All The Breathtaking National Parks You Can't Skip On Your Trip To Gabon

Relatively speaking, Gabon doesn't get masses of attention from the international tourist press, possibly because visiting this Central African country requires thorough planning and preparation. But, once you get everything lined up, visitors can expect a land untouched by mass tourism and full of revelations. Nicknamed "The Last Eden," Gabon stuns with wildlife encounters, vast savannah landscapes, expansive Atlantic beaches, and a magnificent collection of national parks.

The concept of a formal national park is still relatively fresh in Gabon. The creation of 13 designated parks was only announced in 2002 by then-president Omar Bongo (for comparison, Yellowstone National Park was inaugurated in 1872). Currently, the whole network of parks is in its adolescent phase with scarce infrastructure, few accommodation options within limits, and difficulty in reaching certain places. But then, when you've got 10% of the country covered in national parks, that makes a visit even more enticing. The range of wildlife is astounding — expect forest elephants, gorillas, monkeys, and more — and the safari opportunities are incredible. Gabon is waiting for visitors and offers some of the most exciting natural experiences on the planet.

Loango National Park

What better promotion can a national park have than being included in a Netflix documentary narrated by Barack Obama? That's the case of Loango National Park, which appeared featured in "Our Great National Parks," a show released in 2022. Loango is a natural marvel where nature's magic unfolds before your eyes. It's the terrain where hippos surf in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the gorillas roam the tropical rainforests, and dolphins compete with humpback whales along the uninhabited coastal waters. This national park is also a heaven on Earth for birdwatching aficionados. The park has more than 355 species of birds. 

But don't underestimate its remoteness; Loango is far from easy to visit. Covering 600 square miles of the country's west coast, the park is around 186 miles from Libreville, the capital of Gabon. While you can organize a self-guided trip reaching the city of Port-Gentil by air or boat and continuing with a local transfer from there, it's better to opt for one of the wildlife "all-inclusive" tours. However, be warned that Gabon is not an inexpensive place to visit. You can expect an all-inclusive three-night tour to Loango to cost around $3,000. There's also an option of embarking on an ultra-luxurious "Unspoilt Wilds of Southwest Africa" cruise by Swan Hellenic with prices starting from €12,285. It departs from Luanda, Angola (placed among the most budget-friendly destinations in Africa), and makes a stop in Loango.

Pongara National Park

Just an hour by boat from Libreville, and you're entering the extraordinary wildlife kingdom of Pongara National Park, the vast protected area where the Gabon Estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean's surf. Here, the leatherback turtles nestle among white sand beaches, forest elephants can be spotted in the grassy savannah, and the mangroves dominate the landscape. During the rainy season (from September to December and February to May), you can spot large primates like gorillas in the greenery of the rainforest. African forest buffalos make regular appearances. Moreover, whale spotting along the coast and birdwatching are also on the menu.

The location across the Gabon Estuary from Libreville makes Pongara an easy-to-organize trip. You wouldn't have to drive for miles on the interior dirt roads in a 4x4 here; just hop on a boat, and after a short ride, you're within the park's limits. Pongara Lodge is among the most popular and well-reviewed accommodation choices and is arguably the ultimate way to experience the rich flora and fauna of the national park comfortably. Visitors can expect to pay around $870 for a two-night package that includes boat rides, lodge accommodations, and activities. You can tailor the tour according to your wildlife interest.

Akanda National Park

Just like Pongara, Akanda National Park is accessible enough for a day tour from the capital. Thanks to its proximity to Libreville, you can have a rendezvous with this spellbinding land of mangroves without spending the night. Birdwatchers will be especially delighted to visit Akanda, as the park is famous for a wide variety of migratory birds and is a go-to spot for observing the mangrove sunbirds, blue-spotted wood doves, and swamp boubous. As vast parts of the park are reserved for beaches, the experience can also include turtle- and whale-watching. Add this to the abundance of elephants, gorillas, and other famous beasts, and you've got a wildlife adventure worth savoring.

As for the practicalities, you've got several options for visiting Akanda. You can go on a day tour (costing around $299) that will include a visit to the Raponda Walker Arboretum and a mangrove hike. There's also a $499 overnight trip with a motorboat cruise, a three-course meal plan, and a forest lodge stay.

