inyathi

Gabon and São Tomé & Principe 10th Feb to the 2nd March 2008

53 posts in this topic

To echo other comments, thankyou for writing up your trip: I found an interesting article regarding a trip to Gabon in the NY Times entitled Visiting Africa's Eden which can be found here.

Very few foreign tourists are coming, because of the distance and the lack of modern hotels. Mitch and I ate lunch at one of the restaurants aiming for tourists, and afterward saw the staff cleaning our plates in the lagoon.

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Thanks, interesting article, they visited the south of loango NP at Loango Lodge in the north of the park they don’t wash the dishes in the lagoon at least I never saw them doing so. At the end of this report I will try and include some extra info on visiting Loango and other places in Gabon.

 

Day 9 19th Feb Ivindo NP

 

After our fantastic day at the Bai we decided not to go back and instead went birding in the forest. In the morning we walked over to a small waterfall, there was a grey-necked rockfowls nest on the cliff so we waited to see if the bird might show up but it didn’t.

 

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We at least saw a cuckoo falcon on the way, otherwise it was very hot and humid and the sweat bees were appalling. Afternoon more birding, pretty quiet though we did find an old chimps nest.

 

Day 10 20th Feb Ivindo NP

 

Went birding again to look for the bare-cheeked trogon a local endemic, one of the Gabonese researchers who was guiding tried to help me get some photos but trying to follow his directions in French was a real challenge it’s amazing how such brightly coloured birds can become almost invisible when they sit still.

 

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not the best photo but a beautiful bird all the same

 

Shortly afterwards he signalled that there were gorillas up ahead, not sure if he wanted us to approach we hung back, suddenly there was an ear splitting King Kong roar and a crash of vegetation as a silverback threatened the guide, from where we were we couldn’t actually see anything at all but the noise was fantastic. The silverback roared again and then the forest went quiet as we carried on there was a distinct smell of gorilla dung. The gorillas at Langoue are completely un-habituated so they usually run when they encounter people in the forest. We then visited another rockfowl nest site and waited behind some camouflage netting but again no birds showed up. In the evening back at camp we could hear chimps calling nearby a nice end to another extraordinary day.

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Day 11 21st Feb Langoue Research Camp – Lope Hotel

 

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Walked out of camp at about 7:15 a.m. and hiked back to the road, on the drive back to Ivindo town we saw 2 Peter’s duikers on the road. After lunch at the WCS office we were taken to the train station, we had to wait a little while about 3hrs for the train but the 2hr journey to Lope NP was very scenic.

 

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Arrived at the Lope Hotel late afternoon, the best that can be said about the hotel is that its location overlooking the Ogooue River is stunning and the food was very good, also the garden was good for birding. Otherwise the service was hopeless and the cabin rooms had seen better days.

 

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Savannah near the Lope Hotel

 

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Lope Hotel

 

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Ogooue River below the hotel

 

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Forbes's Plover

 

Day 12 22nd Feb Lope Hotel Lope NP

 

In the morning some Gabonese researchers arrived at 8:00 to take us mandrill tracking, they drove us to two locations out on the savannah to try out their radio telemetry gear, getting no signals they explained in French that the mandrills were “dans la grande foret” much too far away for us to have any chance of finding them.

 

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Mandrill Tracking

 

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Lope NP savannah landscape

 

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Gallery Forest

 

They then led us on a short walk through some riverine forest by which time it was far too hot to have any chance of seeing birds or other wildlife. As they led us through the forest one of the researchers used a pair of secateurs to constantly snip off bits of vegetation presumably to make it easier for us but after a while it became very tiresome. We did however manage to find a fire-footed rope squirrel and an interesting red flower.

 

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Parasitic Flower

 

Basically in the dry season especially July/August the mandrills congregate in huge hordes and move up into the area of savannah forest mosaic in the north of Lope NP to forage among the forest patches. In the wet season (when we were there) they split up and disperse back in to the main rainforest because there is more fruit available. Our travel agent in the UK (Audley Travel) had booked the trip for us clearly not knowing that February was the wrong time to see mandrills. With hindsight and a bit more knowledge we should have cancelled and asked Patrice Christy to arrange a bird walk in the park earlier in the morning. Ever the optimist I decided to stay out with the researchers a bit longer in the hopes of possibly seeing other wildlife. After much driving and walking through two forest patches we managed to see a couple of elephants and two buffalos, the buffalos were at least in the forest which provided a bit of excitement. Game viewing in Lope NP is nothing like as good as in Loango NP at least it isn’t in the wet season in the dry it may be better.

 

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Day 13 23rd Feb Lope Hotel – ZSL Mikongo Camp Lope NP

 

We were driven from the Lope Hotel along the wide dirt road that is Gabons’ ‘Highway One’ to the turn off for Mikongo Camp which is located in the rainforest. From there we walked down the road through the forest towards the camp with Patrice who wrote the book on the birds of Lope NP so we saw plenty of species, before we were picked up by a car from the camp and driven the last bit. In the afternoon we had a brief glimpse of some grey-cheeked mangabeys.

 

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Mikongo Camp is a basic but very nice little camp of comfortable wooden cabins run by the Zoological Society of London. Since 2001 ZSL have been trying to habituate local gorilla groups in order to establish Mikongo as a centre for gorilla research and tourism. The results so far have been mixed and shortly before our visit gorilla trekking was suspended. At the moment Mikongo Camp appears to be closed to visitors I’ve no idea why or for how long.

