Gabon is a country in Western Central Africa. It lies on the Equator, on the Atlantic Ocean coast, between the Republic of the Congo to the south and east, Equatorial Guinea to the northwest and Cameroon to the north.
A small population, as well as oil and mineral reserves have helped Gabon become one of Africa's wealthier countries. The country has generally been able to maintain and conserve its pristine rain forest and rich biodiversity.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Pygmy peoples. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes as they migrated.
In the 15th century, the first Europeans arrived. The nation's present name originates from "Gabão", Portuguese for "cloak", which is roughly the shape of the estuary of the Komo River close to the capital of Libreville. French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza led his first mission to the Gabon-Congo area in 1875. He founded the town of Franceville, and was later colonial governor. Several Bantu groups lived in the area that is now Gabon when France officially occupied it in 1885.
In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959. These territories became independent on August 17, 1960.
Since independence, Gabon has been one of the more stable African countries. Autocratic President Omar Bongo was in power from 1967 until his death in 2009. Gabon introduced a multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s that allowed for a more transparent electoral process and for reforms of governmental institutions. A small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous sub-Saharan African countries. Despite being made up of more than 40 ethnic groups, Gabon has escaped the strife afflicting other West African states.
Tropical; always hot, humid. During the months of June to September, the climate is a little cooler (20-25°C).
Narrow coastal plain; hilly interior; savannah in east and south. Highest point is Mont Iboundji at 1,575 metres.
Independence Day: 17 August 1960 (from France)
National holiday: Founding of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), 12 March (1968)
The fee for a visa to enter the country is typically €70 via the e-Visa website from one (1) to three (3) months single entry, €185 for six (6) months with multiple entries. Both have a €15 processing fee. Fees can also be paid in XAF. Payments are made on arrival at the delivery of the e-visa sticker. The visa usually takes 72 hours to be issued. This can only be issued when visit Gabon by air via Leon Mba International Airport in Libreville.
Air France and Gabon Airlines fly from Paris to Libreville, and Royal Air Maroc flies from Casablanca to Gabon. Air Service also flies to Douala (Cameroon), and Ethiopian Airlines flies from Addis Ababa. There are also on occasion flights to Brazzaville, Congo.
"Interair" flies from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Libreville on Monday with a stopover in Brazzaville/Congo - returning via the same route every Wednesday.
South African Airways "SAA" flies direct from Johannesburg South Africa) to Libreville and back on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Turkish Airlines has direct flights from Istanbul to Libreville.
There are several border crossings, though the roads are not good and a 4x4 is recommended.
The easiest way to get around is by bus. There are many and they are very cheap. Additionally, taxis are plentiful in the Libreville area and relatively well maintained.
Air Service has scheduled flights to Oyem, Makouko and Franceville/Mvengue. Air Nationale flies to Franceville/Mvengue. There are flights to Franceville/Mvengue every day of the week except Tuesdays and Thursdays. Africa's Connection has daily scheduled flights between Libreville and Port Gentil, weekly flights from Port-Gentil / Libreville to São Tomé & Príncipe and to Loango National Park.
There are lots of paved roads in Gabon, if you are staying in one of the major cities a car should suffice. If you plan on venturing onto some of the unpaved roads outside the major cities a 4x4 is recommended. There are less than 800km of tarred roads in Gabon - some of them in a bad condition. During the rainy season it is difficult to travel outside the major city areas even in a 4x4 vehicle.
The Trans-Gabon railroad goes from Owendo (Libreville) to Franceville. There is a train daily except Saturday traveling through the night in both directions, departing Owendo at 18:50, Franceville at 19:00, a 670-kilometer, 14-hour trip.
A few wealthy Gabonese entrepreneurs have invested in new buses for bus lines to service the larger interior cities. Mostly these buses serve the cities with paved roads leading to and from them. Since Air Gabon closed down, these bus lines have greatly increased their routes.
Boat travel is available all along the coast of Gabon and dozens of miles up the Ogooue river to Lambarene. Boats leave daily to/from Libreville and Port Gentil. River trips from the mouth of the big river at Port Gentil to Lambarene (Albert Schweitzer Hospital) are available every few days. Hotel Olako arranges weekly boat transfers between Port Gentil and Omboué (close to Loango National Park), transfers take between 3 and 4.5 hours (depending on the type of boat and engine).
The official language is French. Around 80% of the population speak fluent French, and one-third of the population of Libreville speak French as their native language.
Other than French, the three most common languages are Fang, Mbere, and Sira. Other languages are spoken by much smaller numbers.
Very few people speak English in Gabon, so some knowledge of French is an asset.
Tourist attractions in Gabon include beaches, waterfalls, national parks, ocean and inland fishing facilities and the Crystal Mountains.
Chez Beti - a small seaside safari camp near the village of Nyonie owned and operated by a French ex-pat. Clean, air-conditioned cottages and all-inclusive family style meals accompany the evening Landcruiser and sunrise walking safaris. Wildlife sightings can include elephants, buffalo, monkeys, parrots, hornbills and other local fauna. The camp is located just a few km south of the equator, along a pristine stretch of beach. Prices are very reasonable and include roundtrip transportation from the marina in Libreville; consisting of an hour long boat transit to a small landing in the mangroves, followed by a 45 minute 4x4 trip along jungle roads to the camp. Contact information: tel. 07 57 14 23 or 06 03 36 36, e-mail: [email protected]
The Balbool restaurant serves delicious western food with very cheap prices. Ask for the big Balbool soup.
The drinking age in Gabon is 18.
The cheapest local beer is Regab, it costs from XAF500-1000 and comes in a 650ml bottle. There are fantastic fruit juices available: "D'jino" Pampelmousse (grapefruit), Ananas (pineapple), Citron (Lemon) in 300ml bottles at CFA 400 and in a 1,5L bottle at XAF900 if bought in a shop.
There are three international name hotels - Le Meridien, Intercontinental and the Novotel. Apart from these, there are several other budget and economy hotels.
Long term lease on apartments is also an option.
A visa and letter of invitation are required for foreigners working in Gabon.
Malaria is common, so visitors should take malaria pills and a mosquito net when travelling in Gabon. HIV/AIDS is, unfortunately, a common disease in Gabon with 5.1% (1 in 20) of adults affected. Even though the larger cities appear more modern that most Western Africa countries, DO NOT drink the water. Sealed bottle water and soda drinks are available throughout the country.
The people are generally very friendly, respectful and helpful to visitors. As with many Africa countries, photos of Government Buildings and police (military) officers can land you in trouble. Best bet is to put away cameras so there will not be any misunderstandings while seeing city sites. It is always good to ask before taking pictures in urban situations.
You can contact the Gabonese Embassy in Washington D.C. by mailing them a letter to 1630 #7 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington D.C. 20009.