Guyana isn't Latin: it sits alone on the continent of South America as an ex-British colony, sharing a Caribbean flavour where English is the first language and cricket the national sport. Culturally it's a remarkable and unique melting pot of Afro-Caribbean, Amerindian, European, Brazilian and Asian influences: in the capital, Georgetown, a Hindu temple may sit happily next to a jerk-chicken fast food outlet while reggae music thunders from the bar across the road.
The country is composed of vast areas covered by virgin rainforest, savannah and ancient tablelands over one of which spill the stunning Kaieteur Falls. Deep in the almost untrodden interior there is magnificent jungle scenery and a plethora of wildlife unrivalled on the continent. Jaguars, giant otters, tapirs and over 800 bird species roam undisturbed.
This is true wilderness. It isn’t easy to get around. The Caribbean coastline is a steamy, stretch of muddy mangrove forest, through which a paved coast road runs eastwards from Georgetown towards Suriname; there are just a few dirt roads heading inland. Travel is by river, dirt road or by light plane.
On this breathtaking holiday we introduce you to this emerging wildlife destination, English-speaking Guyana, formerly British Guiana. The Caribbean coast is a tangle of mangroves and sugar cane plantations. Inland is a landscape of savannah and rainforest; of ancient tablelands and waterfalls. In the back-country lodges here the few visitors are warmly welcomed. In the south, the wildlife, so rarely disturbed, seems oblivious to observers.
Wilderness waterfalls, vast tropical rainforests and horizon-bending grasslands: a nation the size of Great Britain, Guyana is unrivalled for its spectacular natural attractions and diversity of wildlife. Expect to spot all varieties of animals and birdlife from the cock-of-the-rock to the Black caiman, the tiny golden frog to the rare giant river otter- and maybe even a watchful jaguar.
After arriving in the idiosyncratic capital, Georgetown, you will head inland to the spectacular Kaieteur falls followed by the verdant nature reserve of Iwokrama Forest and onwards through Amerindian communities to the famous Karanambu Lodge. Guyana is rapidly becoming one of the most important ecotourism havens in Latin America- and it’s not difficult to see why.
Day 1 Arrive in Georgetown and transfer to your hotel.
Transfer to your hotel in Georgetown. Cara Lodge, built in the 1840s, is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the country and was the home of the first Lord Mayor of Georgetown.
Day 2 Day trip to Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls.
Leap into Guyana’s incredible wilderness landscape at the deep end with a guided expedition to two of the country’s most impressive waterfalls. Take a light-aircraft flight over unbroken tropical rainforest to land at Kaieteur Falls, which flows over a tableland plateau into a deep gorge. The falls, which were first identified by a European in 1870, are situated in the heart of Guyana on the Potaro river, a tributary of the Essequibo. You’ll be amazed by the torrent of water as it thunders from the sandstone conglomerate tableland down the drop of 228m (5 times the height of Niagara Falls). Kaieteur supports a unique and fascinating micro environment with diverse wildlife including the tiny golden frogs.
Fly on to Orinduik Falls, which has a backdrop of the rolling grass covered hills of the Pakaraima Mountains, and is one of the most beautiful locations in Guyana's hinterland. Orinduik is ideally suited for swimming in natural Jacuzzis beneath the falls that tumble down steps of jasper, a semi-precious stone. Return to Georgetown.
(Flights to the falls are operated on chartered aircraft which have a minimum passenger restriction - 5. In most cases this minimum will be reached. On the rare occasions that this is not the case you will be offered the option of rescheduling the trip to another day during your stay or an alternative trip).
Day 3 Fly to Annai, transfer to Iwokrama River Lodge.
An early start, transfer to the airport and fly to Annai. Luggage is restricted to 9kg. You can leave surplus luggage in storage in Georgetown until the end of your holiday in Guyana.
After breakfast at Rock View Lodge travel to Iwokrama River Lodge, about 2hrs away. On the banks of the Essequibo River, Iwokrama was established to promote the conservation and sustainable use of dense primary and secondary tropical rainforest, half of which is retained as a wilderness reserve.
