Guyana is truly an under-the-radar travel destination. Even some of the most well-traveled folks haven't been — or know it exists. But slowly, that's changing. American Airlines flies to Georgetown from Miami and will be expanding its service there, as well as adding nonstop flights from New York's JFK airport in December. The country is also hoping to lure flights on JetBlue; the airline is rumored to begin flights there from New York City in early 2020.
This tiny country in South America borders Suriname in the east; Brazil on the south and southwest; Venezuela in the west; and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Ninety percent of the population lives in or near the capital of Georgetown, where visitors fly into. However, the treasure lies in the outlying areas, which is made up of savannahs, rainforests, and tons of wildlife. Here, there are more than 900 species of birds, along with jaguars, giant anteaters, the endangered Black Caiman crocodile, and Arapaima gigas (also known as pirarucu), the largest scaled freshwater fish.
The name Guyana comes from the Arawak dialect, which means land of many waters; and the moniker holds up. Waterways and waterfalls, including Kaieteur Falls — one of the tallest and most powerful waterfalls in the world — can be found here. But, don’t come in search of turquoise beaches. Instead, you’ll find rivers and creeks for cooling off, which is much-needed when the sun is strong and the temperature averages 75 to 87 degrees.
Here’s our guide to Guyana, along with eight of the best things to do.
Visit Bourda Market
Although there's nothing glamorous about Georgetown, the city is packed with personality. Start with a trip to the Bourda Market, where you'll find blocks of vendors that sell everything from passion fruit and papaya to meats and fish. You can find cleaning supplies, toiletries, and fabric, as well. While most people take in the market on foot, you can also peruse via car (someone will pop right over to take your order). Additionally, plan a visit to Stabroek Market, where you can take a break from traditional shopping and take respite at the rum shop. Even in the morning hours, you’ll find locals throwing back Banks beer, sipping rum, and playing pool. For accommodations, consider the stylish King’s Hotel and Residences or Cara Lodge (both properties are under $150 per night).
Birdwatch in the Botanical Gardens
Serious birders know that Guyana is a mecca when it comes to spotting the rarest species. And even the uninitiated will find themselves smitten over the colorful and varied species that call the country home, including the white- chested emerald, blood-colored woodpecker, great horned owl, wing-barred seedeater, and green ibis. While birds are the main attraction, the lush and tropical flora and fauna are pretty magnificent, too (the Botanical Garden is famous for its palms and lilies). Additionally, the park is home to the Guyana Zoo, where you’ll find jaguars, pumas, otters, monkeys, sloths, manatees, anacondas, rattlesnakes, and more. Free admission.
Explore the National Park, Georgetown
Check out the wildlife at the National Park, located in Georgetown. Here, you can pick up grass from the ground to feed the endangered West Indian manatees. They are enormous, yet friendly — simply dangle some grass, and you’ll soon have them rising from the water to show appreciation. You’ll also find soccer fields, a YMCA (which is over 100 years old), and several monuments that commemorate the nation’s history. Admission is free, but there is a donation box inside.
Take in the History
St. George’s Cathedral is one of the tallest free-standing wooden buildings in the world, and is certainly worth a visit. The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology showcases artifacts and life of the Amerindians. Other historic points of interest include the National Library of Guyana, Georgetown City Hall, the High Court (also known as Victoria Law Courts because of the Queen Victoria statue that's located in front of the buildings), and St. Andrew's Kirk (the oldest building in Georgetown; it’s continuously used for religious purposes).
Stop in the Backyard Café
Don’t leave Georgetown without a stop at the Backyard Café. Chef Delven Adams serves food that’s made with organic and local staples, and one of his specialties is garlic snook (a local fish), served with sides of rice, plantains, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers. Diners also have the opportunity to visit Bourda Market with Adams and help him pick out ingredients for a special meal.
Check into Caiman House
Be prepared: This hotel is rustic, with limited hot water, electricity, modern plumbing, and wifi. But for $115 a night (which includes including three meals per day), you'll feel as if you've stepped back in time--in the very best way. No stay at Caiman House is complete without a night ride to monitor the Black Caiman — a species of large crocodile — which is led by UNESCO researchers. Guests can venture out on the 18-foot aluminum boat and search for crocodiles to tag, weigh, and measure. Though, you should be warned: the scene itself is an eerie one — you’re creeping along the river, with only the light of the moon, as bats swoop by to pluck fish for their supper.
Enjoy an Otter Odyssey
Take the hour-long boat ride to Karanambu Ranch, where husband-and-wife owners Melanie and Edward McTurk are eager to share stories of Guyana’s past and present. Enjoy a Guyanese pepperpot lunch of stewed meat, rice, vegges; wash it down with a rum punch or Banks beer; and admire the large Victoria amazonica lilies, birds, otters, and even piranha. Here, you’ll also find an onsite otter rehab project, where injured or orphaned otters are nursed back to health before being released back into the wild. Guests can watch them during feeding time and at play on the property.
Venture to the Interior
The real adventure begins when you leave the capital city and go to the interior. Once you leave the big city, you can go miles and miles through the savanna without seeing anyone, so it's best to have a guide that will help navigate the region. We recommend organizing a tour with either Wilderness Explorers, Evergreen Adventures, Bushmasters, or Journey Guyana. Alternatively, you can take an hour-long plane ride from Georgetown to Lethem (flights cost around $140), which is part of the Rupununi Savannah. The city is located beside the Takutu River and sits right on the border of Brazil.
Head to Cowboy Country
When you think of Guyana, cowboys probably don’t come to mind—but ranch life is part of the culture here. The Rupununi Rodeo, which takes places around Easter, is arguably the biggest, most exciting celebration of the year (this year, it takes place from April 20 - 21). The rodeo is complete with bull and horse rides, roasted meats, local wines, crafts, and games that include catching a greased pig. If you want to sample the scene, stay at Saddle Mountain Ranch, a working ranch owned by the Kenyon family. Joan is warm and welcoming, husband Tommy entertaining with his jokes, and son Judah is the current Rodeo King. The nightly rate ranges from $68 to $102, and includes three meals and unlimited access to horseback riding and ATVs.