Guyana offers the adventurous traveller an irresistible combination of natural beauty and amazing wildlife with pristine Amazonian rainforests, immense waterfalls, a vibrant indigenous culture, rich heritage and hospitable, friendly people.
Georgetown is Guyana’s capital city and main port, located on the east bank of the mouth of the Demerara river. It is an attractive city with tree-lined avenues and is known as the ‘Garden City of the Caribbean’. Although part of the historic centre was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1945, many buildings from the 18th and 19th century remain. St George’s Cathedral is reputed to be the world’s tallest free-standing wooden construction (144 ft; 44m). The Gothic-style City Hall , the Victoria Law Courts and St Andrews Presbytery are worth a visit.
The Botanical Gardens are very appealing with lily ponds, canals, Victorian bridges and bandstands. The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology provides a good introduction to Guyana’s 9 indigenous tribes. Stabroek Market is Georgetown’s principal market but visitors are advised not to take valuables and be wary of pickpockets. An excursion to the Demerara Rum Heritage Centre reveals the story of Guyana’s liquid gold, from sugar cane to glass.
The Kaieteur Falls is the world’s greatest single-drop waterfall. It is about twice the height of the Victoria Falls and around four times higher than Niagara. Approximately 23,400 cubic feet of water flows over the sandstone cliff every second, plunging 741 ft (225.85m) in a single drop. The falls are located in Kaieteur National Park.
There is an airstrip 15 minutes walk away with regular flights from Georgetown, a journey of just 45 minutes. This is ideal for visiting the falls in a day.
More intrepid travellers can take an overland journey by land, riverboat and on foot, a minimum journey of 4-5 days, camping en route (hammocks or tents) and some pretty arduous trekking. The itinerary will include visits to the lesser known Amatuk Falls and Waratuk Falls. Great fun but not for the fainthearted.
The Guyana shield is the world’s largest remaining tract of mostly undisturbed and unexplored tropical rainforest, covering an area of 2 million square kilometres. The biodiversity is magnificent, with around 1000 species of birds, 282 types of mammals, 20,000 plant species, 280 types of reptiles and over 2,000 species of fish.
The Rupununi Savannah in southern Guyana is teeming with wildlife, including 500 species of bird including the Harpy Eagle, more than 400 types of fish, 120 species of snakes, lizards and frogs and 105 mammals including the elusive jaguar which roams the hills and mountains. It is home to three of Guyana’s nine Amerindian tribes, the Wapishana, Wai Wai and the Macushi.
Suriname is known for its pristine rainforest, exotic plants and animals, wild rapids, large rivers and stunning mountainous areas in the southern part of the country. Maroon and Indigenous tribes with well kept ancient traditions and habits have their settlements mainly in the interior of the country.
The historic centre of Paramaribo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has an appealing collection of 18th and 19th century wooden buildings in the Dutch colonial style. Amongst the mixture of cultures and influences are Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues and Roman Catholic churches. The Suriname Museum is housed within the pentagonal 17th century Fort Zeelandia built on the high ground in a sharp bend on the Suriname River. It provides an excellent cultural-historial introduction to the country and has a display of pre-Columbian artifacts. The Numismatisch Muesum provides a history of Suriname’s money with a collection of coins and banknotes. On the waterfront the Central Market has three distinct sections, the fish market, a vibrant Asian market and a Maroon market with traditional medicines, cermonial items and bizarre offerings such as feathers and bones.
The Maroons are descended from runaway African slaves who escaped the coastal sugar plantations and who settled in the interior to form independent societies and states within the rainforest. Their struggle against slavery and the parties of Dutch raiders who sought to recapture them culminated in treaties which recognised their lands and their rights to live independently. Maroon villages can be visited from Awarradam Island on the Gran Rio in the heart of the Suriname rainforest or are the area around the Upper Suriname River.
The Central Suriname Nature Reserve is a UNESCO conservation area which protects 1.592 million hectares (over 6,000 square miles) of pristine tropical rainforest, around 10% of the country. The area is home to jaguar, giant armadillo, giant river otter, eight species of primates, tapir, sloths and some 400 types of birdlife including the harpy eagle, Guiana cock-of-the-rock, and the scarlet macaw. The Reserve today has no permanent inhabitants. Visitors can climb the Voltzberg Dome table-topped mountain and visit the Raleigh Falls.
Mount Kasikasima is 40 miles from Palumeu, a small Amerindian village in the southern Suriname rainforest where the Palumeu River joins the Tapanahoni. An invigorating hike through the rainforest to climb one of the peaks of the granite Mount Kasikasima will be rewarded by magnificent views over the Amazon rainforest.
As an overseas department of France, the euro is the currency, the police are gendarmes, the language is French and you can find croissants in the pavement cafes of the capital. French Guiana sends two elected representatives to the National Assembly and two to the Senate. The Kourou Space Centre, which is used by the European Space Agency, accounts for around a quarter of French Guiana’s GDP.
The capital of French Guiana is located on Cayenne Island in the estuary where the Cayenne River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors with an interest in history may like to visit the remains of Fort Cépérou, which was constructed on land purchased from the Galibi people by French colonists in 1643. The central market has a very multi-cultural feel with Amerindian basketry, Franco-Asian cuisine, African-style art and artefacts, and the scent of exotic spices. The Musée Départemental has some interesting information about the period the country was used as a penal colony and a good collection of insects as well as pickled snakes and a large stuffed caimen.
There were six prisons in French Guiana from 1852 to 1953, including one on each of the three Isles du Salut (Salvation Islands), the most notorious of which was Devil’s Island. More than 80,000 prisoners were sent to Devil’s Island but few made it back to France.
Captain Alfred Dreyfus was sent to Devil’s Island in 1895 in a famous miscarriage of justice, having been stripped of his rank had the buttons and braid torn from his uniform and his sword broken in front of a crowd of spectators. After finally being exonerated in 1906, Dreyfus was readmitted into the army as a major, served throughout the Great War and eventually retired as a lieutenant colonel, having been awarded the Legion d’honneur.
The Kourou Space Station is just 40 miles west of Cayenne and has been used by the European Space Agency (ESA) for its Ariane programme and for Russian Soyuz and Vega rockets. Amongst recent launches are the Australian Sky Muster II satellite in October 2016, a Hispasat communication satellite in January 2017 and commercial communication satellites Sky Brasil 1 (Intelsat 32e) and Telekom 3S in Februay 2017. The James Webb Space Telescope, regarded a successor to Hubble, is currently being constructed and is due to be launched in October 2018 in an international project involving NASA, the ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. Definitely worth a visit.
This was once the arrival point for convicts from France, who were then processed and transferred to one of six penal colonies in French Guiana. Founded in 1858, today it is an attractive colonial town and a good base for excursions to Amerindian villages and the Voltaire Falls. We recommend a visit to Les Bagnes prison camps or to the Camp de Transportation to see the cells where the likes of Henri Charriere, author of Papillon, were held. Charriere denied committing the murder for which he was convicted, but admitted being responsible for a lot of petty thefts. The account of his escape from Devil’s Island on a raft made of coconuts has been greatly discounted, particularly since the French authorities released records showing he had never been incarcerated there.