The best Libreville travel guide for a first-time visit
Does the idea of traveling to Africa make your palms sweat and your imagination run as wild as the Serengeti? Well, I’m not going to serve you a story dripping with maple syrup, because it is Africa. But I am going to tell you everything you need to know about traveling to Gabon, one of the least known countries in Africa. If you’ve ever dreamed of traveling to Africa, this Libreville travel guide is just what you need to keep your trip as stress free as possible. But first of all…
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Where is Gabon?
This is a country that it seems almost nobody in North America has heard of. And that’s not always a bad thing. Since Gabon is a country less travelled it is not yet inundated by tourists. In fact, you’ll find yourself almost alone or just in the company of friendly locals at some tourist attractions.
Gabon is right under Equitorial Guinea (interesting side point-the only Spanish speaking country in Africa) and Cameroon. The Republic of Congo borders Gabon to the east and south. And to the west it enjoys a long stretch of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. Of note, almost straight west of Libreville, is the tiny Portuguese speaking African island of Sao Tome and Principe.
Gabon travel facts
Weather: Tropical, hot and humid
Language: French and around 40 local languages, most from the Bantu language family
Currency: XAF, Central African CFA franc
Best time to travel to Gabon: December, January and June, July, August
Visa required: Yes, for most countries
Why travel to Gabon?
If you have not yet travelled to sub-Saharan Africa you may wonder why travel to Gabon? While it is not as much “Africa for beginners” as countries like Namibia for example, it is a good stepping stone to other African destinations. And no Libreville travel guide would be complete without some tantalizing reasons why you should consider traveling to Gabon.
Top 5 reasons to travel to Gabon
1. Little ethnic tension
You gotta love when people get along! Ethnic tension is one reason that may make going to Africa intimidating for some. Thankfully, the around 40 different ethnic groups get on pretty well in this gem of Africa. Notably, Gabon is home to a large immigrant population from all over Africa that makes up a great part of the work force. And thus, I did hear some discontentment with the amount of jobs being done by those from other countries. Sadly, this is the current state of affairs in many places.
2. Wild and largely untouched terrain
From a long stretching coastline, some of the world’s tallest mangroves and vast grassy savannas, Gabon is a nature lover’s playground. Rainforests cover around 85% of the country. And amazingly, Gabon boasts 13 national parks that cover at least 10% of the country. To put that in perspective, Nigeria which is the most populous country in Africa has 8. On the other hand, Namibia, an African country rich in diverse landscapes that is 3 times the size of Gabon has 11. What animals can you find in Gabon? Gorillas, hippos, chimpanzees, elephants, sea turtles, humpback whales and even lions! And much of these are within close proximity to Libreville.
3. The fabulously warm and endearing people of Gabon
I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved the people I met in Gabon. Granted, it does help that I speak French. But in general, I found the people super helpful, almost like they were looking out for me as a tourist. Again, the fact that there are only about 2 million people in the whole country does make travelling to this African country less intimidating. And since the capital city of Libreville has just under 600,000 people, it is not as chaotic as the metropolis of Lagos for instance.
4. International grocery stores and multi-cultural restaurants
If you’re staying in Libreville, you will find all kinds of French products and foods in the supermarkets such as Mbolo, Prix Import or Cecado. Actually, a lot of the chicken I cooked while I stayed in Libreville came from the USA. I found the prices in the supermarkets to be pretty reasonable, although some international products may be more expensive than what you’re used to. Of course, you’ll find even cheaper prices for produce in the little markets and local shops peppered throughout the neighbourhoods. In addition, multi-cultural restaurants are plentiful, especially in the Quartier Louis and Glass neighbourhoods and downtown.
5. Not a lot of tourists
I love getting off the beaten path and going to places less traveled. Gabon is definitely one of those places. This is a country with a lot to see and discover but not a lot of people who’ve done it. In fact, that was one thing that made it so challenging to go there, the lack of information online. So I hope this Libreville travel guide can help make things easier for those who do make Gabon their next African destination.
