at the northern region of the continent, you will observe that several deserts are there. The longest stretch of desert on Earth, and often the warmest, is in Africa. It is the Sahara desert measuring an estimate of 8.5 million square kilometers. It is about 28% of the continent’s surface area.
Other than that, other deserts in Africa are worth mentioning. These are the Kalahari Desert, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. There is also the Danakil in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti more. When you combine these deserts, an estimated 31% of Africa’s area is desert.
You can note that there are small parts of the desert in Senegal, Ethiopia, and even South Africa. If we include these in our calculations, around 33% of Africa is desert. Most of this percentage is accounted for by the Sahara desert.
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Was Africa always a desert?
Given the data I have mentioned, we learned that Africa has a considerable percentage of a desert in its territory. A whopping 33% is a large number.
Thus, was Africa always a desert? To be more specific, was North Africa always a desert?
Evidence suggests that North Africa was a colossal savanna 6,000 years ago. North Africa, Sahara Desert specifically was covered in grassland during that time. It received plenty of rainfall and a high level of green vegetation for the first living things. Yet, a change in the world’s weather patterns transformed the once grassland into a desert. It is how we came to know North Africa today.
What could be the cause of weather shifts that made the grassland in North Africa into a vast desert? The climate of the Arctic and high northern latitudes is the answer.
We now know an intense reversal of climate from a wet environment into a dry sandy territory. Just 6,000 years ago, during the African Humid Period, North Africa was a pleasant place to live. There was evidence of life-like elephant, rhino, rich vegetation in the area.
Yet, also during that time, there is a sudden shift of climate in the region. It resulted in the intense acidification of North Africa. Since then, the once tropical grassland has turned into a sizeable hot desert in Africa.
The climate shift can be associated with the orbit of the Earth that happened 6,000 years ago. The change in orbit also shifted the amount of rainfall the region receives in a year. Since then, there was not enough moisture to sustain the tropical grassland in the north.
Today, the desert of the northern region of Africa as a result of climatic conditions. It happened a thousand years ago. So, Africa was not always a desert. Its evolution and transition are worth studying. We will know how weather and climatic conditions can change the way of life dramatically. It happened in Africa.
Why are deserts found in Africa?
Well, there are two major desert zones in Africa. One is found in the north, the Sahara Desert. The other one is in the south and west of Africa, the Kalahari, and Namib deserts.
Among the continents in the world, Africa has the only one with desert zone patterns.
The reason is because of the location of the continent in connection to the equator. The deserts I have mentioned are located thirty degrees north and south of the equator.
There is this so-called Hadley Cells, an atmospheric pattern found in Africa. It controls the movement of heat and moisture in the continent. It determines the warmness and coolness of a particular region on Earth. Thus, identifies wet and dry regions.
If we make the equator our reference point, the 30-degree angle means that the region can be hot. As a result, the air will rise more upward, making an area very dry.
Africa’s deserts are the driest parts of the world, with only 12 inches of precipitation a year. The said low precipitation could cause a long-lasting drought in the area.
What is the largest desert in Africa?
The Sahara Desert is not only the infamous desert of Africa. It is also the largest. Out of 33% desert, 25% of the total desert area in the continent is Sahara.
Sahara is considered one of the harshest ecosystems in the world. It stretches almost 3.6 million square miles and a third of Africa. If we make a comparison, it is about the size of the United States.
Even though it is one of the driest and hottest parts on Earth, it is bordered by major oceans. You will see the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Red Sea on the east. When you reach its northern part, there is the Mediterranean, while the Sahel Savanna to the south. It spans countries in Africa, including Algeria, Chad, and Morocco, among others.
The Sahara has a long stretch of dunes that can reach almost 600 feet high. The said dunes cover almost 15% of the desert itself.
Yet, it is not about dunes alone. Other topographical features you can see are mountains, salt flats, basins, and plateaus.
So, what are the things you can see in Sahara when you travel?
Well, we have compiled things you need to know when you visit this incredible dessert.
You don’t need a whole week or a month to be able to experience Sahara. You can have a day trip to the Sahara Desert. The best option to visit the desert for a day is choosing Erfoud or Merzouga to explore Erg Chebbi. Or Zagor and Forum Zguid for Erg Cihgaga.
Yet, what is the difference between Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga? The two are the central bodies of dune travelers allowed to visit in the Sahara. They are the must-see destination in this part of North Africa.
