Gabon – A journey from north to south – Travel Blog. The scenic Gabonese leg of our Oasis Overland ‘Accra to Cape Town’ trip
Gabon was the 6th country we visited on our tour through West and Central Africa. Along with Angola it was the the country we were most excited to visit on this trip.
Border crossing from Cameroon
Entering Gabon from Cameroon took around an hour via two offices a short distance apart, despite no other people present at the border. Customs officials informed our tour leader that we all had to pay 10,000 CFA (approx. US$20) each to enter. When she asked if we would get a receipt, they said no. So she refused. They then tried to ‘negotiate’ 5,000CFA, then 3000CFA, 2000CFA, 1000CFA and then a truck fee of 10,000CFA, all of which she refused, after which we were finally allowed to move on. Strangely at that point, we still weren’t stamped into the country and had to drive via immigration in the nearest town to get our entry stamps.
The beautiful jungle scenery that we had previously been exposed to in Cameroon continued, as did the good roads, with an exception to the very first stretch, which thankfully, didn’t last long!
We were stopped at around a dozen checkpoints and as usual some were so close to each other we could still see the previous checkpoint. As a result, we didn’t cover much ground, before finding a perfect bush camp by around 5 pm.
The following day, we made our way towards Lopé Nature Reserve. We only had 300 km to travel to reach Lopé and we seemed to cruise by the first two hundred kilometres quickly. For the first time since reaching West and Central Africa, the temperature was really cool and with the back windows of the truck fully open, we were all a bit cold. The beautiful jungle scenery continued and we spent much of the day driving alongside the Ogooue river and stopped briefly for a picture on the Equator.
A little further in, we stopped by the river for lunch and a quick swim to freshen up, seeing as we had no access to running water again and weren’t sure when we would be able to next shower.
Having made such great ground, we were all pretty confident we would reach Lopé that evening. Needless to say, we were a bit surprised that the final one hundred kilometres were on an unsealed, bumpy road. We only managed around thirty kilometres in 2 hours and ended up at another bush camp offering some beautiful views of the surrounding hills and a lovely sunset.
Lopé National Park
It took 5 hours of driving the following day before we finally reached Lopé . The scenery along the way was some of the most beautiful we had seen so far on our tour from Ghana. It was a shame the road was so bad and that it took so long to get there!
When we arrived, we had lunch while waiting for our tour leader to make arrangements with our intended campsite. We were a little surprised that the village of Lopé was inside the reserve. However, in our opinion, that made our stay nicer. There were some beautiful Pin-tailed whydah birds that we had fun chasing around. Along with a few different types of bee-eaters and h
We were hoping to join a safari in the evening, however, were advised that the jeep was full. As the Safaris were run from the Lopé Hotel 3 km away, a few of us decided to walk there on the off chance that we had been misinformed. Sadly, we had not and by that stage, we were all super hot and sweaty. The temperature in Lopé was a lot warmer than we had experienced the few days beforehand! The hotel had a pool that overlooked the river, along with cold beers, so, we spent the rest of the afternoon poolside.
We were ready for our safari at 7.30 am the next morning. For four hours we cruised around the reserve, which was largely hilly savannah with pockets of rainforest scattered around. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife to see! However, we did spot some Forest buffalo, a Blue duiker, monkeys, lots of African Pied Hornbills, bee-eaters and some kingfishers.
Despite the lack of wildlife on display, the scenery was really beautiful. We were both glad that we did the safari and would loved to have spent more time exploring this lovely park.
After lunch at the campsite, we drove 5 hours back to the same place we had camped the night before where we would again, spend the night.
It took just over 2 hours the next morning to get back to the main road. From there it was another scenic drive to Lambarene, a quaint riverside town roughly a days drive away from the Republic of the Congo border. One of the main attractions there was a museum located by the hospital set up by noble peace prize winner Albert Schweizer. The hospital focused on leprosy, tropical disease research and malaria. The museum was all about Albert and his efforts in the area. Upon arrival, we discovered that the hospital and museum were completely shut down due to staff strikes. So we left to find a place to stay, which resulted in a nice campground within a local church, right by the river.
Soon after arriving, we headed to the shops to have a look around, despite the angry looking rain clouds that were rolling in fast. As we approached the shops, the wind picked up and by the time we left, the heavens opened. We got drenched heading back to the campsite. Forced to take a small detour via a bar we met some of the group also taking shelter. We had a beer and a chat before returning to the camp for a shower and dinner. That was the first time in 6 weeks that we had access to a hot shower, which was actually very welcome as we were both
Most of the following day we had free, to chill out at the campsite or look around town. We invested a large amount of time cleaning our tent, washing clothes and showering. It was super hot again and we were happy to indulge in some lunchtime beers.
Border Crossing to Republic of the Congo
We left at 3 pm and drove a few hours towards the Republic of the Congo border, where we found a secluded bush camp for the night. The drive was beautiful again as we passed more and more jungle and small villages. Somehow, we avoided the rain, however, the temperature had definitely cooled right down which was nice.
We woke in the morning to the sound of bees buzzing around our tent. Initially, we thought there were just a few, but on closer inspection, there were hundreds. Once we got up, we realised everyone’s tents were surrounded by bees. As we tried to have breakfast, more and more bees appeared.
After two and a half hours of driving, we reached a small town where we did some food shopping and were stamped out of Gabon at the immigration office in town. Bizarrely, we then drove for four or so hours on awful dirt roads, to the customs office yet, we hadn’t reached the border. The jungle that had followed us everywhere started to thin out around the roadsides and was replaced with what could be described as jungle scrub.
We ended up camping outside the customs office. We had spent a solid hour there, providing the required information to the officer. There was no way we would have made it to the border before it closed.
In truth our Gabonese leg of this trip had been the biggest disappointment of this whole tour. The fluid itinerary through the country was bland and underwhelming. With so many national parks and their unique wildlife we had been really excited to travel through Gabon. But, other than a brief and poorly organised visit to Lopé National Park we really saw very little of Gabon.
It was the one country we travelled through, where we really felt we needed to comeback to see it properly. And, we will, independently, so we can visit what really interests us!
We left the next morning, curious to see what our visit to the Republic of the Congo would bring!
Our Oasis Overland Expedition
We travelled with Oasis Overland on the 12 week Accra-Cape Town section of their 42 Week UK-Cairo Trans Africa expedition. Doing an Overland expedition was an epic way to travel through this big and beautiful continent. It took the hassle out of travelling independently through some of most remote parts of the world. Yet, it still provided the challenges and adventures that we as well-travelled backpackers wanted. From free-camping under the stars to sweltering in the dense jungles and driving for days along dusty desolate tracks to haggling in the busy and bustling markets, this expedition had it all. We really did get a little off track!