Category - South America

Essequibo Region (Guyana) Travel Guide

Essequibo Region Guyana Travel Guide: Father and daughter swimming at Lake Capoey

Essequibo Region (Guyana) Travel Guide

Date of Visit: August 2017

Introduction

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The Essequibo region in western Guyana is defined by the mighty Essequibo River – the largest river in Guyana and the largest river between the Orinoco (Venezuela) and Amazon (Brazil). The source of the river lies in the Acarai mountains near the Brazil-Guyana border and for most of it’s 1,014 kilometres (630 mi) northerly meander it passes through uninhabited rainforests and savanna, finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, downstream from the town of Parika. The river is home to many islands including Leguan and Wakenaam, both of which are located in the 20 km (12 mi) wide mouth of the river.

There are few towns along the river, with Bartica and Parika being the biggest and almost no infrastructure, except for speedboats which connect remote Amerindian (indigenous) communities.

Unless specified, all prices in this blog are expressed in Guyanese dollars (GYD), which converts at USD$1 = GYD$210.

Territorial Dispute

Map showing disputed Essequibo territory.

Map showing disputed territory. Source: https://www.peacepalacelibrary.nl/2016/01/essequibo-the-territorial-dispute-between-venezuela-and-guyana/

The Essequibo region (comprising 60% of Guyana’s territory), has made international news headlines recently due to an ongoing territorial dispute with neighbouring Venezuela. The dispute, which has no legal grounds, is being fueled by Venezuela’s embattled President – Nicholas Maduro – and is (rightly) viewed as a distraction from the many issues he is facing at home. You can read more about the dispute here.

Getting There

Stabroek Market in Georgetown.

Stabroek Market in Georgetown.

International access to Guyana is via the capital city of Georgetown, where you’ll find travel agencies who can book you on organised day-trips or overnight trips throughout the Essequibo region. Tours in Guyana are not cheap so if you’re on a budget, you might prefer to make your own travel arrangements, which is easy to do.

Access to the Essequibo is via the port town of Parika, which lies on the eastern bank of the river, upstream from the Atlantic ocean. Parika is 42 km (one hour) west of Georgetown, at the end of a highway (currently being upgraded), which crosses the 2 km long floating Demerara harbour bridge. Frequent mini buses – often driven by kamikaze drivers – connect Georgetown (Stabroek market) to Parika at a cost of $500.

Getting Around

Essequibo Region Guyana Travel Guide: Speedboats in Parika port.

Speedboats in Parika port.

From Parika, small speedboats depart (whenever full) to all points along the river. Early morning is the best time to travel, with no boats allowed to commence travel after 6 pm due to a lack of navigational devices on the boats or buoys on the river – it’s dark out there after sunset!

Current one-way fares (GYD$) are:

  • Parika – Bartica = $2,500
  • Parika – Wakenaam Island = $1,000 
  • Parika – Leguan Island = $1,000
  • Parika – Supernaam (for Anna Regina and Charity) = $1,300

Places of Interest

Parika

A family at Parika port waiting for their boat.

A family at Parika port waiting for their boat.

A chaotic, crowded, polluted, noisy, smelly riverside port town – Parika serves as a transport and freight hub for the Essequibo region. The best thing you can do in Parika is get on the first boat out of town. If you are stuck in town, there are restaurants and food stores around the wharf and a Scotia Bank (with ATM’s), which is handy since there are few banks throughout the region.

Bartica

Girls walking along the bank of the Essequibo river in Bartica.

Girls walking along the bank of the Essequibo river in Bartica.

My first trip on the Essequibo took me 58 km upstream from Parika to the town of Bartica (pop. 15,000), which is located at the confluence of the Essequibo and Mazaruni rivers. The journey (in a fast speedboat) took one hour, with the boat dropping us at the stelling (wharf) which is located directly downtown.

A red-earth beach on the Essequibo river in Bartica.

A red-earth beach on the Essequibo river in Bartica.

The name ‘Bartica‘ is derived from an Amerindian word meaning ‘red earth’, which covers the entire region and provides red sand for the local river beaches.

Locals in Bartica.

Locals in Bartica escape the stifling mid-day heat by taking shelter in covered stands along the banks of the river.

One thing I noticed while walking around town were the large number of gold dealers and mining services shops. Bartica is the first stop for miners returning from the gold fields (with pockets full of treasure) and the last stop for those heading to the mines (last minute deal on explosives anyone?).

Fresh-water Pacu fish on sale at Bartica market.

Fresh-water Pacu fish on sale at Bartica market.

Apart from mining-related businesses, there is a colourful produce market housed in a building on the river, where local fisherman sell their fresh catch of the day – including the Pacu fish, which is a herbivorous freshwater fish, related to the Piranha.

I got to sample Pacu later in the day when I had lunch at a Brazilian restaurant. When it comes time to eat  I would recommend eating at one of the Brazilian restaurants on 2nd avenue. The restaurants cater to the small army of itinerant Brazilian gold miners who work in the region and serve up traditional Brazilian cuisine – including Pacu fish, rice and beans, spaghetti and the ubiquitous farfola (toasted cassava flour seasoning, which Brazilians sprinkle onto every meal) – with typical Brazilian hospitality.

Typical road in the interior - outside Bartica.

Typical road in the interior – outside Bartica.

Located 10 km inland from Bartica are the BK falls. There is no public transport to these remote falls but taxis from Bartica will drive you out (on a very rough road) and wait while you swim then return you to town for about $8,000. Like all other water in the region, the water in the falls is the colour of black tea. Unfortunately ongoing quarrying operations from BK International have scared the environment around the falls.

 BK falls, Bartica.

A swim in the BK falls provides relief from the sweltering heat of the interior.

Wakenaam Island

Travelling around Wakenaam island.

Travelling around Wakenaam island.

My next destination was sleepy Wakenaam (pop. 10,000), a 45 kmisland, located in the mouth of the Essequibo river. The island was occupied by dutch settlers in the 18th century who named it ‘Wakenaam’ meaning ‘waiting for a name‘.

