Occupying a massive 7,570 square kilometres in the far northeast of Gabon, the Minkébé National Park is one of the most inaccessible parks not only in Africa but also in the world. However, safari-goers endeavouring a trip to this natural gem will be thoroughly rewarded.
A medley of habitats ranging from river forests to swamps and rocky outcrops are the foundation of life in the park. It is no wonder that it has been recognised by the IUCN as a critical site for conservation and is awaiting approval to be considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Minkébé forest is abundantly rich in trees that date back hundreds of years. For some time, thousands of the enigmatic forest elephants found a safe haven among these towering giants. That is before ivory poaching cut their population in half.
The park, named after an ancient village and colonial post, is nourished by the waters from Sing and Nouna Rivers, tributaries of the Ivindo River that flow through the north of the park. Marshy areas, a swamp-forest and some grasslands are the most recognisable habitats.
Getting to Minkébé National Park is not for the faint-hearted. The park lies roughly 700 kilometres from Libreville from where flights are available to Oyem. From here visitors have to travel over 100 kilometres to Minvoul and then take a boat to the village of Doumassi. A less cumbersome but equally trying alternative is to fly or drive from Libreville to Makokou and then hike just over 10 kilometres to Grand Bois with the help of a guide.
There are no overnight facilities in the park. It is advised to plan a visit well in advance as the closest accommodation is at least 150 kilometres away at either Makokou or at Mvoung (175 kilometres).
The park is home to at least half of Central Africa’s forest elephant population while western lowland gorillas and giant pangolins can also be observed.
The forest elephants of Minkébé National Park are the park’s most important inhabitants and is believed to be one of the largest populations on the continent. Other impressive species to be found in the park include the western lowland gorilla, black colobus monkeys, golden cats, and porcupines.
The wetland areas are the ideal habitat for creatures like the dwarf crocodile, spotted-necked otter, and sitatunga. More than 220 avian species including the spot-breasted ibis, crowned eagle, and Rachel’s Malimbe can be spotted in the park.
Due to the hot and humid climate of Gabon, the best time to visit Minkébé National Park is between May and September with temperatures ranging from 20 to 28 degrees Celsius. The driest time of year is from June to August.
Due to the remoteness of the Minkébé National Park, there aren’t many other safari options apart from searching and discovering the inhabitants of the park. There is, however, the opportunity to learn about the culture and lifestyle of the Kwèl and Kota ethnic groups, find out more about a jungle spirit named Baka Edzengui, and witness performances of the Kwèl Deke dance.
There is no accommodation available in Minkébé National Park. The closest settlements with overnight facilities if safari-goers intend to visit the park, is at Makokou (150 kilometres) or at Mvoung (175 kilometres). Planning well in advance is thus advisable.