Gabon doesn’t appear on many “must travel” lists, and that is honestly a shame. Despite being a smaller country with less development, Gabon has no shortage of wonders to offer its visitors. Because much of the country is still developing, enjoying Gabon is an adventure. However, because tourism hasn’t left its marks on the country, you can find truly beautiful treasures. Over 10% of Gabon is national parkland, providing breathtaking locations for nature enthusiasts. Then there’s the cascading falls, roaring rivers, scenic landscapes, and white, powder beaches. Though it may not have been on your radar before, give Gabon a chance, and you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
Roughly one-third of Gabon’s population lives in its capital, Libreville. Within the city’s borders, you’ll find beautiful buildings, incredible French and African cuisine, casinos, markets, and close-knit communities. Folk art sculptures line the city’s waterfront, creating a scenic and artistic venue that visitors can enjoy for free. After sunset, hit the streets to find your choice of bars and clubs full of live music that keep the party going through the night. Look out for traditional dance performances and ceremonies for a truly memorable experience.
When most people think of a market, they envision a few rows of stalls and a calm day out. However, the Mont-Bouet market is far from small or calm. This massive market extends over several blocks. Merchants sell everything from clothing and fabrics to peanuts and tomatoes. Crowds are usually smallest on weekdays during the early parts of the month and at their largest on the last weekend of the month.
National Geographic explorer and conservationist Michael Fay once described Loango National Park as “Africa’s Last Eden,” a moniker that the country has fully embraced. When you visit Loanga, it’s easy to agree with the name. It feels as though you have stepped into the Garden of Eden itself. Elephants march across the beaches from January to April, crocodiles nest in November and June brings new grass and the charming sitatungas. Lucky visitors may even get to watch hippos thrash about in the water.
Within the southern parts of the country are two quiet towns, M’Bigou and Eteke. Both locations are famous for the quality of the soapstone that locals extract from nearby hills. If you visit Mbigou, you can watch as craftsmen create elaborate carvings and statues from this legendary soapstone. Many of the pieces they create hold spiritual meaning as local folklore associates them and the soapstone with ancient spirits.
Anyone who has traveled outside of the U.S. knows that soccer is a massive sport in most of the world, and many countries take it extremely seriously. If you’re a fan of the sport, it’s definitely worth trying to get tickets to a game at the Stade Complexe Omnisport in Libreville. Locals tore down the old, dilapidated Omar Bongo stadium to make way for this massive stadium that houses over 40,000 people. The Omnisport is home to the area’s local army, and police soccer club and games frequently fill the stadium to the brim.
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Gabon’s national parks are the stuff of legend, and one of its most popular is Lopé National Park. Covering over 3000 square miles, this park consists of vibrant rainforests and vast savannahs. Visitors to the park can spot hundreds of mandrills as they trek through the region. More elephants reside in this park than in any other place in Africa, around six per square mile. The area is also home to hundreds of bird species, including several rare ones. Spend a few days inside the forest with a packed lunch as a French-speaking guide leads you through the wonders of nature.
Though it isn’t nearly as large as Libreville, the city of Lambaréné has a unique and gentle charm. It was once home to one of Gabon’s most famous citizens, Albert Schweitzer. Throughout the city are mementos to his Nobel Prize-winning work, and his hospital-turned-museum remains one of the city’s most iconic locations. To fully enjoy the area, you can take a ride on a pirogue, or traditional canoe, across the many peaceful and crystalline lakes. These boat rides provide great opportunities for birders.
The world is full of amazing and unique creatures, and Gabon is no exception. Their local leatherback turtles are among the noblest and most adorable animals you’ll ever set eyes on. Visit Pongara National Park and take an excursion to see them lay their eggs along the beaches. You can also find other animals, such as elephants, red river hogs, monkeys, and buffalos. Visitors who arrive between July and October may be lucky enough to see humpback whales in the bay. If animals don't interest you, the waters are full of adventure for surfers, divers, and swimmers.
The entirety of western Gabon touches the Atlantic ocean, making it a prime area of some amazing beaches. Of course, the popular national parks have some of the most beautiful beaches, but there are many lesser-known gems to enjoy. Cocobeach is a small and calm seaside town just across the inlet from Equatorial Guinea. While the area is a popular stop for people traveling between the two countries, its beaches are often quiet and relaxing. With a quick boat ride from Libreville, you can arrive at Point Denis. Its beach runs for several miles, making it a fantastic location for diving and water sports alike. Even if you’re just looking for solitude and a walk, Point Denis is perfect.
Some people may consider it odd to travel to another country for fishing, but enthusiasts know of the joy that only a new fishing locale can bring. Gabon’s many lakes and rivers provide some of the best fishing spots in all of Africa. Anglers who are looking for the most variety in their catches should try somewhere along the Atlantic coast or in the numerous lagoons around River Ogooué. If you want to test the waters and don’t have any gear, many locals in Lambaréné and Port Gentil offer equipment rental.