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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 degrees Celcius during the day and 20 degrees 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 from the following countries can enter Guyana without a visa:
Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Canada, Denmark, Dominica, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Luxembourg, Montserrat, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent the Grenadines, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Bahamas, Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America
All other nationalities need to get advice from the nearest embassy/consulate.
See also Money Matters
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
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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