After a largely efficient journey to Georgetown from Heathrow via Barbados (a direct flight will be starting from Gatwick to Georgetown in March 2023), I arrived in the capital of Guyana, a country of only ¾ million people and equivalent to the size of the UK, situated on the northern Atlantic coast of the South American continent.
After a longer than anticipated journey into town, the sight of the historic and architecturally pleasing Cara Lodge was most welcome, a beautiful heritage property with comfy rooms all set around an attractive tropical courtyard.
The next morning we travelled to the city airport of Ogle to board a charter flight to Kaieteur Falls. No sooner had we taken off, we were soon sweeping across a landscape of verdant pristine forest, which from the air somewhat resembles an unfathomable number of broccoli florets. It was an uplifting sight, and certainly raised expectations for what was to come, and the thought of the biodiversity below, was a tantalising prospect.
After a short stop at a local airstrip to collect some of our fellow travellers, we continued to fly over yet more untouched forest, until finally the jaw dropping sight of Kaieteur Falls came into view, the Potaro River tumbling 700 feet off a Jurassic aged rock face, into the abyss below. I couldn’t wait to see it from ground level, and I certainly was not disappointed. We spent around a couple of hours exploring the easy grade but hot trails leading to various viewpoints affording incredible vistas of the falls, and upstream, gloriously green forest as far as the eye could see. Kaieteur is situated in a remote location, and refreshingly there are no safety barriers at all, giving an altogether wild feel to the experience. Those without a head for heights may wish to stand well back from the vertiginous edges. At the final and most breathtaking vista, a rainbow filled the plunge pool valley, and I spent several minutes just gazing in shear wonder at the scene before me. After a snack at the small visitor building adjacent to the Kaieteur airstrip, we boarded our small aircraft, and headed ever further into the jungle.
Upon landing at Apoteri, It was time to then take to the river for a trip to the remote indigenous community led Rewa Eco Lodge set directly on a beautiful bend of the Rewa River and close to the meeting point of the Rupunini River. One of the joys of travelling by river in Guyana, is the opportunity for superb birdwatching as you cruise along. Amazon kingfisher and Cocoi Heron were particularly prominent amongst some 200 odd species observed on the trip overall. A chance but delightful glimpse of a family of Capybara presented on the riverbank before they scuttled into the dark sanctuary of the forest. We also observed a family of Black Spider Monkeys staring back at us from the canopy during the cruise. We were able to enjoy a nice stop late afternoon at a relaxing pond where we sat watching an acrobatic show of Large- Billed Tern spectacularly diving at colossal speed into the water hoping for a catch. Occasionally the massive Arapaima would briefly surface for air before sleekly returning into the murky depths.
On arrival at Rewa, we were afforded a genuinely enthusiastic welcome and subsequently enjoyed dinner under a crystal clear sky full of stars. As the evening drew out, a brilliant moon rose above the silhouette of the canopy. We sat and shared stories in the warm evening air over a Dorado rum or two, before retiring to our rustic but comfortable cabanas.
I rose early the next morning around 5am and walked the short distance down to the Rewa River and enjoyed listening to the sounds of the dawn call. Enthusiastic Macaws screeched overhead and an Osprey gracefully glided low over the water right before my eyes, I couldn’t help but feel so alive despite the early hour and long journey from the UK. Later, breakfast was set up for us at a wonderful location overlooking the river, so we could enjoy nature awakening and the changing light whilst we enjoyed a delicious spread.
Our morning excursion was a hike up Awarwmie Mountain, a reasonable undertaking for a person of average fitness, of course humid jungle conditions increasing the challenge somewhat. After a steady climb through the forest of around an hour, we reached the top. A magical view over the endless forest stretched out before us to the distant Iwokrama Mountain, the scene enhanced by dappled light from scattered white cotton wool clouds overhead. We sat for a good while rehydrating and taking it all in. A magnificent Jabiru stork surveyed it’s surrounds from a lofty perch nearby, and a majestic King Vulture soared on the warm zephyr.