6. Good medical services
Staying healthy when travelling is so important. So it’s comforting to know that there is good access to medical facilities in Gabon, especially in Libreville. There are at least 28 hospitals, over 80 medical centres and more than 300 dispensaries and infirmaries in the country. For a country of only 2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, that’s not bad. Just make sure if you do need to buy any medication, for malaria for instance, you do so at a reputable pharmacy. For example, I was told the Pharmacie des Forestiers in the Mbolo plaza on Boulevard Triomphal or the Pharmacie Sainte Marie across the street are good options.
Are there any cheap flights to Libreville!
Personally, the first thing I tackle when planning a trip to Africa is the airline ticket. Although travelling to Africa can come with a hefty price tag, there are cheap flights to be had with a little digging.
For starters, one great way to get a cheap flight to Libreville is to use airline miles. When I traveled to Gabon this past summer I used United miles. I absolutely love United’s mileage tickets because you can make one free stopover in the continent you are travelling to. That means I was able to do a 5 day stopover in Namibia on my way to Libreville for the cost of the taxes. In total I paid 80,000 miles and around $150 for my round trip ticket, which included 2 destinations in Africa.
On the flip side, revenue prices for flights to Libreville range from $800 to $1400. Of course, this all depends on when and from which city you are traveling. The biggest tip I can give you when trying to find cheap flights to Libreville is to check the prices in different cities and airports near you. For example, if you live close to either Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa, the cheapest flights I found were from these 3 cities. These 3 cities consistently run flights to Libreville at around $800-850 with Air France.
In addition, you can sometimes find prices around the $850 mark from New York at JFK and Laguardia with Royal Air Maroc or Air France. And lastly, even all the way over at LAX flights to Libreville for around $850 can pop up with Ethiopian Airlines. Otherwise, oftentimes the prices will hover around $1000-$1200 per roundtrip ticket in general.
What to expect at Libreville airport
Let’s just put it this way, the only thing that may stress you out in this airport if it’s your first visit may be the realisation that you just landed in Africa for the first time. Libreville airport is tiny, clean and very well serviced for such a less traveled destination. As an added bonus, I was only asked once upon arrival if I needed taxi service. I really dislike being hassled as soon as I exit the airport by taxis, so this ranks Libreville airport high in my travel books. On another note, when it comes to bank machines there were 3 outside the airport but none of them worked to take money out. But thankfully, for those who travel with cash there are currency exchange offices outside as well.
When you’re ready to depart, the airport has a small but very nice Aelia Duty Free for last minute shopping. There are also a few other shops and a snack bar where you can get chips, sandwiches or a drink before take off. Surprisingly, there is even an airport lounge called the Samba Lounge in this tiny airport. Unfortunately I did not get to check it out, but it is a Priority Pass member lounge and open 24 hours a day. Additionally, you can buy a pass at the car park ticket window for 13,000CFA or about $22USD. Kids under 10 years old get in free and accompanied children between 11 and 18 years old are half price. Not bad Libreville airport!
♥ Pro-tip: Very important! When you are trying to get money out of a bank machine in Libreville your best bet is to use one that is connected to a bank. Many of the free standing ATMs may not always work or have money in them, but the ones connected to a bank almost always will in my experience.
Taking care of your health in Libreville
To start with, to travel to Gabon you are required to have the yellow fever vaccine. This means that if you do not have this vaccine you will be denied entry. Happily, since 2016 the World Health Assembly extended the duration of existing and new yellow fever vaccines from 10 years to life. Read this article on the World Health Organization’s website for further details. That being said, if you don’t have the yellow fever vaccine yet, plan ahead. There has been somewhat of a shortage in the United States recently. To find locations close to you if you are in the US click here.
All other vaccinations are basically up to a traveler’s discretion. That being said, I am not by any means diminishing their importance. Naturally, standards are different all over the world and you may rest a lot easier on your trip to Gabon with a few more precautionary vaccines. Since I frequently travel to Africa, I stay up to date with vaccinations such as Hepatitis A/B and typhoid. In addition, certain vaccines that are good to have like MMR and DTaP are given to many of us when we are children. MMR vaccination is good for life, but a DTaP booster may be required as an adult. And please note, this health information is just that, information. Please do your due diligence when it comes to vaccinations based on your medical history and/or conditions.
