The Lost World of Guyana
Brazil may have been in the spotlight this year, but its less well known neighbour Guyana, the only English speaking country in South America, is coming out of the shadows.
Sir Walter Raleigh came to Guyana in search of the fabled "City of Gold" and Guyana's flat-topped mountain tepui inspired Conan Doyle's "The Lost World”. But the country remains relatively unknown to UK travellers. Tourists flock to its more exuberant South American cousins (Guyana borders Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname) or hop across the Atlantic to tropical Caribbean destinations like Trinidad & Tobago. But this largely undeveloped country - The Land of many rivers (which is how its name translates in Amerindian) boasts some of the continent’s most well-preserved rainforest, wildlife which includes jaguars, ocelots and rare birds and breath-taking falls and rivers such as the Demerara. It also has one of the most fascinating cultures in the Americas, bringing together influences from the Portugese, Indian, Chinese, British and Dutch. The mix is evident in the food, the buildings, the market stalls and especially on the faces of its people.
Guyana celebrated 50 years of independence from Great Britain this year, so the capital Georgetown is awash with flags and emblems commemorating the event.
While the city has a Caribbean feel it is Guyana’s Amazonian interior with its Amerindian communities and great uncrowded wildlife-viewing opportunities which give it its distinctive personality.
Guyana Top Five
Guyana’s edgy and bustling capital, named by the British in 1814, was laid out by the Dutch and so follows the grid layout popular in the Netherlands. This makes it easy to navigate and most of the main sites are within a short walk. Don’t miss St George’s Cathedral, the tallest wooden building in the world. The crumbling colonial remains of another era include The High Court, still guarded by a marble statue of Queen Victoria unveiled in 1894 and the neo Gothic City Hall. The 1763 Monument is a 15 foot high statue of an African slave, Cuffy, who instigated a slave revolution.The iron built Stabroek Market with its four-faced clock is the buzzing heart of the city. Here you can buy anything from leather, gold and silver to clothes, songbirds and food.
Guyana boasts the world’s most powerful single drop waterfall (at 741 feet it is three times the height of Niagara). Take a short flight from Georgetown for a sneak preview of the magnificent falls before seeing the thundering waters at close sight. The National Park in which they are found is home to several endangered species including the charming tiny golden frog.
A trip down the third longest river in South America (after the Amazon and the Orinoco) takes in visits to the 17th century Old Dutch fort. Bartica, an old gold and diamond mining town with trading stores and old hotels which look like something straight out of America’s Wild West. The boat trip will make a stop at a natural pool which you clamber up to through the rainforest and take a dip in the brown waters while parrots squawk overhead.
Iwokrama's Canopy Walkway is a series of suspension bridges hoisted 30m above the forest floor, which offers bird’s-eye views of native greenheart trees, red howler monkeys and hundreds of colourful birds. Situated in south-central Guyana visitors can stay in a lodge here and may even spot the elusive jaguar.
An early morning bird watching tour with local ornithologist such as Andy Nadim is well worth setting the alarm for; he can spot species a long distance away with his naked eye. A walk by mangroves, marshes and woodland is rewarded with glimpses of scarlet ibis, parrots and falcons. Guyana has over 810 species of birds including its national bird the hoatzin.
Fly to Trinidad (Port of Spain) with Virgin Atlantic or British Airways then with Caribbean Airlines or LIAT to Georgetown
Stay: Georgetown has a number of hotels ranging from the comfortable, central business hotels to more basic but affordable hotels and hostels. Eco-lodges on the river are a popular and authentic way to get close to the country’s nature.