Unlike many of its neighbours, this part of equatorial Africa enjoys both peace and stability, while its superb wildlife makes it an increasingly popular place to safari away from the crowds of East Africa. With its seemingly endless rain forest now safeguarded by the 2003 decision to turn an incredible 10% of the country into protected national parkland, Gabon is Central Africa’s most progressive and traveller-friendly destination, although the competition is admittedly not too fierce.
Despite being far ahead of its unstable, war-torn neighbours, tourism in Gabon remains DIY – you either put yourself in the hands of a travel agency, or negotiate the poor roads, infrequent transport and almost total lack of reliable infrastructure yourself. Outside cosmopolitan Libreville, the country’s only real city, Gabon is an undiscovered wonderland of thick jungle, white-sand beaches, rushing rivers and ethereal landscapes. Bring either plenty of money or plenty of patience, but don’t miss out on this Eden-like travel experience.
Official Name. Gabonese Republic
Capital and largest city Libreville 0°23′N 9°27′E
Languages. Official: French. Vernacular languages: Fang Myene Punu Nzebi
Ethnic groups. 28.6% Fang, 10.2% Punu, 8.9% Nzebi, 6.7% French, 4.1% Mpongwe, 154,000 othera
Demonym. Gabonese, Gabonaise
Government. Dominant-party presidential republic. President Ali Bongo Ondimba
Independence from France August 17, 1960
Area. Total 267,667 km2 (76th) Water 3.76%
Population. 2009 estimate 1,475,000 (150th). Density 5.5/km2 (216th)
GDP (PPP). 2016 estimate Total $36.537 billion Per capita $22,400
GDP (nominal). 2016 estimate Total $14.240 billion Per capita $8,730
When to Go. May–Sep: The dry season makes overland transport faster and wildlife easier to see. Jul–Sep: Have a close encounter with a whale swimming off Gabon’s coastline. Nov–Jan: Spot turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs on the beaches.
MONEY. Central African CFA franc (XAF). US dollars are the preferred currency for exchange, but euros are also easy to change. It’s not generally possible to change other currencies at a decent rate in Gabon.
Costs. A word of warning – money seems to fall out of your pockets in Gabon, and to get anywhere or do pretty much anything you’ll be spending it like nobody’s business. Cash is king here, so bring plenty with you, and certainly take more than you need everywhere you go outside of Libreville, as you won’t be able to get more cash outside the capital.
ATMs in Libreville will only work with Visa cards, and credit cards are only accepted at top-end hotels. There is a national change shortage so ask for small notes wherever possible.
VISAS. Visas are required by all travellers and must be obtained before arrival; they are not available at the airport or at border crossings. Getting a visa for Gabon can be both difficult and expensive. From countries outside Africa it can cost more than US$100. Unless you’re flying straight to Libreville from Europe, it may be best to apply for one at the Gabonese embassy in a nearby African country, where it only takes a couple of days and costs around US$50. Most Gabonese embassies in Europe require certified proof of accommodation for the first few nights of your trip, as well as a return or onward plane ticket.
Extensions. Directeur Genérale de la Documentation.
Visas for Onward Travel. It’s possible to get the following visas for nearby African countries in Libreville:
Cameroon: Same-day processing; CFA51,000.
Congo: Takes 24 hours; 15-day visa. A hotel reservation is required.
DRC: Takes 24 hours; only issued to residents of Gabon.
Equatorial Guinea: Takes 72 hours; only issued to residents of Gabon or people with no EG embassy in their home country.
São Tomé & Príncipe: Takes 48 hours
Gabon (/ɡəˈbɒn/; French pronunciation: [ɡabɔ̃]), is a sovereign state on the west coast of Central Africa. Located on the equator, Gabon is bordered by Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo on the east and south, and the Gulf of Guinea to the west.
Since its independence from France in 1960, Gabon has had three presidents. In the early 1990s, Gabon introduced a multi-party system and a new democratic constitution that allowed for a more transparent electoral process and reformed many governmental institutions. Gabon was also a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2010–2011 term.
Low population density, abundant petroleum, and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the 4th highest HDI and the third highest GDP per capita (PPP) (after Equatorial Guinea and Botswana) in the region. GDP grew by more than 6% per year from 2010 to 2012. However, because of inequality in income distribution, a significant proportion of the population remains poor.
Etymology. Gabon’s name originates from gabão, Portuguese for “cloak”, which is roughly the shape of the estuary of the Komo River by Libreville.
