Introduction

A rainforest paradise, Guyana has prioritized ecotourism as a major component of its economy in recent years. Many of Guyana’s offerings hang on the inherent beauty of its natural attractions—an opportunity to experience nature in its raw, primitive state rather than sanitized packaged excursions.

While other Caribbean islands cater to surf and sand, Guyana’s strength lies in its biodiversity. You might find yourself paddling down one of the country’s 32 major rivers and come face to face with a colorful toucan, or be on the open savannah and spy giant anteaters at dawn. Maybe you’ll spot a jaguar while walking in the rainforest—which covers 77% of the country—or be lucky enough to steer a pontoon down waterfall rapids.

It’s not for everyone, but if you take the chance, you won’t be let down.

Guyana Tourism Authority

For the most part, tourism remains run by local people who know the area well in Guyana. To help facilitate further development, the government created the Guyana Tourism Authority in 2002 to raise awareness of tourism in the country as well as ensure that such activities remain sustainable and environmentally sound.

The Guyana Tourism Authority began major initiatives to promote ecotourism in 2012. That year, the Rupununi Region won the Caribbean Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Award.

A program of quality of service improvement has been instituted in the country to help standardize service. Part of this program involves a carbon credit system that asks richer economies to offset the damage caused by gold and diamond mining, so as to preserve the Guyanese rainforest.

Attractions

Guyana’s attractions are delightful but come with the caveat that things might not always run as smoothly. Transportation remains an issue. Sites in the wild can be reached by boat or air, but the last miles cater more to the rugged adventurer.

Still, with the help of tour operators based both in the U.S. and Georgetown, visiting Guyana’s unspoiled land is an opportunity to experience nature in its full glory.

More attractions exist than the following listed, but these are the most developed, popular, and concentrated on at present:

Kaieteur Falls: The world’s largest single drop waterfall, Kaieteur Falls is one of Guyana’s greatest scenic treasures. Mist rises to the top to create a cloud forest that’s home to a diverse biohabitat. Swift birds come back to nest at sunset under the immense curtain of water, making the falls appear even more magical, and tiny golden frogs can be found throughout. An absence of guardrails makes the view even more breathtaking.

Rupununi Region: Known as the Serengeti of South America, the Rupununi’s abundant fish, a variety of wildlife, and bird-watching have led to the development of ecolodges in this region rich with Amerindian heritage. The savannah’s vast woodlands and grasslands contrast with the Kanuku Mountains, across the Rupuni River, which has a diverse bird and mammal population. There are also many trails that have been developed for tourist use.

Mainstay Lake: A journey through roads, rivers, and a floating bridge will lead you to a protected swimming area on a white sand beach, a resort featuring a restaurant with indigenous Guyanese dishes, and a large variety of water sports. Nearby is the Amerindian village of Whayaka, where pineapple farming is common.

Shell Beach: For 90 miles on the northwestern shore between Pomeroon and Waini Rivers exists a beach literally made of tiny shells. In March and July, four sea turtle species come and nest, lay eggs, and take their young back to the ocean.

Bartica and Marshall Falls: The city of Bartica advertises itself as a “Wild West” atmosphere as it serves as a gateway to the interior rainforest where gold and diamond mining is the norm. Nearby Bartica is Marshall Falls, where a speedboat can plunge you swiftly into water rapids surrounded by jungle.

Iwokrama: The Iwokrama Rainforest is home to 800+ species of birds and is considered one of South America’s birdwatching hotspots. A lodge located on the Essequibo River provides many opportunities for water activities, and the Canopy Walkway 30 meters high in the treetops gives you a unique vantage point of the birds and mammals in the area. Currently, three conservation projects are underway in Iwokrama that attract researchers from all over the world.

Impact

With expenditures accounting for an estimated 3.2% of Guyana’s GDP and 8,300 jobs generated so far, tourism drives improvement of the country’s infrastructure. However, constraints still exist.

The lack of development has preserved the attractions and rainforest, yet there’s room for modern ecotourism amenities. For example, most tourists come from the U.S. by air. Possibly adding cruise ships to ports as a stop in the Caribbean may be a way to build tourism income. Most tourists stay in private houses since hotel capacity is limited.

Additionally, more training is needed for staff already in place. Professional marketing campaigns rarely exist. Some ecotourism operations aren’t seen as legitimate. (Guyana, as a country, for one, is still awaiting international certification from The International Ecotourism Society.) All of this can be good opportunities for investors. The future of ecotourism depends on funding, as well as good policy, to sustain it.

What’s more, partnerships between government, the private sector, and universities would also make for a thriving ecotourism industry.

Guyana REDD + Investment Fund and Norway Partnership

One partnership underway is the agreement between Guyana and Norway. Norway financially supports Guyana in its REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) project.

As reported by the Rainforest Alliance and Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, Guyana becomes compensated financially for maintaining its rainforest. This agreement has improved governance of preserving the rainforest while supporting low deforestation, in turn funneling Guyana’s economy to tourism.

The project is implemented by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank as part of the UN Development Programme. A global project, it could serve as a pilot program for other South American countries.