Boat to Wakenaam Island.

Boat to Wakenaam Island.

Included in the price of the boat ticket from Parika is a connecting mini bus shuttle which transfers passengers from the dock on the east coast to the main settlement (Sans Souci) on the west coast.

Sleepy Wackenaam receives very few tourists and offers very few services – no banks, no restaurants, one government-run Rest House, a post office, a wharf and a few general stores. The economy of the island is based on agriculture, with rice farming being the main occupation and everywhere I traveled on the island I saw the most beautiful, emerald coloured rice paddies.

Rice farming on Wakenaam Island.

Rice farming is the main occupation on Wakenaam Island.

Farmers also grow coconuts, plantain and various other vegetables and fruits. While walking along one quiet country lane (they’re all quiet on Wakenaam), I passed two young boys who were retrieving coconuts from a coconut palm. I must have looked hot and thirsty as they offered me a fresh coconut, the water of which was incredibly refreshing in the midday heat.

Apart from a couple of mini buses, there is no public transport on the island – so once I arrived in Sans Souci, I arranged a drive around the island (a journey of 60 minutes) with a taxi driver, for which I paid $3,000.

Taxi on Wakenaam Island.

The friendly family, with whom I shared my taxi.

The first stop on our ‘island tour’ was to collect a family who the driver had previously agreed to drive to the corner store. They were very surprised to see a tourist sitting in the front seat of their taxi – a stranger who would intrigue and amuse them all the way to the shop. After dropping off the family, we continued on a circuitous route, along very rough roads, around the island, passing miles of rice paddies, each one lined with water-filled trenches, which are home to Caiman.

Traveling alongside the seawall of Wakenaam Island.

Traveling alongside the seawall of Wakenaam Island.

If you love bird-watching then Wakenaam island is heaven (actually – all of Guyana is a bird-watchers paradise). I did a 6 km walk out of town and saw many feathered creatures in the fields.

Savannah Hawk.

Savannah Hawk.

 

Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Yellow-headed Blackbird.

 

Great-tailed Grackle.

Great-tailed Grackle.

 

Ruddy Ground Dove.

Ruddy Ground Dove.

 

Pied Water-Tyrant.

Pied Water-Tyrant.

 

Black-crowned Night Heron.

Black-crowned Night Heron.

 

Wattled Jacana.

Wattled Jacana.

Apart from birds, there are lots of colourful butterflies on the island, including the Monarch.

Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly.

 

Isabella's Longwing.

Isabella’s Longwing.

Leguan Island

River beach on Leguan island.

River beach on Leguan island.

My next destination was Leguan Island, which sits in the mouth of the Essequibo alongside neighbouring Wakenaam Island. The stelling (wharf) on Leguan lies across the Essequibo from Parika, with the speedboat ride lasting 5 minutes. The wharf is conveniently located at the main settlement, where there are a few small shops, a bar and a few snackettes. With a population of just 4,000 (and declining) – Leguan is even sleepier than Wakenaam and – at 19 km2 – it’s less than half the size of its neighbour.

There are no restaurants, hotels, banks or other services on the island for tourists – however there is a 52-feet statue of Lord Hanuman (the largest in Guyana) built at a cost of USD$5 million.

Lord Hanuman, Leguan Island.

The 52-feet statue of Lord Hanuman – the largest in Guyana.

Like Wakenaam, there is no public transport on Leguan so I negotiated with a local taxi driver to drive me around the island. There are three main paved roads (better condition than Wakenaam), two running along the north and south coasts and a road that bisects the island connecting the two coastal roads, forming the shape of a giant ‘H‘. During the drive I saw similar landscapes to those on Wakenaam – lots of rice paddies and farms.

Highlights of the tour included visiting a nice river beach at the north-eastern end of the island (photo above), photographing a giant Hanuman statue at a Hindu temple and peering through the shuttered windows of historic St. Peter’s Anglican church (built in 1827), which is in a state of complete disrepair.

Exterior of St Peter’s Anglican Church, Leguan Island.

Exterior of St Peter’s Anglican Church.

 

Interior of St. Peter's Anglican Church, Leguan Island.

Interior of St. Peter’s Anglican Church

Despite the agricultural job opportunities, the island’s population has been declining steadily over the last decade (it was previously double today’s figure) as people move elsewhere (including the United States) to seek employment. This exodus has left a lot of abandoned houses in its wake and resulted in plots of land being sold for just USD$4,000.

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

 

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

Charity

Young boy at the dock in Charity playing dominoes.

Young boy at the dock in Charity playing dominoes.

Literally, the end of the road in western Guyana, well – the tarmac at least – Charity is the main service centre for this part of the country and can be reached by frequent mini bus ($300) from Anna Regina in less than an hour.

Boat docked in Charity.

Boat docked in Charity.

This bustling town sits on the banks of the Pomeroon river and – like Parika – serves as a transport and logistics hub for remote indigenous (Arawak) communities located along the river and west to Venezuela. If you wish to travel any further west you’ll need to transfer to a speedboat in Charity.

River transport in Charity

River transport in Charity

Like most end-of-the-road towns, Charity has a frontier feel to it, but – with it’s colourful market, riverside cafes and restaurants – it also offers a degree of charm. Due to economic instability in neighbouring Venezuela, Charity has seen a recent influx of citizens from that country (both traders and shoppers), who add to the ‘frontier’ feel and flavour of the town.

Riverside shop in Charity.

Riverside shop in Charity. I really wanted to buy the handmade wooden boat.

If your time is limited and you want to take a short cruise along the river, local boatman can be hired at the wharf for about $10,000 for 45 minutes.

Goods from remote river communities are brought to Charity by speedboat for distribution to city market's.

Goods from remote river communities are brought to Charity by speedboat for distribution to city market’s.

Anna Regina

Swimming in Lake Mainstay.

Young boy swimming in Lake Mainstay.