If you want a more comfortable journey in the Sahara, you can choose the Erg Chebbi. It is more accessible to hotels and accommodations to choose from. It means, in about 30 minutes out of your hotel, you can now experience the Sahara and take a camel ride.
On the other side, Erg Chigaga is more adventurous and edgy. It is perfect for people who want to travel off the beaten path. It takes about two hours to be able to get there. Even though it is less accessible, you will be charmed by the Erg Chigaga.
Both countries are worth the experience with a lot of things to do. Aside from their landscapes and incredible sunset, here are the things to see and do:
Go for fossils hunting.
Sahara is blessed with lots of geological artifacts to see. It is rich in fossils which you can take home.
Appreciate the Gnawa music
Well, it is the native and traditional music of the Sahara. It is popular in entire Morocco, which you can listen to. There are places in the town of Khamlia to hear the sound.
Be more adventurous
Explore the dunes in the Sahara. It is an excellent and thrilling way to experience the beauty of the desert. You can ride on a camel or use a 4×4.
Have a taste of Sahara history
Sahara was one of the most critical trading routes in ancient times. The Sijilmassa next to Erg Chebbi has the most beautiful ruins that you can visit. The trading post links Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, and Ghana to each other.
Experience the Sahara in the night
The Sahara came alive during the night. You can make excellent and long-lasting memory when in Sahara with all the campfires and music. The experience is enriching.
Which African country is mostly desert?
Well, the long stretch of the Sahara covers several countries in Africa. It includes Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Libra, and Mali. Some parts of Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara is Sahara, as well.
What other parts of Africa is a desert?
As I mentioned earlier, Sahara is not the only desert in Africa. The continent is topographically diverse, and other regions have deserts, too. Here are the following:
It stretches to the countries of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. It is 930,000 square kilometers. The Kalahari Desert is semi-arid and found in the heart of Africa.
In this part of the continent, there are dunes, salt pans, and dried up lakes. Likewise, you can see the Okavango River that brings water during the rainy season. Wildlife is also present, like lions, hyenas, meerkats, and antelopes.
It is mainly located in South Africa. The Karoo is a semi-desert with low rainfall of 10 inches a year. In this part of South Africa, you can feel extreme heat and cold throughout the day.
It is subdivided into two regions, namely the Succulent Karoo Biome and Nama Karoo Biome. The latter covers the southern part of the country.
It is in the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. It is at the Afarb Triangle and stretches to an almost northeastern side of Ethiopia. It is also on the coast of southern Eritrea and northwestern Djibouti. Compared to other deserts in the continent, Danakil is one of the harshest. It has lava lakes, volcanoes, hot springs, and multi-colored salt lakes.
It is in Kenya in the east of Lake Turkana. It is the hottest and even the aridest area of the country. There is an old river bed and presently has rocks and dried clay formations.
It stretches to Angola, Namibia, and even South Africa. The Namib Desert is home to the largest conversation area in the country, Namib Naukluft Park. There is a low degree of precipitation, making it very hot during the warm season.
You can see the Guban Desert in Somalia, specifically in the cities of Zeila and Berbera. Like the other deserts in the continent, it is hot and mostly a dry plain. Yet, there are sandy seasonal watercourses and steppe vegetation.
Another desert was found in Kenya. It is also called the Taru Desert desert. The Nyiri Desert is fascinating because of the large springs the embody it. It results in a more livable ecosystem for animals like elephants, giraffe, and lions.
Grand Bara Desert
The desert is in southern Djibouti. It is a dried-up lake and comprised of large sand flats and desert grasses and shrubs. The areas are mostly dry with the rare existence of trees and vegetation. Wild living creatures are found here like dik-dik and oryx.
The Lompoul Desert is in Senegal. It is the smallest desert in Africa. Yet it is one of the most loved tourist destinations in Senegal. It is highly accessible.
Does it snow in Africa?
Well, Africa is not only about the hot and dry desert. There is snow in Africa, too. Snow in Africa is a natural occurrence that people can visit as well.
In higher elevations of the continent, like Kilimanjaro, snow caps and ice are present.
Some parts of Morocco and Algeria what snow mainly in the Atlas Mountains. Even in a few locations in South Africa and Lesotho.
Nonetheless, you cannot expect snow in the Sahara Desert.
Moreover, the Eastern Cape highland is dedicated to a ski resort in South Africa. Skiers and snowboarders love to visit this part of the country.