Any trip to Guyana is a real adventure. This Guyana travel guide from my friend Giulia Cimarosti will help you plan an epic journey to this unexplored country.
If you’re looking to explore WAY off the beaten path, Guyana might just be your answer.
As Guyana has yet to be discovered by mass tourism, every trip here feels like a real adventure. Most of the mountains haven’t been climbed. Most of the rainforests haven’t been explored. And most of its savannahs haven’t been trampled upon. And while tourism infrastructure is lacking and internet and ATMs scarce, Guyana travel will make you feel like a pioneer.
I’m one of the lucky few who have had the chance to travel Guyana. My 10-day adventure in Guyana took me deep into its wild interior — hiking through its virgin rainforests, riding through the savannah on horseback, sleeping under the stars and kayaking down the meandering rivers. Guyana impressed me with its unparalleled wildlife opportunities and pristine, virgin wilderness. Every bit of it was well worth the mud, bumpy roads and sweat.
Table of Contents
- Guyana Travel
- Where is Guyana?
- How to Travel to Guyana
- Guyana Visa & Permits
- Language/People in Guyana
- When to Travel Guyana
- How Much time to Travel Guyana?
- How to Get Around Guyana
- Independent Travel or Guided Tour?
- Where to Go in Guyana
- Where to Stay in Guyana
- What to Eat in Guyana
- Health and Hygiene in Guyana
- Internet and Phone in Guyana
- Is it Safe to Travel Guyana?
- What to Pack for Guyana
Where is Guyana?
Guyana is located in the northeast part of South America, sharing borders with Venezuela to the northwest, Brazil to the southwest, and Suriname to the east. Guyana also has the Atlantic Ocean to the north. 90% of its population lives on the coast.
The word “Guyana” comes from an indigenous Amerindian language and means “land of many waters”. It’s easy to guess why: the country is home to many rivers, the main ones being the Essequibo the Corentyne, the Berbice and the Demerara.
80% of the country is covered in mostly unexplored rainforest. Flying over Guyana reveals an untouched, pristine land with many waterfalls and a thick jungle spreading in every direction, including upwards on wonderful mountains such as Mount Roraima on the border with Venezuela and Brazil.
However, Guyana may be physically on the South American mainland — it is much more similar to the nearby island nations of the Caribbean like Trinidad and Tobago with respect to culture. In fact, Guyana is considered a Caribbean country even though it is not an island nation located in the Caribbean Sea.
How to Travel to Guyana
The most common way to reach Guyana is to fly. The Cheddi Jagan International Airport is located just 25 miles (41 km) away from Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. There are direct flights from the USA, with Caribbean Airlines being the main airline covering the area.
Flights from New York to Georgetown are direct, and cost around US$700 return. There are no direct flights from Los Angeles to Georgetown; you’ll have to transit in Panama City and flights usually cost around US$900 return. Flying from Europe to Georgetown will actually cost around the same, at around $900 return. You will have to fly via New York.
It is possible to cross the border from Suriname and Brazil to Guyana, but they are all located in remote areas of these countries.
From Suriname, there are minibuses from Paramaribo to South Drain in western Suriname, just across the river from Guyana. The trip takes at least 3 hrs and costs US$15. From there, you will go through customs on the Suriname side then take the 11am daily ferry across the river to South Drain. The ferry takes only 30 minutes.
From Brazil, the only official border crossing is along the Takatu River, between Bonfim in Brazil and Lethem in Guyana. The Takatu Bridge only opened in 2009 and it incorporates a unique design that actually transfers drivers to the opposite side of the road while crossing over the Takatu River. This forms the border as in Guyana you drive on the left; in Brazil you drive on the right.
Funny fact: Guyana drives on the left and Brazil on the right. Imagine the confusion when we reached Lethem, the gateway to the savannah in the Rupununi region, right on the border with Brazil, where vehicles from both countries were circulating at the same time. Our convoy in the savannah also had 1 right hand drive jeep and 1 left hand drive pickup.
There are no road links between Venezuela and Guyana at the moment.
Guyana Visa & Permits
It’s surprisingly easy to enter Guyana for those from the USA, EU and UK as no visa is needed. You will just need your passport to be valid for at least 6 months, which will be stamped on arrival. A single-entry tourist visa is valid for 1 month.
To see if you you need a tourist visa to enter Guyana, please refer to this page.
Of course in case you are flying to Guyana via the USA, you will need to apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) which normally takes just a few hours to be accepted. It’s always better to do it in advance, i.e. at least 72 hours before departure. It costs only US$14.