My last destination was the west bank town of Supernaam, a journey which took me, via speedboat, across the entire 20 km wide mouth of the Essequibo river. From Supernaam, I took a connecting taxi into the regional capital of Anna Regina (45 minutes on a good, fast road). While I found nothing captivating about the regional capital, there are two beautiful ‘black water’ lakes located a short drive inland – Lake Mainstay and Lake Capoey. 

As for accommodation, I spent two nights at the Oasis hotel in nearby Queenstown. It’s enough to say this hotel is anything but an Oasis.

Lake Mainstay

Lake Mainstay.

The tea-coloured water of Lake Mainstay.

Located 10 km inland from Anna Regina (at the end of a long sandy road), Lake Mainstay is a large black-water lake. Black water rivers and lakes are common in Guyana – the result of tannin’s leached from jungle vegetation into the water.

Lake Mainstay

Lake Mainstay.

The lake is home to the Lake Mainstay Resort, which features a selection of rooms, a restaurant and a nice stretch of white-sand beach lined with benab’s (shelters). Day-tripper’s pay $400 to enter the resort, which can be reached in 15 minutes from Anna Regina via a (not-too-frequent) mini bus ($300), which leaves from the marketplace.

Lake Mainstay.

The beach at Lake Mainstay.

Lake Capoey

Father and daughter enjoying a sunset swim on Lake Capoey

Father and daughter enjoying a sunset swim on Lake Capoey

Lake Capoey is a true paradise! This little-known piece of heaven is one of the largest lakes in the Essequibo region and is located a short drive north of Queenstown (a few kilometres east of Anna Regina). The black-water, white-sand beach features benabs, a jetty and not much else – except pure nature. I visited during sunset and saw white egrets feeding in the reeds which surround the shoreline.

Sunset at Lake Capoey.

Sunset at Lake Capoey.

A sunset swim in the lake is a great way to end at hot day in the Essequibo. The water temperature is quite warm and once the sun goes down, the stars come out and the lake (far removed from civilization) becomes the perfect place for star gazing.

A sunset swim in Lake Capoey is a popular activity for the locals.

A sunset swim in Lake Capoey is a popular activity for the locals.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guyana Travel Guide, Suriname Travel Guide, French Guiana Travel Guide, Feature: Cayenne Carnival, Venezuela Travel Report 

Gran Sabana Region (Venezuela) Travel Report

Jasper Creek Waterfalls

Gran Sabana Region (Venezuela) Travel Report

Date visited: February 2015

Introduction

This postcard covers a trip from Brazil into the Gran Sabana (Great Savannah) region of Venezuela – also known as the Guianan Savannah.

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The Savannah region offers one of the oldest (two billion years) and most unusual landscapes in the world, with rivers, waterfalls and gorges, deep and vast valleys, impenetrable jungles and savannahs that host large numbers and varieties of plant species, a diverse fauna and the isolated table-top mesas locally known as tepuis.

The most famous of the tepuis is Mount Roraima (2,800m), which forms the border between three nations – Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil. The landscape in this region is part of the Guiana Shield.

View of Mount Roraima

View of Mount Roraima

Safety

Venezuela today is always in the news for the wrong reasons. The country is suffering after years of political and economic mismanagement under Chavez and now under his successor, Nicholas Maduro.

Crime is rampant, the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and tourists do get kidnapped. This is not a place for a Club Med holiday. You should make your own assessment of the risks, depending on your destination, before you arrive.

All locals advised me to avoid Caracas.

I personally experienced no problems while in La Gran Sabana region. The locals were all very friendly and welcoming and it was business as usual in Santa Elena.

Tourism is an important source of revenue in this part of the country and the locals are very keen to ensure nothing happens to tarnish the industry.

Many businesses are suffering due to the lack of tourists. The only visitors in Santa Elena during my visit were Brazilian daytrippers on shopping trips taking advantage of the cheap prices.

 

Money Matters

Bolivares currency

Bolivares currency

While many aspects of Venezuela are currently unfavourable, the turmoil has created a favourable economic environment for travelers. Travel costs in Venezuela are the cheapest on the continent.

At the time of my visit (February 2015) the exchange rate was:

Official: USD$1 = VEF 6.35 (fixed)
Black market: USD$1 = VEF 150

Venezuela has the highest inflation rate of any country in South America. As of today (13th of March 2016) the black market rate is:

USD$1 = VEF 1,211

It is illegal to publish black market exchange rates inside Venezuela, if you wish to check the current rate you can do so via the American website – dolartoday.

You should ensure you take enough cash – USD or, if you are entering from Brazil – Brazilian Reals, to last for the duration of your trip.

Exchanging with traders on the street is illegal but very common. In downtown Santa Elena you will find money traders on every street corner holding huge wads of Bolivares. I did one exchange while the trader was having a friendly conversation with a uniformed policeman.

Whatever you do – you should ensure you never expose yourself to the official exchange rate by using an ATM or credit card, otherwise you will find travel costs in Venezuela to be the most expensive on the continent.

Canaima National Park

The Savannah region covers an area of 10,820 square kilometres and includes the Canaima National Park, the 2nd largest park in Venezuela. The highlight of my trip was a visit to the park, all of the photos here were taken in the park.

Jasper Creek Waterfalls.

Jasper Creek Waterfalls.

One of the most beautiful sites in the park is Jasper Creek waterfalls. The creek gets its name from the fact that the water flows over a smooth bedrock of mostly red and black jasper.

Jasper creek waterfalls, Venezuela.

Jasper is a mineral formed from Quartz.

The park is home to numerous waterfalls, which are popular swimming spots for the locals.

Waterfall in Canaima National Park

Waterfall in Canaima National Park

 

Locals enjoying a refreshing dip in the waterfalls

Locals enjoying a refreshing dip in the waterfalls

 

This was the perfect place to cool off after a hot day of touring

This was the perfect place to cool off after a hot day of touring

Getting There

Local tour operators in Santa Elena can organise day trips into the park. I travelled in a 4WD with four others travellers. The cost for the trip was $12 per person.

Gran Sabana Region (Venezuela) Travel Report: View of the countryside in Canaima National Park

View of the countryside in Canaima National Park

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A bustling border town and main service centre for the region. Santa Elena is the first stop in Venezuela for travelers entering by land from Brazil.

