Adventure into the Green Guyana
Michael Pullman travelled to Guyana, a country that welcomes just 2000 tourists per year, and found a developing destination that is challenging but rewarding to those with a keen sense of adventure.
I travelled to Guyana recently with a small group of tour operators on a familiarisation trip and found a clean, welcoming country rich in wildlife and with a variety of stunning landscapes. However, what impressed me most was the way tourism was developing. Many people have jumped on the eco-tourism bandwagon recently, to the extent where the label has become almost meaningless, but not in Guyana: nearly all the lodges we stayed in were built from locally sourced materials, run in co-operation with local communities and serving locally-grown produce, ensuring not only that tourism has a minimal environmental impact but also that local communities reap the benefits. Whilst the accommodation in some areas is basic, and you may have to share it with the odd creature (one night one of our group had a large spider, a bird and a frog as room-mates) the pristine rainforests, colourful wildlife and beautiful scenery more than make up for this.
In the centre of Guyana lies the Iwokrama Forest, which covers 1 million acres of rainforest, and which was granted as a gift to the international community by the President of Guyana in 1989. Administered by a collection of international forestry agencies, the Iwokrama Rainforest is a living model showing how tropical rainforests can be conserved and sustainability used to provide ecological, social and economic benefits to all. There is very little logging in Guyana, the region has a healthy jaguar population, and with the tourism industry developing slowly and responsibly Guyana is something of a model for eco-tourism
So knowing you can come here with a clean conscience and be sure your tourist dollars are making a difference, here are some of the highlights of my trip:
The Giant River Otters at Karanambu Ranch. Karanambu Ranch is the home of Diane McTurk, well known for her work rehabilitating orphaned Giant River Otters before releasing them to the wild. Guests can sometimes swim with the otters, although we decided not to take our chances with the four resident otters when we visited.
An evening boat trip on the Rupununi River. The owners of Karanambu Ranch look after their guests very well; after a lunch of Moussaka and apple crumble (the sweet puddings of Guyana are a hangover from the British colonial era) we headed out for an afternoon boat trip on the Rupununi. The river is home to magnificent birdlife but the highlight for me was the covering of giant lily pads, which you can observe flowering as dusk falls. We watched this nature show with generous amounts of rum punch, made by our onboard barman, before heading back to the ranch under a blanket of the clearest stars I have ever seen.
Kaieteur Falls: In the two hours we toured Kaieteur Falls we saw three other tourists. The Falls are spectacular in scale, the largest single drop falls in the world, but unlike most major waterfalls there is no souvenir shop, café, or even handrail separating the tourist from the flowing water.
Surama Village: The fact that Guyana is English-speaking means visitors can really interact with the locals. At Surama we visited the primary school where we took part in perhaps the largest hokey cokey Guyana has ever seen, after listening to the students sing a song about Surama (see below).
Rock View Lodge: Rock View Lodge has plenty of obvious assets: The refreshing swimming pool; the extensive vegetable gardens providing fresh ingredients for the fantastic food; the warm and friendly staff; the range of activities on offer; and the magnificent setting where the savannah meets the jungle. What I liked above all was the fact that Rock View is a focal point of the charming villages surrounding the lodge. Schoolchildren pass by on their way to school. Locals drink in the lodge’s Dakota Bar. Whilst here I took a ten minute walk to the charming village of Annai and watched an inter-village football game take place against a stunning setting on the plains of the savannah.
Becoming a twitcher: I’m not about to start spending weekends in hides birdwatching in the UK, but I couldn’t help but become interested in the colourful birds of Guyana, and by the end I knew my yellow rump from my white throated toucans.
Wally Prince: Our guide at Iwokrama Field Station, Wally Prince, responding to our calls for a closer look at a three-foot cayman by fishing it out of the water with his bare hands during a night time boat trip.