Crystal Mountains National Park

Terra incognita, even by Gabon's standards, Crystal Mountains National Park boasts stunning biodiversity and promises the ultimate wild experience where you may be the only human being within its 460 square miles. It's neither easy nor cheap to visit, but that's the price you pay for uncovering the untouched heart of Africa. After all, it's not every day that you spot free-roaming forest elephants and monkeys. In addition to this, the park has more than 48 reptile species and hosts troops of chimpanzees, droves of buffaloes, and even some bands of gorillas.

It's important to understand that the one thing Crystal Mountains National Park doesn't have is good infrastructure. Apart from several signs indicating directions to the park, there's nothing else to help the self-guided travelers. The best and, frankly, the only way to visit would be by going on an organized tour with a local company. Koussou Voyages offers a 13-day journey that includes exploring the misty landscapes of Crystal Mountains, starting from $3,667 for one person with accommodation, food, and entry fees. While it may seem like a hefty price, the experience is worth every cent.

Lopé National Park

If you want a quintessential savannah safari experience accompanied by glamping-like accommodation, that's Lopé National Park. Covering a vast territory of 1,900 square miles of Central Gabon, it's also a UNESCO-protected natural area known for its abundant wildlife and ancient petroglyphs. A meeting place of savannah and rainforest, it is home to a fantastic variety of animals. Also, Lopé is the ultimate monkey land, with colorful mandrills reigning supreme. Moreover, you will encounter western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants, giant pangolins, leopards, and much more.

Although located more than 250 miles from Libreville, Lopé National Park is surprisingly easy to reach, thanks to the Trans-Gabon Railway. Hop on a train from Owendo station in Libreville to Lopé station next to the park. Still, your best option for a hassle-free visit is to book a tour with accommodation included. The representative of the tour operator will meet you at the train station and take you to the lodge in the park. While Lopé is accessible, it's far from cheap. Look at around $2,000 for an all-inclusive five-day tour. For accommodation, you can choose between the luxurious Moabi Tented Camp and the more functional La Lopé Hotel bungalows.

Minkébé National Park

An elephant kingdom with a population of around 30,000 of these majestic animals, a visit to Minkébé National Park is not easy. The park is among Gabon's most challenging natural attractions to visit due to the lack of facilities, no big settlements nearby, and a position over 400 miles from the country's capital. But once you get the necessary permits and select the trusted tour guide, it may well become one of the most enriching natural experiences in your life. The pristine equatorial rainforest dominates the 2,922 square miles of its area. Apart from the massive parade of elephants, gorillas, mandrills, chimpanzees, duikers, porcupines, and leopards call Minkébé home.

The towns of Oyem and Makokou are good starting points for departing to Minkébé National Park, as both have airports you can fly to from Libreville. Contact ANPN (Gabon's National Parks Agency) via Facebook or email beforehand to arrange a meeting with a local guide. Only go if you're sure that someone will get you to Minkébé; the area is the very definition of an untouched wilderness and requires extensive preparation and attention to detail.

Birougou National Park

Located in Central Gabon, Birougou National Park remains an enigma to travelers, much like its most famous inhabitant, the mysterious sun-tailed monkey. One of the least-researched primates on the globe, it was only discovered in 1988. Along with this elusive primate, the park is home to elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and buffalos.  At 3,198 feet high, Mount Birougou towers over the savannahs and primeval forests of the national park. Despite these charms, Birougou National Park lacks tourist infrastructure and is reserved only for the most adventurous travelers.

If you recognize yourself in such a description, Birougou National Park can be accessed from Mbigou. As with other remote national parks in Gabon, contact ANPN before your trip and have a clear itinerary for your desired visit. The agency can help you find a trusted local guide that will take you safely to the wild terrain of Birougou. When organized well, expect a thrilling journey filled with sublime natural encounters and unforgettable vistas. 

Ivindo National Park

Sheer Africa's epicness awaits you in Ivindo. This UNESCO-protected national park in northern Gabon is a getaway to magnificent rainforests and a perfect window into the life of its inhabitants. To say it's huge would be an understatement; the park covers 300,000 hectares of area and includes mighty rivers, dramatic waterfalls, and stunning biodiversity. Langoué Baï is where you have the best chances of encountering forest elephants. 184-foot-high Koungou Falls are among the most breathtaking natural attractions in Gabon.

Thankfully, Ivindo National Park has a relatively well-developed tourist infrastructure and is a straightforward safari trip from Libreville. However, it's also among the most expensive, with six-day tours costing as much as a whopping $7,900, which is no small amount of money. You can reach the park by taking a Trans-Gabon train from Libreville to Booué or flying in Makokou. Gabon Wildlife Camps & Safaris offers all-inclusive safari trips and camping inside the park.