In this small, friendly town, there are plenty of hostels, hotels and travel agents who can organise trips to Mount Roraima or the Canaima National Park and other places in the Savannah region.

 

Accommodation

Accommodation in Santa Elena de Uairén is plentiful but fills up quickly. With the current economic crisis, prices of goods in Venezuela are ridiculously cheap, so hotels are often booked out by visiting Brazilian shoppers.

Best to book ahead using an online agent such as booking.com

In Santa Elean de Uairén I stayed in the Hotel Le Gran Sabana, which is located on the outskirts of town on the highway to the border.

There are plenty of hostel options downtown, especially on Calle Urdaneta.

Eating Out

There are many good restaurant options in Santa Elena, especially in the backpacker neighbourhood on Calle Urdaneta.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for Venezuela – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

Santa Elena de Uairén has an airport, but as of February 2016, all commercial service has been suspended.

Venezuelan airlines Rutaca and Conviasa used to operate flights between this airport and Ciudad Guayana or Ciudad Bolívar; you should check their websites to see if air service has been restored at the time of your visit.

By Road

To/ From Brazil

Coming from Brazil, you can reach the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima from Boa Vista by several daily buses (the earliest at 7:00 am) that leave from Terminal do Caimbé bus station. There are also shared taxis. The ride takes up to 3:30 hours on a single-lane but good paved road.

To cross the border from Pacaraima to Santa Elena, you need to take both Brazilian and Venezuelan stamps at the respective immigration checkpoints first, then return to Pacaraima, where shared taxis are waiting for passengers. Pacaraima lies right next to the border (200m walk from the bus terminal), Santa Elena is 12km away.

If you are coming from Santa Elena you should take the taxi only to the border as the bus terminal in Pacaraima is a short walk from the border.

Some nationalities require visas for Brazil – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting Around

There are taxis to get you around Santa Elena de Uairén although the town centre is small and compact and easily covered on foot.

Currently bus service exists between Ciudad Guayana and Santa Elena de Uairén, but car travel is recommended to allow for frequent stops in interesting places.

The journey from Caracas takes 22 hours and can be done in a semi-cama (reclining seat) bus.

 

 

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guyana Travel Guide, Essequibo Region (Guyana) Travel Report

 

Guyana Travel Guide

Guyana Travel Guide: Kaieteur Falls

Guyana Travel Guide

Date of visit: January 2015 &  October 2015

Introduction

Guyana is the fourth-smallest country in South America (after Uruguay, Suriname and French Guiana). It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Suriname to the east and Venezuela to the west. It’s capital and largest city is Georgetown.

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Originally inhabited by several indigenous groups, Guyana was settled by the Dutch before coming under British control in the late 18th century. It was governed as the plantation economy of British Guiana until independence in 1966.

The legacy of British rule is reflected in the country’s diverse population, which includes Indian, African, Chinese, Portugese, Amerindian, and European groups.

Guyana also has the distinction of being the only South American nation in which English is the official language. The majority of the population, however, speak Guyanese Creole, an English-based creole language with slight Dutch, Arawakan and Caribbean influences.

Guyana is called the ‘Bread Basket’ of the Caribbean. Major crops include rice, sugar, coffee, cocoa, coconuts, edible oils, copra, fruit, vegetables, and tobacco. Livestock include cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens.

In addition to being part of the Anglophone Caribbean, Guyana is one of the few Caribbean countries that is not an island in the West Indies.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Guyana is a member, is headquartered in Georgetown.

Guyana Travel Guide: Fashion Parade in Georgetown

Fashion Parade in Georgetown

Guyana or Guiana

‘Guyana’ is derived from an Amerindian language and means “land of many waters”. The region comprised the large shield landmass north of the Amazon River and east of the Orinoco River.

In colonial times, there were five Guianas, these were (in geographical order along the coast):

  • Spanish Guiana – now the Guayana region of Venezuela
  • British Guiana – now the sovereign nation of Guyana
  • Dutch Guiana – now the sovereign nation of Suriname
  • French Guiana – now a French department known in French as ‘Guyane’
  • Portuguese Guiana – now the Brazilian state of Amapa

When Guyana declared independence, it changed its name from British Guiana to Guyana.

Historical map of the Guianas

Historical map of the Guyanas: Source – Wikipedia

Georgetown

Georgetown is Guyana’s largest city (population: 250,000) and its capital. It is situated on the Atlantic Ocean coast at the mouth of the Demerara River and it was nicknamed ‘Garden City of the Caribbean’.

Through the years, Georgetown has been governed by the Dutch, the French, the Dutch again and finally the English until independence.

Georgetown was named in 1812 in honour of King George III.

The city is located on a flat coastal plain. The elevation of the land is one metre below the high tide level. This low elevation is protected by a retaining wall known as the seawall (originally constructed by the Dutch) to keep the ocean out and an innovative network of canals with kokers to drain the city of excess water.

Most of the sites of interest are conveniently located in the compact city centre and can be seen on foot within a day. The streets of the city are arranged on a grid format so orientation is easy. The best way to explore the city is to meander the tree-lined streets, exploring the beautiful wooden colonial buildings and churches.

Guyana Travel Guide: Christ Church in Georgetown

Christ Church in Georgetown

The centre of the city is dominated by the large Stabroek Market (1792) containing the prominent cast-iron clock tower. Stabroek was the name the Dutch gave to the city the 2nd time they took control. The market is interesting but you should be extra vigilant with your personal belongings here. Likewise in the immediate neighbourhood where the streets are chaotic, crowded, rough and edgy.

Stabroek Market in Georgetown

Stabroek Market in Georgetown

For the best coffee in town (not to mention great food and good wifi), you can not beat Oasis cafe. It’s located downtown on Carmichael street.

 

Kaieteur Falls

If there is one ‘must see’ attraction in Guyana then without a doubt it is the majestic and incredible Kaieteur falls. This is a site that must be seen to be believed and there is no better way of approaching it than from the air.

