Libreville

Soak up the atmosphere along the palm-fringed seafront of Gabon’s capital, Libreville.

Gabon’s capital lies in the far northwest of the country, splayed haphazardly along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean for close to 30km. Libreville – or Elbévé, as the locals call their home town (just pronounce L-B-V in French) – is a beguiling hodgepodge of a city: a grab-bag mix of gleaming, vainglorious government buildings, modern tower blocks turned black with tropical mould, and singlestorey shops and tin-roofed shacks of the style found across the African continent. While the architecture may seem incoherent, the welcome is well established – Libreville is a laid-back capital city and the Librevilleois who call it home are warm, genuine, and inevitably intrigued to hear that you’ve come to their town as a tourist.

Libreville, Gabon, Bogdan Skaskiv, Shutterstock
The Librevilleois who call the city home are warm, genuine, and inevitably intrigued to hear that you’ve come to their town as a tourist © Bogdan Skaskiv, Shutterstock

Arriving by air in the daytime offers a fantastic view over the riotous greenery and labyrinthine creeks of Akanda National Park to the north, and by night you see the city’s isolated glow – surrounded by the Atlantic’s inky blackness to the west and Gabon’s famous forests to the east. You can sometimes even spot the eerie fires of oil platforms burning off excess natural gas offshore. The runway is no more than 500m from the palm-studded shore, and the tropical humidity will have you in its pillowy grasp before you’re down the boarding stairs. From here, the city is your oyster, and Libreville has a little something for everyone, whether you’re after glittering nightclubs and fine gastronomy or traditional art and secretive ceremony.

Much like the rest of Gabon, Libreville has seen a general slowdown in business activity over the past few years thanks to depressed global oil prices – known locally as la crise (the crisis) – and the city’s considerable reliance on the industry, but it nonetheless continues to be a magnet for immigrants and young people seeking a better life.

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