Please bear in mind that a vaccination for yellow fever is compulsory to be admitted to Guyana so don’t forget to bring your vaccination records with you.
Language/People in Guyana
Guyana is the only country in South America, where English is the official language. It comes as a surprise to many, including myself! This definitely makes traveling here much easier than you’d imagine.
The Guyanese speak mainly Guyanese Creole — which is actually an English-based creole with African and East Indian syntax. The native Amerindian minority also speak a number of Amerindian languages such as Macushi, Akawaio and Wai-Wai.
Guyana is a diverse nation: 39.8% of the population is of East Indian origin, 30% Black African, 19.9% multiracial, 10.5% Amerindian and 0.5% other, mostly Chinese and whites (most notably Portuguese). As mentioned, Guyana is more similar to the Caribbean to South America — and this is reflected in its people and their culture.
When to Travel Guyana
The weather is always hot and humid in Guyana. It is rain – or lack thereof – which makes the difference. Roads can get really muddy and traveling becomes very hard if not impossible or at least frustrating to say the least.
Also, if you’re planning to travel in the wilderness, imagine camping under the rain. Rivers also grow and kayaking becomes more dangerous. In any case if you are planning to spend time outside of the capital Georgetown make sure you travel during the dry season.
How Much time to Travel Guyana?
As with everywhere you go, this really depends on what you plan to do. This was a 10-day trip, though we spent two days getting to Guyana. We had eight intense days with many activities packed into them. If we had more time, I would have definitely extended my stay and spent more time both camping in the savannah and living the ranch life in the Rupununi region.
There are people who spend up to 2 weeks just camping in the savannah, moving to different spots during the day and setting up camps before it gets dark every day. Others travel to Guyana to climb a mountain and have to wait for the right conditions to get up there.
In any case a single entry tourist visa allows you to stay up to 1 month and if you wish to experience the adventurous side of the country and relax a little bit, I would say 1 month is an ideal amount of time. Alternatively, you can consider 2 weeks minimum to experience a little bit of everything without rushing too much.
Our itinerary was adventure oriented and included:
- 1 day to gear up and get ready for the trip.
- 2 days camping in the savannah, moving with ATVs and 4x4s vehicles through the savannah all day long to camp in different spots each night.
- 2 days at Saddle Mountain Ranch where we went horseback riding twice a day and experienced the ranch life – and delicious food!
- 1 day at Kaieteur waterfalls, probably the most famous landmark in Guyana.
- 2 days in Georgetown, the capital city, to have a boat trip on the river and explore the city center, its market and again lots of delicious food.
Total = 8 days + 2 of travel.
How to Get Around Guyana
It is pretty easy to get around in Georgetown, with many different taxi companies which are also reasonably cheap. Drivers tend to be reckless so don’t panic or try not to! Sometimes traffic can get bad, especially at rush hour. We actually got a police escort in order to reach the Eugene F. Correira International Airport on time and not miss our internal flight from Georgetown to Lethem!
Moving around the country however is a different story. Roads are not in good conditions and it takes an incredible amount of time and dust in your lungs to move around. Renting a car is definitely not recommended as it isn’t easy to drive around Guyana.
The most popular way to travel around Guyana is flying with domestic airlines, such as Air Guyana, Golden Arrow Airways, Jags Aviation, Laparkan Airlines, Roraima Airways and Trans Guyana Airways and Air Services Limited. Airfares are fairly pricey. For instance, a flight from Georgetown to Lethem of about 1 hour will cost around US$150.
The above mentioned airlines have small planes which allow a limited amount of luggage per person so make sure you check all conditions before making a reservation on their websites.
Independent Travel or Guided Tour?
If you are planning to explore the savannah and/or jungle, you will need to have a guide and appropriate vehicles provided by a local agency. This kind of trip is not doable on your own so an expert guide is a must. From my personal experience, I can definitely recommend Bushmasters, a British adventure outfitter. I also heard of other operators such as Wilderness Explorers and Evergreen Adventures, but I can’t vouch for them since I haven’t traveled with them.
The only part of Guyana you can easily travel independently is Georgetown – the capital city. From there, you can fly to the Kaieteur waterfalls for a day trip. The return trip is normally less than US$200 per person.
As for renting a car and driving on your own, it IS possible to do so but you will need good equipment such as satellite connection because there is no coverage in many areas of the country. You don’t want to be in trouble on the way and have no way to look for help. That said, renting a car in Guyana is possible however you won’t easily find listings online. Again you will have to contact local agencies.