The falls are not accessible by road so they have largely escaped commercialism and development. On the day I visited there were just 8 other visitors – my fellow passengers on the Air Services flight.

Kaieteur Falls is the world's widest single drop waterfall. The falls plunge 226m in a single drop.

Kaieteur Falls is the world’s widest single drop waterfall with a plunge of 226m

The falls are located in the middle of a huge, remote forest. It is four times higher than Niagara Falls and about twice the height of Victoria Falls. It is a very impressive single drop waterfall.

I visited the falls during the dry season. The falls are even. Ore spectacular in the wet season

I visited the falls during the dry season – they are even more spectacular in the wet season

The 6km trail approaching the falls is home to a variety of birds, and miniscule golden poison frogs that produce a potentially fatal poison. The frogs live inside the leaves of the Giant Tank Bromeliads, which act as natural cisterns.

Giant tank Bromeliads are home to the Golden poison frog.

Giant tank Bromeliads are home to the Golden poison frog.

 

A Golden Poison Frog, a member of the Poison Dart Frog family at Kaieteur Falls.

A Golden Poison Frog, a member of the Poison Dart Frog family at Kaieteur Falls.

The golden poison frog’s skin is densely coated in an alkaloid toxin, one of a number of poisons common to dart frogs. This poison prevents its victim’s nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving the muscles in an inactive state of contraction. This can lead to heart failure or fibrillation. Some native people use this poison to hunt by coating darts with the frog’s poison.

The golden poison dart frog is considered one of the most toxic animals on Earth. A single specimen measuring two inches (five centimeters) has enough venom to kill ten grown men.

The golden poison dart frog is considered one of the most toxic animals on Earth. A single specimen measuring two inches (five centimeters) has enough venom to kill ten grown men.

Getting There

You can reach the falls either by boat along the lower reaches of the Potaro river, or the easy – and most popular way – by one hour flight in a small aircraft from Georgetown.

Flights from Ogle Airport are currently offered by Air Services Limited. Refer to their website for schedule and pricing.

Flights leave Georgetown at 1pm and return at 5pm. Included in the cost is a two-hour guided nature walk conducted by a local Amerindian guide.

There are two ways to purchase your ticket:

Local way: book direct with the airline for $145.

Tourist way: book with your hotel or a downtown travel agent and pay about $190. This includes return airport transfers plus lunch at the airport.

Iwokrama Forest

Covering 3710 square kilometres of central Guyana, the Iwokrama Forest is one of the four last pristine tropical forests in the world.

Access to the forest is either via private vehicle or one of the micro buses running from Georgetown to Lethem.

I stayed at Atta Rainforest Lodge, it’s a short walk from the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, Guyana’s only canopy walk. The walkway is suspended 30m above the forest floor and provides an excellent viewing platform for birds, primates etc.

All lodge reservations plus transport arrangements must be booked and paid for in advance in Georgetown. I made my arrangements through Wilderness Explorers.

Note: There are no transport options out here unless you hire an (expensive) private 4WD. You could try your luck hitching a ride on the Georgetown – Lethem road.

Parrot Snake at Iwokrama Forest

Parrot Snake at Iwokrama Forest

 

Spider Monkey at Iwokrama Forest

Spider Monkey at Iwokrama Forest

 

The 'highway' connecting Guyana and Brazil passes through the Iwokrama forest

The ‘highway’ connecting Guyana and Brazil passes through the Iwokrama Forest

Lethem

Lethem lies on the Takutu River, which forms the border with Brazil, opposite the Brazilian town of Bonfim. It’s a sleepy transit town. If you get stuck here there are a couple of hotel options.

For more on crossing the border, see the ‘Getting There‘ section below.

Accommodation

Like the other countries in the Guianas, accomodation in Guyana is limited. It’s best to book in advance using an online agent such as booking.com

In Georgetown I have stayed at Herdmanston Lodge, which is a well known favourite and the more centrally located Halito Hotel & Residence (my preference).

Eating Out

Food in Guyana is influenced by the different ethnic groups and is typical of other Anglo Caribbean countries. Curry and Chinese are popular.

 

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for Guyana – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

International flights arrive at Timehri International Airport. The airport is located 41 kilometres (25 mi) south of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown.

The following airlines provide international flights to Timehri:

  • Copa Airlines – connection to Panama City and the United States
  • Caribbean Airlines – New York, Miami and Port-of-Spain
  • Insel Air – connections to Aruba and Curacao
  • Surinam Airways – connections to Miami and Paramaribo
  • Fly Jamaica Airways – connections to Kingston, New York and Toronto
  • Fly All Ways – Charter: Antigua, Barbados, Boa Vista, Paramaribo, Port of Spain, St. Maarten

Ogle International Airport is primarily used for domestic flights and is located on the Atlantic Ocean coast 10km from Georgetown. Flights to Kaieteur Falls depart from this airport.

The following airlines provide international flights to Ogle:

  • LIAT – connection to Port of Spain and Barbados

From either airport you can get downtown via taxi.

 

By Road/ River

To/ From Suriname

The ferry service between Guyana (Molson Creek – Corentyne) and Suriname (South Drain) is operated by the Canawaima Ferry Company.

Services are either once a day or twice a day in each direction, depending on season. There is usually a ferry from Guyana at 1pm.

South Drain is located 32km south of Nieuw Nickerie on a fast paved road.

On either side you will find taxis and shared buses to transport you to Georgetown (3 hours), Paramaribo (5 hours) or Nieuw Nickerie (30mins). Roads are paved and in excellent condition on both sides, although the driving is erratic and risky.

Most nationalities require either a tourist card or a visa for Suriname – check your requirements prior to arrival.

To/ From Brazil

The border between Brazil and Guyana is the bridge over the Takutu river between the Brazilian town of Bonfim and the Guyanese town of Lethem. The bridge includes a neat lane-changing design to get you from the left side of the road onto the right side.

Formalities are conducted on the respective sides of the river. There are local taxis, which will ferry you between the two posts.