 

Day 14 24th Feb Mikongo Lope NP

 

All day walking in the forest, at one point we had to change course when we found a large rhinoceros viper right next to the trail. The guides were a little unhappy when I approached it to take photos.

 

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Further on we saw lots of black colobus and finally a crowned monkey.

 

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Black colobus

 

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Crowned monkey

 

Stopped for lunch at a grey-necked rockfowl (picathartes) nest site after much waiting a bird finally appeared and gave us a great view but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any photos of this extraordinary looking bird.

 

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Waiting for the rockfowl

 

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Day 15 25th Feb Mikongo Lope NP

 

Whole day in the forest again, saw a lot of monkeys crowned, moustached, putty-nosed and black colobus and some good birds.

 

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Putty-nosed monkey

 

Also lots of spoor of elephants, buffalos and gorillas and at one point some small pugmarks of a golden cat or maybe a leopard cub we couldn’t decide for sure.

 

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Day 16 26th Feb Mikongo - Libreville

 

Went for a fairly short walk along the river to look for kingfishers saw the white-bellied and then a pair of Ogilby’s duikers appeared briefly which was great but they were too quick for me to take any photos. Also saw a blue duiker and a Lady Burton’s rope squirrel. Went back to camp for lunch and then returned to the Lope Hotel for the flight back to Libreville on the same plane as before. The Pilot decided to give us a really close look at the Ogooue River which was quite spectacular.

 

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Going in for a closer look

 

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Any lower and we'd be waterskiing

 

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Lope NP

 

Back in Libreville we were very annoyed to discover that the time of our flight to Sao Tome the following day had changed.

 

Next Post Sao Tome

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The elephant/gorilla sequence is fantastic.

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Thanks Leely,

 

I was very lucky not only to have had such great views of the animals but also to be able to borrow a fantastic lens. My own lens is a Canon 100-400 and when used with a converter the autofocus is disabled so I would have really struggled to get any decent shots with it.

 

 

 

Day 17 27 Feb Libreville – Omali Lodge São Tomé

 

Not long before leaving on this safari our travel agent informed us that our flight from São Tomé to Principe had been moved from the 29th of Feb to the 28th as a result we would lose our only whole day on São Tomé. A day we had intended to spend walking and birding in Obo NP this was very disappointing however since the flight from Libreville to São Tomé was scheduled to arrive at about midday we realised it might still be possible to spend the afternoon in the park if we went straight there from the airport. So we’d arranged for a guide to drive us from the airport to the Botanic Gardens at Bom Successo, after a packed lunch we would then hike up in to Obo NP hopefully getting far enough to be able to look down on Lagoa Amelia an old crater lake before turning back, seeing a few of the endemic birds on the way. We would then check in to Omali Lodge in the evening.

 

At least that was the plan so understandably we were pretty annoyed to be told (the day before) that our flight from Libreville wouldn’t be leaving until 2:00 pm to make matters worse the flight was then delayed for another hour, so we didn’t actually arrive on Sao Tome until 3:00 pm local time (Gabon is 1 hour ahead of STP). By the time we reached Bom Successo it was about 4 pm, after walking for about an hour we just reached the National Park entrance gate and the start of the proper forest at which point we had to turn round very frustrating.

 

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Strangler fig

 

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Taro

 

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Forest edge Obo NP São Tomé

 

So we didn’t see a lot of birds, when we returned to the car there was just enough light to have a quick look around the botanic garden which is run by ECOFAC (ECOSYSTÈMES FORESTIERS D'AFRIQUE CENTRALE) an EU funded conservation organisation that operates throughout the region. We were then driven to Omali Lodge, in the evening we arranged a taxi to take us to a local restaurant called Filomar, ordering was a bit of a challenge as we only knew a couple of words of Portuguese but our meal of fish was the best of the trip. This at least provided a nice end to a tiresome day.

 

Day 18 28th Feb São Tomé – Principe – Bom Bom Island Resort

 

Birded for a bit around the lodge garden and then after breakfast I decided to see if I could walk in to São Tomé Town the capital of STP. It probably took about half an hour of very hot walking but it was worth it as it’s a beautiful little town with lots of old Portuguese colonial buildings. Stupidly I’d failed to notice that I’d accidently switched my camera on to the wrong setting so I’ve got very few photos.

 

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Main road to São Tomé Town

 

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São Tomé seafront

 

Omali Lodge was a very nice comfortable place however it was undergoing major renovations to transform it from its’ previous incarnation the Marlin Beach Hotel. The beach at the front was across a main road so not exactly secluded not that this worried us as we were there for such a short time. With so much else to see and do nearby it’s unlikely that we would have wanted to sit on the beach anyway if we had been there longer.

 

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View from the garden Omali Lodge

 

Sometime around 1 pm we left Sao Tome and flew (about 1hr) to Principe the smaller of the two main islands and checked in to the Bom Bom Island Resort for some r. & r.

 

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Flying in to Principe

 

One post on Principe to complete this report, and then I'll try and post some extra info for anyone who might want to visit either Gabon or STP

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Very interesting and well illustrated.

 

You certainly have tempted me to do a trip into central Africa.

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You mentioned that it's no longer possible to visit the Bai? Do you know why that is? It's a habitat that I've always been interested in - are there other Bai's?

