Guyana is a country of extremes. Georgetown is a gritty urban city where people are slow to trust, but once you get past their toughened exterior the locals are a friendly people who love to talk about their families. On the other end of the scale the jungle-covered interior is a natural wonder that should be on your bucket list, with a rich biodiversity of frogs, monkeys and agoutis and world class waterfalls and rivers.
HOW TO GET TO GUYANA
Georgetown Cheddi Jagan International Airport is the main entry point to the country and it is serviced by multiple airlines with flights from Suriname, USA (Miami) and some Caribbean nations. Airlines include Surinam Airways, Caribbean Airlines, Copa Airlines and Insel Air.
Overland Georgetown can be reached from Suriname but onwards travel once over the border cannot be booked ahead and it will rely on availability and pricing at the time of arrival. While it will be cheaper than flying it requires flexibility and a strong sense of adventure.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN GUYANA
Georgetown is a gritty capital city that is used as a jumping off point for most visitors on their way to the interior but it can be an attraction on its own if treaded with care. The sprawling markets with all kinds of sights and smells are an experience of their own.
Be aware that it is not advised to go out after dark and care should be taken during the day also. Don’t wear flashy jewellery or clothes and keep cameras out of sight.
The Kaieteur Falls is an extraordinary natural wonder that needs to be seen to be believed. The waterfall is the highest in the world for the volume of water passing through. Kaieteur easily rivals Niagara with its breathtaking beauty, but unlike Niagara you won’t find a Starbucks there. In fact it is so remote that the only way to see it is to either fly in on a charter flight or to trek in over 6 days.
There are many companies that offer very similar charter flights but the cheapest is Air Services Limited (ASL) which offers the half day tour for US$130 from Ogle Airport in Georgetown. They run the tour 4 days per week on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, with check in 11:30am, take off at 1pm and returning at 5pm. Ask to sit next to the pilot to get the best view.
Exploring the falls
Once you arrive at Kaieteur Falls you will be directed to the park office where you will meet your tour guide who will take you to view the falls from three vantage points. Each site has an incredible view of the spectacular force of nature that is Kaieteur Falls. The falls are over 4 times the height of Niagara Falls and are surrounded by natural thick jungle instead of American restaurant chains, but be aware that there are no viewing platforms or safety rails so be careful near the edge or risk a very long fall down.
The sound and sight of the water crashing over the boulders below is awe inspiring and the rainbows formed in the rising mist will make you feel so special to be part of such a small tour group. It is almost like you have this heavenly place to yourself. Enjoy watching the falls but while you are there also take notice of the scenery and living organisms around you. If you look carefully you may be able to spot a tiny Golden Frog or the elusive Cock-of-the-Rock (not as dirty as it sounds! It’s a rare bird).
The Iwokrama rainforest is located in the interior of Guyana along the banks of the Essequibo River, the thirds largest river in South America. The dense forest and associated wildlife is similar to that found along the nearby Amazon region with tropical birds, howler monkeys and caiman inhabiting the area. It is also the home of the Iwokrama River Lodge and Research Centre which was inaugurated in the 1990’s as a place for tropical forest research and conservation.
Wildlife lovers will enjoy the early morning bird watching tours and animal spotting trips. The forest is inhabited by many animals including pumas, monkeys, anteaters, capybara, enormous brightly coloured butterflies, sloths, tapir, rare birds and exotic insects. History buffs will be enthralled at the etchings of the local indigenous tribes made thousands of years ago and those interested in local culture can visit the local Amerindian community.
One activity that must not be missed is the hike to the top of Turtle Mountain. The mountain is more of a hill at 300 metres in height, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is a walk in the park. The humidity is almost 100% in the jungle and sweat will be pouring down your face before you have even started on the incline. The view at the summit is worth the effort though as you can see across the endless jungle and over the Essequibo River.
