At a Glance
Dates: June 22nd - July 7th, 2023
Extension: We offer a two-night pre-extension to Pongara NP and Akanda NP.
Prices: £9,950 pp sharing (with a £650 single supplement), excluding international flights.
In a sentence: Use the iconic Trans-Gabon Railway to reveal some of the wildlife highlights not just of Gabon , but of the entire continent of Africa.
In so many ways, Gabon is completely unique within Africa. Covered in dense rainforest, Gabon protects some of the largest populations of many species on the continent, including forest elephant, forest buffalo, leopard, red river hog and much more. But, agonisingly, much of this potential lies out of reach, sometimes requiring weeks of effort just to get to a game-viewing area, and even then there is sometimes no ecotourism infrastructure in place, or irresponsible visitors have damaged the area beyond repair. But, as luck would have it, there is a way to access the interior of Gabon with relatively little effort - take to the rails. The iconic Transgabonais Railway, a hangover from the colonial era, was originally intended to enable the metropole to devour Gabon's natural resources, but this train now takes hundreds of tourists a year to incredible areas including Lope, Ivindo and even further afield. It is not a comfy or relaxing mode of travel, but it is unique and extremely special, making for the experience of a lifetime.
Day Minus One (Pre-Extension)
Akanda NP & Pongara NP
On arrival into Libreville, you will be met by your local guide and your tour leader and transferred to a local hotel for breakfast. Thereafter, we transfer to Akanda NP, a park just a short distance away from the capital that is dominated by mangroves. Our key quarry here is the rarely-seen northern talapoin monkey, and a boat safari is the best way to access the islands that support populations of this rare primate. Keep your eyes peeled also for African manatee, which are occasionally glimpsed in and around Akanda. After several hours in Akanda, we continue by boat on to Pongara NP. Pongara is a lovely area, again dominated by mangroves, but that also supports several larger mammal species. Our safari must wait for tomorrow though, as we overnight at a hotel in Pongara. With luck, you may glimpse several species of turtle as they clamber onto the nearby beaches to lay their eggs.
Day Zero (Pre-Extension)
This morning, a game drive is the best way to explore the mammal-viewing on offer in Pongara. Forest buffalo are well-seen here, and there is the opportunity to glimpse forest elephant and numerous species of duiker. Game densities aren't as high here as elsewhere in Gabon, owing largely to Pongara's proximity to Libreville, but this remains a great introduction to the wildlife of Gabon. After lunch in Pongara, we return by boat to Libreville to meet the rest of the group.
The group comes together in full this afternoon, with a pre-tour briefing in our city centre hotel this evening. The remainder of the day is at leisure.
This morning we transfer back to Libreville Airport for our domestic flight to Franceville, a city nestled in the far south-east of Gabon. Arriving by mid-afternoon, we transfer to our basic local hotel to overnight.
Bateke Plateau NP
Today we make a beeline for one of the least-visited wilderness areas in the world, the Bateke Plateau. Dominated by grassland and scattered forest, this impressive park offers some of the very best birding in Gabon, including unusual species such as the Congo moor-chat, but also some extremely interesting mammal-watching. In fact, the plateau is known to be home to Gabon's only lion (although we shouldn't expect a sighting), as well as elephant, buffalo and much more.
After a full day on the road, we arrive by nightfall to enjoy dinner at our basic campsite.
Days Four to Five
Bateke Plateau NP
We have two full days to explore the plateau, primarily on foot but occasionally making use of the limited tracks in the park. Each morning and evening we will slowly make our way through grassland and between forest islands, seeking out primates and smaller mammals as we move. The birding is certainly a real highlight here, and we should expect several lifers for all but the most experienced birders.
This morning we leave Bateke behind, spending the full day on the road, reaching Parc Lekedi by nightfall.
