Gabon: An Introduction

“Here be dragons”

If we were in times of old it’s probably what would be on the map over Gabon, at least based on the lack of information available on the internet and guide books.

Gabon is a name on very few anglo speaking peoples lips tourism wise. This is a big shame as it’s one of the few places in Africa where you can experience the true tropical forests without having to worry about no go zones and violence, while spotting gorillas and a profusion of other African forest wildlife. National Geographic called it “Africas Last Eden”, and they were right.

I’m sure anyone that has done the more traditional safari in the south and east of Africa can attest, seeing elephants strolling across the Savannah and hippos lounging in the rivers is a both invigorating and supremely special. How about seeing them in other environments as well, like the dense forest, or strolling along sandy beaches with ocean waves lapping at their feet? Well Gabon is where it’s at.

The country, half way down the western coast, is relatively small by African standards but has an even smaller, mostly urbanised, population. It’s also stable (see note at bottom)*, unlike many of the nations around it. As a country is also relatively prosperous, but like much of Africa income inequality is huge. Oil was discovered offshore in the 1970s and has allowed the country caution in extracting other natural wealth, including timber in the extensive forest.

Even better, in 2002, after research and a “megatransect” by the American naturalist Mike Fey, the then president, Omar Bongo, declared almost 11% of the country national parks and the country open to tourism.

A number of national parks were set up throughout the country covering pristine environments few humans had ever set foot in. Primal forest, savannah and seafronts were protected, with many of the parks turned over to NGOs (Non Government Organisations), tasked with not only protecting the parks and animals but promoting non-destructive, low impact tourism.

I first stumbled across Gabon in the summer of 2014 when I was looking for places to see African wildlife away from the traditional savannah of southern and eastern Africa, for a Christmas trip. I wanted to see forest elephants, chimps and gorillas, while experiencing some of the forests of Africa, which I had never been to before.

A Bee Eater in Sette Cama

I also wanted to do “jungle” without the long distances and flights involved in getting to South America or South East Asia.

The search started in the DRC but Verena would not have been able to go due to work restrictions, so the search went on. We looked at:

Gambia – no large animals – and I’ve been before
Ghana – complaints of little wildlife and fewer forest, much of the original forest has been chopped down.
Gabon – Wow! And then a second WOW… At the cost – mortgage territory!
The Congo – nice but again too expensive

We checked off all the west and Central African nations and the one that stood out was Sierra Leone. It had it all, wildlife, chimps, stunning shoreline and forest, stability, friendly people and it was reasonably priced. Then just as we were organising the trip reports of Ebola started appearing, first a few isolated cases, then whole regions. The country that has seen off a civil war and was so well on its way was now stuck down with another tragedy. Sierra Leone was definitely off the list – for now.

Lambaréné, and the Albert Schweitzer Hospital

We ended up going trekking in Morocco instead, but my hunt was not over. I went back to Gabon and started doing more research, and a plan started taking shape for a spring 2015 trip. That plan solidified, flights and accommodation were booked and it all lead to two weeks of some of the best wildlife and travel experiences we have ever had.

While the headline costs when first researching Gabon are exceptionally high – the country is aiming for low volume, high value tourism – if you are willing to rough it, avoid the “eco”lodges costing hundreds of euros a night, and do some legwork you can bring the costs down considerably. Going through the NGOs running the parks can brings costs down considerably, and they can also help organise other aspects of the trip (we would have struggled with some aspects without the help of Ghislain Bouassa from PROGRAM). That said it’s still not cheap, but it certainly becomes more manageable.

Elephants in Loango

Stay tuned for more posts on our trip in the future. We will also have another blog post with lots of info and links on Gabon that we have found useful. Click Here for all posts relating to our trip to Gabon.

 

*NOTE: Unfortunately since our trip things have destabilised somewhat in the country due to violence associated with the countries 2016 Presidential Elections. Please take note of your countries travel advisories, such as the UKs FCO travel advisory for the country. Hopefully things have calmed down in Gabon and the country has returned to it’s more peaceful aura.

About The Author

A Geologist by trade, Andrew loves travelling and photography, especially to wild and natural places. He needs to pay for it by working full time so until he and Verena can travel the world full time he has become a specialist in creating as much travelling time as possible from their annual leave.

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