Gabon Basic FactsGabon is a beautiful country, blessed with beaches, pristine rain forests, as well as oil and other natural resources. It's per capita income is higher than many sub-Saharan African countries, and it's a politically stable country (easy when you only have had one leader for most of your history). Gabon has set itself up as a unique eco-tourist destination, its forests are filled with gorillas, elephants and chimps. Around 10% of Gabon is designated as national park areas. Excellent music (a very lively rap/hip-hop scene), as well as diverse ethnic groups, make it a fascinating cultural destination as well.
The popular US TV show "Survivor" took place in Gabon in 2008, and we all thought it would be the start of a tourist boom for Gabon. But unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with resource rich countries, mismanagement has not led to enough infrastructure development which is necessary to keep the tourists coming in. In 2012, Gabon will again have the chance to showcase its considerable riches, when the Africa Cup of Nations will be played out in various stadiums around the country.
Location: Gabon lies on the west coast of Africa, on the equator, between Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea. Gabon is considered to be part of the Central African Region.
Area: Gabon covers an area of 267,667 sq km, about the same size size as New Zealand, or slightly less than the size of Colorado, (see map).
Capital City: Libreville
Population: Around 1,577,000 people call Gabon home.
Religion: Christian 55%-75%, traditional beliefs, and Muslim less than 1%
Language: French (official), Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, and Bandjabi
Climate: - Gabon has a tropical climate with one dry season that usually lasts from December - February. Temperatures remain constant throughout the year, averaging between 84 - 88 Fahrenheit (29 - 32 Celsius). The wettest months are May and June. Gabon has a narrow coastal plain with a hilly interior. There is some savanna in east and south of the country.
Best time to Visit: The drier cooler months between June - August is the best time to visit Gabon, or the short dry period between December - January. It is warm year round.
Currency: Central African Franc (XAF)
Gabon's AttractionsIn 2002, Gabon's (now late) President Bongo declared he would set aside 11% of his country as nature preserves and national parks. Several national parks have indeed been set up to protect the vast natural rain forests from further logging as they are home to unique wildlife including lowland gorillas, forest elephants, chimpanzees, and hippos. Gabon also has a thriving cultural scene. In 2012 Gabon hosted the Africa Cup of Nations. Below are a list of some of the main attractions that draw tourists to the country.
- Loango National Park -- a beautiful park filled with diverse wildlife and flora, with some lovely camps and lodges operated by Africa's Eden.
- Lope National Park -- Easily reached from Libreville making it accessible for backpackers as well as other tourists. This is a good place to track gorillas with local pygmy guides (although groups are not habituated). Great for birders as well.
- Ivindo National Park -- Waterfalls, remote river islands and the famous langoue bai (natural forest clearings) make Ivindo an absolute wonderland for those looking for a remote safari.
- Wonga-Wongue Presidential Reserve -- difficult to reach, but visitors are rewarded with forest elephants, chimpanzees, buffalo, lowland gorillas and antelopes. This was the location of Survivor Gabon - 2008.
- Pongara National Park -- located on the Atlantic coast has some beautiful beaches where thousands of turtles nest every year and you can also see whales as well as hippos.
- Libreville -- the capital of Gabon, is a modern African city with plenty of 5 star hotels, decent French wine, good beaches, malls and fast-food restaurants. The markets, Musée des Arts et Traditions du Gabon and National Museum are worth a look. The nightlife is vibrant, check out hotel bars for live music and numerous nightclubs around town for dancing.
- Pointe Denis and Ekwata island -- Nice romantic escapes from the capital for beach lovers. Ekwata is more remote if you wish to avoid lots of tourists.
Gabon Travel Information
Getting To and From Gabon Most visitors will arrive by air, and land at the Leon M'ba International Airport in Libreville, Gabon's capital. Airlines with regular flights to Gabon include: Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and Emirates. Regional destinations are covered by: Gabon Airlines, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Air Moroc, Rwandair Express and Kenya Airways.
Where to Stay:
Libreville is home to several European chain luxury hotels, all offer similar facilities at high prices. Further afield you can opt for some nice eco-lodges, like Loango Lodge, Evengue Lodge, and Lope Hotel - see more wildlife camps/lodges in Gabon.
Recommended Gabon Tours
World Primate Safaris - 15 day Forest, Lagoon and Ocean Adventure
Africa's Eden - 13 Day tour includes Gabon wildlife and beaches of Sao Tome and Principe
Palace Travel -- 15 day Cultural Tour of Gabon and the DRC
Ngonde Tour - CAN 2012 Tour, for soccer fans.
Embassies/Visa Information: Most nationalities require a tourist visa as well as a yellow fever vaccination to enter Gabon, see your local Embassy web site for more information.
Brief Political and Historical OverviewUntil recently, only two autocratic presidents had ruled Gabon since its independence from France in 1960. The recent president of Gabon, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba - one of the longest-serving heads of state in the world - had dominated the country's political scene for four decades. President BONGO introduced a nominal multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s. However, allegations of electoral fraud during local elections in 2002-03 and the presidential elections in 2005 exposed the weaknesses of formal political structures in Gabon. President Bongo died in June 2009. New elections in August 2009 brought Ali Ben Bongo, son of the former president, to power. Despite political conditions, a small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous and stable African countries. In January 2010, Gabon assumed a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2010-11 term.
Gabon's EconomyGabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most sub-Saharan African nations, but because of high income inequality, a large proportion of the population remains poor. Gabon depended on timber and manganese until oil was discovered offshore in the early 1970s. The oil sector now accounts for more than 50% of GDP although the industry is in decline as fields pass their peak production. Gabon continues to face fluctuating prices for its oil, timber, and manganese exports and the global recession led to a GDP contraction of 1.4% in 2009. Despite the abundance of natural wealth, poor fiscal management hobbles the economy. In 1997, an IMF mission to Gabon criticized the government for overspending on off-budget items, overborrowing from the central bank, and slipping on its schedule for privatization and administrative reform. The rebound of oil prices from 1999 to 2008 helped growth, but drops in production have hampered Gabon from fully realizing potential gains. Gabon signed a 14-month Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF in May 2007, and later that year issued a $1 billion sovereign bond to buy back a sizable portion of its Paris Club debt.
Sources and More about Gabon
Gabon Travel Guide
WCS on Gabon
Lonely Planet on Gabon
Africa's Eden - Upscale Gabon Ecotourism Company
Virtual Tour of Gabon's National Parks
Gabon National Park's Official Web Site