We begin today by spending some time with the resident mandrills in the park. These iconic and beautiful primates were originally released here from captivity, and are still carefully managed, but the presence of these mandrills has drawn in several wild individuals, which we will be sure to point out. If anyone tells you that none of the mandrills in Lekedi are wild, they are most certainly wrong!
After a morning with the mandrills, we will head over to the enclosed population of wild dogs to learn more about the reasons for their presence here, and the plans that authorities have for the park as a whole. We then return to our basic campsite for dinner.
Today is used to transfer us to the train station in Franceville, where we depart late on. In the early hours, we arrive at Ivindo town, where we overnight in a basic hotel.
Days Nine to Eleven
These next three days are undoubtedly our favourite of the entire itinerary. Ivindo is truly wild, supporting booming populations of forest elephant, forest buffalo and much more. The jewel in Ivindo's crown is undoubtedly Langoue Bai, an opening in the dense forest that draws in sitatunga, red river hog and many species of primate. Significant time will be dedicated to patiently waiting on a platform overlooking the bai, and we are sure to be rewarded with sightings of western gorilla, sitatunga and more.
After a final morning in Ivindo, much of today is focussed on extracting ourselves from the park. We transfer back to the railway station at Ivindo in time for our late train, arriving at our accommodation in Lope in the early hours of the morning.
After a very late arrival in Lope, it may be hard to drag yourself out of bed this morning - but there is so much to see! Our morning begins with a game drive through the forests and savanna areas near our hotel, where forest elephant, forest buffalo and even leopard are seen. We will also make a special effort to find the endemic sun-tailed guenon, a very pretty primate found only in Lope and in the contiguous Foret des Abeilles, and we also stand a chance of spotting rarities including red river hog and African golden cat.
This afternoon is a real highlight, as we head out to track one of the rarest and most elusive mammals in Africa - the giant pangolin. A researcher has recently radio-collared this incredible animal, meaning that it is possible to track down a pangolin with a high success rate. There are no guarantees, particularly as the pangolins sometimes venture out of range, or tracking is interrupted by grumpy elephants, but we will do our very best to achieve a memorable sighting before returning to our hotel.
Our second full day in Lope is set aside for a morning of mandrill-tracking. The same researcher who has radio-collared giant pangolin has also collared several mandrill, and tracking these stunning primates is an incredible privilege. This is a very different experience from Lekedi, with the mandrill being less habituated to human presence, but occurring in a much larger group. The photographic opportunities abound here, and this morning is always hugely memorable.
Our afternoon will allow us another opportunity to head out on game drive, or to visit the Lope museum, before returning to the hotel for dinner.
We have an extra day in Lope to track mandrill or giant pangolin, if our plans on previous days have been scuppered for any reason. If not needed, we will use this day to enjoy game drives or catch up on rest and relaxation after a busy itinerary.
In the early hours of this morning, we board our train to Libreville, where this tour ends.
After breakfast in Lambarene this morning, we drive to the city of Tchibanga. This is a lengthy drive, as is often required in Gabon, and we will have lunch en route. We then continue on to Doussala, where we will overnight at the gorilla research station ahead of gorilla-tracking tomorrow morning.
Days Eight to Nine
This morning offers perhaps the most humbling and memorable experience on can enjoy on the continent - tracking gorillas. The western lowland gorillas found here are not as habituated to human presence as their cousins in Uganda and Rwanda, but they are nonetheless hugely impressive animals. The trek to locate them can be slippery and lengthy, but to spend time with a family as they feed, play and rest is always a real delight. After returning from our trek, we will then spend the afternoon in Doussala town, where we are treated to a local ceremony before returning to the research station for some rest.
This morning we transfer back to Tchibanga by vehicle, before continuing on to the Atlantic coast at Gamba. From here, we are ferried across the Ndogou Lagoon (keep an eye out for Gabon's largest population of manatee here) to the village of Sette Cama, just outside Loango NP. After dinner, we head out on a boat safari into Loango NP, aiming to locate several nocturnal species rarely seen outside of Gabon.