After some rest and lunch later in the day, we headed upriver for some excellent birding as dusk approached. The evening was clear and once again the sky delivered a dazzling array of stars with the milky way in clear view. We cruised back down river with the engine turned right down, just enjoying the warm air and a cup of rum punch as our guide spotlighted the gaze from the eyes of Black Caiman, and tree boa tightly wrapped around the vegetation close to the banks.
Before leaving Rewa the next day, our indigenous hosts gave us an informative tour of the community. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of Rewa, and how the community are enthusiastically embracing the challenge of eco-tourism, and showcasing their magnificent surrounds to the intrepid traveller, and as a result providing increased opportunities for the village.
Our next stop was to the vast Iwokrama forest reserve which we reached by combination of river and road. Our accommodation for the night, Atta Rainforest Lodge, was a delight. Comfortable but rustic rooms, the lodge is situated in a small circular clearing surrounded on all sides by pristine rainforest. Turkey and Black Vultures hop around the grounds and a pair of magnificent Black Curacao happily pop in from the forest on occasion. That evening, we enjoyed a nature walk along the main dirt track, where very occasionally elusive Jaguar can be seen along this stretch, although sightings should be seen as an unexpected bonus rather than the norm. As the sunset , camping chairs awaited us accompanied with a couple of very welcome cold Banks beers before returning to the lodge for an excellent dinner outside under the stars. Guyanese food is varied and generally delicious, plentiful fish and meat and fresh fruit and vegetables, with influences from Africa, China and India to name but a few. One stand out dish for me was the Guyana Pepperpot, a slow cooked stew of Amerindian origin, made with meat and cassareep (an extract of the cassava), and fiery Wiri Wiri chillies. Really delicious.
I woke the next morning just before sunrise, and just as I left the room a tremendous din ensued. Red howler monkeys providing a quite astonishing dawn alarm call.
The highlight for most to Atta Lodge and the Iwokrama Reserve will be a visit to the rainforest canopy walkway, situated a relatively straightforward 15 minute walk from the lodge. After an initial flat walk, some 150 odd steps takes you to the start of the canopy walkway. 3 platforms give a genuine feel for the lush magnificence of the forest from spectacular vantage points. From here we spotted the beautiful Crimson Fruitcrow amongst other species. On the way back to the lodge the screaming Peeha made its presence felt with its remarkable and haunting call that rebounds around the forest.
After an excellent breakfast at the lodge, we hit the red dirt highway south to the Rupunini. We made a couple of stops en route, firstly into the forest to stalk the incredible Cock of the Rock, an iconic and amazingly brilliant orange coloured bird. Thereafter we stopped for a fascinating tour of a local peanut butter factory where indigenous women are empowered to go to work and break from the traditional patriarchal status quo. We continued onwards to a wonderful lunch stop at the Parakaima Inn, where our genial host Charlie served up local beer and tasty Guyanese fare, and to our delight proceeded to dust off his guitar, and belted out a few wonderful numbers about his homeland, the alluring beauty of the Rupunini landscape, and growing up as a boy with his great pals in Georgetown. The property also boasts a few lovely rooms a short walk up the hill with wonderful airy views.
It was then time to hit the river again, and travel around 2 hours to the iconic Karanambu Lodge, famed for the late pioneering conservation champion Dianne Mcturk. It was here where Dianne and her family lovingly cared for orphaned giant river otters, which were so cruelly persecuted through the decades. Despite the loss of Dianne, Karanambu continues to showcase it’s wonderful savannah and lush forest environment to intrepid travellers. We enjoyed a superb excursion silently cruising through eerie flooded forest, eventually opening up into a quite spectacular large pond filled with Victoria Amazonica (the world’s second largest water lily) and a prolific amount of tropical birdlife. I really didn’t know where to look. As the light faded and dusk took over, we watched the Amazonica flowers open in collective wonder.
Also hugely worthwhile at Karanambu, is the Capuchin trail, a largely forested circular walkway, excellent for birding and viewing monkeys athletically bounding through the canopy.