The afternoon is free to explore the trails around the river lodge with an Iwokrama ranger. Iwokrama is home to many bird species including the striking orange Guayanan cock-of-the-rock. Finally, after dark, you’ll set out on the river in the hope of observing one or another of the 4 species of indigenous caiman, and listen out for the calls of nocturnal birds. You will also spot snakes, tree frogs and if you are lucky maybe a few mammals, such as a puma or a capybara.
Day 4 Hike to the Turtle mountain.
Today you will climb Turtle mountain. Set off by boat along the Essequibo river to the base of the mountain. The trail is intermittently steep but there are some handrails and there are some opportunities for bird watching along the way. It takes 1-2hrs to walk up to the summit at 300m, but the effort is more than worth it for the expansive views over the emerald carpet of the forest canopy, cut through by the winding river and enlivened by macaws, spider, howler and capuchin monkeys.
Return to the river lodge for lunch. As the afternoon cools, set out on a boat trip to the Kurupukari Falls to see Amerindian petroglyphs. Then visit nearby Fair View, the only traditional Amerindian village (pop.200) situated within the reserve, before returning to the Field Station.
Day 5 Wildlife spotting at Iwokrama. Stay at the Atta Rainforest Lodge.
At dawn take a wildlife walk with an Iwokrama ranger close to the Field Station. After breakfast, walk along the trail which is one of the most likely places to spot an elusive jaguar. The Iwokrama forest is rapidly gaining an international reputation for sightings of its resident jaguars, which seem not to be troubled by the appearance of the few curious human beings who venture here. The trail leads you to a special area of habitat known as Mori scrub, characterised by a low, sandy forest which supports an unusual assemblage of birds.
At the end of the trail you reach the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway: a series of suspension bridges and observation decks of up to 30m in height and 154m in length. The extensive network provides excellent access to the otherwise impenetrable upper levels of the virgin rainforest canopy. It’s especially magical at dusk. Overnight at Atta Rainforest Lodge.
Day 6 Explore the rainforest around Atta.
Experience the waking jungle at dawn from atop the Canopy Walkway - a truly memorable experience. After enjoying breakfast back at the lodge, the rest of the day will be spent exploring the surrounding rainforest with your guide. As well as the extensive trails network, the clearing around the lodge itself is an excellent place to spot interesting and even quite rare flora and fauna.
Day 7 By road to Surama Eco Lodge.
You are penetrating the heart of this jungle-clad country, driving to the village of Surama situated in a stretch of savannah surrounded by the forest-clad Pakaraima mountains. An Amerindian community thrives here: inhabitants still observe many of the traditional practices of their forebears. You’ll receive a welcome from a village representative on arrival. Visit the local school, medical centre and church along with some of the village’s houses.
There is plenty of time in the afternoon to explore the village and observe the forest and bird life. As the temperature falls a local guide will escort you for a short walk on trails to observe the forest and bird life. Learn about the medicinal plants and their uses in Amerindian culture. In the evening there’s an educational walk to observe wildlife and experience the forest after dark. Overnight at Surama Ecolodge which has a lovely hilltop setting.
Day 8 Climb Surama mountain.
Rise before dawn for a walk across the savannah (1hr) followed by a climb up Surama mountain in the cool morning air. The trail ascends gradually at first, but becomes rocky and steeper, fringed by primary and secondary forest populated by many bird species, mammals and reptiles. Breakfast will be served at a superb lookout point (228m) which affords panoramic views across the village and savannah to the Pakaraima mountains. It’s a tranquil spot, the silence only interrupted by the cries of macaws and Howler monkeys.
Return to village for lunch, after which you have a 5km walk across the savannah and through the rainforest to the Burro Burro river. Your guides will then take you paddling on the water for opportunities to observe giant river otters, tapirs, tyras, and Spider monkeys.
Day 9 Transfer to Annai
After breakfast depart Surama for Rock View Lodge at Annai. The road travels across grasslands and through the foothills of the mountains with excellent opportunities for savannah bird watching. Lofty jabiru storks are often seen along this stretch of road. Eventually you reach the Rupununi District and Annai, its northernmost community.
