There’s few places on earth that conjure a traveller’s imagination more than the Amazon. With its promise of vast rivers, raging waterfalls, remote tribes and yet-to-be-discovered species, it’s one of the final frontiers, and sandwiched right in the middle of it all is Guyana.
Despite being seemingly small next to its immense neighbour Brazil, it covers an area bigger than Great Britain. Comprising a narrow coastal strip backed up by its huge jungle-interior, much of Guyana’s relatively small population is concentrated in the capital Georgetown, its only true city. Beyond that are only towns and scattered settlements stretching across the Amazon, meaning vast tracts of Guyana are given over to wildlife, whether officially in national parks or simply in unsettled wilderness.
The country’s capital and international hub, Georgetown is small and easy to navigate around. Situated on the edge of the jungle, it is also the primary gateway to Guyana’s vast hinterland, which literally begins at the city limits.
In dry season, it’s possible to drive all the way to Lethem on the Brazilian border, where Guyana’s jungles give way to vast savannahs. Known for its Giant anteaters and resident vaqueros (cowboys), this remote, western corner marks the end of the road in Guyana before crossing into Bonfim on the other side of the frontier.
Situated between the Amazon and the Caribbean Sea, the wildlife in Guyana is very varied. Amazonian Red and Green Macaws as well as the iconic Guianan Cock-of-the-rock – with its bright red plumage and rounded crest – can be found across the region. The rainforest is home to golden frogs (used for poison darts), the massive blue morpho (the largest butterfly in South America), as well as a number of wild cats like pumas and leopard cats.
A rare treat is the sighting of the endangered three-toed sloth, which lives high in the trees and are so famously sedentary that green algae grow on their fur.
Along the road out of Georgetown into the interior is Iwokrama Forest. One of the largest stretches of undisturbed jungle on earth, its 3,700sq.km. are home to over 500 types of birds and 400 species of fish, as well as black caiman and rare felines like leopards and tiger cats. One of the best ways to take it all in is from its impressive canopy walk (35m high).
Part of an innovative, ongoing experiment, half the park’s land is set aside for strict conservation, while the other half is earmarked for sustainable utilisation in careful cooperation with 16 local tribal communities who are involved in ranger duties and tours, as well as sustainable fishing and hunting.
Kaieteur National Park
Deep into the interior along the border with Brazil is Guyana’s undisputed gem: the world’s tallest single-drop waterfall, Kaieteur Falls. Part of the vast Kaieteur National Park, it is an uncrowded spot (unlike other major waterfalls like Victoria or Niagara), with a rocky vertiginous viewpoint that juts out over the abyss. The total lack of guardrails and miles of unobstructed views make it a one-of-a-kind experience.
The easiest and fastest way to reach Kaieteur is by air, with regular flights (1 hour) from Georgetown to the park’s airstrip. There are also 5D/4N overland tours, starting with an 8-hour drive to Mahdia in central Guyana. From there, it’s a 3-day hike to the falls, where there are guesthouses and rangers who run guided hikes.
Overnighting at Kaieteur allows you to experience the park, where you can easily spot the outrageously colourful Guianan Cock-of-the-rock.
Most overland travellers depart by air back to Georgetown rather than retrace their steps.
Getting There & Around
Georgetown is Guyana’s sole international gateway, with direct flights from New York, Toronto and London. You may also arrive by road from Brazil or ferry from Suriname.
What to Eat or Drink
Guyanese cuisine is similar to that of the West Indies, with pepperpots (a meaty, spiced stew), cassava and Indian curries. One of the best places to try any of these (except the pepperpot, which is harder to come by) is in Georgetown’s famous Stabroek Market.
Where to Stay
Part of a still fledgling eco-tourism industry, Guyana has many new, up-and-coming rainforest lodges, including Timberhead on the Demerara River and Rockview Lodge at Annai (central Guyana).
As English is its first language, it’s more culturally linked to the Caribbean (like Trinidad or Jamaica) than with its Latin neighbours. This is evident in its steel drum bands or a day at Georgetown’s historic Cricket Club.
Lying on the edge of the Amazon, more than 200 species of tropical birds can be found in Georgetown alone.