Libreville is Gabon's largest city in and capital. It is a port city of 703,904 (2013) that is home to one third of the country's population.
- 1 Libreville International Airport (LBV IATA). Air France flies to the city from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul and other airlines mostly fly from other African destinations.
Libreville is the terminus of the Trans-Gabon railway, connecting with Franceville in the interior of the country. There are overnight services at least three times per week with a journey time of about 12 hours for the full length. The railway station, 2 Gare d'Owendo is about 10 km (6.2 mi) south of the city centre, near the port.
The best way to get around in Libreville if you don't have a car are taxis. For a trip from point A to B the fare is negotiated with the driver depending on the distance. Fares will double after 21:00. From or to the airport 2000 FCFA, or 4000 FCFA after 21:00. (1000 FCFA = €1.5, 10 000 FCFA = €15). Taxis are less expensive when shared or for short distances (100 to 500 FCFA). You can usually pay 1000 FCFA in the day or 2000 FCFA to not share the taxi and travel a substantial distance (15-minute drive). The cars are not very secure (broken doors, no seatbelts), but if you insist on careful driving, the chauffeurs will try to oblige. Mini-buses (similar to taxis) are also available for longer routes. Klandos are yellow taxis that shuttle back and forth along the backroads on a fixed route. They cost 100 FCFA no matter the distance.
If you can afford it (expensive by European standards), you can rent a car with Avis or Europcar. You will not be allowed to leave the town by rented car. Do not expect to arrive at the airport (especially on Sundays and possibly also outside normal business hours (which includes siesta from 12:00 to 15:00)) and find car rental agencies open - pre-arrange! AVIS may be contacted on email@example.com or ☏ . While it is reasonably easy by African standards to drive a car yourself in Libreville (provided you know your way around - buy a Gabon guide with maps at the newspaper shop to the right of the international check-in hall), it may not be a very cost-effective solution if you don't plan on moving around a lot. Driving in Libreville is not too hard, but the traffic police are corrupt and will use any excuse to stop and extract an 'amende' for a fabricated violation.
In general do not expect people to speak English (except for some immigrant taxi drivers from West Africa). The official and most spoken language is French.
Libreville's greatest asset is, probably, the seafront (bord de mer) where people gather daily to relax by the Atlantic Ocean. All along the seafront you will find some Gabonese sculptures (some are 20 feet tall!) looking over the beach.
You could also go in Nzeng-ayong to see the Arboretum de Sibang which is a huge tree sanctuary inside Libreville which groups thousands of local species. (But make sure in advance that somebody will be there to open the gate. Once you are inside apply a huge amount of anti mosquito cream on your skin before entering the woods. The people there will remind you - they are very helpful).
The centre ville is also a nice area to visit, in which you are able to enjoy the nearby ocean breeze.
- 1 Cathédrale Sainte Marie. Built in 1958 by Bishop Adama, it sits close to the coastline on the site of the former Fort d'Aumale. Pope John Paul II visited here in 1981. The Notre Dame Church behind the Cathedrale Sainte Marie is actually from the 19th century, but its edifice looks like it's being eaten away by saltwater or Libreville's humidity.
- 2 Notre Dame de Lourdes (Our Lady of Lourdes Church), ☏ . The front facade and retable behind the altar have a hand-painted airy white and blue tapestry that is quite pacifying.
- 3 Church of St. Michael Nkembo (L'Eglise St-Michel). This church has a Pan-African type of mosaic on its pediment, and 31 wooden columns carved by Gabonese artist Zéphyrin Lendogno that depict stories from the Old and New Testament. It is quite a sight and Libreville landmark, even if you aren't the church-going type.
- 4 National Museum of Arts and Traditions (Musée National des Arts, Rites et Traditions). Tu-Sa 10:00-17:00, closed Su-M. Might be having a bit of a moment with regards to being in operation, but has an intriguing collections of sculptures and other art. Just check with the people at the chamber of commerce there if it's not appearing open.
- 5 Musée National du Gabon. Another museum whose status seems somewhat iffy, but it can be co-located with the Musée des Arts et Traditions du Gabon possibly.
- 6 Presidential Palace (Palais Presidentiel). The executive office of Gabonese government. Can only drive by, and no snaps with the camera either please or you'll get busted.
- 7 Cour Constitutionnelle du Gabon. Another Gabonese government building you'll get harangued over if you try to photograph.
- 8 Memorial Leon Mba. A memorial to the first president of Gabon post-independence 1960.
Libreville is a place where people are very laid back and take things slowly. Don't worry about time and plans, and enjoy the city. There is not an exhaustive list of things to do. It is a true multicultural town; its people are very welcoming and will show you the true aspects of the city. The Centre Culturel Français (next to Mbolo, the main supermarket) has a cinema and also hosts occasional expositions and concerts. If you'd like to relax on a nice deserted beach, you could go to the Cap Esterias where there's a Arboretum de Reponda Walker or to Cap Santa Clara, about 30 minutes by car from Libreville. The latter place can be reached by car during the dry season. During the rainy seasons one would need a real 4x4 to get there. The Pointe Denis is another popular spot. It is a peninsula across the bay, close to Libreville. The boat trip takes 25 minutes and cost €15-20 (10 000-15 000 FCFA) from the Michel Marine (Navette "Orangina") or Port Mole, Navettes "Beaufort", "Castel" and "Internet". The beach there is beautiful, with a stunning view of Libreville's seafront.
