Guyana is a Caribbean country located in the continent of South America. Although it is far bigger than most of its Caribbean neighbors, it has a tiny population of around 700.000 people mainly living in the costal area and in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.
Unlike the other Caribbean countries, Guyana is not very well known as a holiday destination. Tourists who visit the region usually go there for the beautiful seas and beaches. Guyana’s coastline is dark and its sea is muddy. It is thus not the typical Caribbean dream but definitely a country that will give you a once in a life time travel experience. And you do not need much time to see a lot of this place. Just one weekend will give you a good overview and lots of fun. Here is what you could do in those two days:
As soon as you step out the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Georgetown a warm welcome is awaiting you. Literally. Because Guyana is as tropical as it can get. It is warm all year long with a little breeze from the ocean. The huge amount of rainfall means that the country is always green and blossoming. In the taxi from the airport to Georgetown there is a lot to see. Guyana’s history of slave trade and indentured labor has made the country a ‘land of six peoples’ (a tag given to Guyana to reflect its multi-ethnicity) and you will find temples, mosques and churches all placed very close together. Make sure that you have your windows open so that you can hear the music. Because music is everywhere in this country; from Trinidadian soca to Celine Dion, and from Ray Charles to happy reggae vibes. If you arrive late at night you will even find people dancing and partying on the side of the road.
Guyana’s capital Georgetown is a little coastal town with plenty of beautiful architecture dating back from the country’s colonial times. I suggest you start your day with a coffee and some tasty local pastries or sweet cakes in Oasis Cafe, the best coffee shop in town. This place is Guyana’s local Starbucks and is well known by Guyana’s upper class and its tiny expat community. The country has almost no international chain restaurants or shops so all places have their own identity and style. For me as a European with great love for small cafes this was a pleasant surprise but most Guyanese think differently. They have proudly pointed me to an enormous construction on the coastline of the city. The big building will soon host a five star Marriott hotel that aims to open its doors in December 2014. Although this is certainly not a place an average Guyanese could afford to go to, many locals believe the hotel will give them more international respect and might attract other global brands too. Currently there are around a dozen other nice hotels that provide good service and facilities, such as Sleep Inn, Cara Lodge, or Halito Hotel. Various low budget accommodations are available as well but not always findable online.
From Oasis Cafe you can start a morning promenade to the famous Stabroek market. Make sure you wear comfortable cloths, sun cream or even an umbrella like many of the locals here because the sun is burning hot. If you go south, the first impressive building you will pass is the over 115 year old St. George Cathedral in the very heart of the city. This church is claimed to be the tallest wooden building on earth and can be found on Georgetown’s North Road. From there you can walk further to the Parliament building, which was completed in 1834, the city hall – which is also made of wood and located at the corner of Regent Street and Avenue of the Republic – and the High Court from 1887. You will find that all these and other significant buildings in Georgetown are elegant, often white, colonial constructions that desperately need some painting and renovation. Together with an abundance of green promenades in the middle of the streets they give Georgetown its raw but charming look and radiate a peaceful atmosphere. On your way to Stabroek market you will find the oldest church of Georgetown, St. Andrew’s Kirk. If you have not booked a day trip to Kaieteur Falls for Sunday yet, do not forget to visit one of Georgetown’s tour operators. Dagron, Wonderland, and Evergreen are probably the biggest operators but there are plenty of smaller ones too, most of them with an office in the city center. When you are visiting during a holiday period it is definitely recommended to contact them in advance.
After your morning promenade you have probably figured out that the names of Georgetown’s streets reflect the influence of the Dutch, French and English who administered the town at different periods of history. Stabroek market was named after Nicolaas Geelvinck, Lord of Stabroek, and President of the Dutch West India Company. When you reach this shopping area, check out the four-faced clock before browsing the market for everything from vegetables to gold. Stabroek is the busiest place of Georgetown and probably the whole of Guyana. It is from here also where many start their trip to Guyana’s inland.
