As this little-visited South American country celebrates its Independence Day on 26 May, Wanderlust's founding editor Lyn Hughes reveals its highlights, from wildlife to waterfalls
Five times higher than Niagara Falls, and said to be the world's largest single drop waterfall by the volume of water flowing over it, this is one of the great wonders of the world. The beauty of the setting, the lack of visitors, and the power of the water all helps.
There are several viewpoints to admire the falls, but make sure you explore the surrounding area and its unique microclimate too. Look for the tiny golden frogs in the leaves of the giant tank bromeliads, and seek out the beautiful Guianan cock of the rocks.
The most common way to get to Kaieteur Falls is by charter flight; note that planes will only go if there are enough passengers, and if the weather permits. Most visitors are only there for a couple of hours. However, if you stay over in the very simple accommodation, you’ll get to be there for sunrise and sunset, and there is a good chance you’ll have the Falls all to yourself.
Guyana is a shining example of how community-owned lodges can work, with several AmerIndian communities now running successful places to stay. The result is that jobs are created, money goes into the community for education and healthcare, and traditional culture is conserved, as is wildlife, which is fiercely protected rather than being hunted. For the visitor, they are getting an immersive experience and unique insight into a culture. So a win-win all round.
Good examples to stay at include the Rewa and Surama Eco-Lodges, both of which offer excellent river and land-based excursions in search of unique flora and fauna.
The million-acre Iwokrama Reserve protects one of the last pristine rainforests in the world. Not surprisingly, it has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, with around 200 species of mammal, and 500 birds calling it home, as well as black caiman, giant river otters and jaguars. The Iwokrama Canopy Walkway gives a unique perspective of the forest, and can be visited (with guides) at all times of day and night.
You’re spoilt for choice with excellent places to stay, as the neighbouring Atta Lodge, part-owned like the walkway by the local community, is arguably the best in the area, with excellent guides and activities - though the Iwokrama River Lodge, base for researchers and rangers, is beautifully set and worth a visit at least.
All that forest and water has resulted in Guyana boasting over 900 species of birds. If you’re really lucky you may get to see the largest raptor in the Americas, the harpy eagle. Sometimes referred to as the “flying wolf”, this huge eagle can carry off sloths and monkeys in its claws, which are the size of a grizzly bears.
But the most recognisable bird, which just about every visitor wants to see is the Guianan cock of the rock. The males are a striking orange in colour, with a half-moon crest on their head, and feathery tendrils from their body. They are best spotted at leks, the parade grounds they use for displaying themselves to females in a bid to capture her interest. Kaieteur Falls and Iwokrama have well established ones where you have a good chance of a sighting.
Over the years, you may have seen film footage of a remarkable lady in South America who was raising orphaned giant river otter cubs. If so, it was almost certainly the late Diane McTurk, and filmed at Karanambu, her family ranch in the Rupununi. Indeed any footage of giant river otters by the BBC and other crews may well have been filmed here. Diana went on to build an eco lodge to host visitors and help fund conservation.
Although Diana passed away in 2016, her family continue with the lodge and with the work to protect otters, including any orphans. Boat trips explore ox-bow lakes which are home to river otters and myriad species of birds. Monkeys and sloths are frequently seen in the trees, while anteaters roam the open savannah and you may be lucky enough to see one on a morning game drive.
Guyana’s capital city, home to around 240,000 people, certainly has its charms. Its British and Dutch heritage has resulted in some beautiful colonial buildings, even if many are crumbling. Mix in a strong Caribbean influence, and you have a pleasant melting pot of culture. Sights are low-key but include the dazzling white St George’s Cathedral, one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Friendly manatees hang out in the ponds in the botanical gardens and National Park, taking grass from visitors.
Cricket fans may be able to catch an international at the Providence Stadium, but better still is to go and have a beer in the atmospheric bar at the Caribbean’s oldest cricket ground - the atmospheric Georgetown Cricket Club aka Bourda Cricket Ground.
Chef Delven Adams lived and worked in the US until coming back and turning a hobby into Georgetown’s hippest and most magical restaurant that really is in his backyard. You have to pre-book, and there is no menu - rather you discuss what you like and what might be available with Delven.
While you can just have a meal, for the full experience we recommend taking a market tour with Delven first, shopping for fresh fish, sampling fruit along the way, sipping on fresh coconut milk, and meeting many of the local characters. Then enjoy the freshly cooked results of the shopping expedition, savouring beautiful dishes crammed with flavour.
The author travelled with Cox & Kings, which offer a range of private travel options to Guyana.
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