Gabon - solo - 4 weeks - on a shoestring. Is it doable?
Replies: 3 - Last Post: Mar 26, 2013 4:14 PM Last Post By: LienV
Mar 17, 2013 5:42 PM
Gabon - solo - 4 weeks - on a shoestring. Is it doable?Hello!
I am intrigued by the enormous amounts of vegetation and rich beautiful rainforests of Gabon. Being a rugged, willing to foot-it nature lover, Gabon definitely strikes my interest.
I've heard that Gabon is pretty expensive, but I'm a person who doesn't need 4- or 5- star accommadation. I just need it to get the job done.
So it is possible, given its reputation as a pricey African destination, for a person to travel and see many national parks (forests, trekking, jungle, wildlife) as well as enjoy the richness of the local cultures while not costing myself an arm and a leg? I'll sleep in the budgetest of budgets if I have to, that's fine.
Is this possible? Is there a smart way to go about enjoying the grandeur of Gabon for 4 weeks "on a shoestring" (or the next best thing)?
Mar 18, 2013 6:06 AM
1It's not easy. I visited La Lope back in 2007 relatively cheaply (on my own, by train rather than with a tour), and could have done it more cheaply by staying at a cheaper place than the main lodge there--which was fairly reasonable anyway. I arranged a mandrill tour with the WCS people, which worked out fairly well, and did my game drives ad hoc.
But of course you need to balance all that by saying that La Lope is not exactly teeming with visible wildlife, so the charm may be a bit lost on you.
I think it's possible to get down to Sette Cama cheaply for part of Loango, but I did not try this route.
Mar 22, 2013 10:58 AM
Yes, it is doable.
I have been in Gabon in December for 4 weeks with the same intersts like you.
Living costs and transport are quite o.k.
Tours into the nationalparks are expensive.
2days/1 night into Lope N.P. are 200.000 CFA (EUR 300,00 --- without any animals) and
3 days/2nights into Moukalaba-Doudou National Park 200.000 CFA (my personal highlight with chimps, lowland gorilla and forest elefants)
Ivindo Natinalpark Park (incl. Kongou Falls) 3 days/2nights are 300.000 CFA
Enjoy this beautiful country with friendly and helpful people.
Mar 26, 2013 4:14 PM
I have recently been there and I can tell you it is quite a challenge if you really want to do it low budget and independent. Even so, there is a lot to see and explore though if you are really persistent and willing to spend some money on some specific activities. I hope my post does not sound too negative, I will just try to give you a realistic overview of our experiences:-) I wrote it quickly so sorry if it looks a bit chaotic.
Getting to and into the national parks for an affordable fee is difficult because there is a monopoly in most places (either by tour companies or by the state). An exception is indeed La Lope where you can get a good tour (morning one activity and evening another one) for 30 000 CFA in the Lope hotel. The mountain is nice but there are no animals, better to do a combination of visiting a small part of secondary rainforest where you can see monkeys and sometimes chimpansees and do a safari on the plains in the evening. Normally you can see elephants although we did not saw any. I would really recommend this option even though the price might be a bit elevated. We tried to do it more cheaply with the ranger at the entrance of the wildlife park but essentially we just lost time because the day itself suddenly there was no vehicle available to bring us there (there was an elephant shot and they had to intervene:)). The guy is nice though... The next day we booked a tour in the village with John from ecotours (a small blue cottage if I am not mistaken). We did a safari with a very old bus that broke down two times, I think the price was 25 000 cfa. He was very fond of himself and was very rude when we said that for the price we would have expected a jeep for a safari and not a run down bus. This could be better now as they said they were buying a new vehicle but still I would take the better hotel option for the small price difference. Nice views in the park but we did not see much wildlife since the bus made noise and was bumping a lot. In la lope you can sleep really cheaply chez papa Jules, just ask around in the village. I think it was around 5000-7000 cfa but don't remember the exact price. Don't stay in the motel next to the train station except when you arrive in the middle of the night (it gets the most dirty room - award).
To give you an idea: We got a 40 euro budget per dag per person (two people sharing a room) and did not manage to do expensive things like Ivindo national park and the Kongou falls with that kind of budget. We went there only to hear that the prices were astronomical, at least in our opinion. For a two nights three day trip the price was quoted per person per night which was a bit misleading, but it would have costed us like 500 euro each (rough estimate since I do not remember exactly). We returned to Makoukou without visiting Ivindo and the Kongou falls. It all depends on your budget, there is a lot to see but again, Gabon is oriented towards a very exclusive kind of tourist willing to pay a hell of a lot... Sometimes you can get around it but not always. We traveled all the way there for nothing (700 kms of dusty road) since it was impossible to reach the foundation by phone. We tried to arrange with some local piroguiers but they are forbidden to go into the park or into the falls and very afraid of Joseph, the manager of the foundation. This was a recent evolution since 2012 but it exemplifies our experiences a little bit. The other side of Ivindo (Bai de Langoue) is not open anymore so you could not go there, at least not without booking a tour from Libreville for several hundreds of euros a night.