Moving around with public transportation – i.e. from Georgetown to Lethem via 12-seater minibuses – is also possible albeit very uncomfortable (I am quoting a local!) and again you will need to check directly at the central bus station in the Stabroek Market area to see what is available and when.
Where to Go in Guyana
80% of Guyana is covered in rainforest, but this doesn’t mean there is little to see and do. On the contrary, there are plenty of things you can see and explore, and you’ll be one of the first lucky ones to do so. Tourism in Guyana is still in its infancy so now it’s the right time to go!
Here are some of the highlights of Guyana:
The Rupununi Region is on the western part of Guyana, close to the border with Brazil. We flew from Georgetown to Lethem, the main gateway to Rupunui, to meet our guide and start our journey into the heart of the savannah. Here you can wander for days on ATVs and 4×4 vehicles, camping in a different spot every night. Ideally by a creek where you will take a pleasant bath before dinner!
The scenery is impressive: the landscape goes from dry to lush depending on how close is the nearest river. There are a few mountains, completely covered in rainforest, home to large mammals such as pumas and jaguars, as well as countless species of insects, spiders and birds. One very easy to spot animal in the area is the giant anteater.
One of the mountains of southern Rupununi is called Saddle Mountain because of its shape. At its feet lies the Saddle Mountain Ranch where we spent 2 days. This place has no electricity but there are generators. At dawn and sunrise you will have the most memorable horseback riding excursions of your life, crossing creeks and cantering through the savannah.
Other activities at the ranch include practicing lassoing and assist the tenors in the branding and castration of calves and bulls. I didn’t do that and preferred to enjoy the delicious food prepared by the women in the house, all prepared with fresh foods from the ranch.
Because there are so many rivers in the area, another activity that you can do in the Rupununi region is kayaking, and we did so on the Takutu River in order to reach Lethem on our way back from the wilderness.
In northern Rupununi, there are a few nice hikes including Awarmie Mountain Hike and Surama Mountain Hike. Both of them will take you through the jungle. The Iwokrama hike will lead you on the treetops through a canopy walkway.
For the bravest traveler, it is also possible to have a survival trip in the jungle. Ask Bushmasters for more information.
The Kaieteur Waterfalls are probably the most famous site in Guyana. Every traveler visiting the country will go to Kaieteur at some point, so you can expect to meet a few more tourists here than everywhere else. In our case, we met zero tourists everywhere else, and maybe 4 or 5 at Kaieteur.
The Kaieteur Waterfalls are located in the Potaro-Siparuni region of Guyana. The main waterfall is the highest single drop waterfall in the world, with 226 m of height. It is located in the Potaro River, in the Kaieteur National Park.
To reach the Kaieteur Waterfalls, you’ll need to fly there with one of the domestic airlines. For instance, Air Services Limited provides four scheduled tours per week to the Kaieteur Falls for just about US$145 per person. For more info, refer to this page.
Georgetown and its Surroundings
Georgetown is the capital of Guyana and has a population of about 120,000 people. The cultural mix in the city is really interesting. The locals say there are 7 ethnic groups living in Guyana: East Indian (yes, from India!), African, Amerindian, European, Portuguese (considered as a different race), Chinese and the “mixed race”. You can therefore imagine the variety of foods, religions, clothing styles, architecture and so on.
The city center offers different sights such as St George’s Cathedral, Stabroek Market, the Parliament, and the central park with manatees in its ponds (?!). There’s also the “1763 Monument” dedicated to the slaves revolt, and the seafront which is located 2 meters below sea level and therefore protected by concrete barriers built by the Dutch. Interesting, right?
More activities in the capital city include visiting the El Dorado rum distillery and getting lost in the colorful street markets. I also recommend taking a boat trip on the Essequibo River to discover Guyana’s history through forts, mines and historical buildings.
Where to Stay in Guyana
There is a huge difference between hotels in Georgetown and in other areas of the country. In the capital city, there are all kinds of accommodations such as bed & breakfasts, hostels and hotels of all categories.
In other towns such as Lethem, you will find hotels but they will be small-scale. Don’t expect to find luxury chains or anything like that. In more isolated places, like the savannah and the jungle, the only available options will be either to camp under the stars or to stay in lodges.
Here are the places we stayed at in Guyana that are worth checking out:
Roraima Duke Lodge, Georgetown
We stayed at the Roraima Duke Lodge on our first in Georgetown. They have a swimming pool, huge rooms – ours had 2 double beds – with big showers, good wifi and good food with an restaurant. There is also an outside bar area which is more informal.