Gabon has been inhabited for at least 400,000 years. Some 1200 rock paintings made by iron-working cultures that razed the forest for agriculture, creating today’s savannah, have been found in the area around Réserve de la Lopé.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Pygmy peoples. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes as they migrated.
Europeans. In the 15th century, the first Europeans arrived. By the 18th century, a Myeni speaking kingdom known as Orungu formed in Gabon.
In 1722, Bartholomew Roberts, a Welsh pirate known as Black Bart, died at sea off Cape Lopez. He raided ships off the Americas and West Africa from 1719 to 1722.
French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza led his first mission to the Gabon-Congo area in 1875. He founded the town of Franceville, and was later colonial governor. Several Bantu groups lived in the area that is now Gabon when France officially occupied it in 1885.
In 1910 Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959.
Independence. These territories became independent on August 17, 1960. The first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, was Léon M’ba. The press was suppressed, political demonstrations banned, freedom of expression curtailed, other political parties gradually excluded from power, and the Constitution changed along French lines to vest power in the Presidency, a post that M’ba assumed himself. However, when M’ba dissolved the National Assembly in January 1964 to institute one-party rule, an army coup sought to oust him from power and restore parliamentary democracy. French paratroopers flew in within 24 hours to restore M’ba to power. After a few days of fighting, the coup ended and the opposition was imprisoned, despite widespread protests and riots. French soldiers still remain in the Camp de Gaulle on the outskirts of Gabon’s capital to this day. When M’Ba died in 1967, Bongo replaced him as president.
In 1968, Bongo declared Gabon a one-party state by dissolving the BDG and establishing a new party — the Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG). He invited all Gabonese, regardless of previous political affiliation, to participate. Bongo sought to forge a single national movement in support of the government’s development policies, using the PDG as a tool to submerge the regional and tribal rivalries that had divided Gabonese politics in the past. Bongo was elected President in February 1975; in April 1975, the position of vice president was abolished and replaced by the position of prime minister, who had no right to automatic succession. Bongo was re-elected President in both December 1979 and November 1986 to 7-year terms.
In early 1990 economic discontent and a desire for political liberalization provoked violent demonstrations and strikes by students and workers. In response to grievances by workers, Bongo negotiated with them on a sector-by-sector basis, making significant wage concessions.
A new constitution in 1991 The April 1990 created a national Senate, decentralized the budgetary process, freedom of assembly and press, basic bill of rights and an independent judiciary but retained strong executive powers for the president and cancellation of an exit visa requirement. In an attempt to guide the political system’s transformation to multiparty democracy, Bongo resigned as PDG chairman and created a transitional government headed by a new Prime Minister, Casimir Oye-Mba. Government was smaller and included representatives from several opposition parties in its cabinet.
The first multiparty National Assembly elections in almost 30 years took place in September–October 1990, with the PDG garnering a large majority.
President Omar Bongo was re-election in 1993 with 51% of the vote, opposition candidates refused to validate the election results. Serious civil disturbances led to a political settlement.
President Omar Bongo coasted to easy re-election in December 1998, with large majorities of the vote. While Bongo’s major opponents rejected the outcome as fraudulent, some international observers characterized the results as representative despite many perceived irregularities, and there were none of the civil disturbances that followed the 1993 election. Peaceful though flawed legislative elections held in 2001–2002 were widely criticized for their administrative weaknesses, produced a National Assembly almost completely dominated by the PDG. In 2005 Bongo was elected for his sixth term. He won re-election easily, but opponents claim that the balloting process was marred by irregularities. There were some instances of violence following the announcement of his win, but Gabon generally remained peaceful.
National Assembly elections in December 2006 yielded a PDG-controlled National Assembly.
In 2009, Bongo died of cardiac arrest at a Spanish hospital in Barcelona, ushering in a new era in Gabonese politics. In accordance with the amended constitution, Rose Francine Rogombé, the President of the Senate, became Interim President on June 10, 2009. The first contested elections in Gabon’s history that did not include Omar Bongo as a candidate were held on August 30, 2009 with 18 candidates for president. Omar Bongo’s son, ruling party leader Ali Bongo Ondimba, was formally declared the winner.
Claims of fraud by the many opposition candidates sparked unprecedented violent protests in Port-Gentil, the country’s second-largest city and a long-time bastion of opposition to PDG rule. Gendarmes and the military were deployed to Port-Gentil to support the beleaguered police, and a curfew was in effect for more than 3 months.