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This should be my final post on the actual trip, although I think I will need tto make it 2 posts to include all the photos I want. Lynne I will answer your questions about Langoue in another post in a day or 2

 

Day 19 29th Feb Bom Bom Island Resort Principé

 

Birding and r. & r.

 

The resort property includes a good area of protected rainforest. In the early morning you can walk out the main gate and back up the road through the forest and with minimal effort see just about all of the islands endemic birds as well as introduced mona monkeys, before breakfast and then spend the rest of the day on the beach.

 

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Principé Kingfisher not a great shot, this one of the islands endemic species and is common around the resort

 

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Another endemic the Principé weaver

 

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Western reef egret dark morph

 

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Walkway from the restaurant on Bom Bom Island to the main resort on Principé

 

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Beach & Forest Bom Bom Island Resort

 

Day 20 1st March Principé

 

After some brief birding we went on a full day tour of some of Principés’ historical sites.

 

The islands of São Tomé & Principé were colonised by the Portuguese in the late 15th century, prior to their arrival they were uninhabited and almost entirely covered in rainforest. Much of this original forest was cleared to create plantations known as roças to grow sugarcane, coffee and principally cocoa, to work the plantations slaves were imported from the mainland. Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1875 however the system of contract labour that was then introduced to the islands was little better. Conditions for workers were so bad that in 1909 chocolate makers like Sir William Cadbury started an international boycott of the islands. Very slowly things started to improve, hospitals and schools were built on the roças but these changes were not enough, 1953 the workers revolted and over 1000 were massacred by Portuguese militias. So it was hardly surprising that on independence in 1975 São Tomé & Principé became a Marxist state. Most of the Portuguese plantation owners fled and government took over the roças nationalising them. Due to increased competition and collapsing cocoa prices many roças were simply abandoned and reclaimed by the forest which now covers 74% of the islands.

 

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Hospital Roça Sundy, amazingly our guide for the day was born in this hospital

 

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Old Building Sundy

 

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Old gatehouse Sundy a reminder of Portuguese rule, Sundy was the biggest roça (plantation) on Principé

 

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Old train, going nowhere

 

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This old steam engine was used to power a machine for processing palm oil

 

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On the 29th of May 1919 English Astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington confirmed Einstein's theory of relativity while observing a solar eclipse on the island of Principé. According to Einstein’s theory light passing close to a massive star e.g. the sun is bent by gravity to prove this Eddington photographed the stars closest to the sun which were only visible briefly during the total eclipse.

 

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Principés wild interior, most of this forest is protected as national park also called Obo as on São Tomé

 

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Local Children

 

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More to follow very shortly

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The history and all the old buildings on Principé were so interesting that I had to stretch this to 2 posts to include all the photos.

 

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Ruined plantation house Roça Porto Real, for someone with plenty of cash this would make a great guesthouse or hotel or even a private house, though in some ways it would be a shame to do it up

 

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Roça Porto Real

 

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Roça Porto Real

 

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Portuguese tiles on a wall at Roça Porto Real

 

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Stencils once used to mark sacks of cocoa, some cocoa plantations have been revived in recent years as connoisseurs of fine chocolate regard cocoa beans from STP as being amongst the best in the world

 

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The tiny town of Santo Antonio is Principés' main town

 

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Beach Santo Antonio

 

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Coast View with Ilheu Bone do Joquei - Jockey Cap Island in the background

 

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Local fisherman repairing his net

 

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Local transport

 

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Praia Banana, the view down to Banana Beach from Roça Bela Monte

 

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Principé view, the island is Ilheu do Bom Bom

 

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This house at Roça Bela Monte was bought and restored by a Portuguese family who then mysteriously abandoned it leaving fanily photos on the wall and other belongings. Nobody seemed to know why, STP is basically a peaceful country, despite it's past history everybody seems to get along fine. The house is now is kept as they left it no one lives there.

 

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Local children Roça Bela Monte

 

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We ended our sightseeing at a local house where they were making rum, our guide is feeding the cane in to the mangle (grinder)

 

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Rum still, perhaps unwisely I sampled some but it didn't kill me

 

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Principé view

 

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The beach Bom Bom Island Resort

 

Day 21 2nd March Principe – São Tomé – Port Gentil – Libreville – Paris

 

After 1 last walk up the road to look for monkeys and birds, followed by a final swim in the Atlantic we packed up and after lunch flew back to São Tomé and after a short wait on to Port Gentil arriving back in Gabon around sunset. After a much longer wait we flew on to Libreville, having had no rain since our first afternoon in Gabon we found ourselves flying through a huge thunder storm we were extremely relieved when we landed and very glad not to be carrying on with the other passengers to Douala in Cameroon. However the plane was parked some distance from the terminal and it was still raining hard so when the stewardess informed us that she’d requested a bus and been told there wasn’t one we weren’t amused. We just had to make a dash for it; fortunately our bags were not soaked through as we had to check them straight on to our Air France flight to Paris.

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The more I've read, the more I want to visit. I wish I had more time and money and hope that by the time I can get there it will still be as charming. Those forests look amazing but I'm sad that the Bai isn't available to visit, however, it may be in the best interests of the animals not to have hordes of loud tourists stomping in. Thanks for the wonderful photos, very enjoyable.

