With an impressive 11.25% of the country proclaimed as national parkland, Gabon offers a spectacular array of wildlife in its dense rainforests and open savannah to enthral nature enthusiasts. Add to that superb white-sand beaches, rushing rivers and ethereal landscapes, and you have an Edenlike travel experience in an unexplored part of Africa.
Gabon is the region’s most progressive and traveller-friendly destination, although tourism remains extremely DIY. You’ll either have to put yourself into the hands of a travel agency, or negotiate the poor roads, infrequent transport options and the almost total lack of reliable infrastructure yourself. Outside the cosmopolitan Libreville and Port-Gentil, the country’s largest cities, Gabon is an undiscovered wonderland not to be missed.
Loango National Park
Loango is known justifiably as ‘Africa’s last Eden’. Here, warm streams criss-cross pockets of thick forest and salty savannah, while vast island-dotted lagoons and miles of white-sand beach provide habitat for all manner of creatures. It’s perhaps best known for its mythic surfing hippos, but you’ll also find the largest concentration and variety of whales and dolphins in waters, elephants wandering the beaches, western lowland gorillas in the forests and an assortment of rare mammals cavorting in the savannah. If your pockets can take it, Loango is one of the best wildlife-watching destinations on the planet.
Lopé National Park
Smack bang on the equator and framed by the beautiful Ogooué River, Lopé National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, doesn’t disappoint. Undulating hills meet savannah and enclaves of rainforest where elephants, buffaloes, gorillas, chimpanzees and the biggest mandrill troupes in the world can be found. It’s estimated there are three elephants per square kilometre, which would make it the highest concentration on the planet. The rare giant forest warbler, picathartes and seven types of hornbill are some of the more than 400 species of birds. Archeological treasures include evidence of human activity from the Stone and Iron ages.
There are vehicle and foot safaris on offer and there’s an ecomuseum near the park entrance.
The vibrant, muscular heart of Gabon, Libreville is the largest city and home to over a third of Gabon’s population. It’s also a city awash in oil money: pavements, clean streets, smart restaurants and vast gated villas are the first impressions of the town, but stay a little longer and you’ll easily discover Libreville’s essentially African heart: crowded street markets and busy residential areas lie further back from the gleaming coastline.
Mayumba National Park
This marine park is the domain of barnacled whales and shy sea turtles, and the land, if you listen to the locals, is hushed by the spirits of ancestors. It is contiguous with the Conkouait-Douli National Park in the Republic of Congo. There are elephants and antelopes in the forest. Extending 15km out to sea, it’s home to dolphins and manta rays, too. Permits are available from the Conservation Office in the park.
Other Places Of Interest
‘Everyone has his Lambaréné’, Nobel winner Albert Schweitzer said. This, then, is his, with its glossy lakes, fast-flowing rivers, thick green foliage and ingrained sweetness. The town feels somehow kind and gentle, as if the profound humanitarian efforts of Schweitzer changed the character of the land. And his legacy is indeed felt everywhere, from the wonderful, still-operational hospital (which Schweitzer founded in 1924 to treat people with leprosy) to the volunteer-staffed lab that researches malaria and other tropical diseases.
The town is divided into three areas spanning the river, quite close to each other. The near bank has the rewarding Schweitzer Hospital Museum; across the bridge is the island with the main markets, the river port, and Le Tribune, from where shared taxis leave; across another bridge is the lively Quartier Isaac.
Akanda National Park
Of vital importance to migrating birds, juvenile fish and nesting green turtles, Akanda National Park lies along the bays of Mondah and Corisco, an easy day trip from Libreville. It encompasses 540 sq km of mangroves and glorious beaches backed by forest. See orchids and other epiphytes, along with enormous trees and ancient plants. Permits are available from ANPN (National Parks Board) office in Libreville. Access by pirogue (CFA100,000 per day) from the town of Ambowè or from Cap Estérias.
Akanda is a Ramsar Convention Wetland of International Importance.
Gabon’s answer to Niagara is the gushing falls at Kongou. Access is via pirogue for three to five hours through spectacular rainforest from the village of Loa Loa (17km south of Makokou). Grey parrots, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees and red river hogs live in the forest.