On the Brazilian side you have shared taxis that will take you to the city of Boa Vista.

On the Guyanese side you have micro buses that will transport you to Georgetown (20 hours) to to points in the Iwokrama Forest (6 hours).

Note: Do not cross the border into Brazil with Guyanese dollars. They are impossible to change.

Some nationalities require visas for Brazil – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

 

Getting Around

There are frequent mini buses connecting all of the main centres in Guyana. Most buses from Georgetown commence their journey on the crowded, chaotic streets outside Stabroek market.

All taxis are registered under the term “Hackney Carriage” and carry the letter H at the beginning of their number plates. You can flag these in the street.

 

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Suriname Travel GuideFrench Guiana Travel GuideCayenne Carnival

 

Suriname Travel Guide

Suriname Travel Guide

Date of Visit: January 2015

Introduction

Suriname is the smallest country in South America. It is bordered by French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west and Brazil to the south. It is one of the three Guianas.

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Suriname has a population of approximately 566,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo.

Originally inhabited by indigenous tribes, Suriname was explored and contested by European powers before coming under Dutch rule in the late 17th century. In 1975 Suriname declared independence from the Netherlands. It is the only officially Dutch speaking country in South America.

Suriname is culturally considered to be a Caribbean country, and is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Historic Dutch church in Paramaribo

Historic Dutch church in Paramaribo

The people of Suriname are among the most diverse in the world, spanning a multitude of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups. As a plantation colony, Suriname was heavily dependent on manual labour, and after the abolition of slavery there was a requirement to import labourers to make up for the labour shortfall.

Hindu temple in Paramaribo

Hindu temple in Paramaribo

The Dutch brought in contract labourers from the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) and India (through an arrangement with the British). In addition, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, small numbers of labourers were brought in from China and the Middle East.

Mosque Keizerstraat in Paramaribo

Mosque Keizerstraat in Paramaribo

The official spelling of the country’s English name was changed from “Surinam” to “Suriname” in January 1978, but “Surinam” can still be found in English. A notable example is Suriname’s national airline, Surinam Airways.

 


Paramaribo

Paramaribo is the capital and largest city of Suriname, located on the banks of the Suriname River. The city has a population of roughly 240,000 people, almost half of Suriname’s population.

I arrived in Paramaribo from the border town of Albina. The city is very much the focal point of the country. The historical inner city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002.

The wooden interior of St. Peter and St. Paul Basilica in Paramaribo

The wooden interior of St. Peter and St. Paul Basilica in Paramaribo

The city centre is both grand and charming, containing beautiful colonial Dutch buildings arranged around grassy squares and streets lined with old Dutch style timber buildings. Most of the buildings have been restored but some are still in need of renovation.

Dutch colonial buildings in Paramaribo

Dutch colonial buildings in Paramaribo

On the riverbank there is an impressive fort – Fort Zeeland, which contains an interesting historical museum. The fort was originally built by the French, then occupied by the British then eventually captured by the Dutch.

Like the other capitals of the Guiana’s, Paramaribo is nice and compact and most of the sights can be covered on foot in one day.

Old Dutch letterbox in Paramaribo

Old Dutch letterbox in Paramaribo

In contrast to the old town, as you move further up the river things become much more vibrant, gritty and chaotic, the beautiful Dutch colonial architecture being replaced by ugly, modern monuments-to-bad-taste. Here you will find the main markets and most of the activity in town.

The population of the capital is very diverse and consists of Creole (African descent), Hindustani (East Indian descent), Multi-racial, Maroon (descendants of escaped African slaves), Javanese (Indonesian descent), Indigenous (descendants of native population), Chinese (descendants of 19th-century contract workers) and smaller numbers of European (primarily of Dutch and Portuguese descent), Lebanese and Jews. In the past decades Brazilian, Guyanese and new Chinese immigrants have settled in Paramaribo.

The diverse ethnic population ensures a culinary feast awaits the curious (and hungry) traveller. Around the city you will find cafes and restaurants selling a variety of food from India (Roti is popular), Dutch favourites such as pancakes, Bitterballen and Poffertjes, Indonesian favourites such as satay, gado-gado and loempia and Middle Eastern snack bars selling kebabs – just to name a few.

The local beer – Parbo – is brewed by Heineken and is very refreshing on a hot humid day.

A nice way to cool down on a hot humid day.

A nice way to cool down on a hot humid day.

After one day spent discovering the sights of the historic city centre I hired a bike on the second day, took it across the river in a pirogue and cycled to the historic village of Nieuw Amsterdam.

This is a nice day trip and provides the opportunity to get out into the countryside. The right bank of the river is very rural compared to the left bank. There is an old fort to be explored at Nieuw Amsterdam and an interesting historical museum.

Lotus Flower in Nieuw Amsterdam

Lotus Flower in Nieuw Amsterdam

 

Brownsberg

A nice day trip from Paramaribo is to Brownsberg National Park. Trips can be organised through any hostel and include transport, guide and lunch.

The park is located just 130km south of Paramaribo and is certainly worth a visit. This is the most northern part of the Amazon rainforest. The park offers views of Lake Brokopondo and the chance to spot wildlife on nature trails while walking to various waterfalls.

Three striped poison dart frog at Brownsberg Nature Reserve.

Three striped poison dart frog at Brownsberg National Park.

 

Poison dart frog at Brownsberg Nature Reserve

Poison dart frog at Brownsberg National Park.

Nieuw Nickerie

Nieuw Nickerie is the 3rd largest city in Suriname and lies on the mouth of the Nickerie river on the Atlantic coast, opposite the mouth of the Corantijn river (Courantyne) and the Guyanese town of Corriverton (Springlands), to which a ferry service operates.

See the ‘Getting There‘ section below for information on crossing the border to Guyana.

Bigipan

The one reason to come to Nieuw Nickerie is to visit the nearby nature reserve of Bigipan.

The reserve is 135,000 hectares in area and comprises a coastal lagoon which is influenced by the tides of the sea and is fed with both salt water and fresh water from the interior. The result is an impressive estuary, teeming with birds.

