Physical features

Physical features are natural landforms found on the surface of the earth.

They include;

1. Mountains and Highlands

2. Ranges

3. Hills

4. Plains

5. Seas

6. Plateaus

7. Oceans

8. Depressions

9. Valleys

10. Escarpments

11. Rivers

12. Lakes

13. Swamps

14. Islands


Physical features can be divided into two major groups namely:

Relief features:

These include mountains, hills, highlands, basins, valleys and plains.


Drainage features

Include: rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, dams, oceans and seas.


The map below shows the relief features of Kenya.


The map below shows the physical features of Africa

The Great Rift Valley

This feature is about 7 200 km long.

In Africa, it stretches from the Red sea, South West across Ethiopia and South into Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi to Beira in Mozambique.

The Great Rift Valley ranges in elevation from 400m below sea level to 1900m above sea level in Southern Kenya. 

Watch the Rift Valley video below


Mountains in Africa are classified according to how they were formed. Mountains are grouped into four main types namely:

  • Volcanic mountains
  • Block or horst mountains
  • Residual mountains
  • Fold mountains

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa.

Mountains found in Africa and where they are located


This is a high area that has an almost flat or level surface with steep slopes. It is sometimes called a tableland.

Plateaus found in Africa and their location


These are flat, low-lying and gentle sloping regions.

Plains found in Africa and where they are found

Basins and Depressions

These are lowland areas separated by plateaus and mountains. Some have lakes in the lowest parts.

They include;

  • the Kalahari Basin
  • the Congo basin
  • the Lake Victoria Basin
  • the Chad Basin
  • the Sudan Basin
  • Okavango basin
  • Quattara depression
  • Bodele depression
  • Danakil depression.

Drainage features


A river is a stream of moving water flowing in a channel.

A point where a river begins is its source. This may be a lake, spring, melt water from ice or a highland region receiving high rainfall.

Smaller streams joining the main river are called tributaries. A point where two tributaries come together is called a confluence.

A river, together with its tributaries, form a river system. Each river system drains through a drainage basin. A highland area that divides two or more river systems is known as a watershed.


A point at which the river ends is its mouth. A river mouth may be in form of a single narrow stream called an estuary, or it may split into smaller streams called distributaries to form a delta.

Examples of rivers that end in estuaries in Africa are Rivers;

  • Congo
  • Orange
  • Limpopo
  • Cunene
  • Ruvuma
  • Sabaki

Those that end in deltas include Rivers;

  • Nile
  • Niger
  • Tana

Rivers in Africa drain into the following;

  • The Atlantic Ocean
  • The Indian Ocean
  • The Mediteranean Sea
  • Inland Lakes
  • Swamps


Lakes are depressions on the surface of the earth which are filled with water. Some lakes have fresh water while others have salty water. Some lakes are big while others are small. Below is an image of Lake Turkana, a large salt lake.


Fresh-water lakes

Fresh water lakes usually have inlets as well as outlets.

  • Water is brought into the lake by rivers or from underground drainage.
  • Water flows out of the lakes as rivers.

As a result, the amount of salt in the water is reduced.

Examples of fresh water lakes in Africa are Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Tanganyika, Turkana, Baringo, Albert, Edward, Malawi, Naivasha and Tana.

Fresh water lakes in uganda


Salty-Water Lakes

Salty-water lakes do not have outlets. Water comes into the lake but very little goes out.

Instead, water is mainly lost through evaporation. This leaves behind a lot of salt in the water.

Salty-water lakes are important sources of salt and soda ash.

Examples of salt water lakes in Africa include Lake Magadi, Elementaita, Nakuru, Bogoria, Amboseli, Bangweulu, Chad, Eyasi and Natron.

Lakes and the Rift Valley

Some lakes are found outside the Rift Valley while others are found within the Rift Valley.

Lakes which are found outside the Rift Valley are lakes;

  • Victoria
  • Kyoga
  • George
  • Chala
  • Jipe
  • Tana

Lakes and the Rift Valley

Lakes found within the Rift Valley include:


Turkana Nakuru Logopi Baringo Elementaita Naivasha Magadi


Natron Manyara Eyasi Makati Kivu Tanganyika Rukwa


Albert Edward Bunyoni        




a) Swamps are found in areas that are generally fl at, making it easy for water to flow into them.

b) It is diffi cult for water to drain away. Such areas have clay soils, which do not allow water to seep through them easily.

c) Swampy areas are usually found along the coast or around lakes.

d) They are covered with swamp vegetation like reeds and papyrus if the water is not salty.

e) Mangrove swamps are found along the coast where the water is salty.

  • Basin by aqua fisher used under CC_BY-SA
  • dams by Daily Nation used under CC_BY-SA
  • Highlands by Wikipedia used under CC_BY-SA
  • Hills by Berry travels used under CC_BY-SA
  • Lakes by HappyTellus used under CC_BY-SA
  • Mount_Kenya by The telegraph used under CC_BY-SA
  • plains by SAFARI BOOKINGS used under CC_BY-SA
  • stream by Fine tribal gallery used under CC_BY-SA
  • Swamp by Grid arendal used under CC_BY-SA
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