Africa and its vibrant cultures, breathtaking landscapes and unparalleled biodiversity stand as a testament to the awe-inspiring wonders of this planet. Home to numerous countries, this continent is truly a land of historical and global significance, so much so that travelers come every year to behold all it has to offer and leave knowing they only experienced a small portion of its vast land.

Most of the history taught about Africa in the West revolves around the dark times of colonization and enslavement. This is where the belief that the African continent is one giant nation rather than separate countries comes from. But Africa is far more than just this. Africa’s rich heritage lends way to people rich in culture and a land that is rich in resources. With its numerous countries and diverse landscape, this continent truly bears witness to the marvels of nature and beauty of its people.

With this in mind, here are 10 facts about Africa that may surprise you so much that you have to plan a trip (or perhaps, a second trip) to experience it for yourself.

Africa Has 54 Countries for Travelers To Explore

A close-up of a map of Africa

Africa is comprised of 54 recognized countries, each with its own unique heritage, customs and often, multiple languages spoken within its borders. From the northern reaches of Egypt to the southern tip of South Africa, these nations weave a complex mosaic of traditions and identities. Learning about just a handful of these countries and the cultures that exist within them can open one’s eyes to how general the umbrella term “African” is. For travelers and adventurers, the possibilities that this continent has to learn and experience culture are unsurpassed.

Madagascar Has Its Own Unique Biodiversity

A lemur sitting on a tree stump

The second of these facts about Africa refers to the continent’s isolated nation, Madagascar. The island of Madagascar boasts an astonishingly high percentage of species that exist nowhere else on Earth. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of its wildlife, from lemurs to chameleons, are endemic to this ecological treasure trove. Duke Lemur Center explains that the large number of endemic species is due to Madagascar being an island nation. This leads to the isolation of its species, making Madagascar an “extremely important biodiversity hotspot.” 

You Can Stand on the Equator in Africa

Path in Uganda

Africa boasts a unique geographical distinction—it’s home to several countries where one can stand directly on the Equator. This imaginary line that divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres runs through about a dozen African countries, including Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Somalia. Tourists and locals alike flock to sites like the Equator Monument in Uganda or the bustling town of Pont-Gê in Gabon, where they can straddle this significant line, experiencing the thrilling sensation of being in both hemispheres simultaneously.

Half of the Population Throughout Africa Is Under 20

A close-up of young children smiling at the camera

Africa pulsates with youthful vigor, as approximately 50 percent of its population is under 20 years old. This is due to the fertility rate throughout the continent’s nations. It is debated whether this is a challenge for the continent, for reasons including the high youth unemployment rate, or if this is an opportunity for growth. Most optimists say this demographic dynamism fuels innovation, creativity and the promise of a future shaped by the ambitions and dreams of its young populace. The increased growth of cities throughout the continent support this idea. 

The Oldest University in the World Is in Africa

University student in Uganda

Nestled in the vibrant city of Fez, Morocco, the University of al-Qarawiyyin stands as a testament to Africa’s rich educational legacy. Established in 859 C.E. by Fatima al-Fihri, this ancient institution holds the distinction of being the oldest continually operating degree-granting university in the world. Initially founded as a mosque, the university evolved into an eminent center for education and scholarship, offering a diverse range of subjects including theology, grammar, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. Its enduring legacy makes it a beacon of Africa’s historical contributions to academia and learning. For those lovers of education, this destination is a must as Africa is not only home to humanity, but also the concept of continual and higher education.

Many Cities in Africa Have Experienced Meteoric Urban Growth

Lekki Ikoyi Link Bridge Lagos Nigeria

African cities like Lagos, Cairo, Nairobi and Johannesburg are not just among the largest in the world but are also witnessing some of the most rapid urban growth. The industries these cities are seeing success in economic growth range from technology, finance, manufacturing, entertainment and more. These metropolises pulsate with energy, innovation and a dynamic cultural amalgamation.

Nigeria Has a Twin Phenomenon

The backs of two kids embracing each other

This next fact is the epitome of fun-facts about Africa. Nigeria proudly holds the title for the highest number of twins born in the world. Signature Safaris reported that twin births are four times more common in West Africa. The center of this twin phenomenon is in the Nigerian town, Igbo-Ora. This intriguing occurrence has sparked scientific curiosity and cultural fascination, enriching the country’s tapestry of beliefs and traditions. It was reported that 50 sets of twins are born for every 1,000 births in this town. 

Africa Is The World’s Hottest Continent

Desert in Egypt

If there’s one undeniable aspect of Africa, it’s the heat. The continent holds the distinguished title of being the hottest in the world. Vast stretches of arid deserts, tropical rainforests and sun-soaked savannas contribute to its overall heat index. The Sahara Desert, spanning over 3.6 million square miles (which is bigger than the entire US), is a beacon of this relentless heat, with temperatures that can soar well above 120°F (49°C) during peak summer months. Notably, the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia registers some of the highest year-round temperatures on the planet, making it an otherworldly landscape of bubbling lava lakes and colorful mineral deposits amid a scorching environment.

Africa Is Home to the Richest Country in the World

A boy leaning out of a train in Congo Kinshasa

The mighty Congo River basin is divided between the two separate countrie: Republic of Congo (or Congo Brazzaville) and Democratic Republic of Congo (or Congo Kinshasa). This geographical division, marked by the meandering river’s flow, carries a profound historical and political significance. Global Conflict Tracker reported that The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was established as such after victory in the first Congo War. 

However, the eastern region of DRC has seen another war and more conflict. This is due to the mining of minerals for technology, leading to millions of deaths in the country. Many are unaware of the humanitarian crises occurring in the DRC today as tech companies and governments around the world are involved in the pursuit of its minerals. The DRC’s minerals make it the richest country in the world based on resources, but its people are unfortunately the poorest because of the decades-long unrest. 

The African Continent Is Believed To Be the Motherland of Humanity

A collection of fossils and artifacts

Scientific evidence supports the notion that the human race originated in Africa. Fossils of early human ancestors like Australopithecus afarensis (including the famous “Lucy”) and Homo habilis have been found in regions such as the Great Rift Valley, dating back millions of years. Additionally, the widely accepted “Out of Africa” or “Recent African Origin” theory suggests that anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) originated in Africa and then migrated and dispersed across the globe. The continent holds many more archaeological treasures and genetic clues that reveal humanity’s shared ancestry.