ABOUT A decade ago Gabon set aside 10% of its land for national parks. It wanted to become Africa's version of Costa Rica - a magnet for eco-tourists. But turning Gabon's natural assets into tourist cash has been tougher than expected. What went wrong! Rombout Swanborn opened a facility called Loango Lodge, which is operated by his tourism company, Africa’s Eden. Perched on a lagoon across from the park, Loango Lodge boasts a restaurant, conference center, curio shop, swimming pool, and ten bamboo-sided bungalows complete with air conditioning, hot water, and other amenities international tourists expect. Inside the park, Swanborn’s company maintains rustic camps where visitors can spend the night in tents on wooden platforms and experience close encounters with wildlife. As a pioneer, they became victim to the fact that Gabon wasn’t really ready,” says Lee White, director of Gabon’s national park service. White, a British-born biologist who formerly worked for the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, pushed for the creation of Gabon’s parks and helped launch the tourist and conservation effort at Loango. “When you’re trying to move a country that has no experience with tourism to become a tourist friendly country, there are huge challenges,” he says. Transportation in Gabon is unreliable. Hassles with police and immigration officials are common. Rombout Swanborn says he was able to circumvent these problems for some time. He purchased his own planes and flew tourists directly to Loango from throughout the region. But Swanborn faced problems with Gabon’s civil aviation authority, an agency considered so ineffectual by the European Union that the EU put Gabon on an air safety blacklist. “These guys, before they do anything at all, they ask you for a lot of money,” he says. Swanborn says he refused to give money when officials asked for “an extravagant additional tax of which we knew that it wouldn’t benefit the country.” (He declined to call it a bribe.) The government grounded his planes. Swanborn tried to bring tourists to Loango by other means, involving a four-hour boat ride down the coast followed by a car ride on potholed roads. But that proved too inconvenient and time-consuming for many tourists. Reservations dried up, and the lodge shut down.
CLIMATE Gabon has an equatorial climate, with year-round high temperatures and humidity. The average temperature in Gabon is 26.4 °C. Average July temperatures in the capital range between 20 and 28 °C. From June to September there is virtually no rain but high humidity; there is occasional rain in December and January. During the remaining months, rainfall is heavy.
BEWARE Crime is increasing, particularly in Libreville and Port-Gentil, including incidents of robbery, armed attacks and rapes. You should take sensible personal security precautions and maintain a high level of vigilance in public places. We recommend that you avoid carrying valuables or wearing jewellery in public. You should avoid isolated or poorer areas of towns and walking alone at night. We advise you to be cautious on quiet or isolated beaches in and around Libreville, and to avoid them altogether at night. Use taxis from recognised sources only, such as hotels. Do not hail one from the street.