One final activity that is on offer is the Iwokrama Canopy Walk. The Canopy Walk is a series of suspension bridges hanging from trees allowing you to walk in the tree canopy with the birds and monkeys. While this has the potential to be an amazing experience, the bridges appear rusted and could use more frequent maintenance. The guides assure that the bridges are installed by a Canadian company and that they are regularly maintained. Make your own call on this one.
Due to the remote location and the dense jungle of the Iwokrama rainforest, trips must be organised through the Iwokrama River Lodge. There are a few options for transport and accommodation depending on your budget.
The drive is only 350km from Georgetown but it takes 10 hours due to the poor road conditions. In the wet season it can take longer. For those who are travelling on a tight budget the cheapest way to access the Iwokrama River Lodge is a public minivan which costs US$125 per person for a return trip from Georgetown. Those who are looking for a bit more comfort or have a larger group can book a private lodge vehicle and driver to take them from Georgetown at US$500 return for up to 4 people. This is the most recommended option as not only is the vehicle more suited to the driving conditions but the driver is more likely to drive safely.
If you have the money available and are after a shorter and more comfortable trip there are two flight options. The first is to get a flight to Annai where you will meet a River Lodge vehicle and driver who will take you on the 2-4 hour drive to the lodge. This will cost US$500 for one person or $780 for two (i.e. $390 each). If money is not a limitation then you can charter a flight from Georgetown to the Fairview airstrip located 2km from the Iwokrama River Lodge. Prices for charter flights start at US$2250 for 1-5 people.
The Iwokrama River lodge has accommodation starting from US$25 per night for training room lodging, US$45 per night for a room in the research building and up to $150 per night for a romantic double room cabin overlooking the river. The budget rooms are basic but comfortable with shared bathroom facilities. The cabins are spectacular and come with a large deck with hammock and chair to watch the sunrise over the river while birds and howler monkeys screech in the surrounding jungle. There is no air-conditioning anywhere on site with the exception of the reception office, but the river breeze in the evening is enough to cool the rooms. There is slow wifi available at meal times in the dining area.
Search availability and book Iwokrama River Lodge on Booking.com here or book directly with the hotel via their website.
WHAT TO EAT IN GEORGETOWN
Georgetown’s cuisine is heavily influenced by Caribbean flavours. Think jerk chicken and spicy curries. Shanta’s Indian does cheap local curries that are delicious and simple. The locals love Church’s Chicken and if you are feeling like fast food it certainly hits the spot. Otherwise there are many Chinese restaurants around that offer traditional Chinese dishes for good prices.
HOW TO GET AROUND GEORGETOWN
The best way to get around in Georgetown is by taxi. They are very easy to find as the drivers will beep at you if they see you walking anywhere. They are reasonably priced but they don’t use meters so always ask the price before getting in. Everyone speaks English so there is no language barrier. Trips between the airport and Georgetown are usually US$20-30 depending on your bargaining skills.
Be aware that it is not recommended to walk around Georgetown at night and preferably not too far outside the main city area during the day. Keep an eye on your belongings and don’t bring too much out with you to start with.
WHERE TO STAY IN GEORGETOWN GUYANA
There are no hostels in Guyana and airbnb is still developing a following, so hotels are the best way to go.
Ramada Georgetown Princess Hotel
The Ramada offers a more western experience with air conditioned rooms, a pool and a casino on site. If you are looking for a hotel with services but without spending over $200 then this is your best chance. Rooms cost US$125 per night for a double room. Just remember that it is still Georgetown; just don’t go in expecting fast service or new sheets and you will be fine.
This guesthouse offers simple but reasonably priced rooms. There is also a bar downstairs that is almost always empty but offers cold, cheap drinks if you can get the attention of the hostess. The wifi is good and free and works in both the upstairs room area and the downstairs bar. Rooms cost US$45 per night or US$30 if you are willing to forgo air conditioning. It is highly recommended to pay the extra for the air conditioning as Georgetown is very warm and the regular down pours keep the humidity high.