I organised a boat trip through my hotel, on the trip we saw flamingoes, scarlet ibis, black-collared hawk, woodpeckers, ibis and more. Lunch was also included.

If you wish to stay longer in the reserve there are guest houses built on stilts over the lagoon.

Black Collared Hawk at Bigipan Nature Reserve

Black Collared Hawk at Bigipan Nature Reserve

 

Suriname Travel Guide: Flamingos at Bigipan Nature Reserve

Flamingos at Bigipan Nature Reserve

 

Adult Scarlet Ibis at Bigipan Nature Reserve

Adult Scarlet Ibis at Bigipan Nature Reserve

 

Suriname Travel Guide: Juvenile Scarlet Ibis at Bigipan Nature Reserve

Juvenile Scarlet Ibis at Bigipan Nature Reserve

Accommodation

Like the other countries in the Guianas, accomodation in Suriname is limited. It’s best to book in advance using an online agent such as booking.com

I stayed in a private apartment in Paramaribo, which I booked through booking.com

Eating Out

Lots of variety to be found in this very ethnically diverse country.

 

Visa Requirements

Most nationalities require either tourist cards or visas for Suriname – check your requirements prior to arrival.

 

Getting There

By Air

International flights arrive at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport (formerly called Zanderij International Airport). It is located 45km south of Paramaribo.

The following airlines provide connections to Paramaribo:

  • KLM – daily flights from Amsterdam. Not surprisingly, most tourists in Suriname are Dutch.
  • Surinam Airways – also offers daily flights from Amsterdam and regular flights from the United States, French Guiana, Guyana, Brazil and various Caribbean destinations.
  • Caribbean Airlines offer flights from various Caribbean locations via Trinidad.
  • Insel Air offer flights from Aruba and Curacao.
  • Laparkan Airways offer flights from Georgetown (Guyana)

From the airport you can get downtown via either taxi or bus.

By Road/ River

To/ From French Guiana

Crossing the river Maroni between French Guiana (Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni) and Suriname (Albina) is very easy and straight-forward.

The Immigration posts for each country are located on opposite banks of the river. There are many private pirogues that will ferry you across the river.

Once you cross you have taxis and shared transport that can get you to Paramaribo (2 hours) or to Cayenne (3 and a half hours). Roads on both sides are in excellent condition.

Some nationalities require visas for French Guiana  – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

To/ From Guyana

The ferry service between Suriname (South Drain) and Guyana (Molson Creek – Corentyne) is operated by the Canawaima Ferry Company.

Services are either once a day or twice a day in each direction, depending on season.

South Drain is located 32km south of Nieuw Nickerie on a fast paved road. You can reach here by taxi / bus. When I crossed I arrived at the port at 8am (the opening time of the immigration office) in time to board the 9am ferry to Guyana.

There is usually a return ferry from Guyana at 1pm.

On either side you will find taxis and shared buses to transport you to Georgetown (3 hours), Paramaribo (5 hours) or Nieuw Nickerie (30mins). Roads are paved and in excellent condition on both sides, although the driving is erratic and risky.

Some nationalities require visas for Guyana – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

 

Getting Around

There are frequent micro buses and shared taxis connecting all the major centres.

 

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guyana Travel GuideEssequibo Region (Guyana) Travel GuideFrench Guiana Travel GuideCayenne Carnival

French Guiana Travel Guide

French Guiana Travel Guide

Date of Visit: January 2015

Introduction

French Guiana (French: Guyane), is an overseas department and region of France, located on the north Atlantic coast of South America in the Guyanas.

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It borders Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west. The country has a population of 250,109 inhabitants, 50% of whom live in the capital Cayenne.

‘Guyana’ is derived from an Amerindian language and means “land of many waters”. As such, this country is not an ideal beach destination as the coastline is lined with huge rivers, which dump brown water into the Atlantic Ocean. If you are looking for blue water you need to head to the Caribbean.

Part of France since 1946, Guiana joined the European Union, and its official currency is the euro. The region is the most prosperous territory in South America with the highest GDP per capita. A large part of Guiana’s economy derives from the presence of the Guiana Space Centre, now the European Space Agency’s primary launch site near the equator.

 

Saint Georges

I crossed the Oiapoque river from Brazil to the French Guianese town of Saint Georges. It’s strange to arrive in a town in South America and see the French flag and the European Union flag flying in the main square.

St. Georges is a quiet little transit town, nothing to do here except get your passport stamped and organise onward transport. Upon arrival, I reported to the immigration office where a friendly French gendarme stamped my passport in less than 30 seconds – a very easy entry for me but Brazilians require visas to visit their neighbour. See ‘Getting There‘ below for more details on crossing the border.

After entering the country I went to the bank to withdraw some Euros. I was about to discover that the cost of living in this French territory is very European.

I arrived in St. Georges early in the morning to see the locals walking out of the town boulangeries with freshly back baguettes under their arms – how very French. So different from Brazil where breakfast consists of chocolate cake.

I had to wait for my micro bus to fill with passengers for the 2 hour trip to Cayenne (excellent, fast road) so I took breakfast at a nice cafe on the main square. Everything in this town is a 5 minute walk.

From St. Georges I traveled onto the capital, Cayenne.

The unopened bridge connecting Brazil and French Guiana

The unopened bridge connecting Brazil and French Guiana

Cayenne

I arrived in Cayenne overland from Brazil. Upon arrival it was clear I was now in a very different part of the world. The population in the city is manly Creole with some Haitian, Brazilian, European, and Asian added to the mix.

The architecture is very different – lots of colourful wooden houses painted in tropical shades of turquoise, pinks and yellows. The music and most other cultural aspects are Creole influenced. It felt more like the Caribbean than South America.

The city is nice and compact, wonderfully quaint, welcoming and relaxing. In one day you can visit most sights on foot. In a city of 56,000 people, traffic is never heavy.

If you are in Cayenne during Carnival (January – March) you should ensure you catch the Sunday parade.