The Rupununi savannah is an extensive area of grassland dotted with termite mounds and scattered woodland. Much of it is devoted to cattle-raising, though the business on the large ranches is not very intensive. Indeed, one can travel for hours without seeing a domesticated animal of any sort. Needless to say, the birdlife here is markedly different from that of the rainforest. Rock View Lodge is located where the savannah meets the forest-covered foothills of the Pakaraima mountains.
Day 10 Wildlife spotting in the area; transfer to Karanambu Ranch.
Rock View Lodge is managed by the owner, an Englishman who has been closely associated with Guyana since he came here as an agricultural volunteer in 1969. The grounds are beautifully landscaped with hundreds of palms, fruit and flower trees that enhance the natural beauty of the rolling hills and savannahs, the Rupununi river and wooded mountains nearby.
Set off on a dawn guided hike along the Panorama Trail in the foothills of the mountains. The views across the savannah and villages as the sun rises are spectacular. Afterwards you’ll visit nearby Amerindian villages and watch a demonstration of traditional cashew nut roasting. You might take an excursion out to watch the vaqueros (cowboys) on horseback as they take cattle out to graze on the prairie, or simply just relax at the lodge and enjoy its art collection, library and musical archive. Finish the day with drinks around the pool at the lodge.
From Ginep Landing you take a boat trip on the Rupununi river to Karanambu Ranch. Depending on the river level, this trip offers an excellent opportunity to spot giant otters as there are several family groups which live along this stretch. Late in the afternoon you will travel by boat to look for wild river otters: as dusk falls continue to ponds to see the giant Victoria Regia water lilies which bloom at dusk. On the return trip you will use a spotlight to search for black caiman and nocturnal birds, reptiles and mammals.
Day 11 Explore the Rupununi region.
Karanambu Lodge and the surrounding savannah is a working cattle ranch but is most famous for Diane McTurk’s work caring for orphaned giant river otters and rehabilitating them into the wild. Karanambu is her home and it has a long history of receiving naturalists: Diana’s father, Tiny McTurk, welcomed David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell.
In the morning you can go bird watching in the environs of the lodge. When water levels are appropriate a wooded swamp near the ranch is the site of a surprisingly large colony of boat-billed herons, as well as several species of egret.
The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at the lodge.
Day 12 Discover the wildlife of the savannah; transfer to Caiman House Field Station.
Explore the Rupununi river in search of giant river otters and Black caiman, whilst travelling by boat to the Amerindian settlement of Yupukari, a traditional village where the lifestyle has changed little over recent decades. Houses are constructed from clay brick, cooking is done over an open fire and transport is by bullock-carts.
Arrive at Caiman House Field Station which was established to carry out research on the black caimans in the Rupununi river, but is now the hub of several development projects, including the introduction of classroom libraries in village schools, a public library and internet access powered by an array of photo-voltaic panels. Visitors may also meet local craftspeople.
In the evening you launch out on the Rupununi river from Caiman House. Skilled guides will escort you on this expedition to interpret the sights and sounds of Guyana after dark when many nocturnal creatures emerge. You may spot black caiman, spectacled caiman, iguanas, frogs, and various fish species. Sleeping birds, nightjars, bats and insects can be closely approached in way not possible during daylight hours. Less likely inclusions for night viewing include opossums and sleeping monkeys. Few nights pass without some unusual sighting. Overnight at Caiman House.
Day 13 Fly to Georgetown; guided city tour.
Following a morning visit to a local village you will fly back to Georgetown.
There will be a guided city tour including highlights such as the State House, a typical Demerara-shuttered colonial home with large gardens).
Walk along the avenues with an experienced guide who will narrate the history and anecdotes about Georgetown and its people. Other places of interest on the tour include St. George's Cathedral, one of the world's tallest free-standing wooden buildings; the public library housed in the Carnegie Building; the gothic town hall; Victoria Law Courts and the National Museum. Visit Stabroek Market where stalls sell everything from household goods and gold jewellery to fresh meat and vegetables. The trip usually ends with a visit to the Botanical Gardens and zoo.
Day 14 Transfer to the airport for your international flight home.