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When I started writing this report I decided that I should add some extra info at the end which might be useful for anyone considering visiting Gabon as a few things have changed since my trip and it's now no longer possible to go to some of the places I visited.

 

Loango National Park

 

Due to some local dispute the air charter company Africa's Connection that we used is no longer able to fly from Port Gentil to Omboué, visitors must instead travel by boat on a service run by the Hotel Olako in Omboué

Evengue Lodge, Loango Lodge, Tassi Savannah Camp, Akaka Bush Camp and another camp which we didn't visit St Katherine's Beach Camp, are all run by Africa's Eden click here

 

Africa's Eden just about run the show in the north of Loango NP, however there is another lodge called Gavillo which is main caters for fishermen. At the south end of the park there are various places to stay in and around Sette Cama Village which are probably a lot cheaper; to get there you need to fly to the oil town of Gamba. Some details can be found on the Gabontour website here

 

In general we were impressed with Africa's Eden their camps and lodges were pretty similar in standard to some of the places we've stayed in East or Southern Africa. The guides were very good, however communication was sometimes a bit of a problem, at the time very few of them spoke any English, hopefully this may have changed.

 

In order to see the animals roaming the beaches you need to visit Loango in the wet season Oct-Apr, this is why on our trip we stayed at Tassi Camp and only visited Akaka Camp had we visited during the dry season we would have done the reverse because the large mammals move in to the Akaka area and so are more easily seen there.

 

When we stayed at Tassi we chose to go birding in the forest without much success due to bad luck I guess, we could have gone kayaking instead and maybe we might have seen more.

 

From mid-July to mid-September humpback whales swim up the coast past Loango, so you can go whale watching from Loango Lodge at this time of year.

 

I guess all of the Africa's Eden camps will have been refurbished since our visit, some carpenters were arriving at Tassi just after we left to sort out a few minor problems. The Meru style tents all had wooden doors that didn't fit perfectly and some of the fly screening needed repairing, but this didn't really matter as the sea breeze kept any mossies away.

 

Gorillas

 

As well as at Tassi there is another habituation site in the park,I understood from talking to the researchers at the Max Planck camp that the gorilla & chimp habituation was going well, though it's a slow process and it would be some time before tourist treks start. Of course that was just over 2yrs ago, assuming that nothing has gone wrong I guess tourist treks should start pretty soon which will be fantastic for the park and for tourism in Gabon generally. Info on the progress of the gorilla habituation can be found on the Africa's Eden website.

 

Although actual gorilla trekking hasn't started (as far as I know) it is possible if you're very lucky to see gorillas as this article from the UK Guardian shows here

 

I believe your chances of seeing them are better in the south of the park this also where if you're lucky you might see surfing hippos.

 

For info on the Fernan Vaz Gorilla Project based on Evengue Island. here

 

 

Langoue Bai

 

The WCS camp at Langoue is closed for the foreseeable future; the camp was first opened to guests as part of their research. They wanted to see what effect tourists would have on the wildlife and find out how much money could be generated from tourism. To see the results of this research and find out why the camp is now closed read this WCS report here.

 

Clearly WCS need to persuade Africa's Eden or an outside company like say Wilderness Safaris to take on the challenge of running a camp at Langoue but I can't see that happening at the moment.

 

Other Bais

 

There are other bais in Gabon the largest is Mwagné Bai which I has a significant population of lowland bongos but as far as I know there are no tourist facilities in Mwagné NP at the moment. There are however various bais in neighbouring countries that can be visited. In Congo Brazzaville, Maya Nord Bai in Odzala NP and Mbeli Bai in Nouabale Ndoki NP and in the C.A.R. Dzangha Bai and Bai Hokou in the Dzangha-Sangha Reserve. Dzangha Bai supports the largest population of forest elephants in the region and is also a good place to see lowland bongos. Near Bai Hokou you can go gorilla trekking and also look for habituated agile mangabeys. I haven't been to any of these places yet, C.A.R is not perhaps the most stable country but to visit Dzangha-Sangha where it's perfectly safe you can just fly in from Gabon without visiting Bangui or anywhere else in the country.

 

Not many travel agents offer trips to C.A.R. and Congo but there are a few, a quick Google search should find you some.

 

I will post some more info on Lope NP and some other places in Gabon and also some info on visiting STP

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I am sorry if this is a bit long, this will be my last post on Gabon, and then I will add just one more post on STP to finish off.

 

Lope NP

 

I don't know what the current situation is with the mandrill tracking as I haven't found any up to date info on the web. I have found two interesting articles but they're both from 2007

 

Here

 

Here

 

As we discovered there is no point in going mandrill tracking in the wet season you need to be there in July/August. I also think this is a better time to see other mammals such as forest elephants, buffalos, red river hogs, various duikers and perhaps chimps. Most birding tours go at this time of year.

 

Mikongo Camp run by the Zoological Society of London appears to be now closed, certainly ZSL no longer have visitor info on their website here and the Africa's Eden website says it's closed. However birding companies such as Birdquest and Tropical Birding are offering tours for next year that appear to go there, so I don't know what the situation is. Mikongo was intended to become a major centre for gorilla tourism which would hopefully fund the running of Lope NP. However their habituation project has had mixed results and gorilla trekking was suspended. Despite this I felt that Mikongo was still well worth visiting to look for other primates and birds so why it's closed, I don't know.