One of the main highlights of our time at Karanambu, was the Savannah safari. Striding out from the lodge into the wilderness at 4:30am under the cover of darkness was a thrilling experience, leading to a small flooded section navigated by boat, and finally to waiting 4wd vehicles. As the sun rose, the scene over the savannah was nothing short of majestic. Distant mountains glowed in the soft light, and fan tailed flycatchers darted from tree to tree seemingly bouyed by the magnificence of the morning. The birdlife everywhere in Guyana is magnificent, but on this occasion as we prepared to head back, we were treated to an amazing encounter with a giant anteater. Could there be many more curious looking creatures on this earth? For a while we flanked the creature upwind, it was seemingly unaware of our presence, as we were informed that their eyesight is extremely poor. Then suddenly it crossed Infront of us, and to our delight we could clearly see a baby clinging to mums back! What a sight to behold! She then sloped off into the savannah whilst we looked on somewhat gobsmacked.
Karanambu is an absolute wonder. A gem of a place oozing tranquil beauty. A place to imbibe nature in all its glory. Be sure to take time to also sit and soak up some of the literature at the lodge, the myths and legends of Guyana and the Rupunini, and if possible chat to the wonderful staff.
Next we travelled to Caiman House, a pillar of scientific research with the goal of preserving the status of the legendary Black Caiman amongst other riverine species. This is a beautiful lodge, with gloriously verdant grounds to enjoy. It is part of a vibrant indigenous community which we were privileged to explore with informative local community guides. The community library was particularly impressive. Between excursions take time to laze in the communal hammock area for a siesta during the heat of the day.
An evening excursion to capture a Black Caiman for scientific research purposes proved fruitless, due to unusually high water levels, nevertheless the clear skies and stars overhead, and distant lightning strikes, proved wonderfully atmospheric.
The next morning we travelled across the dusty red soil of the Rupunini to Waikin Ranch. Comprising of just a handful of cabanas, the ranch is a working farm and very much promotes a farm to table philosophy. A delightful spring fed swimming hole provides fabulous relief from the otherwise steamy conditions. We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset drive on the savannah stopping for refreshing sundowners underneath a huge sky. The ranch offers horse riding which a few of our group thoroughly enjoyed. That evening we tucked into juicy steak, produced of course from the ranch, and grilled to perfection.
Sadly, the next morning signalled the time to return to civilization, making our way from the border frontier town of Lethem, back to the capital Georgetown. The flight was mesmerising, a final opportunity to marvel at the endless pristine forest that Guyana is blessed with, and slow meandering waterways shimmering below us. That afternoon, back in Georgetown, we cruised out on the Demerara River enjoying superb close up sightings of the spectacular Scarlet Ibis, intermingled with thousands of roosting egrets and patrolling Snail Hawks soaring overhead. The evening brought about our first rainfall in Guyana, but the music and captivating atmosphere of the Atlantic seawall social scene could not dampen the spirits.
Our final day in Guyana saw us experience the diversity and abundance of produce on offer in the local market. Thereafter, we enjoyed a superb lunch at the wonderful Backyard Cafe, where host Devlin and his team serve up perfectly cooked fish and fresh vegetables. Later, a short visit to the botanical gardens saw the tally of bird species for the trip top the 200 mark, including the amazing Toco Toucan, Festive Parrott and Blood Coloured Woodpecker. As an ardent cricket fan, I was also extremely grateful to be able to stop and have a short tour of the historic and now somewhat dilapidated Bourda Ground where legends of the fabled West Indies team plied their trade.
Guyana is a land where you can be sure of a warm welcome, and a visit to the interior allows the visitor to gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities faced by the Amerindian communities. Guyana with its diverse ecosystems, boats a staggeringly rich array of flora and fauna, although it must be said that large mammals are not always easy to see, and expectations should be tempered, certainly during times of high water levels. For the intrepid traveller however, looking for an off the beaten track adventure in a largely pristine environment, and refreshingly still largely devoid of mass tourism, I feel it is a must see experience.
Mark Huggins travelled to Guyana in November 2022. Undiscovered Destinations offers both small group tours and tailormade adventures to Guyana and indeed neighbouring countries of Suriname and French Guiana. Please contact us for more details of holidays to Guyana.