Secret societies and superb sands: why visit Gabon?

‘Africa’s last Eden’ is well worth a visit.

From national parks offering coastal wildernesses, forests, wetlands and savannahs to a capital city surrounded by tropical beaches, discover why Gabon, known as ‘Africa’s last Eden’, is well worth a visit. 

Immerse yourself in nature

With over 80% of the country covered in tropical forests and boasting thirteen national parks, Gabon is a wildlife-enthusiast’s paradise. From following the trails of gorillas, chimpanzees and mandrills at Lopé to watching out for turtles whilst camping on the beach at Pongara, the opportunities to observe wildlife in Gabon’s national parks are endless.

Western Lowland Gorilla by Michal Jirous Shutterstock
Spot western lowland gorillas in Loango National Park © Michal Jirous, Shutterstock 

Bird-lovers will be in their element, as Gabon has almost 700 recorded species and the forested hills of Moukalaba-Doudou are home to many rare birds. Aside from the animals, the scenery itself is spectacular. Journey through the forest by pirogue (dugout canoe) to the spectacular Koungou Falls in Ivindo National Park or see the forests, savannahs and wetlands in Parc National de Loango, one of Africa’s last great wildernesses. 

Learn about a secret society

Gabon maintains a rich tradition of pre-Christian animist culture, including ceremonies and initiation rites. Its best-known cult is the mystical Bwiti initiation, in which young men take the powerful hallucinogenic root of the iboga plant to facilitate a spiritual journey that deepens their understanding of the world and enables them to communicate with their ancestors.

Gabonese Masks Gabon by Sean Connolly
Gabon’s woodcarvings are world famous and have been a source of inspiration to artists worldwide © Sean Connolly

Spiritual rebirth purifies the mind of the initiated. Other ceremonies are held to heal the sick, drive out spirits or worship the ancestors. There are two cultural villages in Libreville, which aim to give visitors a greater understanding of Gabonese religion and tradition. Ceremonies for anyone wishing to be initiated into Bwiti can be arranged at both. A word of warning: ingestion of iboga can be dangerous and particularly people suffering from heart conditions should think twice. 

Take a well-earned break by the coast

Kick back and relax on the beaches of Pointe Denis, less than 30 minutes from central Libreville. The village of Pointe Denis, situated at the northeastern corner of the peninsula of the same name, has become Gabon’s most established seaside resort and is an ideal getaway for a weekend.

Gabon’s coastline is glorious © Ralph Messi, Unsplash

It was here that the local Mpongwé chief Rapontchombo of the Assiga clan, who put his mark to a treaty placing his territory under the French flag, ruled over the left bank of the Gabon from 1811–76. Rapontchombo was called King Denis by the French and the peninsula was named after him. The village itself sits on a narrow spit of land, separated from the main peninsula by a large mangrove-lined creek and the north end of the peninsula is fringed by silky sand beaches on all sides.

Wander around laid-back Libreville

Every trip to Gabon should include a couple of days in friendly Libreville. The warm and genuine welcome that awaits tourists combined with the city’s stunning coastal position make Libreville a very unique capital.

Port Libreville Gabon by Anton Ivanov Shutterstock
French for ‘free town’, Libreville is a beguiling hodgepodge of a city © Anton Ivanov, Shutterstock

From beaches dotted with palm-trees and traditional art and music displays to sparkling nightclubs and fine dining, Libreville offers something for everyone. 

Journey to the river-city of Lambaréné

Discover the different river islands that make up Lambaréné, the city made famous by Albert Schweitzer’s hospital. Founded in 1924, the hospital now treats around 30,000 patients each year, whilst Albert Schweitzer’s former lodgings are open to visitors.

The Old Albert Schweitzer Hospital Lambaréné by Fabian Plock Shutterstock
Albert Schweitzer’s hospital remains Lambaréné’s premier tourist attraction to this day © Fabian Plock, Shutterstock

Explore the three distictive parts of the city and soak up its friendly and relaxed atmosphere, or take and excursion by motorised pirogue into the lakes.