 

The Lope Hotel is easily reached by train from Libreville it's in a very beautiful area and is a great place for birding a particular highlight was a large flock of roosting rosy bee-eaters. If you're not that interested in birds and you can't go in the dry season it may not be worth going while Mikongo Camp is closed. Although apparently if you travel from Lope Village to Booue (or vice versa) just to the east of the park, you might see the rare endemic sun-tailed monkey that was only discovered in 1984. I didn't know this before we went to Gabon and I've no idea how often they're seen.

 

Plateaux Bateke NP

 

Most of Gabon's other parks are still pretty inaccessible to the ordinary tourist. However you can go to the Bateke Plateau which is in the far south east on the border with Congo Brazzaville near Franceville at the end of the Transgabonais railway line. Serious birding tours go to the plateau because it has huge areas of wide open grassland/moorland that are home to open country birds not found elsewhere in Gabon like Denham's bustard and Congo moor chat. Formerly there were southern reedbuck in the park but I think they are now extinct. The only lions in Gabon occurred here but they are also probably extinct.

 

Within the NP there are some areas of forest that are home to some of Gabon’s large mammals, some years ago gorillas were probably hunted to extinction on the plateau. In 1998 the Aspinall Foundation (a UK charity) started a gorilla reintroduction project in the Mpassa area of the park, rehabilitating local gorilla orphans and abandoned captive bred gorilla babies from their zoos Howletts and Port Lympne in Kent. They have another older reintroduction project just across the border in the Lefini Reserve in Congo, both are proving successful. I don't think it's possible to visit these gorillas.

 

Unless you're a keen birder I think the Bateke Plateau is probably a bit too far away to be worth visiting

 

Lake Evaro & Lambarene

 

When we planned our trip we were given the option of visiting Lake Evaro and Lambarene to the south east of Port Gentil as an alternative to going to STP. Alongside the Ogooue River are a series of beautiful lakes which form part of the Ogooue delta, at one of these, Lake Evaro there is a lodge where they have a gorilla sanctuary. From the lodge you can go on boat trips to look for birds or hippos or just to admire the jungle scenery You can also visit nearby Lambarene where the famous Dr Albert Schweitzer had his hospital.

 

Kongou Falls Ivindo National Park

 

I will have to try not to get too angry writing this next bit. In the north of Ivindo NP on the Ogooue River are the Kongou Falls see gatoratlarges' report here. If you want to see these falls the most beautiful and spectacular in forested Africa go now because in a few years time they will be destroyed, a Chinese company CMEC has been given permission to build a hydroelectric dam on the Ogooue River to provide power for the Belinga iron-ore mine. Already a road has been cut from Makokou town through the park to the river causing major damage to the forest and making the area more accessible to bushmeat poachers. Large numbers of Chinese workers will likely be brought in to build the dam and I am sure they will become enthusiastic consumers of bushmeat. Aside from destroying this magnificent waterfall a large area of surrounding forest will presumably be lost to the resulting flooding. Despite major protests from environmental groups in Gabon and around the world, President Ali Bongo is determined that this project will go ahead. You can read an article on the proposed dam here

 

This article says much the same but has a good aerial shot of the falls

here

 

Also near Makokou is an area of Ivindo NP known as the Ipassa Reserve this little patch of forest has been protected for many years as a research site. This is where all the birding tours go to find some of the main lowland forest species mainly because it's very accessible and has good trails, though I would think the larger mammals are pretty scarce.

 

Language problems

 

If you don't speak French I would recommend learning some before visiting Gabon, everywhere we went we were told the guides were being taught English; yet we never found one who could actually speak any, this of course may have changed. I understand a little French from school, but decided to buy a basic language course on CD and a phrase book this was undoubtedly a help at least at the hotel in Libreville, obviously they're basically aimed at people visiting France, there wasn't a section for going on safari, being able to ask what time the chateau opens isn't much use in the jungle. After we left Loango the language barrier wasn’t really a problem because we were accompanied by Patrice Christy, which is partly why we hired him.

 

Patrice Christy

 

Patrice is French he lives in Libreville and is an authority on the country’s birds. He has written several books on Lope NP, he also advised Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan on their book Birds of Africa South of the Sahara and is currently working on the bird atlas for Gabon. He regularly guides for the serious birding companies and is one of the best bird guides I've ever been with. Of course his services don't come cheap, we were in two minds as to whether or not to to hire him (which we did through our travel Agent Audley Travel) but afterwards we were very glad we did. Almost entirely thanks to Patrice we saw nearly 100 new birds, without him I think we would have seen very few if only because birding in rainforest is always very difficult.

 

It's a real shame that tourists can't visit Langoue Bai and Mikongo Camp, but even without these places I think Gabon is worth visiting, if you can afford it, I'm afraid because of oil it's not a cheap country. A week in Loango would combine very well with a visit to Dzangha-Sangha in C.A.R. or a week or more in São Tomé & Principé. Though with gorillas & chimps being habituated at 2 different locations in Loango NP it’s probably worth waiting until gorilla trekking starts. After it does I would hope that more of Gabon might start to open up to tourism.

