Did you know that it’s entirely possible to visit South America and have one of the world’s tallest waterfalls all to yourself? If you make tracks for Guyana, nestled in the continent’s north-east corner between Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname, it is.
The likes of Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia often top travellers’ ‘must visit’ lists when they decide to head to South America. Guyana, on the other hand, seems to attract a far smaller crowd. But the abundance of cultural and natural sights, the lack of other travellers and it’s general ‘off the beaten track’ vibe help make Guyana a rather unmissable stop. Here’s the lowdown on the stuff that makes this spot an adventure traveller’s dream. Guyana is one of the least-known corners of South America and truly off the beaten track with both a rich culture and a pristine environment.
1. It’s oh so quiet
Guyana currently only receives about 3,000 tourists a year, which, to put it in perspective, is about the same as Machu Picchu receives in a single day. It’s the same size as Britain but has a population of fewer than 750,000 and is comprised of an incredible 80% virgin rainforest.
2. Caribbean x South American fusion
Not only is Guyana a South American country of cowboys, rich wildlife, waterfalls, tepuis and flooded savannahs (in the Amazon Basin) but also a Caribbean country of great rum, cricket and music. It’s neighbours include Venezuela, Suriname, Brazil, French Guiana, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, which means you can create a pretty exhilarating itinerary for yourself.
3. History and culture? Check.
Once colonised by the Dutch, then the British, then the French, then the Dutch again, Guyana is now made up Amerindians, Africans, Indians, Europeans, and Chinese. All this has led to Guyana becoming a fascinating mixture of religion, culture and cuisine that you can’t find anywhere else in South America.
4. Hablan Inglés!
Luckily for us, Guyana is South American’s only English-speaking country; so chatting with the locals is a breeze.
5. Total. Cultural. Immersion.
The nine Amerindian tribes that call Guyana their home means that exceptional community tourism experiences are possible. On the Intrepid itinerary, for example, visitors stay in community-run lodges rather than international chain hotels, allowing for some pretty sensational immersion in local village life. There’s nothing quite like learning some traditional rainforest knowledge from a native.
6. Really wild life
Wildlife and wildlife watching in Guyana is second to none, owing to the fact that it’s mostly made up of pristine rainforest. Jaguar, giant anteater, giant river otters, black caiman, tapir, eight species of monkey, tiny frogs, turtles, snakes and over 800 species of birds (including the harpy eagle – one of the world’s largest) are all on offer for wildlife enthusiasts.
7. The quietest waterfall in the world
The fact that Guyana only receives 3,000 tourists a year means that it’s not uncommon to have places such as Kaieteur Falls – the world’s tallest single-drop waterfall (five times the height of Niagara Falls) – completely to yourself. Where else in the world can you make that claim?
8. It’s a gateway drug…
Guyana is a gateway to Suriname with its UNESCO World Heritage capital, Paramaribo and its fascinating culture, scenery, history and wildlife as well as to French Guiana, an overseas department of France with its attractions of Cayenne, the European Space Agency and Devil’s Island, which was the setting of the famous story of Papillon.
9. Destination, Georgetown
With an impressive cathedral, colonial buildings, botanical gardens full of birds, museums, and Stabroek Market, a visit to Georgetown is a treat. It’s a perfect blend of South American and Caribbean influences. The hum of reggae is never far away, and makes the perfect soundtrack to accompany your exploration of the many street stalls, food carts and handicraft shops.
10. You can be a trailblazer
There aren’t many countries left in the world that you can genuinely be one of the first to visit. How many people do you know that have been? With Guyana, you can be the one telling the story.
Feature image c/o Allan Hopkins, Flickr