Malaria in Libreville
Let’s be honest, malaria is like the common cold in many parts of Africa. I’m not saying the disease itself, but the possibility of catching it. That said, I’ve had malaria before and it is no fun. This parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitos basically feels like the worst flu you’ll ever have. It can cause severe and at times fatal symptoms for some. This may also depend on the type of malaria contracted. There is presently no vaccine for this disease, but you can take malaria pills before leaving to protect yourself. This is a great resource from the CDC in the United States for any possible question you may have about malaria.
The type of medication you take is a personal decision that you should research based on your medical history and/or conditions. However, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself against malaria and other diseases spread by mosquitos while traveling in Gabon.
- Use mosquito repellant. I know- obviously! Many sources recommend using a repellant with DEET for example. Personally, I had really good success using a natural mosquito repellant in Libreville.
2. Wear light coloured clothing that covers most of your body to deter those nasty mosquitos. Especially at nightfall when they are most active.
3. Cover windows with mosquito netting and sleep with a mosquito net.
Do you need a visa to travel to Gabon?
There are only a few countries that do not require a visa to enter Gabon. If you are from anywhere else, you will need a Gabon visa. Thankfully, you can apply for it electronically via the countries e-visa website. In addition, you can upload your visa photo there as well and the photo requirements are listed on the e-visa website.
Gabon visa requirements:
- your passport should be valid more than 6 months
- a yellow fever vaccination card
- an onward ticket
- blank passport pages for the Gabon visa and stamp
- reservation at a hotel, at least for the first night
- €70 for the visa and €15 for the application fee upon arrival at Libreville airport
Strangely enough, the Gabon e-visa website says that processing time is 72 hours. That was not my experience. Since it took a couple of weeks for my visa approval, I recommend applying well in advance. You should receive the message “application status: accepted” from the Gabon e-visa website before arrival. Also, to fill out the visa application you need the address of the hotel in Libreville where you will be staying, even if it’s just for the first night. If not, your host will need to file and pay for visitor documents in your behalf for your visa to be approved. Afterwards, you can then transfer to stay with friends or at an Airbnb for example.
♥ Pro-tip: Payment for a Gabon visa is only accepted in Euro or the local currency at the Libreville airport. Ideally, get this currency before traveling to Gabon from a bank, or in Europe if you have a stop there before arrival. The bank machines at the airport are not reliable and the money exchange desk is only accessible once exiting the secure area at the airport.
Hotels in Libreville Gabon
Honestly, finding a hotel or apartment in Libreville was the most challenging part of traveling to Gabon. For example, the only well known hotel brand there is Radisson. If you’re looking for a hotel in Libreville near the airport, the Park Inn by Radisson may work for you. Although I didn’t stay there, I had friends who did last summer while I was there. Unfortunately, they weren’t terribly impressed with the cleanliness, proximity to shops and the hotel restaurants, which they found a little expensive.
Incidentally, the Radisson Blu is right next door to the Park Inn. I did check out the Radisson Blu common areas only, since it has 2 ATMs which were among the ones I tried to take money out of, with no success. It was beautifully decorated and very well maintained. So, if you’re looking for a higher end hotel in Libreville near the airport check em out.
My top choice for best budget friendly hotel in Libreville
Granted, there are a number of cheap hotels in Libreville, but there were not a ton of reviews or info online that was up to date when I was looking. Again, since I was on a budget, it took a lot of searching online in French and English to find a place I felt comfortable staying at. Fortunately, I decided on Hotel Edenia in the Glass neighbourhood of Libreville. It couldn’t have been a better experience for my first time booking at a small privately owned hotel in Africa. Super clean, spacious, central to lots of shops and restaurants and breakfast was included in the price. Whaaat! If you’re looking for a cheap hotel in Libreville this is an absolutely fabulous option.