In October 2009, newly elected President Ali Bongo Ondimba began efforts to streamline the government. In an effort to reduce corruption and government bloat, he eliminated 17 minister-level positions, abolished the vice presidency and reorganized the portfolios of numerous ministries, bureaus and directorates. In November 2009, President Bongo Ondimba announced a new vision for the modernization of Gabon, called “Gabon Emergent”. This program contains three pillars: Green Gabon, Service Gabon, and Industrial Gabon. The goals of Gabon Emergent are to diversify the economy so that Gabon becomes less reliant on petroleum, to eliminate corruption, and to modernize the workforce. Under this program, exports of raw timber have been banned, a government-wide census was held, the work day has been changed to eliminate a long midday break, and a national oil company was created.
Since independence, Gabon has followed a nonaligned policy, advocating dialogue in international affairs and recognizing each side of divided countries. In inter-African affairs, Gabon espouses development by evolution rather than revolution and favors regulated free enterprise as the system most likely to promote rapid economic growth. Gabon played an important leadership role in the stability of Central Africa through involvement in mediation efforts in Chad, the Central African Republic, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), and Burundi.
Gabon is a member of the United Nations (UN) and some of its specialized and related agencies, as well as of the World Bank; the IMF; the African Union (AU); the Central African Customs Union/Central African Economic and Monetary Community (UDEAC/CEMAC); EU/ACP association under the Lome Convention; the Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA); the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); the Nonaligned Movement; and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS/CEEAC), among others.
Military. Gabon has a small, professional military of about 5,000 personnel.
Gabon generally has an equatorial climate with an extensive system of rainforests covering 85% of the country.
There are three distinct regions: the coastal plains (ranging between 20 and 300 km from the ocean’s shore), the mountains (the Cristal Mountains to the northeast of Libreville, the Chaillu Massif in the centre), and the savanna in the east. The coastal plains form a large section of the World Wildlife Fund’s Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests ecoregion and contain patches of Central African mangroves especially on the Muni River estuary on the border with Equatorial Guinea.
Gabon’s largest river is the Ogooué which is 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) long. Gabon has three karst areas where there are hundreds of caves located in the dolomite and limestone rocks. Some of the caves include Grotte du Lastoursville, Grotte du Lebamba, Grotte du Bongolo, and Grotte du Kessipougou. Many caves have not been explored yet. A National Geographic Expedition visited the caves in the summer of 2008 to document them.
Gabon is also noted for efforts to preserve the natural environment. In 2002, 10% of the nation’s territory to be part of its national park system (with 13 parks in total), one of the largest proportions of nature parkland in the world.
Natural resources include: petroleum, magnesium, iron, gold, uranium, and forests.
Gabon’s economy is dominated by oil. Oil revenues comprise roughly 46% of the government’s budget, 43% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and 81% of exports. Oil production is currently declining rapidly from its high point of 370,000 barrels per day in 1997. Some estimates suggest that Gabonese oil will be expended by 2025. In spite of the decreasing oil revenues, planning is only now beginning for an after-oil scenario. The Grondin Oil Field was discovered in 50 m (160 ft) water depths 40 km (25 mi) offshore, in 1971.
Gabonese public expenditures from the years of significant oil revenues were not spent efficiently. Overspending on the Trans-Gabon Railway, the CFA franc devaluation of 1994, and periods of low oil prices caused serious debt problems that still plague the country.
Gabon earned a poor reputation with the Paris Club and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the management of its debt and revenues. Successive IMF missions have criticized the government for overspending on off-budget items (in good years and bad), over-borrowing from the Central Bank, and slipping on the schedule for privatization and administrative reform. However, in September 2005 Gabon successfully concluded a 15-month Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF. Another 3-year Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF was approved in May 2007. Because of the financial crisis and social developments surrounding the death of President Omar Bongo and the elections, Gabon was unable to meet its economic goals under the Stand-By Arrangement in 2009. Negotiations with the IMF were ongoing.
Gabon’s oil revenues have given it a per capita GDP of $8,600, unusually high for the region. However, a skewed income distribution and poor social indicators are evident. The richest 20% of the population earn over 90% of the income while about a third of the Gabonese population lives in poverty.
The economy is highly dependent on extraction, but primary materials are abundant. Before the discovery of oil, logging was the pillar of the Gabonese economy. Today, logging and manganese mining are the next-most-important income generators. Recent explorations suggest the presence of the world’s largest unexploited iron ore deposit. For many who live in rural areas without access to employment opportunity in extractive industries, remittances from family members in urban areas or subsistence activities provide income.
