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Guyana is a land whose modern look and demographic has been powerfully shaped by the influences of Dutch and British colonial times. In order to work their sugar plantations, the colonial powers first brought in African slaves and later, when slavery became illegal, Indian workers. Guyana became an independent nation in 1966, but the effects of colonialism remain. Tension between the descendants of African slaves and Indian workers, as well as a small indigenous population, has held back the country's ability to progress.
Despite these internal problems, Guyana remains an excellent South American destination. In Georgetown, Dutch and British architecture represent the nicer influences of colonialism. Guyana's exquisite natural beauty, characterized by lush rainforest and impressive waterfalls, transform it into an ecotourist's heaven. Hopefully loggers and miners won't get hold of Guyana's untouched wilderness.
The first humans to reach Guyana belonged to the group of people that crossed into North America from Asia perhaps maybe as much as 35,000 years ago. These first inhabitants were nomads who slowly spread south into Central America and South America. Guyana's inhabitants were divided into two groups, the Arawak along the coast and the Carib in the interior.
Although Columbus sighted the Guyanese coast in 1498, during his third voyage to the Americas, the Dutch were the first Europeans to settle what is now Guyana. In 1616 the Dutch established the first European settlement in the area of Guyana, a trading post twenty-five kilometers upstream from the mouth of the Essequibo River. Dutch sovereignty was officially recognized with the signing of the Treaty of Munster in 1648.
Eager to attract more settlers, in 1746 the Dutch authorities opened the area near the Demerara River to British immigrants. The influx of British citizens was so great that by 1760 the English constituted a majority of the population of Demerara. By 1786 the internal affairs of this Dutch colony were effectively under British control. The British assumed control in the late 18th century, and the Dutch formally ceded the area in 1814. In 1831 the three separate colonies became a single British colony known as British Guiana.
Colonial life was changed radically by the demise of slavery. Although the international slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807, slavery itself continued. Escaped slaves formed their own settlements known as Maroon communities. With the abolition of slavery in 1834, many of the former slaves began to settle in urban areas. Indentured labourers from modern-day Portugal (1834), Germany (first in 1835), Ireland (1836), Scotland (1837), Malta (1839), China and eastern India (Madras, Bengal and Bihar primarily, beginning in 1838) were imported to work on the sugar plantations.
In 1889, Venezuela claimed the land up to the Essequibo. Ten years later, an international tribunal ruled the land belonged to British Guyana.
Guayan achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 26 May 1966 and became a republic on 23 February 1970, remaining a member of the Commonwealth. In 1978, Guyana received considerable international attention when 918 almost entirely American members(more than 300 of which were children) of the Jim Jones-led Peoples Temple died in a mass murder/suicide in Jonestown — a settlement created by the Peoples Temple.
Guyana shares international borders with Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela. The territory controlled by Guyana lies between latitudes 1° and 9°N, and longitudes 56° and 62°W. The country can be divided into five natural regions; a narrow and fertile marshy plain along the Atlantic coast (low coastal plain) where most of the population lives; a white sand belt more inland (hilly sand and clay region), containing most of Guyana's mineral deposits; the dense rain forests (Forested Highland Region) in the southern part of the country; the desert savannah in the southern west; and the smallest interior lowlands (interior savannah) consisting mostly of mountains that gradually rise to the Brazilian border.
Some of Guyana's highest mountains are Mount Ayanganna (2,042 metres), Monte Caburaí (1,465 metres) and Mount Roraima (2,810 metres, the highest mountain in Guyana) on the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela triple border, part of the Pakaraima range. Mount Roraima and Guyana's table-top mountains (tepuis) are said to have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel The Lost World. There are also many volcanic escarpments and waterfalls, including Kaieteur Falls. North of the Rupununi River lies the Rupununi savannah, south of which lie the Kanuku Mountains.
The four longest rivers are the Essequibo at 1,010 kilometres long, the Courantyne River at 724 kilometres, the Berbice at 595 kilometres, and the Demerara at 346 kilometres. The Corentyne river forms the border with Suriname. At the mouth of the Essequibo are several large islands, including the 145-kilometre wide Shell Beach lies along the northwest coast, which is also a major breeding area for sea turtles (mainly Leatherbacks) and other wildlife.
Guyana is divided into 10 regions:
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The Kaieteur Falls are amongst the most scenic and highest and Famous Waterfalls in the world. The falls are located in the Kaieteur National Park in the centre of Guyana's rainforest on the Potaro river. The total hight is about 250 metres, but the main fall is slightly less with 226 metres. It is over 100 metres wide and together with the location in untouched rainforest makes it one of the most spectacular to visit. It is not very easy to visit the falls and either time consuming or expensive. Flights are possible but more rewarding is a trek to the base of the falls.
