Gabon is one of a number of countries that use the Central African CFA franc. As you might guess the country is in the central part of Africa, and here you’ll find out more about the country and its currency.
If you guessed that this particular version of the franc was broken into 100 centimes, as the French franc used to be, you would be correct. However while this is right in theory, it doesn’t actually apply in fact. This is because inflation has done away with the centime, so you cannot actually get any coins valued in centimes nowadays.
Instead you have a range of francs that will be used for all your purchases in Gabon. These are the 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 franc coins, giving you eight in all to choose from. Aside from this you can also make use of any of the five franc banknotes in circulation at present. They are the 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 franc banknotes.
The letters CFA in the name of this currency stand for Cooperation financiere en Afrique centrale, hence why it is conveniently shortened to the CFA franc. There are two types of this currency in circulation though – one for the West African countries and one for the Central African countries. Gabon is in central Africa hence why it uses this particular currency.
The CFA franc has been in general use since the mid-Forties. At the time there were many French colonies in this part of Africa, which is why the franc was decided upon as the chosen currency. However prior to this particular franc being used the French Equatorial African version of the franc was in circulation, so it’s fair to say those living here are used to francs of one kind or another!
You shouldn’t have too many difficulties getting the amount of currency you need. You may find it a problem before you get to Gabon itself, but once there you’ll find many banks and exchange places that will convert your currency to the Central African CFA franc for you.
The best way to convert one currency to another is actually to take in traveller’s cheques. Ideally these should be in euros since this is likely to minimise the charges you will pay whenever you convert them. It is well worth making sure you take more than enough to cover your trip too, since credit and debit cards aren’t that easy to use here. This is very much a cash society so you should make sure you have plenty of it to last you. Make a separate note of your traveller’s cheques serial numbers so if anything happens to them you can still have them replaced quickly. This is particularly important given the fact they will form your main method for getting money in Gabon.
Most good currency converters have information on the latest exchange rate for the Central African CFA franc. Look to use the code XAF (this is the ISO code for this currency) so you can get the right one straightaway by using this. It will also save you time if the currency isn’t on the first converter you use.
If you think there might be a chance you would visit Gabon at some point in the future, go to the UK government’s dedicated page for travel advice first. This is regularly updated as and when required, and you’ll find it at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/gabon.
The majority of people who visit Gabon do so without incident. However there is a degree of crime there, so it is wise to make sure you take appropriate steps to ensure you are as safe as possible. Again, the latest up-to-date information will be available via the UK government website.
Most of the advice you need to bear in mind is really common-sense. For example don’t make a habit of wearing lots of jewellery or carrying cash in a visible sense. Anything like this that will draw the attention of criminals is likely to increase the odds that you will be affected by those who are looking for easier targets. Don’t wear jewellery, keep valuables out of sight and keep a tight hold on your bag. If you are able to it is also a good idea to ensure your cash is divided up into different pockets instead of all being in the one place.
We already know Gabon is in central Africa, thanks to the currency it uses. However you may not be aware of exactly where it is located. It shares borders with a number of other countries that also use the CFA franc. To the north is Equatorial Guinea and beyond that, meeting the northernmost part of the Gabon border, is Cameroon. To the east is Congo and this country actually wraps around the southernmost part of Gabon as well. The western side of Gabon faces the Gulf of Guinea, meaning there is a good stretch of the country with a coastline.
The capital of Gabon is Libreville, a city in the north-west of the country, not far from the Gulf of Guinea. There is a river that starts further inland in Gabon and comes out where Libreville is situated. This river is the Komo River.
As you might guess from the name Libreville, not to mention the past French colonial history, there are many other signs of French influence here. For instance you can visit the Palais Presidentiel, a huge building that isn’t that old and doesn’t allow visitors, but it is worth seeing from the outside. Elsewhere a warmer welcome is assured at L’Eglise St-Michel, a church that has been rightly called a masterpiece on many occasions. The most impressive feature here is its wooden columns, carved in such an intricate manner you may find it difficult to pull your eyes away from them. You can also enjoy the experience of visiting Mont-Bouet, which is a market in the city. This is a huge market made up of a huge knot of passageways. Whatever you want to buy you are likely to find it here. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours at least wandering round looking at the stalls, but be careful with your cash – this is an area where pickpockets are known to be rather rife.
Elsewhere in the city you also have beaches to visit – these are the Mayumba beaches. One of the finest beaches is the Pointe Denis Beach. Not only does it offer a superb stretch of beach, it also provides you with opportunities to get in the water and swim or go snorkelling if you are so minded.
Gabon is also rightly known for its national parks. One, the Lope National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised for its ecosystem. There is a massive rainforest here and tourists can stay in the park by booking into some of the accommodation available there. Elsewhere you can also visit the Akanda National Park, which is known among other reasons for its mangrove swamp areas. These are just two of the 13 national parks that Gabon has to share with its visitors, each one with its own flora and fauna, not to mention a variety of animals of all kinds.
Another example of a great national park is the Bateke Plateau National Park. This particular park is famous for its gorillas which live in the wild in a protected habitat there.
It probably comes as no surprise to learn of the animals, flora and fauna that await any visitors to Gabon’s national parks. After all, Africa as a whole is famous for its national park and reserves, so Gabon should be no different in this respect.
However there is plenty else to do if you do travel to Gabon, from exploring the many diverse areas of the capital to exploring down the coastal western side of the country. Gabon is certainly an area that offers much in the way of diverse experiences, so you are never likely to get bored here. Whether you intend to have an African beach-based holiday or you would rather go deep into the natural world and stay in a national park, Gabon can deliver on everything. It is a country begging to be discovered and as such it can offer experiences you may not have thought about before. If you have travelled to other African countries perhaps it is time to consider whether Gabon should be next on your list of countries to visit in this part of the world.