Batéké Plateaux National Park

If a genuine adventure is on your Gabon's travel menu, visiting Batéké Plateaux National Park qualifies. Located in the southeastern part of the country bordering the Republic of the Congo, it covers 785 square miles and serves up breathtaking landscapes. The panoramas here are among the most dramatic in the country. You will traverse the flowing waters of the Mpassa River, admire the giant canyons, and scale the heights of hills rising over the savannah, all while encountering forest elephants, marveling at gorillas sitting next to the river banks, and observing the monkey troops.

Although the area around the national park is accessible by plane and the Trans-Gabon Railway, Batéké Plateaux doesn't have any accommodation options within its protected limits, and the infrastructure simply is not there yet. That leaves you with two options. A three-day park excursion starting in Libreville can cost up to $10,000 (as we said, Gabon is far from a cheap destination). Alternatively, you can arrange guidance from ANPN in Franceville and explore Batéké at your own pace. The agency can recommend the best guides in the area and help with all potential issues. 

Mayumba National Park

Natural marvels unfold on the long sandy Atlantic beaches of Mayumba National Park, arguably one of the most underrated national parks in the world. Between October and April, leatherback turtles descend on local beaches to breed. Then there are the humpback whales that grace these shores with their presence between July and October. Add the rich fauna of the rainforest, mangrove, and savannah landscapes that border the Atlantic areas and you're getting one of the most exciting natural spectacles in all of Africa. Elephants, antelopes, monkeys, and buffalos are also easily spotted here if you know where to look. 

While Mayumba is undoubtedly a gorgeous national park and a must-visit destination for sea turtle lovers, it's also challenging to get to. Visiting from Libreville requires a few changes in transport. Mayumba (12 miles from the national park) is the closest airport, although Tchibanga and Gamba are other potential options. The typical journey starts by getting to one of these towns and arranging separate transportation to the park. As always, it's best to contact ANPN directly and ask for a guide. Gabon Voyage Afrique Online offers tours to Mayumba National Park that include whale watching, sport fishing, and a lagoon safari in a canoe.

Moukalaba-Doudou National Park

Great apes rule Moukalaba-Doudou National Park. Around 4,690 representatives of these species are estimated to dwell in the neverending forests and savannah of a park spanning over 1,700 square miles. Here, you can meet gorgeous western gorillas, fascinating charmers that are among the world's most intelligent animals. The so-called "gorilla safaris" are one the most popular things to do in Moukalaba-Doudou, as local guides lead the way to the spots where these majestic creatures can be seen. Meeting one in its natural habitat is a true bucket-list experience, a moment of unforgettable excitement.

The town of Tchibanga is the primary getaway to Moukalaba-Doudou National Park, and the airport has direct connections with Libreville. Gorilla safaris are offered by several tour operators, including Gabon Travel and Tours (a five-day all-inclusive trip from Libreville costs $3.490) and Gabon Voyage Afrique (inquire for price). To save money, you can contact the park authorities directly in Tchibanga and organize yourself a guide. Make sure you leave no stone unturned in your planning, and only head to this remote part of Gabon if you've got every step carefully planned.

General advice on visiting Gabon's national parks

Gabon is rarely chosen on lists of must-visit African countries. Having only been established in 2002, the country's national parks system is still a work in progress. While some parks like Pongara and Lopé are easily accessible, visiting others means entering the realms of unpredictability and preparing for an absolute lack of infrastructure. A visit to Gabon's glorious national parks is only for confident and comfortable travelers, experienced explorers who are fine with uncertainty, language barriers, wildlife risks, and the constant possibility of every single plan being turned on its head. As a piece of general advice, always check tours are up-to-date before proceeding to payment; Gabon's political situation remains quite unstable, and things on the ground may quickly change.

Travelers must also consider their health. The rainforests, savannahs, and mangroves are spectacular, but these landscapes also present major disease risks. A yellow fever vaccination is obligatory if you're visiting Gabon, while malaria remains a high risk. Zika virus also threatens certain parts of the country. It's one thing to stay in Libreville and take one 50-minute boat trip across the shore to see the buffaloes on the beach. It's a whole other kind of a challenge to embark on a five-day gorilla safari in the Moukalaba-Doudou wilderness with no cities, hospitals, or food around. Uncharted land means you're largely alone in dealing with all the problems. Gabon may be the "Africa's last Eden," but no one said Eden is free of complications.