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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrAs the capital city of the central-west African country of Gabon, Libreville, also known as “Pongo” or “Mpongwe” (in Myene language), played a symbolic role in the slave trade that marked 400 years of the continent’s history.
Today, it still represents one of the few countries that have a strong heritage, noticeable in most of its people’s way of life. Its location on the Gulf of Guinea has made it one of the most strategic portuary city, not only historically but also economically.
HistoryThe first indigenous group to occupy the area are the Mpongwe people ; a group who has been there for about 2,000 years. Later on in 1472, the Portuguese explorer, Diego Cam, arrived in Libreville, and gave the name “Gabao” to the country.
By the 1770s, the people became involved in slave trade with the many Europeans (French, Dutch, and British) who visited the area.
By the 1840s, the city consisted of 7,000 free men and 6,000 slaves, amongst which emerged 4 preeminent clans.
Tribal rivalry among the different clans gave the opportunity to the French to impose themselves in the area. While King Denis Rapotchombo; chief of the Assiga across the Komo River , signed a treaty with admiral Bouet-Willaumez in 1839; the other chiefs were reluctant. It was in 1843-1945, after a bombardment that King Glass of the Agekaza-Glass submitted to the French authority, and that King Louis of the Agekaza-Quaben abandoned his village of Okolo; letting the French build the Fort d’ Aumale on the village’s site.
During that same era (1840-1850), the city saw the arrival of a new ethnic group called the Fang; who came from Cameroon . The first missionaries also arrived around that time; they were American missionaries, and built the first missionary schools in what is now called the Baracka suburb.
The founding of the city of Libreville occurred in 1846, when a few years after the abolition of the slave trade, a Brazilian ship called the Eliza, carrying slaves, was captured by the French navy near Loango. The slaves were released and founded Libreville- which means “Freetown”- that same year.
Today, the urban lifestyle and employment opportunities have attracted people from the interior of the country to Libreville. Starting from 13,000 individuals 200 years ago, its population raised up to 540,000 inhabitants today. It has a very present French community, and also people from other countries (Africans and Europeans). The people have kept their African roots, but have also inherited a lot from the French, whose occupation lasted over 120 years.
What to DoLibreville, like many other African cities, reflects the different cultures of the whole country together with colonial influences. The people are friendly, and very eager to assist with inquiries. Take advantage of the city’s tropical atmosphere to visit its museums, natural parks, or simply enjoy a walk on its infinite beaches.
Pointe DenisA seaside resort on a peninsula across the estuary. You’ll find some resorts on site, and a lot of activities based around the sea like whale watching, watching Leatherback Turtles lay their eggs, or simply swim or jet ski.
L' Eglise Saint MichelA wooden-carved church with 31 tall wooden carved columns, said to have been realized by a blind man.
The Akanda National ParkOne of the 13 national parks where a huge variety of migratory birds can be watched with the assistance of a guide through the forest.
Sibang ArboretumIt’s a preserved rainforest, 5 km away from Libreville. A guide will take you around the forest where you’ll be introduced to the different types of tree species found in Gabon.
The Museum of Arts and TraditionAn interesting place for Gabonese masks and arts. It features many traditional masks in which carving secrets are transmitted from one generation to the next. You’ll also learn that in the past, these masks were said to hold magical powers. Next to them is a collection of different musical instruments used by the different tribes of the country.
Where to ShopLibreville has perhaps more shopping opportunities than anywhere else in the country, from grocery stores to artifacts markets, you won’t be disappointed.
MallsYou can buy groceries or any other personal necessities at Mbolo, the oldest French style mall in Gabon. It consists of two pharmacies, a supermarket, boutiques, restaurants, and a Western Union. The parking is free and it’s easily accessible, not far from the seaside boulevard and the Louis suburb.
MarketsThe Marche Artisanal de Libreville, meaning “artifacts market of Libreville”, is one where you’ll find many art objects sold by people from all over the west coast of the continent. You’ll find African art, among which are some very beautiful portraits or statues carved in a well-known stone called “Pierre de Mbigou”. You’ll also find traditional clothing and handmade jewelry. It’s a bit pricey, but you have to learn to negotiate as their best and constant buyers are tourists.
Marche Mont BouetA local flea market and food market; you’ll find anything from traditional African suits to out-of-series garments from Europe. It’s not very clean, but you’ll be amazed by the diversity and availability of items in that market.
SupermarketsLet’s face it, with a population of half a million, you’ll mostly find supermarkets compared to malls. There are over 200 of them (maybe more), in every main suburb of the city. With services such as butchers, bakers, wineries, household interior products, and clothing, mostly imported from Europe or Asia. The best ones are: Supergros, Prix Import (with several branches all over the city), Score supermarket, and San Supermarket.
