Libreville, the capital and largest city in Gabon, is situated approximately 30 miles north of the equator on the west coast of Central Africa. The city is a trade center for the small African nation and home to slightly more than a third of its 1.5 million residents. Located at the mouth of the Komo River, near the confluence of the Gabon Estuary and Gulf of Guinea, the city serves as a strategic port and transit point for the country’s timber industry and other exports.
Despite its small size and location in a traditionally unstable region of Africa, Libreville is one of the most expensive cities in the world, due in large part to the oil revenue that flows through it. The oil-dominated economy has given Gabon’s residents a per capita income several times higher than most other nations in sub-Saharan Africa, but income disparity remains high due to poor financial management and corruption.
The country’s extensive national parks system and bounty of wildlife would make it an ideal eco-tourism location were high cost of living and lagging infrastructure development not such limiting factors. Regardless of these obstacles, Gabon remains an important home for a rich assortment of fauna, including the largest remaining herds of forest elephants as well as hippos, mandrill and hundreds of bird species.
I spent several days in Libreville during my recent trip to Africa, and had an opportunity to explore the downtown urban areas as well as the rich ecosystem surrounding the city. The following photos are a sampling from my travels, including the one below, which I took from the air on my way to São Tomé.
A man in traditional Muslim attire waits for a cab along the roadside. While Christianity is the most prevalent religion in Gabon, nearly 12 percent of its citizens practice Islam.
A street vendor packages up fresh produce for a customer just north of the city center.
School children and pedestrians walk past a brightly colored service station in Libreville.
An odd half man/half woman “liberation” statue stands in a park in front of the opulent presidential palace in downtown Libreville.
The sun sets over the Gulf of Guinea as seen from Libreville Leon M’ba International Airport.
A street vendor’s grocery stall features a fresh selection of tropical fruits and vegetables.
Four girls walk home from a local market during a light summer rain shower.
While the city had its interesting highlights, the most memorable part of my trip included visits to the mangroves and jungle in nearby national parks. These protected areas are teeming with life and home to a number of threatened and endangered species of plants and animals. The mangroves of Pongara National Park are a particularly important breadbasket for the fish population in the estuary.
The only effective way to navigate the mangrove-clogged waterways of Pongara National Park is by boat. Here, a family stops for lunch at Assiga Village inside the park.
The Gabon Estuary is an important stopping point for migrating birds, and home to a number of year-round residents like pelicans and other seabirds.
The idyllic waterfront of La Baie des Tortues Luth resort is a popular day-trip destination from Libreville, especially among those seeking to view Leatherback turtles laying their eggs on nearby beaches at night.
A heavy mist settles over the rainforest canopy after a downpour in Akanda National Park.
A black millipede crawls among vegetation in the rainforest of Akanda National Park.
The distinctive, gourd-shaped nests of a colony of weaver birds fill a tree near Akanda National Park.
Check out all the high-resolution shots from Libreville in my set on Flickr.