Mount Roraima is a table mountain (called tepuis) which marks the border of Guyana with Venezuela and Brazil. Most of the mount is located in Venezuela but officially it is the highest point in Guyana itself at 2,810 metres above sea level. The table mountains are considered some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, about two billion years old. The mountain can be reached easily from Venezuela, but from Guyana you have to be an experienced climber.
The Iwokrama Forest is a large rainforest at about 3,710 square kilometres located centrally in Guyana in the heart of the Guiana Shield, one of the four last pristine tropical forests in the world, (others being Congo and the Amazon for example). There is fantastic Canopy Walkway in this forest, one of the largest in the world.
Guyana has a hot and humid tropical climate with temperatures around 30 °C during the day and 20 °C or slightly more at night. Rain falls mostly from April to August, with a shorter season from late November to January.
Cheddi Jagan International Airport (GEO) near the capital Georgetown receives all international flights. Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) has flights to and from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Zoom Airlines has connections to and from Toronto. Other destinations include New York, Paramaribo and Belém.
Kaieteur International Airports has a few international flights to/from Caracas and Montreal.
It's not possible to cross to and from Venezuela. Crossings to Suriname are possible (see below by boat). To Venezuela you have to travel south towards the border with Brazil at Lethem/Bonfim. Roads across the country are rough and might not be passable after heavy rains.
When driving in Guyana, be sure to have an international driving permit, insurance and documentation. Don't drive at night and be careful in some areas.
There are minibuses that travel between Georgetown and the capital of Suriname, Paramaribo, crossing the Corantijn River between New Amsterdam and Nieuw Nickerie (Suriname). Other crossings are in the south at Lethem/Bonfim, the border area with Brazil, but the crossing itself is by foot.
Crossings to Suriname are done by taking a boat across the Corantijn River which forms the border with Guyana.
Trans Guyana Airways operates scheduled domestic flights to about 20 destinations within the country. Several other charter airlines have flights as well, some of them as part of a package to the forested interior. Georgetown to Lethem is the most frequent flown route.
There are no domestic train services in Guyana.
The road network is limited in Guyana, especially if you prefer tarred roads. Into the interior, a 4wd car is necessary but also in the north it is recommended. You can rent cars at a few places in Georgetown including the international airport. Traffic drives on the left and you need an international driving permit. A temporary local driving permit can be obtained when showing your national driver's licence.
Guyana's roads are mostly unpaved except in the northern parts. Gravelroads can become impassable during the rainy season(s). Normally though, travelling from Georgetown along the coast to the southern town of Lethem will take 10 to 12 hours on average. Several services operate in conjuction with river crossings by ferry.
Guyana has several navigable inland waterways, including the Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice rivers which are all navigable by oceangoing vessels. Steamers travel into the interior up the Essequibo and Berbice rivers, but services are irregular mainly due to flooding. There are also coast-hopping services from Georgetown to several northern ports. Smaller ferries operate where there is sufficient demand throughout the country, for example as part of an organised trip.
Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa to visit Guyana: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Luxembourg, Montserrat, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States.
When applying for a visa, you will need the application form, a passport valid for at least 6 months, 3 passport size photographs and proof that you have the funds to cover your entire trip to Guyana. If your intent is to work or live in Guyana, you will need to obtain a letter of approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and include a copy of it in your submission. The only way to submit a visa application is through the mail. Submissions must be made to the nearest Guyanese Embassy.
A tourist visa costs USD30, single entry business visa costs USD40, a multiple entry 3 month business visa costs USD50 and a multiple entry 1 year business visa costs USD75.
Once in Guyana you can extend your visa at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Georgetown.
See also Money Matters
The local currency is the Guyanese dollar (ISO 4217 international currency code: GYD). You'll see both the "$" and "G$" symbols locally. The currency is freely convertible but nearly impossible to get rid of outside Guyana, the neighbouring countries and one exchange bureau in London Gatwick airport. Banknotes are issued in GYD20, 100, 500 and 1,000 and there are GYD1, GYD5 and GYD10 coins. GYD500 and GYD1,000 banknotes have a holographic stripe with a colourful macaw.
The only official language is English (with British spelling) and is spoken by all, though most people natively speak Guyanese Creole. English is very accented and foreigners may find it hard to understand.
Guyanese food, like the entire country, is a creole fusion. If there's a dominant cuisine, it is dishes influenced by the Indian subcontinent that have been localized. The most prominent of these are the curries, especially chicken, pork, beef, pumpkin and aubergine. Larger roti shops and those by the sea will have shrimp, crab and other seafoods. Curries are traditionally served with roti, an Indian bread or rice.
The national dish of Guyana is pepperpot, a slow cooked stew of pork (or other meats), red peppers (capsicum), cinnamon and casareep. It is dark in colour and strongly flavoured and usually reserved for special occasions such as Christmas, but you can find restaurants in Georgetown serving the dish all year round. Pepperpot is enjoyed with plain white bread or roti.
