Gabon is oil-rich and has the highest per-capita income in sub-Saharan Africa. The capital, Libreville, is built on seven hills and offers all the trappings of a cosmopolitan city. It is often compared to Miami Beach, with its ocean-view hotels, chic boutiques, wide highways and abundance of bars and restaurants. Libreville is also one of the most expensive cities in the world and therefore has not become a popular tourist destination.
Gabon's weather is tropical (hot and humid year-round) with four seasons. Three quarters of the country is tropical rain forest. A short rainy season lasts from October to December. Heavy rains fall from January to May and often render roads impassable. The dry season runs from May through to September and there is a shorter dry season from December to January.
Gabon's population includes at least 48 ethnic groups, with the Fang being the largest. A strong French influence has virtually eradicated traditional Gabonese culture. The official language is French, and although English is not widely spoken, translator services are available at most major hotels. Fifty percent of the people are Christian, five percent are Muslim and the remainder practice traditional African religions.
Credit cards are accepted at banks and hotels in Libreville and in Port Gentil. Travelers' checks are easily exchanged, but proof of purchase may be required. The best way to acquire local currency at a good exchange rate is via credit card cash advances.
Gabon has a good telecommunications system. International calling is expensive. Twenty-four hour local phone service is available in major cities. Most public phones only accept calling cards that can be purchased at hotels, newsstands, at the post office and in some bookstores. A GSM 900 network allows for mobile phone coverage in most urban areas. Renting a locally compatible cellular phone before travel is recommended. Internet service is available in Libreville.
Libreville International Airport is host to many European and African airlines. Air Gabon, considered among the best airlines serving Central and West Africa, offers service to London and Paris and has links to provincial capitals.
Driving in Gabon's interior is the least desirable way to get around. Roads are in poor condition. Taxis and car rentals are widely available and in-country train service runs from Libreville to Franceville. Gabon's ferry service is reliable.
Gabon has an assortment of French, Lebanese, Chinese and West African restaurants. Accommodations and food are expensive by any standard.
Gabon is relatively safe, but civil unrest has been known to occur during election periods. Avoid restaurants (except in hotels) without secured entrances. Also avoid beachfront areas at night.