What about using an Airbnb in Libreville?
Truthfully, I was super hesitant about staying at an Airbnb in Libreville due to the lack of reviews of what was available. Nevertheless, I took the leap of faith and actually stayed at 2 different Airbnb apartments with my travel companions.
Quartier Louis Airbnb
Our first Airbnb in Quartier Louis was a large 2 bedroom 1 bathroom gated apartment with an owner who was an absolute pleasure to work with. The apartment was well furnished with everything you would need, but could’ve used a new layer of paint and some small fixes here and there. Quartier Louis has so much going on with shops, markets, bars and restaurants on practically every corner. Granted, for light sleepers it may be a little noisy in the evening. But if you want to be surrounded by restaurants and nightlife this is a great apartment to stay at in Libreville.
Batterie IV Airbnb
Secondly, we rented a gorgeous Airbnb in Libreville in the Batterie IV neighbourhood. This 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment was bigger and nicer than my own apartment, and so reasonably priced. After all the searching through Airbnb I really think this is possibly the best Airbnb in Libreville. And for extra points, it comes with a washer and dryer! The Batterie IV neighbourhood is not as busy as Quartier Louis. For instance, you definitely need to walk a little further to get to shops and restaurants, so it was much quieter in the evening. And whereas in Quartier Louis taxis were passing constantly, in Batterie IV we needed to wait just a little longer for a taxi. If you’re looking for a hotel in Libreville this apartment in Batterie IV is an easy decision
Getting around Libreville
To begin with, the way everyone in Libreville gets around is by taxi. But first let me explain how you catch a taxi in Libreville. Raise your arm as the taxi is approaching to indicate you need a ride. Then, the taxi driver will stop and you offer a price for your destination. You do not ask how much it is from point A to point B. You simply tell the driver how much you would like to pay to get there. Finally, if the driver accepts, jump in. And if not, either your price may be too low or he’s just not going that way. Truth be told, it’s a highly effective system!
Please note that, the taxis with the word taxi on the top are legitimate and regulated by the city of Libreville. However, there are also what are called “clandos”, short for clandestine taxis, that are unregulated. For the skittish and first-time visitors to Libreville, stick with the regular taxis. And not to worry, the prices are incredibly cheap, even in a regular taxi. For instance, the taxi fare from Libreville airport all the way to the Glass neighbourhood was 1000CFA for one person, which is about $2 USD.
5 best places to visit in Libreville Gabon
Even though Libreville is not huge there is no lack of tourist attractions in and around the city. Really, I think the size of the city makes it a little more doable to see more. Here are my top 5 best places to visit in and around Libreville.
1. Village des artisans
The first stop of this Libreville travel guide is the main arts and handicrafts market located downtown. This popular Gabon tourist attraction is also called the marché artisanal. Here you can find wood and stonework, jewelry, clothing, shoes and just about anything covered in the vibrant colours of African fabric (or pagne in French).
If you’re taking a taxi just ask for the marché artisanal centre ville (downtown). There is another smaller artisanal market (Village Artisanal NAT Finance) around the corner from here as well.
♥ Pro-tip: This Libreville travel guide would not be doing you justice if I failed to mention the Senegalese cuisine you can find at the artisanal market. There is a very strong West African community in Gabon, especially from Senegal. So, like clockwork every lunch hour a number of small restaurants open up to sell some of the most well known and delicious specialties of Senegal. For example, you can sample the Senegalese national dish, Thieboudienne (or chebu jen). This is savoury rice topped with insanely well seasoned fish or meat and vegetables. And if you’re hesitant to eat the meat or fish, just ask for rice and veg- just as good!
2. Marché Mont Bouët
If you have never been to an African market, get your feet wet at Marché Mont Bouët in Quartier Petit Paris. It is a hustling and bustling typical African market, but on a small scale for first-time travelers to Africa. And since it is the biggest market in Libreville you can find whatever you need at the best price. For example, sandals for 1000CFA or about $1.70USD. Okaaaay!