Chinese restaurants are common, with noodle dishes such as chow mein and lo mein along with meat and rice dishes. The growing Brazilian population have led to several outdoor BBQ restaurants and churrascarias opening in the capital and near the border in Lethem.
Georgetown has a greater variety of food options than elsewhere in the country, which include a couple of steakhouses, upmarket colonial dining, European fare and Indian food. In smaller towns, there may only be restaurants serving a creole menu of a few dishes, which almost always includes a curry or two and a noodle dish.
In jungle lodges, the food can be limited to tinned goods and rice, along with whatever can be caught or grown locally.
Georgetown has far and away the biggest range of options, but here there are a number of problems. None of the "luxury" options in the capital - primarily the Pegasus and the Princess, have the polish or charm to justify the hundreds of US dollars they charge. On the other end of the scale are a number of tiny guesthouses and pay-by-the-hour places with lower prices. The only "backpacker" option is the Tropicana Hostel, which unfortunately is above a club with the slogan "All Nite Long": it's true. There are some good options in Georgetown, especially at the three and four star level, including the colonial option Cara Lodge and the Herdmanston Lodge.
In the interior there are some amazing jungle lodges and camps, including those at the ranches and the south and the community-supported ecolodges in the middle of the country. Other developing options are community supported huts in Amerindian towns on the Linden-Lethm road.
The adventurous could try to get by with a hammock and paying small fees to hang it up in a benab. This isn't an option in Georgetown and will involve some planning ahead, lots of bug spray and cunning to accomplish.
Some small towns have basic guesthouses, which may have fans, mosquito nets or other amenities.
The most popular national drink is Caribbean-style dark rum. Some national favourites are XM "10" Year OLD, produced by local beverage giant Banks DIH Limited and El Dorado and X-tra Mature which both offer 5, 10, 12 and 25 year varieties.
El Dorado also offers a 15 year old variety which has won the "Best Rum in the World" award since 1999. Mix the cheaper ones with Coke or coconut water if you please. All are quality enough to drink neat or by themselves with the 25 year-olds comparing with high-quality scotch whisky.
Banks Beer produced by local beverage giant Banks DIH Limited is the National beer. It comes in a lager and a stout (Milk Stout). The beverage giant also bottles and distributes Heineken Beer and Guinness Stout under licence.
Also available are the lighter Carib (Trinidad and Tobago) and darker Mackeson's. Guinness is brewed locally under licence and is a bit sweeter than its Irish counterpart, but just as good. Polar (Venezuelan) and Skol (Brazilian) can be found throughout the country. You can also find Heineken and Corona at posher bars in Georgetown.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Guyana. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Guyana) where that disease is widely prevalent, or if you have been to Belize. This doesn't apply for the following countries: Argentina, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago. A yellow fever vaccination is recommended anyway for travelling around Guyana, so be sure to get one.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Guyana. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in the country, except along the coast and in Georgetown and it is recommended to take malaria pills and take other normal anti-mosquito precautions as well. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Georgetown is notorious for petty street crime. Do not walk alone at night, or even in the day, unless you know the area well. Areas such as the Tiger Bay area east of Main Street and the entire southeastern part of the city including Albouystown and Ruimveldt are traditional high crime areas but one can be relatively safe in groups and with native escorts. Police are unlikely to help you unless they see the crime in action. Be sensible about wearing jewellery. Exercise common sense.
The interior regions with the breath-taking waterfalls, the beautiful rainforests and mountains are safe. Many rural areas around the country are filled with a friendly atmosphere and are safe. Crime is rarely directed at tourists, so don't feel intimidated. Just be sensible about the company you keep, where you go and how you behave.
See also International Telephone Calls
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Ask MRMinSF a question about Guyana
Have traveled extensively in Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, and occasionally lead tours here. Am able to answer questions about destinations, wildlife, culture, trip preparation, itineraries, etc.
Ask Sherwinator a question about Guyana
I am Guyanese, I now live in the US. I still have large family in Guyana.
Ask Borntotravel a question about Guyana
I have been living and working in Guyana for over forty years. I 've travelled to every corner of this beautiful country, so if you are interested in any destinations such as Georgetown, Iwokrama, Surama, Rock View, Karanambu Ranch, Rewa, Maipiama, Dadawana, Lethem, Santa Mission, Arrow Point, Demerara River, Essequibo River, Berbice, Mahaica or if you wish to enquire about culture , wildlife, or visit the neighbours- Brazil, Venezuela, Suriname, French Guiana, you can contact me for more information.
Ask Gypsie a question about Guyana
I spent ten weeks living within the depths of the Amazon Jungle, as well as a few weeks within the main cities. I came to understand the culture, it's history and dilemas, and the way of Hinterland life. I'd be more than willing to offer advice of any sort, from what to pack to where to head to tales of the intricate ways of life.
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