Guyana by the score | Destination

Guyana, on an island scale, is vast: 83,000 square miles of Atlantic coast, mighty rivers, savannahs and forests stretching to the horizon. It can be overwhelming for a first-time visitor — so we’ll help you narrow it down. Here are twenty key places, events, and things that capture the true spirit of “the land of many waters”

  • The Rupununi River is a wild playground at the heart of Guyana. Photo by Pete Oxford
  • The celebrated Victoria amazonica lily, with its six-foot-wide leaves and night-blooming flowers, is a treasure of the Rupununi. Photo by Pete Oxford
  • At Orinduik, the Ireng River cascades over jasper terraces. Photo by Pete Oxford
  • The Victorian clocktower of Stabroek Market is central Georgetown’s main landmark. Photo by Pete Oxford
  • The Rupununi Savannah is still the territory of traditional vacqueiros. Photo by Pete Oxford
  • From the vantage-point of a small aircraft, Guyana’s rainforest stretches as far as the eye can see. Photo by Pete Oxford
  • A Guyana reading list
  • Guyana’s diverse cultural mix includes traditional and popular Indian music and dance. Photo by Amanda Richards
  • Sweetened coconut is the key ingredient in salara, a popular Guyanese pastry. Photo by Amanda Richards
  • A calm stretch of the upper Essequibo, Guyana’s biggest river. Photo by Pete Oxford
  • Guyana’s vast rainforests are home to hundreds of bird species and other extraordinary wildlife. Photo by Pete Oxford

1. The Rupununi

The Rupununi River — a tributary of the Essequibo — lends its name to this expanse of rolling savannahs in Guyana’s southwest, bisected by the Kanuku Mountains. Sere grasslands dotted with sandpaper trees — named for the texture of their leaves — suddenly turn lush green with the arrival of the mid-year rains, and temporary lakes form as quickly as mirages. The river and its many creeks, lined by strips of forest, are home to dozens of extraordinary species: from giant river otters to parrots and macaws. Many indigenous communities of the Rupununi — such as Surama, Nappi, Rewa, and Wowetta — now run their own eco-tourism outfits, hosting visitors in rustic quarters and offering wildlife tours and trekking. And two of the immense cattle ranches established here in the nineteenth century survive as tourism outposts: Karanambo in the north and Dadanawa in the south, both offering family-style rugged comfort.

2. Shell Beach

Near Guyana’s northernmost point, past the mouth of the Pomeroon River, a ninety-mile stretch of untouched coast is the annual nesting ground for no fewer than four species of endangered sea turtles. Unlike the Atlantic mudflats further south, Shell Beach is made of up countless seashells pulverised to sand: perfect terrain for sea turtles to lay their eggs in excavated nests. Backed by mangrove forest and ité palms, the region is also famed for its diversity of bird species — everything from scarlet ibis to kingfishers, spoonbills to flamingoes. Visits to this remote region are organised via the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society. Don’t be mistaken, this is no luxury vacation: the beach camp accommodation definitely qualifies as roughing it, but the extraordinary natural surroundings make it worth the effort.

3. Iwokrama

Near Guyana’s geographical heart, on the west bank of the Essequibo River, the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development manages 1,432 square miles of rainforest, a hotbed of biodiversity — and makes this pristine ecosystem accessible to visitors. A hike up Turtle Mountain to gaze down upon the unbroken forest, a nocturnal jaunt on the river looking for the bright eyes of submerged caiman, a heady climb along Iwokrama’s treetop canopy walkway — these adventures all help support the centre’s research and generate income to protect the rainforest for future generations.

4. Pakaraima Mountains

Extending over five hundred miles from west to east, the Pakaraimas are among the world’s oldest mountains, part of the 1.7-billion-year-old Guyana Shield. They form the northernmost boundary of the Amazon basin, as well as the border region dividing Guyana from its neighbours Venezuela and Brazil. Many of the Pakaraimas are tepuis, distinctive flat-topped mountains that seem to float above the clouds like islands — and mightiest of all is Roraima, where the boundaries of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil converge. The best way to visit? Try the annual Pakaraima Safari, in which a convoy of intrepid 4x4s make their way through valleys and over passes down to the Ireng River.

5. 1763 Monument

Arguably Georgetown’s most significant public artwork, the 1763 Monument, designed by Philip Moore, stands at the head of Brickdam, one of the capital’s main avenues. Depicting the historical figure of the heroic revolutionary Cuffy, the monument commemorates the first major uprising of enslaved Africans in what was then Dutch Guiana — a full seventy years before Emancipation.

