If any country in Central Africa has the potential to be a massive tourist draw, it’s Gabon. However, Gabon is not only the most apathetic towards building its tourism infrastructure, but the thing in place really only cater to rich people who fly in on charter flights from Europe for a week’s safari. Lope National Park is no different. It’s possible to visit Lope National Park on your own, but be prepared for various struggles. It really is a beautiful place, but it’s a pain in the ass, and if it’s out of your way than it might be worth skipping. That being said, I truly believe that everyone has different experiences. If you are passing through, you should stop and give it a shot for yourself.
Time Needed: 1-3 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: 40-80USD per person
Things to Do in Lope National Park
Obviously, most of the things to do in Lope revolve around the National Park. Most are also wildlife opportunities. However, don’t expect to see massive amounts of wildlife like a big eastern African safari. The wildlife is pretty sparse. You’ll likely see buffalo, possibly elephants, and rarely gorillas and chimps are spotted as well. Also, unless you’re staying there, don’t book anything with the Lope Hotel. They screwed us really hard, and hung us out to dry when we had an issue. I was not happy. Try to find a private guide and work out your own price.
- Forest Hike: A good way to see the forest. You might, as I did, get too close for comfort to a bit elephant though. Make sure your guide is well prepared. This is where you might spot gorillas. We saw traces of one, but nothing beyond that.
- 4×4 Safari: Depending on who you go with, this might mean being in the box of a truck, or it might mean being in a proper safari vehicle. If the elephant herds are around, you might see lots. If they are not, you might come up empty. Ask around before joining.
- Boat Safari: Really only possible when the water levels are low, the boat safaris are a good way to see the amazing river front or perhaps get lucky enough to see an elephant taking a bath.
- Gorilla Trekking: It’s not a sure thing like in Uganda or Rwanda, but if you specifically set yourself up to do a 2-3 day Gorilla trek staying at one of the camps well inside the park, you might see them. Although, it’s always a bit of a crap shoot.
Where to Stay in Lope National Park
There are more options than the internet might lead you to believe, but it’s still not great. You basically have a choice to stay at the Lope Hotel which is beautiful but really over-priced (Cheapest rooms start at $104USD). They had only 10 guest when we were there, and likely 100 rooms, and still refused to offer a discount of any sorts. Also, as mentioned before, they pretty much screwed us when it came to the excursions we booked with them. I ended up staying at Maison Mere which was pretty rough but at $11 it was the best value option. If you’re overlanding, they allowed a car to crash there overnight and just asked for a small “donation” which was fair. Also, the lady you owns and runs the place is so warm and friendly. There were a couple other options in town for around $30.
Where to Eat in Lope National Park
There aren’t a lot of options for eating. I pretty much ate all my meals at Maison Mere because they were the cheapest there. There are a couple places down by the train station as well, but they’re not great. The Lope Hotel has food and drink, but like everything else, it is grossly over-priced.
Getting out of Town
Lope really is in the middle of nowhere. The road getting there from the main national highway is rough and full of washboard. At least it’s not sandy. There isn’t a whole lot in terms of options for getting there as public transport is light. Your best bet is to wait at the highway corner and try to thumb a ride. If you’re going to Libreville, and are on public transport, the best option is the train. The train is also the best option to get to Franceville. The train is really good quality and actually incredibly reliable.
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