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Where to go in Gabon

Libreville

Libreville
The seaside city of Libreville

Libreville, Gabon’s capital and largest city, is home to nearly 50% of Gabon’s entire population. Here, you will find Gabon’s largest airport, the Libreville International Airport, 11 kilometers(6.8 miles) north of the city.

There are many interesting places to visit in Libreville. First off, there is the Musée des Arts et Traditions (Museum of Arts and Traditions), where you can find a huge collection of tribal masks, as well as some of Africa’s most beautiful woodcarvings. Among these are the Fang-style carvings that have influenced the work of the famous Pablo Picasso.

L’Eglise St-Michel (the Cathedral of St. Michael) features 31 artistically carved columns that depict Biblical scenes. What makes these columns especially fascinating, though, is that they were reportedly carved by a blind man.

The Palais Presidentiel (Presidential Palace) is an architectural gem that is wonderful to behold, although visitors are not allowed to enter the edifice.

Other beautiful buildings–such as the colorful Ministry of Forestry and Environment,the French Cultural Centre, and the uniquely-shaped Ministry of Mines and Petrol, the most photographed building in the city–can be seen when you stroll along the Boulevard Triomphal.

 

Pointe-Denis

Pointe-Denis
Pointe-Denis

Pointe-Denis is found not too far from the main city. In fact, it’s right inside Libreville.

To reach this beautiful quiet beach, you need to take a 20-minute ferry ride from Port Mole to the Pointe-Denis peninsula.

At the beach, you can relax on the lounge chairs, take a walk, or go swimming.

The place is good for families with kids because the water is calm and safe, and the beach is not at all crowded.

If you’re lucky, you might see some sea turtles, wildebeests, or even humpback whales,which are found in the area.

You can have lunch and even stay the night at one of the lodges near the beach. Bring cash, though, as there are no ATMs around, and the establishments may not accept credit cards.

 

Franceville

Franceville train station
Franceville train station

Franceville is one of Gabon’s largest cities. It was originally called Masuku (some of the locals still use this name). It became Francheville (“city of the freed”) when Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza chose it for the resettlement of former slaves in the late 1800s.

In time, the name Francheville eventually turned into Franceville.

Franceville is both the birthplace and burial place of former Gabon president Omar Bongo, whose statue is found in the city.

At the market, you can buy bushmeat such as monkey and snake meat.

One of the biggest reasons why people come here, though, is to see Poubara Falls, which is not just beautiful; it also provides electricity to the area.

Within the vicinity of the falls is a liana bridge that you can cross (and where you can have your picture taken while you’re crossing it).

Franceville can be reached by plane from Libreville every day except on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It can be reached by train; it is at the end of the Trans-Gabon railway. It can also be reached by car, but a 4×4 is advised as some parts of the road are not paved.

 

Mayumba National Park

Baby leatherback sea turtle
Baby leatherback sea turtle

Mayumba National Park is one of the best places to find giant leather back sea turtles in the world. More than 550 female turtles could come ashore here in one single night to lay their eggs.

In fact, one of the reasons why this national park was created was to protect this critically endangered turtle species.

But there’s more to Mayumba than just turtles. In the sea, the dolphins and humpback whales swim just a few meters away from human spectators. On the beach, you could meet a monkey, a mandrill, or an antelope.

There are also ghost crabs, mongooses, otters, hippopotami, pangolins, and shorebirds. The park is also home to the West African Manatee, a threatened species.

This is a park characterized by long sandy beaches and freshwater or brackish lagoons.

If you prefer the coastal environment over the rainforest, then Mayumba is the national park in Gabon that you will enjoy visiting the most.

 

Batéké Plateau National Park

The White Canyon

The Batéké Plateau National Park is a 2,034 square kilometer (785 square mile) area that, due to its purported natural and cultural significance, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2005.

The park was established in 2002 to protect the area’s chimpanzees and gorillas. The area is also home to crocodiles, butterflies, antelopes, elephants, hippopotami, and many colorful birds.

The land is composed of vast savannas, winding rivers, mangrove forests, gigantic dunes, and lush vegetation. The river Mpassa is a sight to behold. The clarity of the river results in a beautiful reflection in the water of the mangrove forest that lines the river shore–a perfect subject for photography enthusiasts.

Two interesting land features found in the national park are the Leconi and Lewou canyons. Canyon Leconi is a beautiful rose-colored canyon with meandering slopes and thick vegetation. Canyon Lewou is better known as the White Canyon, due to the brilliant white color of its steep rock faces.

