Gabon’s tourism industry is still in its infancy stage, but beautiful weather all year round, there is almost never a bad time to explore Gabon. The bigger cities like Libreville and Port-Gentil are full of restaurants, bars, and casinos, but we particularly like the country’s parks and beaches, so be sure to check out our top recommendations. Gabon’s various ecosystems include everything from pristine coastal beaches to lush rain forests, and the country's biodiversity and low population ensure that the savanna and forests are teeming with a huge variety of wildlife—not tourists. Pack your camera; the natural wonders of Gabon are worth remembering for a lifetime. Making everyone at home jealous with your photos is just a fringe benefit.
1. Lopé National Park: If you are looking for perfect photo spots in Gabon, it’s worth your while to include Lopé National Park on your itinerary. The protected rain forest and savanna areas of the park are home to elephants, buffalo, and hogs. Keep your eyes peeled for the colorful and sometimes intimidating mandrills, too. We recommend staying the night at the Lopé Hotel before touring the park.
2. Mayumba: It is not easy to get to, but the rewards are rich for those who find Mayumba, located near the Congolese border. With its white, serene beaches, Mayumba is a premier resort area in Gabon. From July to September, you can see thousands of humpback whales swimming in the sea and leatherback turtles nesting in the sand, and you can feast on freshly caught fish every day.
3. Cirque de Léconi: While you are near the border with Congo, you should also check out the Cirque de Léconi, a beautiful, circular, red rock canyon. The best way to enjoy the canyon is to rent camping equipment and spend the night. The view of the canyon in the waning sunlight is unforgettable.
4. Bateke Plateau National Park: Covering 790 square miles in the southeastern part of Gabon, Bateke Plateau National Park is hard to reach but an amazing site to visit. The ancient volcanic area is full of elephants, buffalo, lions, gorillas, and other animals. Take a walk through the park and cross the large bridges that span the rivers. If you’re going to make an excursion to the park, plan to spend a few days in the area.
5. National Museum of Arts and Tradition: When in Libreville, we recommend visiting the National Museum of Arts and Tradition (known in French as the Musée des Arts et Traditions du Gabon) for a few hours. A walk through the halls of the museum, which include sections on statues and masks, will introduce you to the traditions and art of Gabon.
6. Cathedral of St. Michael: Another worthwhile site in Libreville is the Cathedral of St. Michael. The cathedral has 31 carved wooden columns that depict various biblical scenes. (It’s said that a blind craftsman carved the columns.)
7. Mont-Bouët Market: It’s time to go shopping. The Mont-Bouët market is Libreville’s largest, and exploring it makes for a fun day. Check out the fruit stands early in the morning, and spend the rest of the day admiring fabrics, jewelry, and other goods. One word of caution: the market (or marché, as it’s called in Gabon) is a favorite place for pickpockets. Keep your belongings close to you.
8. Presidential Palace: Built in 1970, the Presidential Palace in Libreville is a magnificent building that rises from the low-lying landscape of the city. There is usually a crowd outside admiring the ornate building. It’s illegal to take pictures of the building, so be careful if you try to sneak a shot.
9. Cap Estérias: For a quieter beach experience, you can travel an hour north of Libreville to the Cap Estérias, a perfect spot for water sports or plain relaxation. The route to the beach can be a bit confusing, so we recommend hiring a driver for the day to take you to the Cap Estérias.
10. Pointe Denis Beach: We love this beach for its versatility: you can remain outdoors from day to night and set up a tent under the stars for an overnight stay. (Hotels are available for those who feel less than comfortable camping.) During the day, hop on a boat to tour the beach’s estuary.
Gabon is hot year-round, but it has also has an extensive rainy season. If you are looking for heat and sun, then January, December, and May through September are the best times to visit. For whale watching, note that the humpbacks migrate from July to October, and the beaches of Loango National Park are the most active with wildlife from November through March.
Visas: Be sure your passport is valid for at least six months past your last day in Gabon. At the airport you can get a three-month, single-entry tourist visa, which can be extended once you are in the country.
Transportation: Libreville Léon M’ba International Airport is Gabon’s main airport. It handles both international and domestic flights.
The most convenient and expensive means of travel within and between cities is a private car service. You should check with your hotel or travel agency for reputable organizations. Also, the country has very few paved roads, so the ride can be pretty bumpy; we highly recommend renting a four-by-four.
The Trans-Gabon Railway offers another relatively fast and viable option for travel. Just check with your hotel to see whether using the train will not leave you too far away from your planned destinations.
Within cities are numerous minibuses that cram in their passengers, as well as taxi-brousses, which are multi-passenger vehicles that travel between cities and whose form can vary from that of a minivan to that of a truck.
Mobile Phones: We definitely recommend taking an unlocked, SIM card–enabled phone with you to Gabon. You can also buy a cheap phone in the country. The phone is the most economical and convenient way of staying connected.
The U.S. Department of State’s consular website has a great deal of information about safety and security in Gabon.
It can’t be repeated often enough: be sensible when you travel. Be alert and aware about your surroundings. Always keep important items like passports and excess cash in a safe place.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Gabon or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
Gabon is named for the gabão, a kind of Portuguese cloak that 15th-century explorers thought resembled the estuary of the Como River. Throughout the 16th century, the Dutch, British, and French traveled along the coast, as it had become an important location in the slave trade, but slave-trading activity dwindled after France abolished the institution of slavery in 1815. The French took an active role in preventing illegal slave ships from operating in the area, and in 1839 and 1841, France signed treaties with coastal chiefs to become an official protector of the region. In 1849 the French captured an illegal slave ship and released the slaves near the entrance of the Como River.
The new residents established Libreville, which is today Gabon’s largest city and the capital. The French moved deeper into the country and eventually made Gabon a part of French Congo; in 1910 the region became a territory within French Equatorial Africa. Gabon received its independence from France on August 17, 1960. The first elected president was Léon M’ba, who served until his death, in 1967. Thanks to its abundance of natural resources, Gabon became a member of OPEC in 1975. Today it is one of the most prosperous countries on the continent.
1. The capital and largest city of Gabon is Libreville, located on the shores of the Como River and the Atlantic Ocean.
2. The currency used in Gabon is the Central African CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) Franc, which is also used in some other parts of Africa, including Cameroon and Chad.
3. Gabon has a number of newspapers available, including L’Union, a daily newspaper published by the government, as well as Le Temps and Le Temoin, which are privately published weeklies.
4. The official language of Gabon is French. Fang and many other local languages are spoken as well.
5. There are currently no restrictions on lighting up in public, unless otherwise noted.