Sleepy Cayenne

Sleepy Cayenne

Cayenne Pepper

 

Image: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen

Image: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen

What is Cayenne pepper?

For all the facts you can refer to this site.

Despite the pepper being named after Cayenne, most peppers are now grown elsewhere in the world. There are no specific purveyors of Cayenne pepper in Cayenne.

From Cayenne I travelled along the coast to Kourou – home of the Guiana Space Centre and jumping off point for trips to Îles du Salut. 

Guiana Space Centre

Guiana Space Centre or, more commonly, Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) is a French and European spaceport near Kourou.

The location for the space centre was chosen because it fulfills the two major geographical requirements of such a site:
* it is quite close to the equator, so that the spinning earth can impart some extra velocity to the rockets for free when launched eastward, and
* it has uninhabited territory (in this case, open sea) to the east, so that lower stages of rockets and debris from launch failures cannot fall on human habitations.

You can visit the Space centre on a guided visit (well worth it). The visits are popular and spaces are limited so it’s best to book ahead in advance. You can do so by contacting CSG.

Guiana Space Centre near Kourou

Guiana Space Centre near Kourou

 

This Ariane rocket can carry a payload of 10t into space - enough to get my car (foreground) INot orbit.

This Ariane rocket can carry a payload of 10t into space – enough to get my car (foreground) into orbit.

 

Inside the launch control centre.

Inside the launch control centre.

Îles du Salut

The Îles du Salut (in English: Islands of Salvation, so called because the missionaries went there to escape plague on the mainland) are a group of small islands about 11 km off the coast near Kourou.

The islands were part of a notorious penal colony from 1852 onwards for only the worst criminals of France. The islands were featured in the novel Papillon, by Henri Charrière. He was imprisoned here for 9 years.

The prison was shut down in 1953. Today the islands are a popular tourist destination and are full of wildlife.

You can reach the islands by catamaran from Kourou. You need to reserve and pay in advance. I visited with Tropic Alizés, who I would recommend.

Entrance to prison cells on Îles du Salut

Entrance to prison cells on Îles du Salut

 

Squirrel Monkey on Îles du Salut

Squirrel Monkey on Îles du Salut

 

French Guiana Travel Guide: Capuchin monkey on Îles du Salut

Capuchin monkey on Îles du Salut

Mana

This tiny town north of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni is home to a remarkable restaurant – Le Buffalo.

If you’re in this part of the country it is worth the detour to eat here. The restaurant itself is housed in a simple wooden building with an equally simple interior. It is located on a quiet side street in this sleepy town (population: 800).

However the chef is a properly trained French chef who has relocated to Mana and brought his culinary skills with him. During your meal he will appear in the restaurant in his white chef’s uniform (including the ‘toque’ – traditional chef’s hat) to ensure everyone is enjoying their meals.

I especially recommend the carpaccio of buffalo.

Local ex-pats drive here from more distant towns for weekend lunches.

Tel: 594344280
Address: 36 Rue Javouhey, Mana 97360, French Guiana

The beaches near to Mana are nesting sites for the huge leatherback turtles.

From Mana I made the short journey south to Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, my exit point from French Guiana.

Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni

With 40,000 inhabitants this is the 2nd largest town in French Guiana and the border crossing to Suriname.

The town was founded in 1858, it was formerly the arrival point for prisoners, who arrived at the Camp de la Transportation, the buildings of which have been restored and can be visited.

The town is small and compact and easily seen in half a day.

Entering Suriname from here is very easy – see the ‘Getting There‘ section below.

French Guiana Travel Guide: Camp de la Transportation

Camp de la Transportation

Accommodation

Hotels are in short supply in Cayenne (and elsewhere in the territory). It’s always best to book in advance using an online agent such as booking.com

In Cayenne, I stayed downtown at Hotel Le Dronmi, which I would recommend. The hotel is conveniently located to everything of interest.

 

Eating Out

This is a former French colony – need I say more. Lots of good food available throughout the territory.

 

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for French Guiana – check your requirements prior to arrival.

 

Getting There

By plane

French Guiana’s main international airport is Cayenne – Félix Eboué Airport, located south of the city centre. There are two flights a day to Paris served by Air France and Air Caraïbes. There are also services to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Paramaribo (Suriname) and Belém (Brazil).

There are no buses to the airport, so your alternatives are to rent a car or take a taxi (€35 to central Cayenne).

By Road/ River

To/ From Suriname

Crossing the river Maroni between French Guiana (Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni) and Suriname (Albina) is very easy and straight-forward.

The Immigration posts for each country are located on opposite banks of the river. There are many private pirogues who will ferry you across the river.

Once you cross you have taxis and shared transport that can get you to Paramaribo (2 hours) or to Cayenne (3 and a half hours). Roads on both sides are in excellent condition.

Some nationalities require visas for Suriname (e.g. Australian) – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

To/ From Brazil

There are nightly buses from Macapa to the border town of Oiapoque. The road is mostly paved and the trip takes about 10 hours. I arrived at the small bus station in Oiapoque at 5am and was informed I would need to wait until 8am for the Brazilian immigration office to open. I joined my fellow transit passengers and slept in the bus station where there were some comfortable wooden benches to stretch out on.

At 8am I took a taxi to the immigration office to get my exit stamp then down to the port for the crossing by pirogue to St. Georges.

From the river you can see the huge new bridge, which links French Guiana with Brazil. This was completed in 2011 at a cost of $33 million but still remains unopened. The French are waiting for the Brazilians who have promised to have all infrastructure in place and the bridge open in time for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Once you reach the dock in St. Georges you will be greeted by micro bus drivers who can transport you to Cayenne. You will first need to get your passport stamped at the Gendamerie (Police Station), which is inconveniently located on the outskirts of town (a 15 minute walk).

Some nationalities require visas for Brazil (e.g. Australian) – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

 

Getting Around

Public transport is sporadic throughout the country. The best option, allowing you to maximise your time, is to hire a car. I did a one-way rental from Cayenne to Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni.

 

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Suriname Travel GuideGuyana Travel GuideCayenne Carnival