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São Tomé & Principé

 

São Tomé & Principé don’t receive a great many tourists and many of those who do go are expats working in Gabon or maybe Angola, who aside from the tropical beaches go for the big game fishing and the diving. Otherwise visitors are mostly serious birders; there are 26 endemic birds on São Tomé and a further 8 or 9 on Principe. On São Tomé some of the more common endemics as well as other more widespread species can be seen quite easily whilst trekking in Obo National Park, to see rarer species like the São Tomé fiscal shrike and the dwarf olive ibis you need to travel to the south of the island and camp overnight in the forest with a good bird guide. Aside from bats there are no native terrestrial mammals on the islands however the Portuguese introduced Mona monkeys from the mainland to both islands where they are now very common.

 

Aside from birding Obo National Park is very scenic and offers fantastic hiking opportunities, the really fit can hike to the top of the Pico de São Tomé at 2024m unless you set out really early you have to camp near the top. To stay the night in the park you don’t have to camp, much of the forest was once plantation and some of the old plantation houses (e.g. at Roça Bombain) have been restored and are now guesthouses.

 

The main town São Tomé town is well worth visiting with lots of beautiful if slightly crumbling old Portuguese colonial buildings and can easily be explored on foot.

 

Our hotel Omali Lodge (Africa’s Eden again) while it didn’t have the best beach would be a good base from which to explore the island, though there are of course a number of other options. To do a little hiking in Obo NP, see São Tomé Town and some of the plantations and to visit some of the islands best beaches I would think you need to stay for a minimum of 3 days, obviously 4-5days or more would be better.

 

Principé is sufficiently far from São Tomé that you have to fly between the two, this makes visiting both islands quite expensive, so a lot of visitors don’t make it to Principé. There are very few places to stay on Principé, the best and far as I know only resort on the island is Bom Bom Island (Africa’s Eden yet again). I think there maybe a couple of little local hotels in Santo Antonio but that’s about it. Principé is much smaller and less developed than Sao Tome, only the north of the island has any roads, there were formerly roads that went right down to the south but these have basically disappeared. Unless these roads have been repaired since my visit the only way to reach the south of Principé is by boat.

 

Most of the hiking trails in Obo NP on São Tomé have been created by ECOFAC in 2008 at least, they hadn’t done very much work in the park on Principé but if you hire a guide you can go hiking. There may well be more trails now, it’s not necessary to go hiking to see the islands birds almost all of the endemic species can be seen very easily in the forest around the Bom Bom Island Resort.

 

The full day tour of Principés’ historical sites was fascinating and probably the highlight of our visit to STP. I would have liked to visit the south of the island as well but we didn’t have time as this is also a full day trip. To really see the island and have a bit of beach time as well again I think you need at least 3 whole days maybe longer if you want to go diving or even game fishing.

 

I hope this report has proved both interesting and useful, certainly I’ve enjoyed writing it although I never imagined I’d write so much, if I write another report I hope it won’t be nearly so long.

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What an excellent primer on Gabon! The wonderful photos and details will make this very useful.

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In my previous posts I didn’t mention a national park called Minkébé which is in the far north east of the country on the border with Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville. This is a spectacular place noted for the huge granite inselbergs that rise up out of one of the largest relatively intact areas of rainforest in the region, a forest that is home to bongos, forest elephants, gorillas, and giant forest hogs amongst other animals. I didn’t mention Minkébé because the park has no tourist infrastructure at present, so the only way to get there is to mount an expedition taking everything with you and hiring guides when you get there. Unless you speak fluent French and have experience of organising such expeditions this would be quite a challenge, so I assumed that nobody really goes there. However I’ve just come across a website for an outfit called Transjungle,

 

Transjungle is Mathon Gijsbers van Wijk and Fons Langenkamp. We have a great deal of experience with expeditions to Gabon, particularly in Minkebe, but also in Loango. Using this experience we want to put together at least one trip per year in the true jungle of Gabon or Congo Brazzaville. Because we love the forest ourselves and want to contribute to the development of ecotourism in the area. We speak English, German, French, Dutch.

 

Custom-made trip For a group of people of a company or organisation we can put together a custom-made trip. Dates, route, weight of the expedition, goals, etc can be decided upon mutual consultation. We did this before for students of the Royal Military Academy in Breda (Holland).

 

So for anyone who really wants to visit Minkébé NP they would be the people to get in touch with. Though obviously these trips are only for people who are really fit, happy to rough it and don’t mind eating dried ‘adventurefood’. Of course I don’t know anything else about these guys other than what they say on their website so I don’t know whether to recommend them or not, but since the purpose of writing my report was to help (in a small way) promote ecotourism in Gabon, I thought I should add the info. I hope their venture proves to be a success, to visit their website

 

click here

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I was shocked to discover on the web today that Africa’s Eden is closing down Loango Lodge in September apparently for good. Basically Gabon has no road network to speak of and so driving from Libreville to Loango NP is virtually impossible, for this reason Africa’s Eden relied entirely on their sister company SCD Aviation to fly guests in. However due to a dispute with the Gabonese civil aviation authorities (ANAC), SCD haven’t been able to fly for over a year, as a result Africa’s Eden have decided they can no longer operate in Gabon and have pulled out altogether. This will be an absolute disaster for tourism in Gabon, without Loango Lodge I can’t see any travel agents offering tours to the country anymore, except for serious birding companies.

 

This is also very bad news for conservation in Loango NP as much of the research and other conservation projects in the park were funded by Africa’s Eden. This is a real shame as the future for Loango looked pretty good if the chimp and gorilla habituation projects proved to be successful, now the future of these projects is uncertain.

