1. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Trek duration: five to nine days
Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro is the king of Africa's mountains. Capped with glaciers and snow, it’s a magnet for charity challenges, tempting around 30,000 hikers every year. Anyone relatively fit and healthy can climb Kili, but beware altitude sickness – if ignored, it can kill.
The world’s highest free-standing mountain has various trails to the top, from the gruelling, lung-busting three-day Marangu route to the longer, more scenic and usually more successful ascents via Shira or Lemosho.
If you crave mountain solitude, try the tough new technical North Face trail that opened in 2016. However you get there, walking under a sky almost exploding with stars and watching dawn break over Africa is simply unforgettable.
Pixabay / CC0
2. Mount Kenya, Kenya
Trek duration: four days to Point Lenana
Straddling the equator, only one of Mount Kenya’s three summits, Lenana (4895m), is accessible to trekkers. The dramatically jagged peaks of Batian (5199m) and Nelion (5188m), which make this Africa’s second highest mountain, remain the domain of experienced technical climbers.
Of Lenana’s four routes, the Sirimon/Chogoria is the most beautiful, passing through rainforest, bamboo and open moorland with intoxicating views of glaciated valleys and waterfalls. Best summited at dawn, on a clear morning, Nelion’s inhospitable rocks glow a fierce orange in the rising sun and the curvature of the earth and Kilimanjaro can sometimes be seen.
Image by Franco Pecchio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
3. Mount Stanley, Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda
Trek duration: eight days
Called "Mountains of the Moon" by Ptolemy, the Rwenzoris have a distinct otherworldliness about them, with swirling mists, giant vegetation and deep dark lakes.
Mount Stanley may not have the height or kudos of Kili, but it’s a far tougher trek. Both wellington boots and crampons are essential, the former for crossing the infamous bogs (Rwenzoris means “rainmaker” and the wet stuff positively cascades here) and the latter for conquering the Margherita Glacier and sheer rock wall near the summit.
Take the Kilembe route run by Rwenzori Trekking Services, rather than the Circuit trail, for better acclimatisation and mercifully fewer bogs.
4. Mount Meru, Tanzania
Trek duration: four days
Lying within Arusha National Park, Mount Meru is a delightful but deceptive peak, the “short, sharp shock” of Africa’s epic mountains.
From a gentle lowland stroll with giraffe, buffalo and baboons on the path, it transforms into an unrelentingly steep slog to the top. An exposed route along a narrow ridge leads to the dramatic crater rim where the rugged outline of Meru's summit appears above you and the perfectly cylindrical Ash Cone below, an intriguing volcanic peak within Meru’s own horseshoe crater.
The summit reveals the silhouette of Kilimanjaro, majestic and commanding, and the plains of the Serengeti in the distance.
Image by A_Peach on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)