6. Berbice

The third of the original Dutch colonies — alongside Essequibo and Demerara — the region of Berbice, named for its main river, has long been celebrated as the birthplace of Guyana’s greatest cricketers and writers — and for its fertile land, where sugarcane fields and rice paddies line the coast. The capital, New Amsterdam, still boasts a series of historic buildings, documented by the Guyana National Trust in the New Amsterdam Heritage Trail. A day-trip here from Georgetown is a fine way to see the Demerara coast, with its many villages still marking the boundaries between the old coastal plantations, and preserving their names.

7. Orinduik Falls

Where the Ireng River on its southward journey tumbles over jasper terraces, the Orinduik Falls offer a dramatic setting of cascades and pools. The Pakaraima Mountains loom in the distance and on the far side of the river, five hundred feet away, is Brazil. Remote on the map, Orinduik — with its nearby airstrip — is actually a popular destination for tourists, as it’s often included in the itinerary for a Kaieteur day-trip. Pack your swimming suit and towel!

8. Bartica and the Mazaruni

At the confluence of the Essequibo, Mazaruni, and Cuyuni Rivers, Bartica still has a rough frontier charm befitting its status as the last outpost before the wilds of Guyana’s North West — the place where itinerant miners come to buy supplies, trade their mineral goods, and spend their hard-earned cash. The best reason to come here — if you’re not a budding gold prospector yourself — is the hour-long journey from Parika by speedboat, the perfect way to get a sense of the sheer size of Guyana’s largest river. Bartica is also the stopping-off point for one of Guyana’s key historical sites, the ruined Dutch fort of Kyk-Over-Al, on a small island in the Mazaruni. Thought to have been founded in 1613, the fort once represented Dutch colonial authority and ambition — but today all that’s left is a single stone arch.

9. Georgetown’s traditional architecture

The abundant timber of Guyana’s forests and the waterlogged soil of Georgetown led to a tradition of wooden architecture. Neglect, changing tastes, and fire have claimed many of the capital’s fine wooden residences, but enough of them survive to make it clear why Georgetown was considered the Caribbean’s loveliest city a century ago. You can do a self-guided tour on a morning’s stroll along Main Street and Camp Street — look out for traditional Demerara windows, intricate fretwork, and classical columns worked in native woods. And don’t miss St George’s Cathedral, with its pristine white exterior and awesome timber vaulting inside — completed in 1894, and still one of the world’s largest buildings constructed entirely of wood.

10. Stabroek Market

Stabroek was what the Dutch called their settlement at the mouth of the Demerara River. Centuries later, the name survives in Georgetown’s landmark Stabroek Market, with its clocktower rising above a boisterous square that serves as a transport hub. Built in 1881, it remains the heart of a city in a phase of rapid change. Many shoppers now prefer shopping malls and supermarkets, but Stabroek Market is still a must-see for anyone visiting Georgetown. Any and everything seems to be offered for sale under its two-acre roof: from vegetables and fruit from farms along the coast and gleaming piles of river fish to jewellery crafted on the spot from Guyana’s high-quality gold.

11. Lethem Rodeo

Horseback skills are still essential for many residents of the Rupununi, and once a year at Easter they gather in the plucky border town of Lethem to show off their tricks in the saddle. Vacqueiros (Portuguese for cowboys) in leather chaps and Stetsons vie in bronco-bucking and steer-roping competitions, with a funfair at hand to entertain the kiddies.

12. Walter Roth Museum

In an elegant old house on Main Street, the Water Roth Museum of Anthropology — named for a pioneering researcher of Guyana’s indigenous culture — houses a small but remarkable collection of artefacts from all of Guyana’s indigenous peoples (there are nine officially recognised “tribes,” depicted in a series of life-size paintings by artist and archaeologist Denis Williams, the museum’s former director). Look out in particular for the spectacular Wai-Wai headdresses decorated with macaw feathers.

13. Castellani House

Once the official residence of Guyana’s president, nineteenth-century Castellani House, on the edge of Georgetown’s Botanical Gardens, is now home to the national art collection — over seven hundred paintings, drawings, sculptures, and works in other media. Here you’ll find Denis Williams’s acclaimed Human World (1950) alongside works by Aubrey Williams, Stanley Greaves, Philip Moore, Bernadette Persaud, and dozens more. Castellani House also hosts a regular film series, free and open to all.