To give you another price indication: we went for a boat ride on the lakes of Lambarene for the whole afternoon (to the most far away lake with a former luxury hotel and the catholic mission on the way). We negotiated for two days and got the price down to 50 000 cfa everything included. The first day the guy that was supposed to take us did not turn up, and another one did only want to take us for 65 000cfa. I do not consider myself the best negotiator but other tourists we met paid 90 000 for a shorter tour, so it is expensive.
That said there is mostly budget accomodation to be found for 10 000 cfa and even down to 4000-5000 or less in some places if you are willing to sleep in really basic places. In places with few tourists like Boue we got a nicer hotel (something with "cascades" in the name) for 12 000. Just ask around for case de passage as the locals do. Gabonese often (though not always) ask you crazy prices when they see you are white so negotiating really hard and asking the local price beforehand to some local people is the norm. In Cameroon and Sao Tome people were more willing to negotiate than in Gabon.
You can travel either by train or by minibus in Gabon. The train is not cheap but ok, and almost always leaves or arrives in the middle of the night (except one day a week). From what I remember without looking it up the price ranges between 40 000 and 70 000 to Franceville depending on the class you take - buy tickets a couple of days beforehand if you want to be sure. Second class is not too bad and there is airco. We took a train one day Libreville - Franceville and returned after three hours to Libreville because of a technical problem. Since it was not sure the train would leave the day after we took a minibus at night to La Lope. The driver was drunk, bought some illegally sold gasoline in the middle of the bush and made us wait for many hours in the middle of the night. Although the gabonese people told us our journey was exceptionally long I would not recommend taking a night bus that leaves libreville after 8 pm, better to leave early in the morning or around 5 pm. The nice thing about travelling during the night is that the police checkpoints along the way will make less problems. Other busrides were better so no worries. In general the buses are relatively cheap, but still double or triple the price from for example cameroon. Libreville Lambarene was 7000 cfa for example, Makoukou (Kongou falls) - Ndjole 12000 (probably it was a little less we did not negotiate hard on that one). On some routes there are a lot of checkpoints, on others less. We never paid but sometimes police men give you a hard time, you have to spell the name and profession of your mother and this kind of stuff:-)
We also went to Lekoni (cheap shared taxis from Franceville) to two of the craters for 25 000. This was a bargain since the second crater is really, but really far. The people who took us have not been there for years and were not very happy with the price we had agreed beforehand because they thought it would only be a one hour drive. I would recommend to only visit the first - or red - crater. That is really beautiful and close by (like 15-20 min by car) and could be done cheaply (maybe 10000-15000 if you ask to local people). There is one hotel over there but they said we should have called beforehand as the responsible of the national parc over there was in the capital. You could try calling beforehand but phone numbers change a lot:-) I think the entrance fee for the national parc over there was quite okay and it is different from what you see in other parts of the country, more plains etc.
There is a post on this forum about visiting Sette cama which was very interesting, we did not got there because it is pretty far but it could be worth it. We met some spanish people who went to another national parc close to libreville and they saw some impressive wildlife too, I think it was Pongara. They arranged this via a spanish tour operator for a relative reasonable price (around 100 euro a night per person if I remember well). You could try to go independently but distances are often far away and there is not alway a vehicle to take you to the entrance of the park.
If you'd like to see gorillas the most accesible option is close to La Lope. I do not remember the name right now but it is an old research station where the university of london used to conduct research (they are gone now). There is a guy who owns a bus in La Lope that can take you there for 100 000- 120 000 for two days with a tent and food. Ask around with papa Jules, he knows the guy. We did not do it because we thought the price was too high but in hindsight this was a good deal and you will not find it much cheaper.
I still forgot the cost of food: this ranges between 1500-2000 for a very basic portion of what the locals eat (bouillon de carpre, salted fish with concentrated tomato sauce, fried banana etc). If you want something a little bit more attractive (you will after a couple of weeks:)) there are some nice restaurants in places like Franceville where you can have a better meal or something western like pizza for 5000-7000. Libreville is more expensive but we found some cheap (2500) and good food in a restaurant close to the bus station area. Hotels in Libreville are very expensive too, the best option are the catholic missions if you want something affordable for 10 000-20 000. The other hotels start from 35 000 for basic stuff or nice places further from the center. Taxis costs 1000-2000 depending on the distance. If you share you can get that down to 400 or less if you figure out the system but many expats discouraged us to take the shared taxis (we did during day time without any problems). You have to tell the driver your price in advance!
Some random stuff: Hotel apily in franceville is a good deal (cheap and friendly place), nice restaurant there is Liz Aurore (more upmarket and little bit stiff though). We liked Oyem a lot as the people were a lot more friendly than in other places. Makoukou was of the beaten path but not one of the highlights of our trip, there are very few white people and we got some hostile reactions of the local youth. There are two reasonably nice motel/hotels to choose from if you'd go there, we stayed in the cheapest one (I think around 12 000cfa).
Even more random: going to equatorial Guinee over Cocobeach in Gabon is not a good idea in case that crazy plan would occur to you. There is another post of mine somewhere about that:)
I could spend hours writing about this trip but time to go to bed now, hope this helps!
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