Some have called it ‘the last Eden on Earth,’ and once you’ve visited, you’re likely to agree.
Leave the capital city, the only real city in Gabon, and you’ll find yourself in a vast and largely undiscovered paradise of white sandy beaches, dense jungle, raging rivers, and pristine landscapes.
In 2003, ten percent of the country was dedicated as protected land and 13 national parks were created to conserve this last Eden.
Gabon is unique among its equatorial African neighbours.
It enjoys stability and peace.
It’s also the most progressive and tourist friendly destination in the area.
But be forewarned that most travellers elect to work with a travel agency on the ground due to the total lack of infrastructure, non-existent roads, and unreliable transportation options.
It’s a true adventure just waiting to steal your heart and make you fall in love.
Roughly one third of Gabon’s inhabitants live in Libreville. It stands as the country’s capital and only real city to speak of.
Because of an influx of oil money, you’ll find paved roads, clean streets, unbelievable restaurants, surprisingly good French wine, casinos, and gated communities.
Not exactly like the Africa of its neighbours.
But Libreville’s foundation has a vibrant African heartbeat complete with the overcrowded, chaotic, and oh-so-fun markets, close knit communities, and gorgeous coastline.
Founded in the mid 19th century by freed slaves (Libreville means ‘Freetown’ French), the city grew slowly and attracted a wide variety of people – creating a modern day eclectic town.
In addition to the markets, don’t forget the National Museum, the Presidential Palace, L’Eglise St-Michel (St Michael Cathedral), and the Musée des Arts et Traditions du Gabon.
When you’re ready to relax, find a little spot of beach like Ekwata Island and soak up the sun.
2. Loango National Park
The crown jewel in the 13 national park system is undoubtedly Loango.
One of Africa’s best safari experiences is waiting for you here.
The park has lush landscape and fantastic wildlife.
You’ll find almost 200 kilometres of uninhabited shoreline, making Loango one of the last fully wild coastal areas.
The park has forest, lagoons, wetlands, and savannahs.
In addition to the famous surfing hippos captured by a National Geographic crew in 2004, you’ll see gorillas, elephants walking along the beach, whales, dolphins, buffalo, and more.
This is one of the last places on Earth where these animals have access to the sea.
The park has a catch and release fishing program and sport fishermen have been known to hook rouge, barracuda, and even sharks.
Most people consider Loango to be the number one safari destination on planet Earth.
The almost 900 square kilometres of Pongara National Park were select because of the diverse landscape there. Forest, mangrove flats, beach, and savannah.
It’s incredibly accessible (for Gabon!) and home to tons of bird species, including the threatened Damara terns.
The forests are filled with monkeys, duiker, buffalo, elephants, and chimpanzees.
Pongara Point, the beach area of the park where the estuary connects to the ocean, is home to endangered leatherback turtles.
This is the place where they crawl ashore in order to lay their eggs.
If you’re visit between November and February you can catch one of the many educational programmes conducted by Adventures Without Borders, a group whose aim is to protect the turtles and reduce the threat caused by humans.
Don’t miss the first burial spot of Chief Rapontchombo and learn about the mysteries of his second burial spot!
4. Fernan Vaz Lagoon
The highlight of the Ogooué maritime region is the Fernan Vaz Lagoon.
Named for the Portuguese explorer who found it in the 15th century, the area is engaged in a number of conservation efforts.
On Gorilla Island, the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project (PGFA) runs a sanctuary and reintroduction centre.
There are two gorillas living there now who help to educate visitors on the plight of these magnificent animals.
Another eight orphaned gorillas also live there, away from human contact, with the aim of reintroducing them into the wild.
Fernan Vaz also has a bit of history to share.
In the late 19th century the Mission Saint Anne was built.
Designed by Gustav Eiffel himself, the church is a formidable building, worn to a beautiful and distinctive rusty red over the years.
Walk the grounds during the day or night for incredible views of the beach and forest.
5. Ivindo National Park
Perhaps the most remote of all the national parks, Ivindo is also one of the most important in all of Central Africa for the work being done for biodiversity conservation.
The river is the main feature of the area, running through the rainforest and creating an unbelievable series of rapids and waterfalls.
There are adventure packages that will allow you to camp in the rainforest and around the falls as well as enjoy a pirogue lesson and day excursion on the river.
Bird lovers will enjoy the 430+ bird species that include African grey parrots.
Gorillas, chimps, colobus, mandrill, mangebey, sitatunga, duikers, giant pangolin, bush pig, and more can all be spotted across this 3000 km2 park.
Don’t forget to check out Langoué Bai.
Bai is the Pygmy word for forest clearing, and this gorgeous stretch of land is rich in mineral water.
The elephants keep the area clean by digging to the rich saline soil which then attracts other large mammals to feast there.