Well I guess I was very lucky to have gone Gabon when I did, as it seems that just about everywhere I visited in the country is now closed. As I’ve no doubt said several times before I decided to write this report in the hope of maybe encouraging a few people to think about visiting Gabon, this has turned in to a somewhat hopeless task, however I hope my report has proved interesting all the same.

 

To read the news full story on the Africa’s Eden website

 

As per September 1st 2010 Loango Lodge in Gabon will be closed indefinitely.

Click here

 

and here

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post-49296-0-95457300-1431263104_thumb.jpg post-49296-0-60791600-1431263120_thumb.jpg

~ @inyathi:

 

The interior shot of Principé reminds me of the Marquesas Islands.

There are a few vistas on my home island, Kauai, which are comparable.

Your panorama view is an especially pleasing shot of an undeveloped part of the planet.

I really enjoyed your photography and Gabon trip report.

Tom K.

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Posted (edited)

I Asked few months ago about the lodge.

It is now managed by Loango Safari: http://www.loango-safari.com

We have now to take boat and 4x4 to go to Loango.

Rates are 325 euros per person per day, including staying at Tassi lodge.

They told me Robert de Niro stayed at Loango in June 2014. Not so sure they are making money, at least they continue the operations in this amazing part of Africa. It seems they work a lot with fishing safaris.

 

I also have a good tip for Loango North to the park. Loango must by combined with Lope NP, Dji-Dji and Kongoue falls, as well as the Bateke plateaux area.

The most complete website for Gabon is: http://carnetsdevoyages.jeanlou.fr

It relates the different trips of Jean-Louis, currently living in Franceville.

 

I definitely fell in love with Gabon! This country is definitely on my list for my future 6-months trip in Africa!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes: I have been looking information about Gabon since a while and I will post here what I have found until now:

 

Here is a french material from ANPN to describe the different national parks of Gabon and explain their strategy to develop geo-tourism.

http://www.gabon-nature.com

 

Travel Agency (recommended by Jean-Louis): Ngonde tour.

http://ngonde-touroperateur.com/circuits-touristiques/parc-national-de-la-lope/la-lope-loango-lodge-en-9-jours/

 

Best places to visit:

 

- Loango national Park

Rainy season from october to april. December-January are dryer and dry season from june to september.

From mid-july to mid-spetember humpback whales are common on the coast on the park (as well as Mayumba, Pointe Denis and Libreville). From october to february leatherback (and I guess green) turtles are seen on the beach.

From october to april, buffaloes, elephants and gorillas can be seen on the beach (sometimes with humpback whales jumping in the foreground), as the usual salt licks are full of water, animals come closer to the beach to find the salts they need.

 

--> 325 euros per person: http://www.loango-safari.com. Loango Lodge is perfectly located within the national park.

They offer walking safaris on the beach, boat safaris on the Mpivie river and other good places depending on the season, game drive during the dry season. A gorilla habituation program me is going on. It is expected that in the 5 following years at least one group of gorillas will be habituated for tourists.

Tassi savanna camp at less than 3 km from the coast is the best place during the rainy season as the animals move to the beach, while Akaka camp is well recommended for walking safaris in the forest during the dry season.

I have seen pics of Akaka during the dry season on Jean-Louis website particularly amazing.

The areas of Akaka, Louri and Tassi are only opened for Loango Safaris clients.

 

--> Enamino eco-lodge. A basic, cheap option to visit the northern part of Loango. Founded by one local well-known guide, it is perfectly located North to the park, they can offer walking safaris on the beach to see buffaloes, elephants, monkeys, as well as boat safaris in an area 10 km far from Akaka.

http://www.enamino.com

Highly recommended by Jean-Louis.

 

- Lopé National Park and Mikongo area

It seems groups of thousand of mandrills can be seen in the right season. I have very little information about Lopé.

 

- Parc de la Lekedi:

It's a fenced private park of 140 km2 close to the Bateke region in South-Eastern Gabon. They offer really nice walking safaris and experiences in the Gabonese forest. Forest buffaloes are easily seen, mandrills and sitatungas can be found, chimpanzees are here. There is one gorilla rehabilitation center in the park.

Moupia Bai is really close to Franceville and according to Jean-Louis is a really nice place to see elephants. Cannot be compared to Langoué which is currently closed.

 

- Plateaux Bateke:

Outside the national park, it is posible to hire a car to discover the wonderful canyons. In the forest galleries gorillas can be found.

The national park is still closed to tourism.

 

-Moukalaba Doudou:

Steppestravel now opened a tour to visit South Loango (from Sette Cama) and Mbani bay in the Moukalaba Doudou national park in the southern coastal plains of Gabon. If lions and lycaons where formerly found in this place, the park is currently out of the beaten tracks, but a gorilla habituation program lead by french and japonese scientists might put this place back on the map of tourism in Gabon.

http://www.steppestravel.co.uk/gabon-moukalaba-doudou-and-south-loango

It seems Mbani lodge is also offered by Ngonde tour.

 

Well, some expeditions can be organized to visit the famous inselbergs of Mikebe national park, the easy park to observe bongos can be found in Gabon. Easier trips can be organized to discover the Dji-Dji and Kongoue falls in the Ivindo national park, combined with the Monda Baï.