The King’s Hotel, Georgetown
We stayed at King’s Hotel on our last few nights in Guyana. This was the best hotel we stayed at, modern, with a sleek style, comfortable and with an excellent location. At King’s Hotel, the wifi speed was excellent. Rooms are huge and everything is clearly recently renovated. The only downside of our room was that it didn’t have a window!
This hotel is very well known in the city because of its fine dining restaurant. The food there was simply amazing. A real treat at the end of an adventurous trip!
Takutu Hotel, Lethem
We stayed at the Takutu Hotel the night before starting our savannah adventure and it was the perfect place to enjoy all comforts for the “last time”: air-con, wifi working fairly well, delicious food and friendly staff. Rooms were clean, basic but equipped with a minibar, soap bars, towels and a mosquito net.
The hotel is located on one of the main roads in Lethem and has a popular bar outside to enjoy fresh juices and local beer. You may want to leave a clean outfit here for when you come back. You will thank me later!
Saddle Mountain Ranch, South Rupununi
The Saddle Mountain Ranch is a place where we all left a piece of our heart. It is an actual ranch where people live taking care of cattle and horses, goats and hens, cats and dogs, and so on.
At Saddle Mountain you can experience the real ranch life, feeling like a cowboy at sundown and sunset, cantering on your horse in spectacular landscapes, with Saddle Mountain always in sight. Other activities include practicing your lassoing skills, helping with the castration and branding of calves (a big no no for me personally but hey, that’s life in rural Guyana), enjoying the delicious food cooked by the women of the ranch with fresh products from the property. At the ranch you will also learn everything about the Rupununi Rodeo which takes place in April every year and attracts visitor from Guyana and abroad too.
The ranch doesn’t have windows, door keys or electricity, but it has running water and comfy beds and hammocks, where you can sleep in total peace only to be woken up at dawn by cockerels!
Well, there is no exact name for the places where we slept in the savannah but we were guided by Ian at Bushmasters who found the perfect spot to camp every night. It was always near a creek where we went swimming before dinner time.
In order to set up our tent, we were given a machete to clear up some space. When we first went to “bed”, it felt really hot — but at some point during the night I really enjoyed my warm sleeping bag! The hammocks were surprisingly comfortable. The trick is to sleep in a diagonal manner so that the hammock will be flat and your back will thank you.
What to Eat in Guyana
Guyana was such a wonderful surprise, including from the culinary point of view! Guyanese food is simply delicious and the mixed cultures create so many options. Spicy sauces are really popular in Guyana and you will find a whole area for them in supermarkets. You can expect every meal to be served with spicy sauces on the side.
The best breakfast we had was in Georgetown, where we had an African mix of veggies and roots locally called “provision” and Indian roti on the side. All that with a delicious fruit juice on the side and coffee, which is also really good in Guyana. We were told that coffee and coconut are often grown in the same soil so you can imagine the incredible mix of tastes!
Here are some of the typical foods you will find in Guyana:
Cassava is a root that is largely used for many different dishes in Guyana. For instance you will find cassava bread, cassava chips and especially cassava farine – with a texture similar to cous cous, served with stews and/or mixed vegetables.
Pepperpot is a very tasty stewed meat dish. It’s made with beef, pork or mutton, but also with chicken. Spices used for pepperpot include cinnamon, cassareep (spicy sauce made with cassava) and hot peppers.
- Cook up rice
Another really typical dish in Guyana is cook up rice. It’s served as a side dish with stew or even chickpeas which are really popular in the country. Cook up rice is cooked with black eyed peas, chicken, beef or pork, onion, garlic, scallion, thyme, bay leaf, pepper, chicken broth, coconut milk, oil and water.
- Vegetarian food
As a vegetarian, I think vegetarian food in Guyana deserves a mention. There are so many vegetarian options and it’s never seen as an hassle or frowned upon. The Indian population here is very familiar with vegetarian and vegan foods so they’re always happy to prepare something for vegetarians! An example? Curry eggs for breakfast, with rice on the side.
Health and Hygiene in Guyana
You’ll need the yellow fever vaccination to enter the country. It has to be done at least 10 days before the trip and doesn’t expire (it used to expire after 10 years but not anymore). That said, here are other useful tips concerning health and hygiene in Guyana.
