Set on the equator, in western Central Africa, Gabon is stunningly beautiful and has the potential to be one of the world’s top destinations for ecotourism.
Currently, its oil and mineral reserves, combined with a small population, have helped Gabon become one of Africa's wealthiest countries. But the late President Bongo realised his country was too dependent on its oil, so gave more than 10% of the country over to national parks in 2002, acknowledging that Gabon’s other natural resources could be key to its economic future.
This is a land of astonishing wildlife, including lowland gorillas and chimpanzees, while endangered turtles and whales ply its unspoilt Atlantic coast. It has fantastic potential for ecotourism and adventure travel, but still has a long way to go in terms of infrastructure.
Ignore misleading articles and marketing materials that wax lyrical about surfing hippos, the gorillas and abundant wildlife. It is all there, lots of it, but you’re not guaranteed seeing any of it. The wildlife, like the people, have only been introduced to tourism recently, so a lot of patience is called for.
Gabon is a year-round destination. Climate-wise it is hot and humid all year. The dry season is May to September, while December and January tend to be a mini dry season with very little rain. The wet seasons are February to April and October/November. Roads can become impassable during this time, however the parks remain open and offer good viewing.
Gorillas and chimps are most often seen from October to March when there is more food around and they don’t need to travel so far.
Four species of turtle, including leatherbacks, lay their eggs on the beaches from November to March. Humpback whales are seen off the coast from July to September/October.
Libreville Leon M'ba International (LBV), 12km from the city.
There are very few sealed roads, so the most comfortable and quick option is to take internal flights or the Trans-Gabon train.
Buses do run between major centres and are very cheap. Car hire is available but you’ll need a 4WD if venturing out of town. Roads can be completely impassable in the rains.
International hotels can be found in Libreville and in Port Gentil, the centre for the oil and timber industries and so full of expats.
Accommodation in the national parks is rustic and comfortable but not yet anywhere near the standard you would get in East or Southern Africa.
The food has a strong French influence, with baguettes being the nearest thing to a national dish. Main meals tend to be barbecued/grilled meat or fish served with rice, potatoes, plantain or manioc. Bushmeat is widely eaten.
There is a range of international cuisine available in Libreville and Port Gentil, as well as imported French wines. Prices tend to be on the high side, even by European standards.
Vegetarians won’t find it the most interesting place to eat, with omelette being the usual dish offered. Fortunately there is plenty of fresh fruit.
A yellow fever certificate is mandatory, and spot checks take place at immigration. Take advice from a specialist travel clinic or your GP regarding antimalarials and immunisations. Drink bottled mineral water.
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