- 1 Casino Croisette, ☏ . Open 24 hours. A smoky casino with gaming and drinks.
The city centre is great for shopping, yet surprisingly expensive. Mbolo is the main shopping centre, housing a Géant Casino (large French supermarket) and a large pharmacy as well as other shops. Other supermarkets include the Géant Ckdo on the Bord de mer, and Prix Import close by. CK2 next to the Casino Croisette sells whiteware (fridges etc.) as well as household tools, TVs, etc. In the same area, you'll find the Marché Artisanal where Senegalese merchants sell African instruments, jewellery, clothes, paintings, etc. If you want to see the authentic African side of Libreville, you should go to the gigantic Marché Mont-Bouet. There are bargains a-plenty - but keep an eye on your valuables.
Eating at any good restaurant ends up costing from US$24 for the meal and drinks. Not cheap but it is usually worth it! There are some high end restaurants that can be compared to the best restaurants in Western metropolises. The standard of quality in cheaper restaurants is high. Try one of the three Papa Union restaurants. The main road leading up into the Louis area (from the seafront near Jeanne Eboli Hospital) has a good range of restaurants and clubs.
The good thing about Libreville is that you can eat salad in the restaurants, and there is no need to be afraid of the ice cubes in your drink. The tap water is absolutely ok. Do not try that in any other African city. L'Emir has very good Lebanese food and the owners are friendly.
The local beer, the awarded Régab, is very good. Beaufort and Castel are OK, if you are not too demanding. The local lemonade, Djino, has many artificial flavours, so many people prefer Orangina, which is really made from fruits, has no additives nor preservatives and less sugar. Imported goods (wine/spirits) are widely available, if you are prepared to pay.
Clubs, restaurants and bars in the Louis area come to life at night.
The city is pretty lively at night so get out and enjoy.
For a coastal city, there are very few hotels or guest houses next to the ocean. Most beaches are in front of private residences and are not accessible. Tropicana is on the beach (see below).
- 1 Radisson Blu Okoume Palace Hotel, Boulevard de Nice (few km south of airport), ☏ . Short trip to/from airport. Beers on the pool deck are not expensive compared with most places. They have a pizza oven near the poolside. Free breakfast (breakfast buffet), restaurant/bar, pool, gym, hot tub, wifi, a/c, airport shuttle.
- 2 Park Inn by Radisson Libreville, 5 Boulevard de Nice, ☏ . Sits adjacent to the Radisson Blu Okoume Palace, with pool, gym,
- 3 Tropicana, ☏ . Right on the beach, but the rooms are very basic. Mattresses are foam and far from comfortable. The single rooms are the most basic, but are at least air conditioned with hot water. It is best to bring some insect spray. At 30,000 per night, the price is high for what you get. Food is good and Sunday lunch buffet recommendable. Wifi is only available in the restaurant area. 30,000XAF.
- Hotel Re-Ndama. Is at the far end of town if you come from the airport. Allow for about an hour ride during traffic jams (12:00-13:00 and 15:00-18:00. They have a free gym and is a bit more English-friendly (more TV channels, etc.)
- Le Dorian/Hotel Leet. These two hotels are owned by the same French owner. They are located behind the old Komo Cinema in the Montagne Sainte neighborhood. Le Dorian has very good value rooms (newly renovated, cost around 50,000 CFA per night). The staff is friendly too.
- Hôtel Lotus Bleu. Good mid-range hotel in Montagne Sainte (close to, but not within easy walking distance, from restaurants and Mbolo Shopping Centre) comparable to a good budget-airline: you get good clean basics (bed, bathroom, A/C, TV, empty fridge, free WiFi) and no further luxuries. Good value for money at 35,000 CFA or about €50 (2010) per night. Quite strict about checking out at 12:00 the following day if later check-out not pre-arranged. Contact them on +241 1 77 81 85.
- 4 Hotel Kreg Le Patio, ☏ . Decent mid-range motel-style hotel located in Quartier Louis. Rooms are clean and hotel has free wifi. Continental breakfast available for 8000 FCFA (€12). Hotel is within walking distance of M'Bolo shopping center and several restaurants. 60€.
- Maison Lieberman, Blvd Bessieux, ☏ . A low-cost place for backpackers. fan room 10,000 FCFA per person.
- 5 Residence Hoteliere Le Jomonia, Avenue Emma Adende Akire Odibi. In a quiet residential area north of the city centre. This is one of the cheaper options that comes up on the popular hotel booking sites. Very small air conditioned rooms, small pool, good enough food and good wifi. 70€.
You could try Akanda National Park occupying the peninsula to the north of Gabon, with its diverse array of flora and fauna including fish and birds and thick mangroves. Boat tours can be arranged to tour the park and also stop at a beach like Cap Esterias, hopefully without getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.