The inland area of Guyana is a malaria-infected zone (not the coastal areas) but prophylaxis isn’t all too effective, since there are too many types of malaria here. Don’t forget to bring your bug spray, cover your arms and legs, use mosquito nets to sleep and so on, in order to avoid mosquito bites as much as possible. You will get bitten by so many different bugs, that is for sure.
Georgetown has a public hospital and many private clinics. In the rest of the country, it’ll be difficult to get access to any sort of healthcare. So try not to hurt yourself or you will need to call a helicopter or private plane – also, don’t forget to buy a good travel insurance before the trip!
Don’t forget to bring Imodium, paracetamol, rehydration salts, plasters and disinfectant, antihistamines and sunscreen. Lots of it. In general, do your best to stay hydrated in the scorching heat and drink a lot of purified water (no tap water). Don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun, or you will get really badly burnt.
Internet and Phone in Guyana
Outside of the main cities, internet and phones don’t work. You may want to get a Guyanese SIM card but what you really need is a satellite connection if you’re planning to leave the city. This is another excellent reason why travelling with a local agency is a good idea. You won’t need to rent a satellite antenna which can be expensive, and you can rely on the service provided on the tour like we did thanks to the Inmarsat system.
On the other hand, guesthouses and hotels always have fairly good wifi so you can expect to upload your photos and send your messages when you reach some major cities or towns. Bear in mind though that rural villages don’t even have electricity so don’t expect wifi to be available everywhere.
Is it Safe to Travel Guyana?
Statistically, the crime rate in Guyana is quite high especially when it comes to armed robberies in the main cities. However, I never felt in danger at any moment during our trip. This doesn’t mean that we weren’t aware of the situation. We just stuck to basic safety rules. Also, being escorted by local guides definitely helped.
Regular safety rules apply: don’t walk alone at night in secluded areas of the city including the sea front. Don’t flash your cameras, expensive clothes, money and jewellery. To get around the city, ask the front desk at your hotel to call a taxi for you. They are cheap and reliable. Also, it is said that public minibuses are often involved in car crashes.
Drug trafficking is a serious thing in Guyana and drugs are something you must avoid at all costs. If caught with drugs you risk a minimum of 3 years in jail, so don’t do drugs in Guyana. Or at all, anywhere, anytime, which is even better!
Homosexuality in Guyana is formally illegal, but laws are not actually implemented. We even saw some pro-LGBTIQ community posters around Georgetown and we were told that there has been no record of violence or harassment towards members of the LGBTIQ community. I would still be extra cautious, of course depending on the situation.
What to Pack for Guyana
Guyana is always hot and humid. You won’t need jackets or anything heavy, except maybe a sweater for the flight. If you are planning to have an adventurous trip like ours, make sure you pack the following essential items. Here’s a complete Guyana packing list.
1. Long sleeved moisture wicking t-shirts: These are essential for your days in the jungle and savannah. They will protect you from mosquitos and the sun. Try to avoid white fabrics as you will look really dirty! Darker colors conceal the dirt much better. Yes you can wash your clothes in the creek every night, but stains will stay.
2. Quick-dry pants: Bring at least two pairs of comfy trousers. Quicky-dry and lightweight hiking trousers are the best options as they are comfortable, breathable and easy to wash and dry. Same thing applies for colors: keep them dark, so nobody needs to know you’re dirty!
3. Jeans: I would usually never recommend carrying jeans when traveling, especially since it’s really hot in Guyana. But if you are planning to ride horses as we did, you will need jeans. They are thicker than regular pants; so the saddle and stirrups won’t be too hard on your skin.
4. Hiking shoes: Make sure you bring some comfortable and light hiking shoes. Some say high ankle boots are better as they protect you from mosquito bites and keep your ankles safe. Others say low ankle shoes are better as it gets too hot otherwise. I say anything works as long as your shoes are comfortable and sturdy enough to protect you when you drive the ATV or walk in thick, high grass which can get very sharp.
5. Knee-high socks: High, lightweight socks will be more effective against mosquitoes and to keep circulation at its best, given the heat and the long hours standing/hiking.
6. Head torch: A head torch with red light (which doesn’t attract bugs) is ideal and will be of great help both when camping and at the ranch, where you don’t always have electricity.
7. A shemagh or keffiyeh scarf: Having a thin scarf will help you keep the dust off your hair, nose and mouth while driving the ATV, and in general the dusty environment of the savannah. Also, it will protect your hair from the sun according to the way you wear it.
8. Sports sandals: After a full day in the heat, you will enjoy letting your feet breathe a little in your sandals. Your feet will thank you!
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