6. Makokou & Kongou Falls
Makokou is the capital of the Ogooué-Ivindo region and the gateway to Kongou waterfalls – Gabon’s own version of Niagara Falls.
Located inside Ivindo National Park, Kongou is definitely a must see with a 60 metre drop and great spiritual significance to the local people.
The village of Makokou is rather isolated but does have air, rail, and river access.
Pygmies live in the forest surrounding the village and using the village as a base camp gives you great opportunities to interact with the locals.
The end of the Trans-Gabon Railway is Franceville, one of the four largest ‘cities’ in Gabon.
At one point it was the governments chosen city to resettle former slaves and now is a bustling and lively place with a village atmosphere.
Tourists enjoy St.
Hilaire’s Church (19th century) and the memorial to former President Omar.
The market makes for a fun stroll – be sure to check out the bushmeat, which includes African Rock Python! For nature lovers the Poubara Falls are nearby and make for an excellent nature walk.
The second largest city after Libreville is Port-Gentil (or Mandji as some of the locals call it). This seaport town is the hub of the country’s timber and petroleum interests.
And given its roots as a customs outpost and base camp for colonial expeditions into the country, it’s easy to see how the town has grown into its current commercial importance.
Located on Mandji Island, it isn’t connected to the mainland by road.
In addition to being famous for its industry, Port-Gentil is also famous for the nightlife and casino there.
During the day, be sure to check out the local zoo and St.
Louis Church (20th century).
9. Point Denis
Point Denis is popular primarily because tourism development hasn’t reached there yet.
Though it’s a quick boat ride from Libreville, it feels like another world.
The beach runs for several kilometres and ends where the Pongara National Park begins.
The laid back town has comfortable restaurants, small boutique hotels, and great water sports.
On the western side of the island you’ll find only locals and a wilder coast line.
It’s a place where you’ll immediately know that you’re near equatorial jungle.
If you’re looking for solitude and long introspective walks with gorgeous scenery, Point Denis is your place.
10. Réserve de la Lopé
Smack-dab on the equatorial is Réserve de la Lopé, complete with savannah, rolling hills, and rainforest where it’s possible to see buffalo, elephants, gorillas, and mandrills.
This national park was originally a reserve created in the 1940’s after the Okanda Wildlife Reserve was established.
It’s now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll find a research station there run by the Zoological Society of London.
You can stay at the station and be less than five metres from the rainforest at all times.
Known as Lozo by the locals, Lastoursville is sleepy little town on the banks of the Ogooué River.
The town itself is not remarkable, it’s the surrounding area that has all the highlights.
First up are nature hikes out to Boundji Waterfalls – beautiful and serene.
The biggest attraction is undoubtedly the caves near Lastoursville – just an hours walk from the town centre.
They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. Recent expeditions have charted over three miles of undiscovered underground cave.
Lambaréné is a town roughly 75 kilometres from the equator in the Central African Rainforest.
Made famous by Albert Schweitzer when he built his hospital there in 1913, the town is now home to the Bantu ethnic groups.
Primarily a fishing town it’s a great place to relax and experience local life in Gabon.
You can tour the hospital and see the remarkable work being done.
13. Minkébé National Park
Travelling to Minkébé is a bit tricky, but well worth the effort.
Another of the more inaccessible parks, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working in the area to promote conservation efforts.
Home to gorillas, elephants, leopards, cheetahs, and isolated traditional ethnic groups, WWF focuses attention on alternative forms of income for the locals – including artistic endeavours.
The WWF reports that the elephant population here is probably the largest in all of Africa.
Several species in the park are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
When you visit you’ll learn about the Kwèl and Kota ethnic groups that life within the park.
Find out about the Baka Edzengui, the forest spirit, the Kota mask, and the Kwèl Deke dance.
14. Mayumba National Park
This park lies close to the border of the Republic of Congo and is the only one that is primarily a marine park.
It’s a thin strip of land that includes savanna, dunes, beach, and rainforest.
About 60km of this strip is protected leatherback turtle nesting beach.
There’s a great chance that you’ll spot the barnacled whales, dolphins, sea turtles, leopards, antelopes, crocodiles, hippos, monkeys, and of course, elephants.
Locals will tell you that the area is protected by the spirits of the ancestors.
15. Akanda National Park
Internationally known as the nesting ground for one of the largest populations of migratory birds on Earth, Akanda National Park accounts for about 25% of protected mangrove in all of Africa.
The Bantu tribe believe that the Mondah forest, within the park, is a sacred place where many of their myths and legends originate.
This is also the ideal spot for water sports, fishing, and spotting dolphins and whales.
Be sure to check out Leatherback Trove where the Ministry of Water and Forest partner with the Gabon Sea Turtle Partnership in order to train teams to record illegal fishing close to the coast line in order to protect the leatherbacks – whose population has diminished by 90%.