Each week, I’ve been researching the countries of South America to discover where I should head off and discover on my own. Guyana is one place that I had trouble researching, so I turned to Ted, from Traveling Ted, to help, as he has just recently returned from the country. Here’s his reasons why we should add Guyana to our list of countries to visit:
Guyana is the Rodney Dangerfield of South America: It gets no respect. When I checked in my baggage in Chicago I was asked for my final destination. I said Guyana. The airlines lady corrected me and said, “you mean Ghana,” as if I did not know where I was going.
The travel website Traveldudes does not even recognize it as a country. In the week that I spent in this country I found many reasons why this country deserves some attention and here they are.
Kaieteur Falls is the number one reason to visit as it is the largest single drop waterfall by volume. It is five times higher than Niagara Falls. The World Waterfall Database lists this majestic beauty as the number two waterfall in the world only behind Iguazu and ahead of Victoria Falls.
The waterfall is in the middle of the jungle in Kaieteur National Park and it is only accessible by air. You can take an overland tour there, but that takes about four or five days trekking through the rugged jungle. If you fly in, think about staying a day or two at the national park as there is a guesthouse and guides who will take you on hikes in the jungle. It deserves more than the two hours most tours allot when they fly visitors in.
If there is a group who do does have Guyana firmly on their radar, it is birdwatchers. Guyana is world renown for the plethora of bird species. In fact, Wikipedia gives the country credit for having 796 species, which is a remarkable number.
I got a glimpse of this firsthand while driving into the Iwokrama Rainforest at first light. The side of the road was a bird wonderland with toucans, macaws, storks, hawks, and many other kinds of birds perched in the trees and running across the road.
The mammal and reptilian life is also impressive. Guyana is one place where visitors have a chance to see jaguars in the wild at either Iwokrama or at Kaieteur National Park. Anacondas, crocodiles, and black caiman can also be spotted along some of the many river ways.
The jungle interior
Guyana is so wild there is only one road into the interior of Guyana. The Georgetown-Lethem Road goes from the capital of Georgetown to Lethem, which is on the Brazilian border. The country is almost 80% covered in rainforests. The other 20% is dry savannah, a few cities and villages, and scattered mines. The reason why the wildlife is so intense is they have this undeveloped country mainly to themselves. If you fly over the country it is an hour plus of almost uninterrupted green.
Guyana has an interesting demographic mix. When you have a mix of people you also have an eclectic mix of food. The largest group is Indian with over 40% of the population and therefore the Indian influence in cuisine is readily apparent. The first meal I had was a pumpkin roti, which was absolutely delicious.
Guyana is along the Caribbean Sea and is just north of the equator, so it is no surprise that seafood and tropical fruit play a big role in any menu. Brazilian food is another influence as it shares its southern border with this country famous for its meat.
I did not have one negative confrontation with a Guyanese person while I was in the country. Even the taxi drivers and peddlers on the street were polite. The country is not used to mass tourism, so they still are curious whenever they see a strange face.
The capital is notorious for crime, but I think this reputation is a little unfair. I am sure like any large city Georgetown has places where you should avoid, especially at night. However, I felt safe and was never threatened while walking the streets by myself.
The interior is one of the safest places in the world. The Rupunini Savannah is largely inhabited by mainly Amerindians, who may be the sweetest most affable people in the world. The hospitality of these kind people is an experience not to be missed.
If you speak English only and are one of those people who struggle with Spanish, Portuguese, or whatever language barrier you might come across in a foreign country, then you will be pleased with Guyana. It is the only country in South America where English is the official language. Along the coast they speak with a Caribbean accent, and you might need people to repeat themselves, but eventually you will understand.
Many places bill themselves as off the beaten path, but the travel cliché is quite appropriate in Guyana. If you are into adventure and love jungles, wildlife, impressive waterfalls, delicious food, and friendly people, then take a look at Guyana and give it the respect it deserves.
Ted Nelson is an outdoor adventure travel writer and blogger behind Traveling Ted, which is a website that chronicles his adventures hiking, canoeing, and skiing in the United States and around the world. He also enjoys the cultural side of travel including learning and meeting people from around the world, eating their food, and learning about their history. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter!