Yesterday we followed the Equator through South America, dissecting Ecuador in the west, through Colombia and into Brazil in the east of the continent. Today we take you across the vast Atlantic Ocean and explore Equatorial Africa.
First of all, some useful pub quiz knowledge
- The Equator passes through 6 countries on the mainland of the African continent (Gabon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia).
São Tomé and Príncipe
However, our journey begins on the 7th African nation touched by the line of 0° latitude. Lying off the west coast of Central Africa, São Tomé and Príncipe is the second smallest nation of the continent made up of two main volcanic islands with a tiny population of approximately 163,000.
Having been heavily dependent on cocoa production and foreign aid, this former Portuguese colony is now in the process of exploring the vast oil reserves thought to lie of its coast. It is also encouraging more tourism, including taking advantage of its many endemic wildlife species, such as the São Tomé Ibis, through eco-tourism. Until recently this exotic island paradise has remained relatively untouched by holiday-makers.
Following the Equator east towards the mainland, the first country we come across is Gabon. Unlike the countries further east, Gabon is relatively stable. Outside of its expensive and glitzy capital, Libreville, there is much to explore.
The nation’s reliance on a dwindling oil reserve has seen a huge 11% of the country being designated as National Parks. Yes, just like its coastal neighbour, Gabon is keen to exploit its wildlife via ecotourism. However, this has consequently forced indigenous groups to change also, with their onetime source of livelihood now protected under national law. Nowadays these people are welcoming tourism into their homelands in an attempt to make money. That said, it is hard to ignore the benefits for the natural world that this measure will undoubtedly bring, and any nature fanatic would enjoy a vast array of wildlife here, with hippos, gorillas and elephants all present. Be warned though, this is an expensive country to explore.
Republic of Congo and DRC
Separated by the enormous Congo River, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are very different from one another. The Republic of Congo is a much safer destination for tourists. The equator cuts through the rainforest-filled heart of the country, where lowland gorillas and 80% of the world’s wild chimpanzee population reside. Other attractions include surfing on its small stretch of coast, as well as the French-influenced capital of Brazzaville, not to mention the Congolese people themselves.
Contrastingly, the DRC has been gripped by the world’s bloodiest war since WW2 since it began in 1998, with approximately 5.4million deaths. Although the conflict has officially ended, it still remains a highly dangerous destination, with tourists warned against visiting. Despite this, more people are starting to visit, with the country’s natural wonders proving a significant pulling factor, such as the rare mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, and witnessing the eruption of the Mount Nyamulagira volcano.
DRC, the second largest nation in Africa, has enormous potential: it contains five UNESCO biospheres, amazingly diverse wildlife, and a mere US$24 trillion untapped mineral capacity beneath it.
Continuing east, the equator cuts across the top of Lake Victoria in Uganda. Considered as a miniature version of the continent as a whole. There are countless attractions to keep the curious traveller entertained here. Africa’s highest mountain range, the Mountains of the Moon (Montes Lunae), can be found in Uganda, where the mighty Nile begins its course.
This small country also has the highest density of primates in the world, including the rare and elusive mountain gorilla, found in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to the southwest of the country. This is a fairly safe place to visit for tourists, apart from parts towards the north. Although the diversity and density of wildlife is no rival to neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, the National Parks of Uganda receive far fewer visitors and offer an amazing, unique experience. In addition to all of this, the landscapes around Uganda are beautiful.
Kenya and Somalia
The last two countries of Africa to be touched by the Equator both have eastern coastlines. Kenya is a hugely popular tourist destination, with some of the most iconic and varied wildlife on the planet, well documented in many natural history documentaries such as Big Cat Diary, filmed in the Massai Mara. Hell’s Gate National Park is a unique offering in that you are free to walk or cycle across without a guide, although being home to all the big cats, albeit in quite low numbers, you run the risk of becoming lunch. Excellent beaches and snorkelling, as well as interesting tribal cultures and extreme landscapes make Kenya a deservedly popular tourist spot along the path of the Equator.
Touched only briefly by the Equator in its southern tip, Somalia is the last country on our journey across Africa. It is a country in trouble, with tourists discouraged from visiting (although travel to the north-western territory of Somaliland is possible). Since the outbreak of a civil war in 1991, the country has been all but separated into 3 countries: The relatively stable Somaliland to the northwest, Puntland to the northeast and Somalia in the south.
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By Alex Prior