My Extraordinary Guide To Guyana
When research began on the Guyana portion of my South America journey I immediately found information hard to come by. Often there is a complete lack of info, contacts, and the links only led to dead ends. With this in mind, I decided to create my own mini guidebook for travellers’ looking to come to this little tropical haven.
(Click on any picture to enlarge and scroll through.)
$1US = $200 Guyana Dollars
Exchange can be made at the “Cambios“. Major tour operators accept US dollars and credit card. Many companies will add a 4% surcharge when you use your card. We had trouble accessing money through the local banks but Canadian Scotiabank has numerous branches in Georgetown.
Language: The only South American country that speaks English.
For shoestring travellers: Guyana does not seem to be your typical cheap destination.
- Getting here is very expensive. Hotels and transport are also very expensive due to the lack of infrastructure. I would say that prices for most things – like food and hotels – are comparable with the cost of the same in Canada, but the quality is much poorer.
- There is no more public transport in the country. (See Transportation section below for more options.)
- Applicable tax is 16%.
- Couchsurfing hosts are mainly peacecorps workers living in Guyana.
- Hitchhiking is not recommended though our jungle guide did indicated that sticking your thumb out like we do in most of the world won’t work here. If you really wanna try to catch a lift, try sticking your hand out with your pointer finger out. More than likely it will be the mini-bus that stops and they will charge you.
Chapter I: Getting into Georgetown
- Airport is 40 min away from Georgetown
- Buses are available during the day
- Taxis are lined up outside and it’s $5000G to get anywhere in the city.
- We arranged pick up through hotel for $35US because we would be arriving very late at night and had no idea how far from the city we would be or how much it would cost.
Chapter II: Georgetown
Georgetown has a definite Caribbean island feel to it with the ocean constantly keeping a cool breeze. There is no actual beach as the sea wall protects the city which sits 7 feet under the sea level. Remnants of colonialism by the English and the Dutch means gorgeous wooden homes with elaborate window shutters and porches on stilts. Few have been cared for or restored to their glory. Most are completely dilapidated and barely standing (although you can actively observe people still living in them). Both hold a certain photographic charm. Amongst them modern buildings made of concrete and glass have grown without rhyme or reason. City management is non-existent as piles a rubble and garbage are strewn most everywhere. Crashed or broken down cars are stripped of essential parts and literally just left there to rust away. Occasionally there is a part, such as the National Park where the grounds are kept clean and useful to the people.
The city is quite small and broken up into areas with different names which you should refer to when attempting to get anywhere. Seems there is a hotel/restaurant/store by the same name in each area so specify where you want to go. The areas to the West of the city seem to have more restaurants, hotels and tour operators. The city landmarks such as the St. George’s Cathedral, the Starbroek Market and the National and Walter Roth Museums are in the Lacytown neighbourhood and easily traversed on foot. The same area also houses the Parliament Building, City Hall and the High Courts. If you get lucky, you could even spot the Prime Minister of Guyana walking along High Street from his home to the office.
Taxi service simplified: Short trips within most of the city are $400G ($2US). Longer trips would be negotiated. Official taxis are yellow and can be called or flagged down. Each time we had our hotel call one for us we were picked up in a nondescript vehicle but still had the taxi radio in it. If you find a driver you like, get their name and number and call them whenever you need a ride.
Another important point to keep in mind if you are out walking is that there are no sidewalks anywhere. Cars and buses wizz by you at dangerous speeds and proximity. Given the affordable price of the taxies it is a much better way to go. In fact, taxi drivers would be more than delighted to give you a tour of the city. Most seemed quite knowledgeable, willing to share and are accommodating in your quest to take pictures.
- Cold water showers are standard. Ask about AC/fan, breakfast and wifi when inquiring.
- Economy choices seems to favour Rima’s (firstname.lastname@example.org) but book ahead or you will – like I did – find it fully booked. Bonus here includes a view of the local jailhouse. Kanhais Center (from $40 standard room to $70 for group rooms- with cold water, wifi and breakfast) can be found on Facebook. Quiet at night and locked up tight so come with reservation. A bit pricey for what it is but then again, most things in this country seem expensive for where we are (compared to Asia or Central America for example).
- Mid range hotels are hard to find online but there seem to be plenty around the city. Sleepin (www.sleepinguesthouse.com) has rooms from $57 all amenities included. In the Kitty neighbourhood near the sea wall there is the Windjammer Hotel and Palace de Leon. Both have a range of rooms and prices ($35 and up) with breakfast, wifi and hot water.
- Most hotels found online start at $120 and feature pools. Princess is currently is the largest hotel in town though a Marriot is currently being built which will take the prize in regards to size and probably luxury.
* Avoid hotels near Jerry’s for sleeping. LOUD!!
Sheriff Street is the party strip. Several restaurants offer daytime dining and clubs set off at 1am with the party going late, late, late into the wee hours. Come ready to dance to the chaos of competing clubs and cars that park outside blasting their own mix. Remember to act responsibly and be prepared to take a taxi back to your hotel. The area is said to be very unsafe after dark and you should not walk on the streets, especially if you’ve been drinking.
Other safety notes suggest leaving all unnecessary valuables in your hotel. Don’t walk alone – especially if you are a woman – even during the day. The cat calls and honking from every male gets tiring but just ignore it and they move on. Pickpocketing and robberies at gun point are unfortunately common though I will comment that I did not feel unsafe or threatened when walking in the city. The only part of the city we did not visit on foot is the area around Starbroek Market based on numerous and repeated warnings from locals. It is truly unfortunate because this is where you have to go to catch a mini-bus out of town. Be smart. Be aware.
Chapter III: Food
- Must try the local brew – Banks beer and the award winning rum El Dorado – voted best rum in the world every year since 1999. The Guyanese are very proud of this fact.
- Food is generally a rice and beans with meat mix (name sounds like “c/p-c/p”). Lots of fried chicken and everything on the bone. Indian and Chinese food can also be found everywhere.
- Church’s chicken, the global chain, is quite a hit and locals celebrate it.
- The main food of the interior is cassava which can be produced in as little as 4 months from the time it’s planted until it’s ready for cultivation. It can be prepared in a multitude of ways such as fried (looks very much like french fries), mashed (like mashed potatoes but a more fibrous), it can also be dried and crushed until it looks like granola. Locals used it this way to sprinkle on everything at every meal. Casava can even be baked into a cake for dessert.
- Locals recommendation for the best Guyanese food: Jerries.
- For the highest standards in fresh food, selection and clean environment that I’ve experienced so far in Guyana check out Oasis Cafe on Carmichael Street (just a stones throw from the Cathedral). They even offer wifi and a specialty coffee list that rivals Starbucks. Come for lunchtime buffet ($2,000G) or try Oasis Gourmet Burger ($1,500G) for the best meat in the country. The huge range of desserts doesn’t hurt either.
- If you are absolutely yearning for some fresh breakfast like you have at home, check out the restaurant at the Halito Hotel. Continental breakfast will run you $9US.
- For great Indian food check out the spacious Shantas on Newmarket and Camp Streets. $14US while get you 2 full meals, a big bottle of water and an extra curry to boot!
- As always, be alert to preparation and storage of premade food. Many facilities lack refrigeration or ability to keep food hot. Drink bottled water only.
- Try the “Champagne” – alcohol free and absolutely delicious.
Chapter IV: Transport
Mini-buses are the way of the people here; fast, packed and reckless no matter the road conditions. On the plus side, its the cheapest option. If you are moving longer distance such as into the interior, you can seek out options like flying and private transport. You can also book a tour which may include the transfer, at a hefty price of course.
Ex: Ride to the Iwokrama reserve will cost you $50 and a bone rattling, intestine crushing 13 hours by minibus. Or 7 hours by private car at $500. Roads are generally terrible and no one slows down for the massive potholes.
The same road followed all the way South will take you the city of Lethem and eventually across the border into Brazil.
Mini-bus to the border with Suriname leaves at 4am to get to the morning ferry crossing. 3 hours plus ferry across. They will sometimes go all the way to Paramaribo so try calling ahead for all long distance destinations.
Chapter V: Weather
Guyana is near the equator so seasonal temperatures don’t change much. Rainy season runs March to July though locals are reporting changes in recent years ‘due to global warming’.
Generally hot and humid.
Chapter VI: Wildlife and the Amazon
The highlight of Guyana is the dense jungle of the interior covering 90% of the country. The amazon jungle is home to thousands of species of land and water mammals plus hundreds more take flight over the thick canopy and swim the waters of salty coastline, the fresh water rivers and swamp-lands sprawling across Guyana and into Brazil.
There are several options in order to visit here. Simply catching a lift here without a plan is not recommended. Eco-resorts and lodges offer all inclusive tours with or without transport although all are fairly pricey. Cheapest option is to ask about setting up your own hammock and sleeping outside. The Iwokrama Research Station, an oasis in the jungle, is freshly located on the banks of the Essequibo river and offers the ultimate in accommodation, adventure and resources. Other lodges such as the Atta and Rockyview are stationed within the Iwokrama reserve land but seem to offer lesser activities during your stay.
Having a knowledgeable guide offers unparalleled benefits to learning and enjoying the jungle. Iwokrama also offers a canopy trek (adjacent to the Akka resort) high above the jungle floor ideal for spotting wildlife. Other activities include boat rides (day and night) to see the caimans, visits to Turtle Mountain and excursions through the villages. You can also go see the petroglyphs, supposedly 7000 years old and made by the Makushi people that still inhabit the area today.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the Iwokrama reserve is the number one place in the world to spot jaguars in the wild.
Turtle season ends in July. Shell Beach in Northwest Guyana is the place to see nearly half a dozen of the massive and ancient beings returning to land to lay eggs. They are protected here but getting there seemed an impossible task to organize from abroad. All attempts to contact anyone in the area who could advise or help us organize our went completely unanswered. It was very disappointing as I had a visit here set as one of my highlights.
(I was subsequently able to get information from a Facebook page for the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society. I will pass on the contact information they gave me for their monitoring coordinator Mr Romeo DeFreitas email@example.com in case you are interested.)
For more information on tour operators running organized day++ trip(s) into the jungle, coast or to the waterfalls check out:
Wilderness Explorers www.wilderness-explorers.com
Dagron Tours (# 223-7921) www.dagron-tours.com
Wonderland (# 225-3122) www.wonderlandtoursgy.com
Evergreen (# 225-4484) www.evergreenadventuresgy.com
Chapter VII: Culture
Guyana is a country of many races and religions. They refer to themselves as the Land of Six Peoples: Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, East Indians, Europeans and Portuguese. The Amerindians inhabit area further in the mountainous interior after fleeing from a lost war closer to the coast. As a British colony until the 1960’s, indentured servants were brought here mainly from India, China and Africa. The result is a very multi-cultured country. Locals that we’ve met in the Northern areas close to the coast, including Georgetown say that they identify more with Caribbean culture than the Latin culture of South America. The feel and look of Georgetown is definitely more islander in my experience but don’t expect to see any vendor hawking tourist goodies. Major industry here is reserved for sugarcane, bauxite, lumber, gold, rice and fishing. The only tourists we encountered here are mainly Guyanese people who live abroad or vacationers from Trinidad and Tobago.
Chapter VIII: Kaeiteur Falls
Getting here is the hardest part. Flying seems to be the only option unless you want to trek for 5 days (www.rftours.com, $850US). Most package tours will offer a day trip for $250 or $270US per person to include Orinduik falls. The latter seems the better deal and you get to spend several hours trekking in the jungle under the falls.
Kaieteur is a definite highlight for Guyana and stands as the world’s tallest freefall waterfall.
Canadians do not require a visa but make sure you have some kind of proof that you are not trying to take up residency in Guyana. For example: Plane ticket out of the country. As I am leaving by land to Suriname and was unable to pre-plan any sort of exit strategy they questioned me a bit more thoroughly at immigration but no further issues.
Visas for Suriname can be obtained at the embassy in Georgetown. Make sure to bring a passport picture. Drop off early in the morning, pick-up at 1pm.
If you have to go to any embassy, there are strict dress codes so cover-up.
~An Extraordinary Guide by Karina Noriega~
Headed over to Suriname? Find out all about the Maroon people and get all the info you need to make it happen here: Santigron- Maroon Village of Suriname
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