Ivindo National Park
A vast and inaccessible park is home to some of Gabon's finest primary forest
Gabon is home to vast expanses of unexplored wilderness in the heart of Africa. Yet, whilst most places on Earth have long since been explored, the forests of this area have remained wild and out of reach. These forests contain a fabulous wealth and variety of flora and wildlife including forest elephants, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and mandrills, as well as wonderful birdlife.
After a successful group tour to Ivindo and Loango national parks in January 2019, we have another trip organised for January 2020.
We can also arrange tailor-made trips to Gabon. However, the lack of tourist infrastructure means that these are a complicated and expensive endeavour if venturing further than Loango National Park.
For those who are keen to experience the West African jungle on a tailor-made trip, a visit to the neighbouring Republic of Congo, particularly Odzala National Park, is a better option.
Gabon gained massive exposure in the press about ten years ago as an exceptional wilderness destination. Intrepid travellers hoped to see elephants roaming along remote beaches and hippos surfing in the sea. In truth, the reality on the ground did not live up to the hype, but if you are patient and lucky the rewards can be great.
“Sweat bees tickle the skin on my forearms. The perspiration lies there in beads, feeding their thirst. My heart is still pumping in my chest from the walk, at odds with the stillness surrounding me. The humidity presses on me, but it is the sense of expectation that weighs heavier upon my tired body.”
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Trek deep into Ivindo National Park, to Langoue Bai – a wide forest clearing that attracts all kinds of jungle wildlife. Here, wait on the viewing platform for gorillas, elephants and sitatungas to reveal themselves.
Sit with the believers as they summon the spirits. Chanting, dancing and drumming are all integral parts of these ceremonies, which are fuelled by the consumption of psychotropic iboga.
Join researchers and trek into Loango’s forest, in search of a family of habituated western lowland gorillas.
Head to the beaches as dusk approaches, in search of families of forest elephants. They typically leave the forest as the sun begins to set and can be spotted strolling beside the surf.
Some of the wonderful places to stay that we frequently recommended.
These renovated guestrooms are on the old hospital premises and one of the few places to stay in Gabon that has real character. They are maintained and run by the hospital’s foundation and are very comfortable. They are surrounded by old hospital buildings and the Ogooue River flows past, adding to the relaxed ambience of the place. The rooms closest to the river all have air conditioning, whilst the rooms further back do not. However, their ingenious design makes the most of natural airflow, meaning even these stay cool. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms that have been added retrospectively. This means the rooms are a little small, but the lovely location and historical connection more than make up for this.
This three-level platform is situated on the edge of the bai, beside the treeline. After dark, simple dome tents are erected on the top two levels of the platform. Mattresses and bedding are provided, but the confined nature of the platform means space is relatively limited. Despite this, a night here is a great experience – the sounds of elephants can usually be heard throughout the night. And at dawn, the rising sun burns mist off the bai.
Gabon’s only true safari lodge, Loango Lodge is the ideal base from which to explore the national park. It has endured its ups and downs over the years, but it is still superbly located, offering comfortable and modern facilities. The 11 bungalows all have air conditioning and hot water, whilst the beautifully positioned restaurant looks out over the river. The food at the lodge is superb by Gabonese standards, thanks largely to French manager Mathieu, who is a restauranteur by trade.
A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.
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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