Foreign and local observers have lamented the lack of diversity in the Gabonese economy. Various factors have so far stymied new industries:
the market is small, about a million; dependent on imports from France; unable to capitalize on regional markets; entrepreneurial zeal not always present among the Gabonese; a fairly regular stream of oil “rent”, even if it is diminishing.
Further investment in the agricultural or tourism sectors is complicated by poor infrastructure. The small processing and service sectors that do exist are largely dominated by a few prominent local investors.
At World Bank and IMF insistence, the government embarked in the 1990s on a program of privatization of its state-owned companies and administrative reform, including reducing public sector employment and salary growth, but progress has been slow. The new government has voiced a commitment to work toward an economic transformation of the country but faces significant challenges to realize this goal.
Gabon has a population of approximately 1.5 million. Historical and environmental factors caused Gabon’s population to decline between 1900 and 1940. Gabon has one of the lowest population densities of any country in Africa, and the fourth highest Human Development Index in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Ethnic groups. Almost all Gabonese are of Bantu origin. Gabon has at least forty ethnic groups with differing languages and cultures. The Fang are generally thought to be the largest, although recent census data seem to favor the Nzebi. Others include the Myene, Kota, Shira, Puru, and Kande. Ethnic boundaries are less sharply drawn in Gabon than elsewhere in Africa. There are also various Pygmy peoples: the Bongo, Kota, and Baka; the latter speak the only non-Bantu language in Gabon.
Most ethnicities are spread throughout Gabon, leading to constant contact and interaction among the groups. Intermarriage between the ethnicities is quite common, helping reduce ethnic tensions. French, the language of its former colonial ruler, is a unifying force. The Democratic Party of Gabon (PDG)’s historical dominance also has served to unite various ethnicities and local interests into a larger whole. More than 10,000 native French live in Gabon, including an estimated 2,000 dual nationals.
Languages. It is estimated that 80% of Gabon’s population can speak French, and that 30% of Libreville residents are native speakers of the language. Nationally, 32% of the Gabonese people speak the Fang language as a mother tongue.
In 2012, declared an intention to introduce English as a first foreign language in schools, while keeping French as the general medium of instruction.
Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) 73 percent of the population, including the syncretistic Bwiti
Islam 12 percent (of whom 80 to 90 percent are foreigners)
indigenous animistic religion. Many persons practice elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religious beliefs. 10 percent practice traditional indigenous religious beliefs exclusively; and 5 percent practice no religion or are atheists.
Health. Most of the health services of Gabon are public, but there are some private institutions, of which the best known is the hospital established in 1913 in Lambaréné by Albert Schweitzer. Gabon’s medical infrastructure is considered one of the best in West Africa. By 1985 there were 28 hospitals, 87 medical centres, and 312 infirmaries and dispensaries. As of 2004, there were an estimated 29 physicians per 100,000 people. Approximately 90% of the population had access to health care services.
In 2000, 70% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 21% had adequate sanitation. A comprehensive government health program treats such diseases as leprosy, sleeping sickness, malaria, filariasis, intestinal worms, and tuberculosis. Rates for immunization of children under the age of one were 97% for tuberculosis and 65% for polio. Immunization rates for DPT and measles were 37% and 56% respectively. Gabon has a domestic supply of pharmaceuticals from a factory in Libreville.
The total fertility rate has decreased from 5.8 in 1960 to 4.2 children per mother during childbearing years in 2000. Ten percent of all births were low birth weight. The maternal mortality rate was 520 per 100,000 live births as of 1998. In 2005, the infant mortality rate was 55.35 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy was 55.02 years. As of 2002, the overall mortality rate was estimated at 17.6 per 1,000 inhabitants.
The HIV/AIDS prevalence is estimated to be 5.2% of the adult population (ages 15–49). As of 2009, approximately 46,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS. There were an estimated 2,400 deaths from AIDS in 2009 – down from 3,000 deaths in 2003.
Education. Education is compulsory for children ages 6 to 16. The government has used oil revenue for school construction, paying teachers’ salaries, and promoting education, including in rural areas. However, maintenance of school structures, as well as teachers’ salaries, has been declining. As of 2001, 69 percent of children who started primary school were likely to reach grade 5. Problems in the education system include poor management and planning, lack of oversight, poorly qualified teachers, and overcrowded classrooms.
A country with a primarily oral tradition up until the spread of literacy in the 21st century, Gabon is rich in folklore and mythology. “Raconteurs” are currently working to keep traditions alive such as the mvett among the Fangs and the ingwala among the Nzebis.
