Gabon

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Introduction to Gabon

With a vast sprawl of virgin rainforests and teeming wildlife, Gabon is The Ghost Who Walks territory. Its major cities, however, are a sophisticated bustle of glitz, lights, and casinos. Gabon offers a little of everything to just about everyone.

It's not high on the list of most travellers' itinerary because visas come tied in a mile of red tape and day-to-day expenses, especially in Libreville, are mind-blowingly expensive. But if you can overcome these drawbacks Gabon is worth a visit.

The combination of Texan-tea money and French influence has unfortunately all but destroyed traditional Gabonese culture, but it's still worth passing through if you're taking the western coastal route north or south. Inland it's a different story; despite its wealth, Gabon's roads are not in the best of conditions and once you get off the main roads and railways, getting around is a hard slog.

Full country name: Gabonese Republic

Area: 257,670 sq km

Population: 1.2 million

Capital City: Libreville (pop 450,000)

People: About 40 Bantu groups, including four major tribes (Fang, Eshira, Bapounou, Bateke), plus about 100,000 expatriate Africans and Europeans (27,000 French)

Language: French, Fang,

Religion: Roman Catholic (75%), Protestant (20%), indigenous beliefs (4%), Muslim (1%)

Government: republic

GDP: US$7.7 billion

GDP per capita: US$6,400

Annual Growth: 1.7%

Inflation: 1%

Major Industries: Food and beverages, textiles, lumber, petroleum, mining, ship repair

Major Trading Partners: US, China, France, Japan, Cameroon, the Netherlands, Côte d'Ivoire

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas are required by all and must be obtained prior to arrival. They are not available at the airport or at border crossings. Getting a visa to Gabon is notoriously difficult - from outside Africa it can cost more than 100.00, and requests can be rejected without explanation or delayed for weeks. It's better to apply for one at a Gabonese embassy in a neighbouring coutry, where it takes a couple of days and costs half as much. Proof of onward travel is also necessary.

Health risks: cholera, yellow fever, malaria

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1

Dialling Code: 241

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The biggest celebration of the year is the three-day Independence Day bash in August, with festivities more evident in the towns and villages than in Libreville. Muslims in Gabon celebrate the major Islamic holidays, including Ramadan, a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of Ramadan with a feast, beginning on the evening of the 30th day. The centre of attention is usually a roasted sheep or goat. Also known as Eid al-Adha or the Great Feast, Tabaski is the most important celebration for Muslims in Gabon. They kill a sheep to commemorate the moment when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son in obedience to God's command, only to have God intercede at the last moment and substitute a ram instead.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to visit Gabon is during the dry season (May to September). The rest of the year is one muggy, scorching hot day after another, with heavy rain from evening till morning.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Central African CFA Franc

Meals

Budget: US$1-5

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$10-15

Deluxe: US$15+

Lodging

Budget: US$10-20

Mid-range: US$20-50

High: US$50-100

Deluxe: US$100+

Comfortable travel in Gabon is limited to Libreville and a handful of other places. You could spend US$300 a day or more if you tried, but the top-end hotels and restaurants in Libreville are notoriously overpriced, so you'd hardly get your money's worth. Moderate travel will run closer to US$50-100 a day, though you can get by for less if you pick your accommodation with care, do some self-catering and don't crisscross the country in a 1st-class cabin. Budget travellers can squeak by for well under US$50 a day if they stick to cheap resthouses and restaurants.

The commissions for changing travellers cheques at banks in Gabon can be punitive - make inquiries before you change. Cash has the edge. There are banks in the largest towns, but many of them refuse to change money or travellers' cheques other than those denominated in euros or CFA francs.

Expect to tip between 10% and 15% unless the service charge has already been added to your bill.

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Attractions

Libreville

With its big ocean-view hotels, office buildings, wide highways, fancy shops and cavalcade of taxis, Libreville looks more like a Miami Beach than a major African city. Just to prove the point, its prices are big-time cosmopolitan as well: Libreville is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

There's no lack of nightlife, either: the African quarters are full of fairly cheap places to eat and drink. They're easy to get to, not half as dangerous or rough as some other African capitals, and the hard-partying locals are always up for a beer or (just as likely), a French champagne.

Lambaréné

Gabon's third-largest city is built on an island in the middle of the Ogooué River. The big attraction is the still functioning Schweitzer Hospital and museum, about 8km (5mi) from town. Albert Schweitzer's office, home, library, laboratory and treatment centre are still there, though deteriorating.

From Lambaréné, you can take a pirogue into the lake region, where hippos and other wildlife can be seen (especially during the dry season). Lac Evaro is the most popular of the lakes. Lambaréné is around 200km (125mi) southeast of Libreville.

Lastoursville

Lastoursville is located on the southern banks of the Ogooué River, with rolling hills all around. Once a boomtown during construction of the Transgabonais, Lozo (as the locals call it) is now pretty sleepy, offering good restaurants and inexpensive accommodation. The main attractions are all outside of town, including hikes to the Boundji Waterfalls or the caves about an hour's walk from the centre. Lastoursville is about 400km (250mi) east of Libreville, on the Transgabonais.

Port-Gentil

The oil town of Port-Gentil is built on an island (Ile de Mandji) at the mouth of the Ogooué River. The northern part of the island, Cap Lopez, is full of expatriates, top-end hotels and the only decent beach. Port-Gentil has more restaurants, stores and clubs per capita than any other African city.

The African quartiers are cheaper than the top-end of town and offer a host of inexpensive restaurants, bars and clubs that are as lively and interesting as those in Libreville and even safer to visit. A casino and a decent hospital are also available.

Réserve de la Lopé

The easiest wildlife reserve to get to is Réserve de la Lopé. Established in 1982, the park consists of open savannah and small but dense forests beside the riverbeds. Except during the rainy season, the animals tend to favour the dense forest and you won't see much other than buffalo.

This is the best place in the country to see wildlife, but you need your own vehicle to explore the park - you're not allowed in on foot and budget travellers are not well catered for (camping is not allowed inside the park). The reserve is about 200km (125mi) east of Libreville.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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