Loango National Park
Loango National Park is situated between the Nkomi and Ndogo Lagoons and covers an area of 1550 km². This area was made famous by Mike Fay and Nick Nicols from National Geographic, who called the Loango the “land of surfing hippos”.
The vegetation in the Loango National Park is mainly savannah, pristine beach, forest and mangroves, with a high percentage of water across the whole area. A unique feature of the area is the opportunity to see elephant, buffalo, hippo, gorilla and leopard not only in the forests but by venturing onto the 60 miles (100kms) of uninhabited white beaches.
The research centre established at Loango includes whales and dolphin observations offshore, reputedly the second highest concentration of the mammals after South Africa (over 14 species at last count). Whales include the humpback and killer whales. The area is also well known for the record size tarpon, and many other large saltwater fish. Previously classed as a faunal reserve, the zone is acknowledged by IUZCN as a Critical Site for conservation. Also a Ramsar Site, it has recently been proposed as a World Heritage Site.
The Loango National Park was first declared a regional faunal reserve in 1956. In November 2002, President Omar Bongo was finally pressured into declaring 13 national parks of which Loango National Park was one. Today the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), amongst others, maintain research, education and management projects in the area - much like Lope and Ivindo National Parks. Very few villages are located in the park although the area is under development threat from Chinese mining companies. Sadly the main tourist lodge known as Loango Lodge is closed from August 2010 and this also puts the research centres at risk of closing down.
The forests are home to an enormous variety of fauna and flora. Remains of western explorers can be seen in some piles of empty oyster shells and a couple of graves near to the only lodge in the Loango National Park. Most of the exploring of the park is done by boat, on foot or from a vehicle. An adventurous 4 day trek can be done through the forest and along the beach ending at a gorilla research camp. The equipment is very basic as is the food, however it is one of the last places where one can experience what it must have felt like to be one of the original explorers. When we did this trek, we were amongst the first 20 known to have ever done it and that was only in 2006!
The local people are still dependent entirely on local resources and use a slash and burn technique to clear ground and plant crops of peanuts, manioc and mustard greens. Fishing and hunting provides most of the protein, complemented by gathering of produce in the forest and off the beaches, including turtle eggs.
Best time to visit is December/January when there are clear, blue skies and very little rain. From February to April is the long, wet season with torrential downpours followed by the long, dry season from May to September…but accompanied by cloudy skies. The short, rainy season is October to November with heavy downpours interspersed by sunshine. The worst time for mosquitoes and tsetse flies is October to April but this tends to be the better period for viewing animals as well! Best times for viewing various species are as follows:
- Turtles: November to March
- Whales: July to September
- Fishing: November to April
- Mammals on the beach: November to April
The climate is quite humid and laundry takes a long time to dry. This area is for the intrepid explorer only and cannot be described as a honeymoon beach resort or a typical southern or east African safari camp. There is no doubt that visiting this area is an exciting and adventurous experience never to be forgotten.
For gorilla safaris or extensions to Loango trips, see the magnficent waterfalls in Ivindo National Park.