Gabon also features internationally celebrated masks, such as the n’goltang (Fang) and the relicary figures of the Kota. Each group has its own set of masks used for various reasons. They are mostly used in traditional ceremonies such as marriage, birth and funerals. Traditionalists mainly work with rare local woods and other precious materials.
Music. Gabonese music is lesser-known in comparison with regional giants like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon. The country boasts an array of folk styles, as well as pop stars like Patience Dabany and Annie Flore Batchiellilys, a Gabonese singer and renowned live performer. Also known are guitarists like Georges Oyendze, La Rose Mbadou and Sylvain Avara, and the singer Oliver N’Goma.
Imported rock and hip hop from the US and UK are popular in Gabon, as are rumba, makossa and soukous. Gabonese folk instruments include the obala, the ngombi (fr), the balafon and traditional drums.
The Gabon national football team has highly notable talented football players such as Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Juventus player Mario Lemina. The Gabon national under-23 football team won the 2011 CAF U-23 Championship and qualified for the London olympics.
Gabon has competed at most Summer Olympics since 1972. At the London Olympics in 2012, Anthony Obame won a silver medal in taekwondo, which was the first medal for Gabon at the Olympics.
Air France and Gabon Airlines fly from Paris to Libreville
Royal Air Maroc flies from Casablanca to Gabon.
Air Service also flies to Douala (Cameroon)
Ethiopian Airlines flies from Addis Ababa. There are also on occasion flights to Brazzaville, Congo.
Interair flies from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Libreville on Monday with a stopover in Brazzaville/Congo – returning via the same route every Wednesday. South African Airways “SAA” flies direct from Johannesburg South Africa) to Libreville and back on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Turkish Airlines has direct flights from Istanbul to Libreville.
Car. There are several border crossings, though the roads are not good and a 4×4 is recommended.
The easiest way to get around is by bus. There are many and they are very cheap. Additionally, taxis are plentiful in the Libreville area and relatively well maintained.
Air. Air Service has scheduled flights to Oyem, Makouko and Franceville/Mvengue. Air Nationale flies to Franceville/Mvengue. There are flights to Franceville/Mvengue every day of the week except Tuesdays and Thursdays. Africa’s Connection has daily scheduled flights between Libreville and Port Gentil, weekly flights from Port-Gentil / Libreville to São Tomé & Príncipe and to Loango National Park.
Car. There are lots of paved roads in Gabon, if you are staying in one of the major cities a car should suffice. If you plan on venturing onto some of the unpaved roads outside the major cities a 4×4 is recommended. There are less than 800km of tarred roads in Gabon – some of them in a bad condition. During the rainy season it is difficult to travel outside the major city areas even in a 4×4 vehicle.
Train. The Trans-Gabon railroad goes from Owendo to Franceville. The trip takes 12-18 hours 3 trains per week.
Bus. Mostly new buses serve the cities with paved roads leading to and from them. Since Air Gabon closed down, these bus lines have greatly increased their routes.
Boat. Boat travel is available all along the coast of Gabon and dozens of miles up the Ogooue river to Lambarene. Boats leave daily to/from Libreville and Port Gentil. River trips from the mouth of the big river at Port Gentil to Lambarene (Albert Schweitzer Hospital) are available every few days. Hotel Olako arranges weekly boat transfers between Port Gentil and Omboué (close to Loango National Park).
A small population, as well as oil and mineral reserves have helped Gabon become one of Africa’s wealthier countries. The country has generally been able to maintain and conserve its pristine rain forest and rich biodiversity. Tourist attractions in Gabon include beaches, waterfalls, national parks, ocean and inland fishing facilities and the Crystal Mountains. The people are generally very friendly, respectful and helpful to visitors.
Despite being far ahead of its unstable, war-torn neighbours, tourism in Gabon remains DIY – you either put yourself in the hands of a travel agency, or negotiate the poor roads, infrequent transport and almost total lack of reliable infrastructure yourself. Outside cosmopolitan Libreville, the country’s only real city, Gabon is an undiscovered wonder. Gabon really isn’t set up for the independent traveller and even the most determined go-it-aloners will actually have an easier time and be able to do far more if tours through travel agencies in Libreville are booked. Waiting can be involved, flights infrequent and roads terrible (especially in the rainy season), so start early in making plans for trips out to the national parks.
Climate. Tropical; always hot, humid. During the months of June to September, the climate is a little cooler (20-25°C).