 

Minkébé National Park

African gray hornbill

The 7,560-square-kilometer (2,919-square-mile) monolithic park of Minkébéis found in the extreme northeastern part of Gabon, inside a 32,260-square-kilometer (12,456-square-mile) forest block, which is one of the largest remaining forest blocks in the world today.

The national park is home to centuries-old forest trees, wild ferns and orchids, primates, birds, and a great concentration of elephants.

Aside from the flora and fauna, another interesting feature of the park is its inselbergs–granite hills–with their dramatic domes.

There are no paved roads or villages in Minkébé. Nobody lives in this national park. Much of the land is barely touched by man. A visit to this place is a wilderness adventure in its purest form.

 

Ivindo National Park

Kongou Falls

Covering an area of 3,108 square kilometers (1,200 square miles), Ivindo National Park is home not just to a vast number of wildlife such as mandrills, panthers, leopards, hyenas, lowland gorillas, and elephants, but also to small villages of pygmies scattered in different areas of the forest.

In the blackwater river Djidji, there are swamp otters hunting for crabs. There are crocodiles basking along the shore. You can hear the screech of the African gray parrot.

Further along the river, you will find rapids that end at the Djidji Falls, with its nearly a hundred-foot drop.

This national park, in fact, holds three of the most awe-inspiring falls in West Africa: the Djidji Falls, the Mingouli Falls, and the Kongou Falls.

In Langoue Bai, you will find the highest density of tusker elephants that can be found in the country.

Tourists who wish to stay overnight at the Ivindo National Park can sleep at the base camp, which is designed with environment-friendly amenities such as composting toilets and solar energy.

 

Loango National Park

Lowland gorilla
Lowland gorilla

The 1,550 square kilometer (598 square miles) Loango National Park is famous for the images of surfing hippos taken by Michael Nichols for National Geographic.

The park, with its rain forests, mangroves, lagoons, savannas, and white sand beaches, has one of the world’s greatest concentrations of dolphins and whales, which are easily observed just off the park’s coast.

It is also the home of leopards, gorillas, chimpanzees, crocodiles, hippopotami, buffalos, and elephants, which can sometimes even be found roaming along the sandy beach.

Very few people live within the park. More than a hundred kilometers of its coastline is practically uninhabited.

Visitors that come to the Loango National Park usually have Evengue Island as their starting point. From there, there is a circuit you can follow that leads you to the eco-camps, savannah, beach, and all the other highlights of the park.

 

Nyonié

Nyonié beac
Nyonié beach

Nyonié is often reached via a one-hour boat ride then another hour’s drive on a 4×4 through the rain forest to reach the base camp.

One of the first things that will meet your eyes it the beautifully solitary white-sand beach. But there is more to Nyonié than swimming and sunbathing.

There’s also the elephant safari. Hopping back onto the 4×4, you drive into a jungle so lushly verdant, you could hear the chattering of the chimpanzees without being able to see them through the thick foliage.

The elephants in Nyonié are different from those you find in safaris in many other African countries in that the elephants here are not so used to humans. You really have to be quiet to get close to them. That is part of the adventure.

Other animals you could find in Nyonié are river hogs, panthers, antelope, chimpanzees, gorillas, and many different kinds of birds.

In addition to the animals, there is also an interesting geographical feature you could see in Nyonié: cirques–natural amphitheaters–formed from the erosion red and white clay.

When the safari is over, you could go to the beach and maybe see some turtles nesting, if you are lucky.

 

Santa Clara

Santa Clara Beach
Santa Clara Beach

Cape Santa Clara is found just north of Owendo and 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the capital, Libreville. It is best known as a mineral-exporting port, receiving iron and manganese ore from other ports since the late twentieth century.

But like many parts of Gabon, it is also a place of pristine beauty.

One thing you will notice in Santa Clara is the abundance of okoumé trees. This 30–40 meter(98–131 foot)tall hardwood tree is native to Gabon and the Republic of Congo. Today, it is considered a vulnerable plant species. To help in the tree’s preservation and as part of a forestry development scheme, a huge number of okoumé trees have been planted on the cape.

One highlight of your trip to Santa Clara would be a visit to the Santa Clara Rock Formation. This large chunk of hard rock, with all its soft parts eroded away, has now turned to an eerie-looking formation, with root-like projections and all sizes of holes and caves. It is definitely one of the most interesting geological features you will see in Gabon.

The area’s greatest attraction, however, is its fine-sand beach dotted with large rocks and the occasional driftwood–natural beauty at its best. The shore is shaded by tall, thick trees, so your eyes meet refreshing hues of greens and blues wherever you turn.