Guyana Travel Guide
Date of visit: January 2015 & October 2015
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Food in Guyana is influenced by the different ethnic groups and is typical of other Anglo Caribbean countries. Curry and Chinese are popular.
Some nationalities require visas for Guyana – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.
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.
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.
Author: Darren McLean
Author of taste2travel.com and an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer, diver and adventurer.