Gabon Travel Guide
A small country of one and a half million people that derives much of its income from the oil and gas industry, Gabon is one of central Africa’s wealthier and more stable countries. Although it lacks name recognition on the world stage, this country contains a great amount of natural beauty, from its jungles filled with wild elephants, to its blissfully deserted tropical beaches.
Seeking to become the African version of Costa Rica, those wishing to discover it before the masses do should go now. While it is a more challenging country to get around compared to the nation that it aspires after, those that put in the effort will be duly rewarded.
Currency: CFA Francs
Languages: French, Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi
What To Do
If you are looking for a little background into the culture of Gabon, spending an hour walking around Musee des Arts et Traditions du Gabon will give you a basic idea of what this country is all about.
Although the exhibits are a little bit light on explanation, the colorful masks and other cultural artifacts on display will give you an idea of the cultural diversity and creativity of the Gabonese people.
If you are able to understand French consider hiring a tour guide, as they will be able to give you more in-depth knowledge on what the items in this institution’s collection mean than any of the limited resources available on-site.
When your travels in Gabon take you outside Libreville, make an effort to check out Museum Albert Schweitzer. Located in Lambaréné, this vine-covered home was the humble abode of French doctor Albert Schweitzer, who made it his life’s mission to make a big difference in the health of locals in this part of the country.
A skilled musician in addition to being a man of medicine, the rooms in this home contain the musical instruments he used to put on concerts back in Europe to help raise money for the hospital which bears his name today.
In addition to this and various home furnishings that have been left in period condition, there’s also a collection of African artifacts that can also be enjoyed by visitors.
Although much of Central and West Africa has been Christianized, Gabon is home to a significant minority population of Muslims. About 12% of the population practices Islam, with the Hassane II Mosque being the most significant hall of worship. Although you may not be able to access it at all times, its Moroccan architecture and presence on the Libreville skyline make it a can’t-miss highlight for photographers.
More than ten years ago, the president of Gabon made an effort to diversify his country’s economy towards ecotourism. To do this, he created a dozen new national parks, protecting 11% of the country’s land mass from development.
Ivindo National Park was one of the most significant of these reserves, as it guarded a series of stunning waterfalls, thick jungle, and a population of animals including elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and forest buffaloes.
With an average annual rainfall of almost 1,700 millimeters per year, there’s a good chance that you will encounter the wet stuff at some point in your trip here (especially between October and December), so do not neglect to bring weatherproof gear before heading out to this park.
The beauty of its beaches is another one of Gabon’s strength, as there are many parts of its coast that are carpeted in white sand and lined with drooping palms, yet there is nary a tourist to be seen anywhere.
If you don’t feel like puttering around a remote beach all by yourself in the Gabonese countryside, you can find plenty of locals, expats, and tourists to enjoy Pointe-Denis Beach with, as it is located within an easy boat ride of downtown Libreville.
Locals often play soccer on the beach and hang out in small private restaurants serving local cuisine, making for an atmosphere that is authentically African. With a visually stunning setting and warm tropical water, you couldn’t ask for a better place to have a relaxing day during your trip to Gabon.
What to Eat
Thanks to France’s history of colonization in the region, there are plenty of French and French-influenced foods that can be had in Gabon. One of the easiest of these to fit in on a tight budget are Beignets, which is a sweet pastry that is deep fried before being served up to you on the street. Coming with or without frosting, it is the perfect treat to get you started in the morning.
Fufu is another common dish that is found on the plates of Gabonese residents. Consisting of cassava that has been mashed up until it has achieved the consistency of thick porridge, this side is one of the most common sources of starch for people in this country. Be sure to try some when you’re out at a local restaurant during your visit here.
Dedicate at least one of your dinners during your trip to Gabon to trying Nyembwe chicken. Considered to be its national dish, this meal is made by smoking a chicken for at least an hour and a half, and then frying the meat in palm butter with onions and garlic. Often served with fried plantains or fufu, it is a meal that will satisfy and fill you.