RestaurantsOne will be amazed by the amount of eateries and bakeries, not to mention the different specialties, ranging from local to anywhere else in Africa , Europe or Asia and the Mediterranean. Restaurants are opened from 11:30 AM to 13:30 PM, only to reopen early in the evening from 19:00 PM. Bakeries are opened from 7:30 AM until 20:00 PM. But don’t let these time constraints stop you from enjoying the freshly cooked dishes at the following establishment:
- Roma Restaurant: An Italian specialty. Opened from lunch to dinner and late night dinners. It is located in the very popular Louis suburb. They have a very good collection of wine,an excellent service, but pricey.
- Le Lokoua: A French specialty, where their very popular seafood section is highly recommended. Overall a clean, upper-class restaurant located in the Glass suburb.
- L’Odika: Opens up from noon till 3:30 PM, only to open up later at 19:00 PM. You’ll mostly eat local dishes there. Don’t be afraid to try dishes like: Python, Porcupine, Crocodile, or Antelope, which are very tasty and will allow you to really have a real Gabonese gastronomical experience.
- The Sakura: A specialty, highly frequented by rich Gabonese and Westerners. The place offers a smoking section, with fresh and tasty sushi, and other Japanese dishes. It is also one of the most expensive restaurants in town, and can be very hard to find too.
- Jacky Cochon: For meat lovers. You can enjoy perfectly grilled pork meat while listening to some some Jamaican music. But the food is quite pricey for the simple dishes that are served, you can pay up to $ 25 USD for a plate.
BakeriesThey offer the best bakery in town, mostly French pastries that you can enjoy with a cup of coffee, a soda or a fruit juice. Their variety of cakes are also recommended. Their service is normally the best in town and it’s mostly ideal to have breakfast there. Try the 3 following bakeries: La Parisienne, Le Pelisson (which has a seating balcony), and the Palmier Dore.
AccommodationSince the Cup of Nation in 2012, a lot of hotels have opened up, adding something new to the almost chaotic reputation of the city’s oldest 4 to 5 star hotels like the Meridien Re Ndama or Laico. Many have even been renovated to keep up with the newcomers.
Try the new Radisson Blu Okoume Palace. With rooms starting from $ 246 USD a night; this newly-opened hotel offers all-day dining, a free airport shuttle, free Hi-Fi, spacious and clean suites, and even a fitness center.
The Park Inn by Radisson is also new, and is conveniently located next to the city center and many shopping destinations like Mont Bouet. It has 140 rooms, a swimming pool, an outdoor terrace, an all-day dining restaurant, and is located 2 km away from the airport. Prices start at $ 270 USD per person.
The Onomo hotel is also a recommended choice. A new establishment (opened in Libreville for 3 years now), 5 minutes from the airport, with a free shuttle service (on request); it is situated in the upper suburb, facing the new US Embassy. A beautiful, colorful 3 star hotel with 118 comfortable rooms; they also provide a free internet service. Rooms start at $ 156 USD .
Another option is the Residence Hotelier du Phare, a boutique hotel on the seashore with a dining area opening on the beach. It was voted as the best place to stay at when visiting Libreville. Their rooms start at $ 258 USD , and it's located a few meters away from the airport.
NightlifeMost of the nightlife happens in the Louis suburb, where you’ll find all of the trendy nightclubs and restaurants in the city. By 22:00 PM the atmosphere hits up in that part of the city, where you’ll see people from different backgrounds or ethnicity come together to have a good time. You’ll find clubs that play all types of music, from European, Arabic, Caribbean, South American, and an amazing compilation of African music. You may pay an entrance fee of $ 20 USD , but it should depend on the establishment. You’ll be amazed at how people easily interact with each other, no matter what race or social class they belong to. The following places are ideal for a night out in.
- The New Hollywood Café: A cozy, small nightclub in Libreville , mostly crowded with young people. You can dance all night while listening to music from all over the world, or enjoy a drink at the bar. It has a flat screen playing music videos, while the DJ plays music.
- Casino Croisette: A small casino, but pretty much frequented by locals and tourists (mostly during weekends). You can also grab a bite here, and enjoy live performances by local and international artists.
- No Stress: A trendy Afro-inspired lounge bar. There are no dance floors, but the most attractive assets of the No Stress are the décor, the music, and the beautiful crowd.
- Butterfly: Ideal for rave music lovers. It has spacious dance floors, professional waiters, and skilled disk jockeys.
How to Get AroundThere is only one airport serving the city of Libreville , the International Airport of LIbreville (AIL). There are normally taxis parked outside the airport, if you didn't make any transportation arrangements, fares from the airport normally start at $ 10 USD . Most renowned hotels in town have a shuttle service, but make sure you request one before arrival.
Or you can simply rent your own car if you prefer; the city is easy to get around, as tourists points of interests are normally concentrated in the same areas.
SafetyThe level of crime in Libreville is very low, at least when it comes to tourists. It seems like Gabonese people don’t have a violent culture. The biggest threat are corruption and bribery. Concerning that aspect, make sure you have all your documentation in order before arriving in Libreville , and have your passport with you all the time. And if you don’t speak French , avoid confrontation with locals and stick to your holiday program.
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Author: Comasco. Last updated: Feb 13, 2015