View of Albert Schweitzer Hospital, Lambarene, Gabon


Lambarene is located in an area where Bwiti flourishes, often hidden by darkness and practised in unobtrusive temples that hide behind local houses

This relaxed pocket-sized city is spread across a broad section of the Ogooue River, with part of it occupying a large island in the river’s centre. It is famed for its hospital, which was founded over a century ago by Dr Albert Schweitzer.

This remarkable institution seems slightly out of place amidst Gabon’s untamed jungle. Nevertheless, it is deserving of its excellent reputation and a visit to the hospital and associated museum are highlights of any stay.

Dancer at Bwiti ceremony, Lambarene, Gabon
Bwiti dancer, Lambarene, Gabon

Bwiti Rituals

In spite of Gabon’s colonisation by France and its indoctrination into Catholicism, traditional spiritual practices survive in the form of Bwiti rituals. Lambarene is located in an area where Bwiti flourishes, often hidden by darkness and practised in unobtrusive temples that hide behind local houses.

A highlight of any stay in Lambarene is a visit to a local temple, in order to witness these mesmerising ceremonies first-hand. Sit with the believers as they summon the spirits and pray to their ancestors. This is an entirely authentic and powerful experience.

Bwiti blends Christianity with animism and other practices, all fuelled by the consumption of iboga. This potent endemic plant has psychotropic properties, which the local people take advantage of by chewing the bark. Although practised only by a handful of tribes in West Africa, Bwiti remains widespread in Gabon and is one of the official religions.

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Chris Johnston

Chris is the Conde Nast Traveller chosen Specialist for Africa.

25 years ago, my first trip to Africa took on a life of its own. I planned for three months, I stayed for two years. Whilst there, I was mistaken for a priest, attacked by sharks and arrested. Yet the countless, clattering journeys opened my eyes to the beauty of the landscapes and the grace of the people. My recent trips are undoubtedly more comfortable, but the welcome is as warm as ever and the best experiences are still those I never see coming.

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