Terrain. Narrow coastal plain; hilly interior; savannah in east and south. Highest point is Mont Iboundji at 1,575 metres.
Coastal Plain (Libreville, Gamba, Loango National Park, Kango, Mayumba, Tchibanga) – flat river plains and lagoons with dense rainforest on the Atlantic coast as well the capital city and majority of the population
Central Highlands – the Cristal Mountains and Chaillou Massif with huge tracts of highland rainforest
Jungle Interior (Franceville) – the eastern region mostly bordering Republic of the Congo; more rainforest.
Unesco World Unesco Sites: Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lope-Okanda
Akanda National Park — mangroves & tidal flats are home to migratory birds and turtles.
Banteke Plateau National Park — savannah crossed by rivers with rope bridges for the locals; home to forest elephants, buffalo and antelope.
Crystal Mountains National Park — misty forests rich in orchids, begonias, & other flora.
Ivindo National Park — two of Central Africa’s most magnificent waterfalls; gorillas, chimpanzees, & forest elephants gather around its rivers and waterholes.
Loango National Park — a 100km stretch of virgin beaches and adjacent rainforest, both scenic and a place to view leopards, elephants, gorillas, & monkeys on the beach.
Lope National Park — mix of savanna & dense forest along the Ogooue River; float along the river in pirogue, view ancient rock engravings, or track gorillas or mandrill monkeys with a pygmy guide.
Mayumba National Park — sandy peninsula home to the world’s largest population of nesting leatherback turtles.
Minkebe National Park — highland forest with large sandstone domes, home to elephants and forest-dwelling antelope and giant hogs.
Chez Beti – a small seaside safari camp near the village of Nyonie owned and operated by a French ex-pat. Clean, air-conditioned cottages and all-inclusive family style meals accompany the evening Landcruiser and sunrise walking safaris. Wildlife sightings can include elephants, buffalo, monkeys, parrots, hornbills and other local fauna. The camp is located just a few km south of the equator, along a pristine stretch of beach. email@example.com
Food. If you don’t like fufu , don’t sweat. The heat-inducing cassava staple is a long-time favourite in Gabon, but the cuisine is just as heavy in other Central and West African staples, such as fried plantains and rice and fish dishes. Okra, spinach and palm oil are widely eaten here, and in a country coated with such thick forest, the lure of bushmeat – notably bush hogs, antelopes, primates (including chimpanzees and to a lesser extent gorillas) and crocodiles – has been hard to shake. Beer is the drink of choice –
Drink. The cheapest local beer is Regab, the most common is Castel. There are fantastic fruit juices available: “D’jino” Pampelmousse (grapefruit), Ananas (pineapple), Citron (Lemon).
Gabon is no bargain destination, and hotels will take the biggest bite out of your budget. Most towns have cheap and basic convent hotels – they’re generally your best bet if you’re pinching pennies. In remote villages, if you greet the chief and bring a small gift you’ll likely be welcome to stay in a hut. Libreville and any form of national- park accommodation tends to be universally very expensive by African standards. Most safaris in Gabon will cost even more than their East African equivalents.
There are three international name hotels – Le Meridien, Intercontinental and the Novotel. Apart from these, there are several other budget and economy hotels. Long term lease on apartments is also an option.
The Conservation Coup. In the late 1990s Mike Fay, of National Geographic and the Wildlife Conservation Society, walked more than 3200km through Central Africa, documenting the stunning natural environment he passed through. The late President Omar Bongo, after seeing the photos of what became known as the ‘Megatransect’, did the unthinkable: in 2002 he created a 13-park network of protected lands that covered 11% of the country. Overnight Gabon leapt from having almost no land conserved to having the most in the world. Hailed as a ‘conservation coup’, it was a wise move for Bongo, who was looking for new sources of revenue.
Wildlife organisations and ecotourist outfits subsequently rushed in to set up camps in the parks to support the fledgling conservation economy. It’s just one of the measures lined up by the late president to ease the impact of rapidly decreasing oil supplies. However, there’s still a long way to go before Gabon is recognised as the next Kenya: several foreign investors in ecotourism in Gabon have subsequently cut their losses and withdrawn from the country, citing terrible infrastructure, corruption and bureaucracy as reasons it’s difficult to run profitable operations here.
Malaria is common, so visitors should take malaria pills and a mosquito net when travelling in Gabon.
HIV/AIDS is, unfortunately, a common disease in Gabon with 5.1% (1 in 20) of adults affected.