The people in Guyana are very warm and welcoming. At Stabroek market you should be aware of pickpockets but you should not be afraid to ask around for a good local restaurant. You will find many small eateries here where you can eat local dishes as cook up, roti, black pudding, cowheel soup, and pepper pot. Guyana’s cuisine is a mixture of African, Indian and Caribbean food with a lot of rice, cassava, pumpkin, chicken, and other meat as main ingredients. The main drink with your lunch is a thirst quenching fruit punch.
After lunch you could take a taxi to Georgetown’s botanical gardens and the zoo. If you are lucky you will find some hungry Manatees in the waters there who you could feed fresh grass out of your hands. There are plenty of birds too, both in and outside the zoo. The entrance fee for the zoo is just 200 Guyanese dollars -1 US dollar- and gives you a good overview of the animals that can be found in the region. Be aware that the animals are kept in small enclosures and that the place could use some donations. You could also just walk around in the botanic gardens where you should not expect a wide variety of flowers and litters might detract from the beauty of the gardens. Still, this is a lovely and quiet place to hang out and enjoy your Saturday afternoon, where locals sell snacks and drinks on the road.
Do not stay at home during your Saturday night! Georgetown is a perfect place for nightlife and has quite some amusing places for drinking and dancing. The most popular spots are probably Palm Court, Gravity, and Altitude, where you can easily meet people and have a lot of fun.
Now that you have seen the capital it is time to start the nature adventure and discover Guyana’s real beauty. Make sure you bring a good camera to capture this day because the country will offer you some of the most beautiful places you can find anywhere in the world.
Your tour operator will pick you up from your hotel to go to Ogle Airport, from where a small airplane will take you to one of the tallest and most powerful waterfalls of the world. The flight will take approximately 1 hour and you will be in the plane with 8 to 12 people. If the weather is good you will be able to see beautiful landscapes from the sky. There is the winding brown Potaro River surrounded by swamps and green deltas. When you are getting further inland the same swamps will be enclosed by beautiful rainforest and from above you can clearly see where gold and other mineral mining is taking place. Finally the scenery will change into a more and more mountainous environment. I was lucky enough to get the seat next to the pilot and thus to be the first person of the group who got to see the beautiful falls from the sky. They seem to suddenly appear from nowhere. The pilot will take his time to land on the tiny airstrip close to the falls to give everybody in the plane the opportunity to take some nice shots from above.
After landing you will be received by your guide who is probably one of the few indigenous habitants of the Kaieteur national park. He will take you around to the different viewing points and explain to you the uniqueness of the area. It is really important to not leave or take anything from this place. Kaieteur national park hosts various endangered plants and animals. One of them is a tiny animal called the ‘golden frog’. This yellow colored creature is as little as a child’s pink and spends his entire live in the same plant, the bromeliad. There are plenty of other fascinating plants and animals too, such as vultures, jaguars, and the special cock-of-the-rock, a rare orange bird that only lives in the Northern part of South America.
You will get to see the falls from three or four different viewing points. Kaieteur is a place of real nature and lacks souvenir shops and security fences. That is what makes these falls more beautiful than most of its competitors worldwide. The viewing points give you breathtaking views and make you want to stay much longer than your guide will allow you. Weather changes very quickly in this area, which is why the guide will try to get you in the plane back before it starts to rain or thunder. The final viewing point gives you a view from the top of the falls where you are allowed to get into the water. It is said that this water is full of minerals and that it therefore has a healing effect to human skin.
After an hour you will go back to the plane and, depending on which type of tour you booked, either fly back to Georgetown or further to Orinduik Falls. The Orinduiks are closer towards the Brazilian border and far smaller than the Kaieteur Falls. Still they are fun to visit because you will be allowed to swim in the water and sit under the falls.
This is just one way of spending your weekend here. Many people have a real jungle experience in one of the resorts such as the Shanklands Rainforest Resort or the Arrow Point Nature Resort along the Essiquibo River. Many birdwatchers go there because a large variety of birds can be found.
In just two days Guyana will give you a complete different Caribbean experience, no beach and sea but a true adventure.