Loango National Park, Gabon

Photo: Kurt Dundy [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Kurt Dundy [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You’re slowly walking along a windswept, white-sand beach. St. Cathérine Beach, located where the rainforest meets the ocean, is deserted and nearly 100 kilometers long. Fiddler crabs scurry to get out of your way. Olive ridley sea turtles nest along the dunes. It looks like a gang of African forest buffalo are up ahead. While huge elephant footprints pool with salty water. You barely notice any of them, though. You’re staring at the crashing waves and the hippos that seem to be riding them. The surfing hippos.

Body-surfing hippos, that is. As the white-capped waves crash, the barrel-shaped, 2,000-plus-pound animals roll toward the shore with them. Then, using their stubby legs, they swim back out, trying to keep their snouts above the water, to do it again. And again. You’re mesmerized and completely unaware of the elephant footprints, the nesting sea turtles, and the buffalo that are getting closer.

These fascinating hippos—and everything else on the beach that you’re ignoring—are in Gabon. This Central Africa country sits on the Equator. It’s stable, relatively prosperous, and conservation-minded. In 2002, the president created 13 national parks, preserving 10 percent of the land in a country about the size of Colorado. Loango National Park is one of them.

Loango National Park has been called “Africa’s last Eden.” It’s full of vast savannas, untouched forests, dense mangroves, and pristine beaches. Besides elephants and buffalo, gorillas and leopards roam the land. Colorful parrots and fruit bats fly overhead. Killer and humpback whales, plus lots of dolphins, are seen just offshore. While tarpon congregate where the Iguéla Lagoon meets the Atlantic.

After spending the day on the beach, you return to the Loango Lodge on the Iguéla Lagoon a few kilometers inland. You relax on your bungalow’s terrace with a Régab beer. The animals are coming out to graze as the temperature drops and the sun starts to set. First red river hogs appear. Then buffalo. Finally an elephant strolls down the beach. Without any hippos in sight, you can finally appreciate the rest of the amazing animals in Gabon.

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