14. A Guyana reading list

Out of a rich cultural tradition, Guyanese literature is especially celebrated. Where to start? Perhaps with The Guyana Quartet of Wilson Harris, who died in early 2018 — Guyana’s most eminent (and some might say most mind-boggling) fiction writer, whose novels bring together elements of science fiction, philosophy, and historical analysis in an unmistakable landscape of forests and rivers. Or else with the poems of Martin Carter, Guyana’s literary conscience, whose subjects ranged from anti-colonial politics to the metaphysics of identity, and whose verses are imprinted in the memories of many of his readers. Or seek out the books of Jan Carew, A.J. Seymour, Ian McDonald (Trinidad-born, but Guyanese by adoption), Pauline Melville, Fred D’Aguiar, Jan Shinebourne, David Dabydeen, Mahadai Das, Oonya Kempadoo — the list is long, and growing.

15. Guyanese cuisine

The country’s many ethnic influences — Amerindian, African, Indian, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese — give Guyana’s cuisine a mouth-watering diversity. The cassava extract cassareep is the heart of pepperpot, perhaps the closest thing to a national dish — unless that’s metemgee, a stew of meat, fish, ground provisions, and coconut milk. Then there’s roti: some swear that Shanta’s on Camp Street in Georgetown is the next best thing to the homemade version. Cookup rice, garlic pork, fried river fish — that’s even before you come to desserts, like salara, which looks like a Swiss roll but is filled with sweet coconut, or pineapple tart. Just remember: an old saying claims if you eat labba (a kind of wild meat) and drink creek water, you’ll find yourself returning to end your days in Guyana . . .

16. Diwali

As in nearby Suriname and Trinidad, the Hindu festival of lights is a major celebration in Guyana’s calendar, with half of the country’s population descended from the Indian subcontinent. The days and weeks leading up to Diwali are a season of culture as much as faith, with numerous performances of music and dance. On the night of Diwali itself, illuminated parades bring a pageant of history to life in the streets, while Hindu Guyanese share magnificent feasts with their friends and neighbours.

17. Essequibo resorts

Think of an island resort, and you probably imagine something in the Grenadines: a white sand island surrounded by turquoise water. A Guyanese resort may indeed possess white sand, but the water is more likely to be a Coca-Cola–tinted river, its waters stained by the tannins of fallen forest leaves. And one of the most pleasant ways to experience the Guyanese rainforest is at one of the several resorts along and in the lower Essequibo River — Baganara Island, Shanklands, and Saxacalli are three of the best known. Here you’ll find comfortable cottages, ample meals made with local ingredients, traditional Guyanese hospitality, and the chance to explore river and forest with trained guides.

18. Canals and kokers

Much of the inhabited Guyanese coast, home to the greater part of the country’s population, lies below sea level. For that, we can thank the ingenious Dutch, who spent generations perfecting the complex series of dykes, canals, and sluice gates of their own low-lying country — and then brought the technology and know-how to their Guyanese colonies in the seventeenth century. You can spot the signs on the drive into Georgetown from the airport along the Demerara, and all through the city, and the drainage system is worth a closer look. Water collects in the canals, and at low tide the sluice gates — still called kokers, a Dutch word — are opened to drain them into the sea. And the whole system depends on and is protected by . . .

19.  . . . the Sea Wall

Stretching for miles and miles along the coast, this immense dyke shelters Georgetown and nearby villages, and also serves as a public gathering spot. At its western end, near the mouth of the Demerara, the Georgetown Sea Wall features a Victorian bandstand and benches for taking in the view over the Atlantic. Strollers and joggers go back and forth across the wall itself, which is kite-flying central during the Easter season. On Friday nights, the stretch of Sea Wall on the city’s eastern outskirts becomes an informal outdoor party, as people park their cars, turn up their sound systems, and crack open bottles of El Dorado rum.

20. Kaieteur Falls

How could we complete the list without Guyana’s most celebrated natural attraction? Rising in the Pakaraima Mountains, the Potaro River flows across a great sandstone plateau, slowly eroded over many millennia. At the head of the Potaro Gorge, Kaieteur — as any Guyanese can tell you — is the world’s largest waterfall by volume, with a 741-foot plunge (that’s twice the height of Victoria Falls and four times the height of Niagara). The centrepiece of a national park, Kaieteur can be visited on an airborne day-trip from Georgetown — or you can opt for the more adventurous route, travelling upriver for four days and overnighting at the falls’ cosy guesthouse.


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Caribbean Airlines operates several flights daily to and from Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana, with direct routes to Trinidad and North America and connections to other destinations