Geographically, Gabon lies on the western coast of Africa, straddling the equator. It is bordered by Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea in the north, the Republic of Congo in the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Gabon is almost entirely covered by dense tropical rain forests. The few savannas you’ll find are in the east, the south, and along the Ogooue River. While low and marshy areas dominate, there are also low mountain ranges and broad plateaus in the north, central, and southeast regions. These elevated areas are typically cut by rivers, deep valleys, and rushing rapids. Gabon’s longest river is the Ogooue which enters from the south and flows in an arc through the interior before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
Gabon offers rich wildlife viewing, especially at its largest national park, the Lope-Okanda Reserve near La Lope. This park sits in the central heart of the country. Its landscape of dense forests mixed in with spacious savannahs is the setting of numerous chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, and other large mammals and primates. You’ll also find more than 350 different species of tropical birds.
More wildlife can be seen at the Bateke Plateau region, whose forests, rivers, and savannahs give way to sitatungas, panthers, monkeys, crocodiles, parrots, forest elephants, river hogs, mountain gorillas, and charging buffalos.
If you get bored with safari animals, visit the Mayumba National Park in the central region near the border with Congo. This park features leatherback turtles nesting in the beaches and sharks, dolphins, and migrating humpback whales out to sea. The best time to visit is between July and September, when the migration of more than 3,000 whales provides an interesting whale-watching spectacle.
Gabon’s beaches are perfect: peaceful, quiet, remote, and tropical. Some of the most deserted beaches are Ekwata Beach and Pointe Denis (a great place for skinny-diving) in the north, and Sette Cama and Mayumba in the south.
More crowded is the Port Gentil, which is located at the mouth of Libreville and the Ogooue River. Fishing at Port Gentil is popular among European visitors. Numerous lagoons and lakes are found in this area, as well as a large variety of fish. Facilities at Port Gentil also enable visitors to water-ski, surf, and kayak.
Another popular water sports beach is the Cap Esterias, which is only 22 miles away from Libreville. Cap Esterias is a popular weekend destination for urbanites and its beach rocks are filled with lobsters, sea urchins, and oysters. Be sure to venture into the nearby forest and swim along the river amid the giant trees.
Gabon’s climate is hot and humid. Temperatures average between 22° to 35°C (72° to 95° F). Rainy and dry seasons alternative throughout the year. A long rain season begins in mid-January and lasts until mid-May, followed by a dry season between May and September, a rainy season from October to mid-December, and then a dry season once again between mid-December and mid-January. During rainy seasons, monsoons are typical, as are trade winds during the dry seasons.
Not much is known about Gabon prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1472 who were followed by the British, French, and Dutch in the 16th century. The French provided the main European influence in Gabon. In 1849, they captured a slave ship and released the slaves at Como River. The freed slaves remained in Gabon, started a settlement, and named it Libreville, which means “city of liberation” in French.
In the late 19th century, more French explorers came to Gabon and began claiming land for France. Eventually, the area of present-day Gabon became a French colony, part of French Equatorial Africa.
Gabon was granted independence in 1960. From independence until 1990, the only legal political party was the Gabonese Democratic Party. The first president was Leon Mba who ruled until he died in 1967 and was replaced by his vice president, Bongo. He ran unopposed until a multiparty system was introduced in 1990. Even still, Bongo has won every election since, always in landslide victories. While his opponents allege fraud, international observers widely agree that the election results have all been largely representative of his popularity.