Also, if you are looking for African fabric, this is where to find it. Fabric is sold by the yard, usually starting at 3 yards or you can buy 6. In addition, sometimes shops will sell 2 yard remnants for 1500-2000CFA depending on the quality. Since it is a very busy market, be careful to always take good care of your bags and valuables. Pickpockets and purse snatchers may target tourists. You may feel safer going here with a group or a travel companion. Stay safe!
3. Pointe Denis
If you’re looking for a great day trip from Libreville, catch a ferry at Michèle Marine and cross the Gabon Estuary to Pointe Denis. Pointe Denis is on a cape covered by the Pongara National Park. There are a few hotels and lodges on both the estuary and the ocean side of the cape. If you want to overnight or spend a couple of days here you can reserve at one of the hotels and even book safari rides into Pongara National Park. Or, if you’re on a budget, bring a picnic lunch and just chill on the beach or the lounge chairs.
Libreville beaches are not like the Caribbean, but Pointe Denis was clean and the water was nice. Apparently, elephants come out from the forest early in the morning or at dusk and are often seen near the hotels, the local’s homes and on the beach. Unfortunately, we did not see any elephants, but we did see elephant tracks!
Catching the ferry from Libreville to Pointe Denis
First off, the ferry leaves at around 930am (except Sunday at 9am), but I would arrive early to secure your place. The ferry drops passengers off along the cape at the hotel beaches. Then you can arrange with the ferry captain for pickup, which is usually around 5pm.
Our drop off point was La Maringa Hotel on the estuary side of the cape. We were able to use their restrooms to change and their lounge chairs. La Maringa also had a bar and restaurant if you don’t bring food along. Honestly, the day went by so quickly and we wished we had more time once the ferry was ready to go. Plus, there was absolutely no one there except for employees and a few local residents, so we had the beach basically to ourselves.
4. Foret de la Mondah and Cap Esterias
The incredible Mondah Forest about 20 minutes north of Libreville is also called Arboretum Raponda-Walker, Bois des Géants (Giant Woods). At the entrance to the forest is a ranger station where cars can park or you can arrange for drop off and pick up with a taxi or guide. Then, one of the very knowledgeable rangers will give you a walking tour of the forest that is clearly marked with trails and signs giving the names of the trees. One caveat, this super informative tour is in French.
At the very tip of this cape, another 10 minute drive past the Mondah Forest is Cap Esterias. Notably, the beach here is not as clean as Pointe Denis, but you can walk out extremely far into the ocean before it gets deep, which is great for kids. Again, we were practically the only ones on this beach, except for some locals picking escargots from the sea. But make sure to mind where you park and ask permission if it is on someone’s property. They may ask for a small sum to park.
5. Get some clothing tailor made
Come back with one of the best souvenirs from Africa IMHO by getting something made by one of the many gifted tailors and seamstresses in Libreville. When I travel to Africa I’ll usually have a blazer or dress made. Or a tailored shirt for my hubby. Nothing beats having something made just for your measurements. I highly recommend this one of a kind souvenir from Libreville.
To give you an idea, 3 yards of fabric can cost anywhere from 2500CFA und up depending on the quality of the fabric. And you can negotiate having a simple dress made for around 5000-7000CFA. Do the currency conversion on that and it’s not too bad to add a tailored item to your wardrobe.
Libreville travel guide map
Find almost all the spots mentioned in this Libreville travel guide on this Google map.
To wrap it all up, if you are traveling for the first time to Africa or you’ve been all over the continent, Gabon is an excellent place to stop. Libreville may very well be one of my favourite African capitals after this trip. Easily navigable, plenty of tourist attractions to keep me busy, welcoming people and presently peaceful. I hope I can return one day!
If you have any questions about Libreville, Gabon please don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments below!
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Hi! I’m Rebecca. KwaFare is a play on the French expression quoi faire or what to do? Follow along with me as I share essential tips for various travel destinations and the best ways to get the most of your travel. I love to explore the world on points and I’m passionate about spreading smarter travel. Subscribe to my newsletter for valuable tips and reviews. When you know what to do you’re halfway there!
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