Author Annelies Hickendorff explores the unique features and religious background of Gabon’s famous mask and statue art.Read more...
Gabon - When and where to visit
Like all equatorial regions, Gabon’s is a tropical climate. It’s hot and humid all year round, averaging 26°C and 85% humidity, with a typical annual rainfall of 2.51m. The climate does of course vary slightly depending on where you are. Thanks to the trade winds, the humidity on the coast is less intense, and there is less rain the further south you head. Broadly speaking, Gabon has two main seasons: a long rainy season between February and May, followed by a long dry season from late May to mid-September. The rest of the year is made up of two shorter seasons, a rainy season from October to November (the month with the highest average rainfall of the year) and a dry season from December to January.
Gabon straddles the Equator on the west coast of Central Africa. Its capital, Libreville, has a latitude of 0°25’N. Bordering Gabon to the north are Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, to the east and south is the Republic of the Congo, and to the west is the Atlantic Ocean. The country covers an area of 267,670km2. To put this in context, Gabon could fit into the USA 35 times, into France twice and into Zimbabwe once. Gabon’s coast stretches for 855km, so it is hardly surprising that it is not uniform. Just by looking at a map, you can see how craggy it is to the north of Cape Lopez, while to the south the coastline becomes much smoother, straighter and sandier.
Gabon has a tropical climate © Annelies Hickendorff
At its deepest, the coastal region encroaches some 200km inland. In parts it is very swampy and the only way to get around is by pirogue. Inland from the low-lying coastal plain lie elevated plateaux of up to 500m in height. Rising above these plateaux is the occasional mountain range reaching around 1,000m, notably the Crystal Mountains and the Du Chaillu range, which is the location of the highest point in Gabon, Mount Iboundji (1,575m). Of Gabon’s many rivers, the largest is the Ogooué River, which flows between Cape Lopez on the Atlantic to its source in the Congo 1,200km away, fed by many tributaries on the way. Just beyond Lambaréné, the absence of mountains enables it to open out into an enormous delta of lakes.
Over 80% of Gabon is covered in dense tropical forest. Ancient forest dominates the mountain ranges and remote areas, while post-agricultural forest grows in areas that once were cultivated. Compared with the forest, savannahs are a minute proportion of the landscape in parts of Ogooué Maritime, Ngounié, Nyanga and Haut-Ogooué.
Gabon can be visited at any time of year. It is hot and humid all year round, but to a lesser degree during the long dry season (May–September). There’s a short dry season from December to January. During the rainy season downpours may come at any time of day and can last for several hours. Every season has different advantages, depending on which animals you wish to spot.
It is worth realising that getting around Gabon at any time of the year can be slow and frustrating, and in the wet season doubly so. Trains and planes – except for light aircraft – should not be affected by wet weather, but the roads pose more of a problem. Only too quickly the tarmac runs out, leaving you struggling in the mud.
Gabon’s main selling point is without any doubt its magnificent nature and wildlife. Over 80% of the country is covered in dense rainforest, and the remainder is savannah and coastline. Gabon boasts an exceptional biodiversity and is home to mammals ranging from whales to warthogs and a long list of endemic birds. This is a country where gorillas and elephants can be caught on camera on the same stretch of beach. Gabon is not yet a mainstream destination and therefore is one of Africa’s best places to access the untouched rainforest. Now is the time to go there – soon the crowds will arrive.
From Libreville, head to Ivindo or Lopé national park or continue by train to Léconi, returning to Libreville via Franceville. Then catch a plane to Port Gentil or Gamba for a visit to South Loango National Park.
Spend a couple of days in Libreville and the on the beach of Pointe Denis, before heading to Port Gentil for a visit to North Loango and the Fernan Vaz Lagoon. Return to Libreville via Lambaréné. Return to Libreville via Makokou and Ivindo National Park. From Libreville, take the train to Lopé and Léconi. Return to Libreville via Franceville.