The Real Size of Africa & Why All Maps Lie About It

The African continent is a dream for many travelers. However, all maps lie about the real size of Africa. Why?

africa-map

As the second largest continent, holding nearly 15% of the planets population, Africa is a massive, diverse and often times a misunderstood place. But do we actually realize how enormous it really is and that all our maps are actually wrong?

Is Greenland bigger than Africa?

It seems so. If you were to pull out a map right now and take a look at it, Africa certainly doesn’t appear to be much larger than many other landmasses. You could even argue just by looking at a map that South America is of comparable size and that North America and even Greenland looks larger than Africa. Greenland? Yes. Just go on Google Maps and compare those two – or have a look at this graphic.

But here’s the thing. In reality, Greenland only covers 2.16 million square kilometers or 1/14th the real size of Africa and South America only covers 17.84 million square kilometers, about half the real size of Africa. North America while closer in size is still 20% smaller than Africa. How is it possible that what we thought was an accurate representation of our globe is so wrong?

Same scale of Africa and Greenland
Scale of Africa and Greenland on maps

Africa is tremendous. It is so big actually that you could fit China, the United States, India, Japan and almost ALL of Europe within its borders at once! Looking at a map this seems impossible, and you would be right, because our maps are not scaled properly and Africa’s true size is never shown.

Same scale of Africa and Greenland
Actual scale of Africa and Greenland

Why do maps lie about the real size of Africa?

One of the largest problems cartographers have is map projections and scaling. In 1569 the Mercator Map was introduced to help sailors navigate the world. It was certainly a feat and at the time was the most advanced depiction of our world.

However, you would think with all of the modern technology advancements that we have made like satellite imaging and GPS, that we now have an infinitely better understanding of our globe and even our solar system, so obviously maps would be upgraded. No, we didn’t. We still rely on a more than 400 year old map.

Almost all maps we look at are a version of the Mercator Map, which expands countries towards the poles and shrink the sizes of land closer to the equator to make the world look nice on a wall. The scalable size of Africa suffers from this because of its location surrounding the equator. This is the main culprit in our misunderstanding of the real size of Africa and how gigantic it is.

The size of Africa on another scale

Even on an interstellar base, Africa’s size is remarkable. How does it compare to the moon that lights up the night’s sky? It looks really big, but most of us will never get an upfront view of it. Thanks to science we now know the area of the Moon’s surface is about 37.9 million square kilometers, which sounds out of this world. Well, this might be something to reconsider, Africa is only shortly behind at roughly 30.37 million square kilometers (and Asia has an even bigger surface).

Now you know and you’re in on one of the more overlooked geographical mistakes. While maybe you are not going to head out and be advocating for correcting the maps around the world, share this knowledge to help enlighten some people you know. Or you can quiz your friends with your new insights and prove your geographical knowledge dominance.
Sources

About the author

Alex from tripsuit

Alex

Hi, I am Alex from tripsuit, travel enthusiast and into data and everything digital! I lead the travel lab, analyzing the travel world using data science to uncover the hidden logic behind travel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*

Never miss a travel hack again – sign up to my newsletter.

Only super interesting stuff, no bullshit. I promise!

Awesome, just check your emails.