We have a full day in Sette Cama today, exploring the lagoon and forests of Loango by boat and on foot. With luck, we may spot elephant, buffalo, sitatunga, red river hog, gorilla or chimpanzee today, although success varies from year to year. We overnight at Sette Cama tonight.
Today we transfer by boat to Sounga, from where it is a long but rewarding trek deep into the national park to our tented accommodation in the Akaka area. After a chance to settle in, an afternoon walking safari is an excellent way to begin to sample some of the wildlife-watching that Loango is well-known for, as well as some superb bird-watching. Sitatunga are recorded here regularly, as well as forest buffalo and a rich diversity of primate species and duikers. The real highlight, though, is the rare chance to view forest elephant and hippo so close to marine habitats - very rarely, visitors may even glimpse these iconic species in the saltwater. Leopard are also known to predate on turtles that nest on the coast of Loango. After our walking safari, we return to our accommodation for dinner and some rest.
Days Thirteen to Fourteen
We have two full days in the Akaka area, dedicated to exploring this pristine environment and locating any and all species that may be of interest to us. Birders may wish to seek out the range-restricted African river martin, and mammal-watchers may choose to head deep into the backwaters of the national park in search of rare antelope and forest elephant.
This morning we transfer by boat to the historic St Anne Mission, where we have a chance to learn more about this isolated mission, to which many pilgrims still journey. From here, we continue on to the nearby gorilla sanctuary, before driving onto Port Gentil where we spend the night.
After a city tour this morning, guests are transferred to the airport for their homeward flights.
Please be aware that whilst we make every effort to follow the above itinerary as closely as possible, circumstances may
occasionally arise that mean the tour deviates from the itinerary.
Dates and Prices
This tour will run in June and July 2023, aiming to take advantage of the (relatively) dry season when travel is at its easiest. The tour will run from June 22nd to July 7th, 2023.
The cost of this trip is £9,950 per person excl. flights. This includes all meals, accommodation and wildlife-focussed activities. Drinks are not included. We regret that we must levy a single supplement of £650 pp for this trip. To secure a booking, a deposit payment of £4,750 plus any single supplement must be paid.
Flights and Visas
Pictus Safaris do not offer flight booking services. However, we do recommend the use of travel comparison websites such as skyscanner.net or momondo.com to identify the best fares, and then booking with the airline directly where possible. This will reduce the likelihood of complications and fees should any issues with your booking arise. If you wish to spend an additional night in Libreville at the beginning or end of your tour, we can arrange this for you at an extra cost. We strongly recommend booking flights leaving Libreville after 16.00 on your return, if leaving on the same day that we return to Libreville to avoid disruption to your plans.
British nationals do require a visa to enter Gabon. Clients of other nationalities are advised to check well before travel whether they require an entry visa. Details of the process of obtaining a tourist visa for Gabon will be provided to you upon booking. The cost of a Gabon entry visa for UK citizens is £80 - these should be obtained prior to arrival into Gabon.
Weather and What to Bring
The weather in Gabon in June and July is humid, with maximum temperatures of around 27 degrees Celsius. At night, temperatures will drop to around 23 degrees Celsius.
A full packing list will be circulated at least two months prior to departure. Pictus Safaris will be able to provide one extra set of binoculars and two spotlights per group, and clients are welcome to bring additional camera, videography and scope equipment should they wish to. Please note that the use of drones is not permitted in many protected areas. We strongly recommend bringing comfortable, loose-fitting and neutral-coloured clothing on safari - please do not bring camouflage clothing. We recommend against dark coloured clothing (e.g. black or dark blue) as this attracts biting flies. Worn-in hiking boots with ankle support are a must, as are sunglasses, sun protection and a hat.
Do also remember to budget for any expenses not included in the cost of the trip, including for gratuities and additional activities. We recommend bringing US Dollars or Euros.
Safety and Security
There are no security concerns in any of the areas currently visited by this tour.