Edited by jeremie
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For french speaking persons, here is the link to Operation Okavango documentary on the Gabonese forest and Maya Nord, a famous salt lick of Odzala NP.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tXN3BVqp80

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Loango Lodge opened last the gorilla habituation project to tourism with a group of 18 lowland gorillas which are fully habituated.

 

If someone is interested to discover Gabon and gorillas elsewhere than in Bwindi/Virunga...

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@Zim Girl that itinerary sounds really good. 

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@Zim Girl @jeremie

 

Very interesting thanks for the updates.

 

It’s really great to know that the gorilla trekking in Loango has finally started, although other than the Steppes’ trip I haven’t managed to really find any information about this online. I guess it goes to show how long it takes to habituate gorillas fully as the habituation project had started when I was there in 2008. I hope now that after a few people have been there and done the gorilla trekking had a great time and come back with good photos of the gorillas, that they will then spread the word and this will kickstart further tourism in Gabon. According to the Steppes’ itinerary the gorilla trekking costs an extra 500 Euros that is unless I'm mistaken not much over a third of a Rwandan gorilla permit, I don’t know what the cost for Uganda is now. The fact that start of the gorilla trekking in Loango coincides with Rwanda’s massive gorilla permit price hike could prove to be a major stroke of luck for Gabon.

 

Loango National Park is an amazing place with enough diversity that you could in my view if need be spent the best part of week there to give you a chance to see as much of the wildlife as possible, but really 3-4 days is probably enough. After you’ve done Loango unless you are just going to return to Libreville and hop over to São Tome and Principe for the rest of your time (definitely not a bad thing to do) then you do really need other places to go in Gabon. So I hope this will lead to more places opening up to tourism. For anyone visiting Gabon Langoue Bai has to be top of the list of other places to go in the country.

 

As mentioned earlier in my report shortly after my trip the tourism experiment that WCS was running at Langoue Bai came to an end, WCS decided that they are a conservation organisation not a safari company and that running a tourist camp was not really what they were there for, so having not been able to find a safari company willing to take on Langoue they closed their camp to tourists. In the years since then I haven’t really been able to work out for definite whether it had closed permanently to tourists or whether it was in fact still possible to go there. I’ve found trips advertised online that include Langoue Bai, except half the time I realise after a little while that the webpage I’m looking at is seriously out of date and from before the camp closed. Some of them though aren’t, so I could only conclude that WCS were getting so many requests from people wanting to visit that they have taken to opening the camp to occasional groups. So I’m very interested to see that the Steppes trip includes Langoue Bai because this clearly confirms that the camp must be open to tourists, they have obviously come up with a new route to the camp travelling via the Ivindo River and then travelling by quad bike before walking. Perhaps the walk going via this route is easier or maybe it's exactly the same walk and only the boat and quad bike are different I don't know. 

 

@Kitsafari This Steppes trip certainly looks like a great trip to me and with the various river trips, the Bwiti ceremony as well as the walk to the camp at Langoue offers a good bit of adventure which I think is part of the appeal of visiting Gabon besides the opportunity to see rare Central African rainforest wildlife. Since you had such a great time following in my footsteps in Zakouma, perhaps in the near future I'll be reading your Gabon trip report.:)

 

 

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Posted (edited)

@inyathiit is indeed a great news!

 

I am currently asking for a quotation to Loango Lodge, I will let you know the lodges prices and activities ( this depends on the rainy and dry season).

The gorilla permit in Uganda is still 750 USD and in Kahuzi Biega and Virunga is only 450 USD.

Loango is easier to get to compared to Odzala or Nouabale Ndoki in Congo, and safer than Dzangha Sanga.

I would love to visit there 4 different places one day... Long offers very different landscapes compared to Sangha Trinational Protected Area or Odzala, with beaches, vast wetlands and lagoons, and of course a very different wildlife. There also were lions and wild dogs around Loango in the past, same for Odzala. There are still spotted hyenas at Odzala, but none in Gabon as far as I understand.

 

The Mikeno gorilla habituation closed years ago in Lope National Park, there are still guides working there for the very few tourists visiting the place, where mandrills can be seen. The other place that can be considered is Lekedi Park, where the former Comilog manganese mine as located. It is now a private park with gorillas and chimps released in small islands, wild mandrills with GPS and of course there are some wild chimps (not sure if there are wild gorillas there). In lekedi do not expect something very wild as they have some enclosures in a small area of the property where river hogs and buffaloes can be seen very closely.

 

There is also the Japonese project in Mbeli Bai in Moukalaba Dodou, I remember that Steppes Travel was offering gorillas safari there last year.

 

Bateke Plateau East to Franceville is another area of interest for its landscapes. In Ivindo Park apart from Langoué Bai which was still closed last year for tourists, there are the impressive Kongoué Falls where elephants are easily seen. There is also another bay very interesting for elephants. Bongo can only be seen in Minkebe National Park that is completely closed to tourists, so Dzangha Sangha is the place to see this marvelous antelope  right now.

 

Gabon really need to receive tourists to secure its biodiversity conservation strategy (and funding), infrastructure is still very poor but it is the best conserved country in all Central Africa. I am sure that if tourists will go there the infrastructure will follow. Oil production is going down there last years so they should be more and more interested in the tourism industry.

 

I will go to Gabon in late 2018 or 2019 and will share my experiences with you!

 

 

Edited by jeremie
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