Why visit Guyana... an undiscovered gem
Telling family and friends that you are going to Guyana on holiday prompts a lot of references to Africa. Pointing out that it is in South America but English speaking, with a Caribbean edge and a strong indigenous population, prompted a few folk to rush to Google just to see where it was. No one that knew us was surprised that we had chosen yet another little-known holiday destination, or one that promised a pretty active and adventurous trip.
One of the great joys of Guyana is the small number of tourists – just 2,500 a year. Once you leave the coast behind and head for the interior, the lodges are all geared to small group travel. We had eight in our group – all keen travellers and anxious to enjoy everything that the country had to offer.
The tour group in Guyana
Starting in Georgetown on the coast, we stayed at Cara Lodge. Built in the 1840s, this heritage house has lots of charm and makes for a comfortable base – enjoy the hot water and electricity while you can! There is no problem finding your way around the town: a grid system and driving on the left certainly helps. One place you really must visit is the Roy Geddes Steel Pan Museum. He is a gem – you need to see the museum for yourself!
You can also board small 12-seater planes (which we were assured carried a jungle survival kit) that whisk you off on day trips to a stunning array of locations. Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls is one such trip and, if you are really lucky – and we were – may provide your first sighting of the stunning Guianan cock-of-the-rock bird.
Once off into the interior you enter a very different world, home to the various Amerindian tribes. With a 9kg luggage allowance on internal flights, you need to travel light – good discipline for leaving behind all those things that might come in handy. The main thing is to pack clothes that can be easily washed and are quick drying. With temperatures around 30C and very high humidity, prepare to sweat a lot, particularly when climbing those ‘mountains’. They might not be very high but the climate makes them feel much higher than they are.
The lodges are superb, and we got to stay in six of them, all somewhat rustic but each with a real charm of their own and, amazingly, all with completely different sights and activities on offer. We stayed in Surama, a lovely spot, but perhaps a bit lacking in wildlife for some of us; Atta Rainforest Lodge – bang in the middle of the rainforest but with surprisingly speedy Wi-Fi; ; and Iwokrama River Lodge, with a delightful riverside location and accommodation, good birding and a really nice walk up Turtle Mountain. For anyone unsure about canopy walks, the Iwokrama Canopy Walk feels really secure, with short bridges, high sides and something to hang on to.
Iwokrama Canopy Walk
Rock View Lodge is where rainforest meets savanna. Owned and managed by the irrepressible Colin Edwards, it really is a stunning place to stay, where attention to detail is second to none. If you fancy a dip in a pool, this is your one and only chance.
Rock View Lodge
Karanambu Lodge is home to Diane McTurk, renowned for her work rehabilitating giant river otters. Meeting Diane and hearing about her life at Karanambu was a real privilege, as was seeing her daily walks with Trib (short for Tribulation), her latest charge. And then there was the early morning drive to see giant anteaters and the late evening visit to watch the wonderful giant lillies, or Victoria Amazonica, opening up.
Throughout the trip we never quite knew what form of transport we would be taking to the next lodge, but it all worked – Bedford truck, 4x4 or boat. The different vehicles all added to the adventure. Our final trip was up river to Caiman House. Just one night there, but what a night! Going out on the river to watch the caiman catchers was utterly spellbinding. I didn’t expect to find myself holding a 6ft black caiman but it was a photo opportunity too good to miss, and that plastic tape around its nose looked pretty firm. The photo certainly made a great substitute for a holiday postcard! Caiman House was also unforgettable for its village location and the visit to the local school. I have a wonderful video of a class of six year olds singing ‘We wish you a merry Christmas!’
Dr Sue Ablett holding a caiman
This isn’t a trip for the faint-hearted: most days we were up and out before breakfast, on the move every couple of days, and we certainly pulled in a lot of exercise. It’s not the place for a riotous social life either – we were mainly in bed well before 9pm each night! But it was a real voyage of discovery. As everyone speaks English, we had numerous opportunities to find out more about the way of life in Guyana, particularly in the interior. The itinerary was perfect and we couldn’t fault the organisation.
Any disappointments on the trip? Well, we all hoped to see a jaguar for a start, and didn’t. However, bearing in mind that in her 83 years, mainly spent in Guyana, Diane McTurk has only ever seen three, you realise the odds may not be quite as good as the guide books imply. Wildlife viewing in the rainforest is never easy – much better from the rivers or savanna.
The climate is draining, and you do need a reasonable level of fitness to tackle the ‘mountains’. There is no hot water in the interior, but it is so hot that it really wasn’t a problem. Mosquitoes were not much in evidence but there are other things that bite. And then there is the wildlife in the bedrooms! Be prepared for quite a lot of it – cockroaches, birds, bats, lizards, frogs, and even one snake. If you can cope with all of that, you can be sure of a great visit in a lovely country with wonderful people.
Dr Ablett travelled on a tailor-made holiday to Guyana. If you would like to discuss a trip to Guyana, please call a member of the Latin America team on 020 7873 5000. Cox & Kings also offers the group tour Guyana: The Caribbean Amazon >
Image of group and the author holding a caiman © Dr Sue Ablett.Share: