Enticingly off-the-beaten-track, Guyana is a real hidden gem of South America.
With colonial influences including all of the Netherlands, Britain and France, some pretty post-colonial town centers and a wild and untouched backcountry that goes from mist-topped tepuis to wild virgin rainforests, it’s hardly surprising there’s so much to see and do.
Let’s have a look at the best places to visit in Guyana:
The place where so many Guyanese come to shop, work and play is actually something of a shadow of its former self.
In fact, there’s no question that Georgetown’s golden age came with the height of the colonial powers here, a fact that its name – made in honour of England’s King George III – implies.
Miners, plantation builders, architects, statesmen and more all flocked to this corner of Demerara-Mahaica to play their part as the city went from Dutch to French to British rule, imbuing the town with the likes of Stabroek Market and whitewashed St George’s Cathedral as they went.
The Parliament Building is also worth a stop-off, while the national museum is a great place to get acquainted with local history.
Oh, and the Demerara Rum Distillery is a welcome break from the heritage!
For almost a whole century, the settlement of Linden has been Guyana’s primary mining hub, with thousands of prospectors and miners making their way to this tropical spot to pull bauxite from the hills that line the Demerara River.
Today, the history and development of this mining past is chronicled in the Linden Museum of Socio-Cultural Heritage in the centre of town, revealing the evolution of the place from tented outpost in the early 1900s to mechanised industrial center today – even if many of the shaft mines have now shut down.
Other travelers will want to make a beeline for Gluck Island on the Essequibo to the west, with its red howler monkeys, colossal lily pads and tropical bird watching.
3. Kanuku Mountains
The great peaks of Kanuku are divided in two by the long and winding water channels of the Rupununi River, separated into a duo of diamond-shaped highland regions that are both famed for their wealth of mammalian species and old growth forests.
It’s actually rather rare that travels will make their way this deep into the southern recesses of the nation, passing the tepui peaks of Potaro-Siparuni and traversing great stretches of savannah and lowland forest to get here.
Those who do come, however, can spy out the rare harpy eagle, giant otters in the riparian habitats and the colossal (though now rare) pirarucu fish.
Straddling the channels of the Essequibo River where it joins the meanders of the Cuyuni and gives way to the wilder, less inhabited heartlands of Guyana, Bartica was once known as the ‘Gateway to the Interior’.
It was a popular stop-off for prospectors and miners making their way to the far-flung gold and mineral dig sites that erupted by the bucket load between the mountains of Potaro-Siparuni in the last century, while today it still bustles with cargo barges and river-dwelling folk, all of whom happily hop between the town’s Brazilian eateries and clutch of bubbling local beer bars during the weekend.
5. New Amsterdam
Since its foundation in the middle of the 18th century, New Amsterdam – the regional capital of East Berbice-Corentyne – has flitted from Dutch masters, who held sway over the lowland plantations here from the citadel of Fort Nassau up the valley (the remains of which can still be visited today), to the British, who endowed it with ground-breaking sanitation laws and attracted the likes of Cesar Castellani (perhaps the most famous architect to grace Guyana with his work).
As testimony to Castellani’s influence, the masterful facades of the New Amsterdam Public Hospital still adorn the streets, while New Amsterdam’s trio of downtown strips pulses with marketplaces and light industry to boot.
6. Port Mourant
Port Mourant is a small and welcoming little town on Guyana’s Atlantic coastal stretches, famed for its prolific output of cricketers (the sound of cork on willow is the usual backing track to daily life here!) and as the birthplace of the county’s revered ‘Father of the Nation’: Dr Cheddi Jagan.
The down-to-earth spot is also a great place to glimpse Guyana’s agricultural heartland, with famer’s markets touting fresh fruits straight from the fields.
A resident population of students add a youthful edge to the place, while the nearby urban center of Rose Hall is interesting in that it’s Guyana’s smallest town.
7. Kaieteur National Park
The jewel of the Potaro-Siparuni region is a vast and expansive protected area that rises and falls with the great bulwark ridges of the Guyana tepuis.
Dressed in thick, monkey-dotted, jaguar-stalked rainforests and covering a whopping 62,000 hectares, it’s hailed as the ecotourist hotspot for the country.
And while the biodiversity and untouched virgin woods are real pulls, the piece de resistance here is unquestionably the Kaieteur Falls.
Cascading a mind-blowing 226 meters down the escarpments of the Pacaraima Mountains, these dwarf both the Niagara and Victoria Falls alike, and cast plumes of tropical mist into the jungle airs all around.
Yes sir, a trip here is a must!
8. Orinduik Falls
Carving their way out of the rocks that roll out from the Pakaraima Mountains in the western reaches of Guyana, just on the border with Venezuala, the Orinduik Falls offer something a little different to the country’s great cascading cataracts that fall from the top of its tepui hills.
Visitors who make their way to these far-flung spots can enjoy a more up-close-and-personal experience, swimming in the plunge pools and hiking the ridges around the site, taking in the layers and terraces of rock as they go.
What’s more, the channels of the Ireng River offer up oodles more waterfalls along their courses, like the more remote Kurutuik Falls in the jungles to the north.
Tin shack docks and streets of purring scooters form the heart of riverside Parika; a down-to-earth port town on the banks of the Essequibo.
At once gritty and welcoming, this gateway to the Essequibo Islands and river boat terminal is a fine place to sample the real, raw character of Guyana’s coast.
Don’t miss the buzzing market that erupts in the town each Sunday.
Haggling locals descend by their hundreds, flitting between the stacked stalls of bananas and coconuts, dubious parrot-sellers and fish emporiums.
Parika is also the jumping off point for Baganara Island – a well-kempt luxury resort island in the midst of the Essequibo waters.
10. Shell Beach
A salt-sprayed section of the Guyana Coast, where the Atlantic rollers meld with the Caribbean currents out at sea and mangroves sprawl and crawl along the sands to the shore, Shell Beach is unquestionably the most famous beach in the country.
But people don’t come to sunbathe and swim.
They come for the turtle nesting phenomena that occurs every year from late-March to late-summer, when sea turtles of all shapes and sizes – leatherbacks and hawksbills and olive ridleys and greens – flock to the shoreline to lay their eggs.
Heading here is also a great chance to see some of South America’s undeveloped coastline, where rustic villages and bamboo huts pepper the lagoons and the sand is fringed with wild stretches of jungle.
11. Mount Roraima
Arguably the most glorious of all the South American tepuis, sheer-cut Mount Roraima is a table top mountain that rises like a petrified oblong of chiselled rock, right on the edge of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.
Largely unknown, the mountain is actually one of the most ancient geological formations on the planet, with its roots back in the Precambrian period more than two billion years ago.
It lurches vertically from the ground, soaring 400-meters straight up from the grasslands and woods below.
A challenge even for the most experienced hikers and mountain climbers, the top of the plateau here is a treasure box of natural wonders, with uber-rare pitcher plants and algae, reptilians and amphibians inhabiting the summit, untouched and unhindered by the predators in the flats below.
12. Iwokrama Forest
The Iwokrama Forest represents one of the last remaining swathes of pristine primeval rainforest on the planet.
It sits nestled in the very heart of the country, where the sheer-cut tepuis of the highlands give way to the tropical lowlands, feeding the verdant canopies with their countless arrays of glorious waterfalls and mountain streams.
The forest is famed for its soaring canopies (which hits heights of a whopping 30 meters in some sections), where oodles of endangered bats, harpy eagles, multi-coloured frogs and lizards all flit between the waxy boughs and the undergrowth.
Jaguars, giant armadillos and howler monkeys are among the curious beasts too, and travelers can opt to safari here across rope bridges and mud tracks from one of the few lodges that now pepper the river channels.
Far-flung Kamarang in the depths of western Guyana comes shrouded by great swathes of old-growth rainforest.
The remote and largely inaccessible spot (the most popular way to get here is by private charter plane) was once just a humble Amerindian tribal settlement on the edge of the wild Pacaraima Mountains, which rise in stepped rock terraces and table-topped bluffs all over the region forming the bulwark of rock that is now the border with Venezuela.
Today, Kamarang is something of a boomtown, famed as the home of some of Guyana’s richest mineral and gold veins.
It’s also something of an up-and-coming tourist spot, with the uber-dramatic and largely unseen Kamarang Great Falls lurking amidst the jungles close by!
14. Fair View
Fair View is a tiny conglomeration of bamboo homes and stilted longhouses that rises from amidst the waxy canopies of Potaro-Siparuni – the wild and virtually unexplored hinterland that forms the very heartlands of Guyana.
Inhabited by welcoming Amerindian folk with a perennial smile, the spot was only connected to the rest of the country by road in 1992, meaning this one’s Makushi traditions and intimate connection with the Iwokrama woodlands that dominate all around are just about as raw and real as they come.
Travelers head here for up-close-and-personal cultural encounters, to hike Guyana’s primeval forests and to swim in the plunge pools of the Kurupukari Falls alike.
15. Anna Regina
Indelibly clean and well-to-do, Anna Regina is a patchwork of whitewashed garden fences, pristine frontispieces and sun-splashed streets.
Fruit vendors line the roadways touting tangerines and mangos, while the Damon Monument – the town’s main historical attraction – pays homage to the martyred slave rebel who helped with revolts in Essequibo during the first half of the 19th century.
Anna Regina is also the base for hitting the resorts around Mainstay Lake, where charming cottages abut the water and mix with the earthy villages of indigenous Arawak folk beneath a canopy of palms.