Located at the top of South America, Guyana is a rich and diverse country that is one of the great pleasures of the Latin Caribbean region.
For such a small nation, Guyana is host to a variety of cultures: African, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, and Amerindian. Nine indigenous tribes call the region home, including the two major Amerindian tribes of Lokono and Kalina. The languages spoken throughout Guyana are first and foremost English and Creole, with others being Amerindian, Chinese, Hindi, and Tamil.
Guyana is one of the few countries in the world where different religions peacefully coexist. Walk down any street, and you’ll hear a call to prayer from a mosque, gospel songs spilling from a church, and the beats of a tabla from a Hindu temple.
While the south brings out more South American ways of life, the northern region of the country is distinctly Caribbean. Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, is an eclectic and bustling colonial coastal city. Its city life draws in tourists from across the globe to admire its Victorian architecture in the day and dance to soca, chutney, dancehall and more at night. Stabroek Market is one of the best outdoor markets in the region selling everything from jewelry to produce, and you can find delectable dishes such as curry and roti and pholourie at one of the many food stalls lining the streets. A seawall runs throughout the city that is host to many celebrations during the year.
But don’t let Georgetown define what it means to be in Guyana. With dense forests dotting the landscape at every turn, there’s an opportunity for raw adventures the likes of which is rare in the world today. Away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, there are tremendous opportunities to view wildlife. You can see the sea turtle nesting grounds up and down the northern coast, while the south has opportunities to ride with cowboys at one of the numerous ranches. Moving inland from the coast, you will encounter a distinctly Amazonian feel, with traditional Amerindian communities still thriving throughout.
While Christopher Columbus is believed to have first set his eyes on Guyana back in 1498, it is the Dutch that established its first colonies. They would do so in 1616, 1627, and 1752 before the British finally took control of the nation in 1796, with the Dutch formally ceding the land to them back in 1814. By 1831, there were still three distinct and separate colonies but eventually merged into one single British colony.
In 1838, some Indians from the lower caste of indentured servants relocated from the Indian villages over to Guyana. It was then that they began to mix with broader Guyanese society—many who were former slaves brought by the Dutch from Africa—and now make up roughly 50 percent of the population.
Despite numerous challenges lodged by Venezuela in international court that they were the rightful owners of Guyana, Great Britain would maintain control over the region until 1966. On May 26th of that year, Guyana achieved its formal independence from the United Kingdom. They would then become a republic in early 1970 and remain a member of the Commonwealth.
Guyana formed two political parties during this transition: the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNP). Afro-Guyanese Forbes Burnham from the PNP became the country’s first president, and his regime lasted until the mid-80’s. Indo-Guyanese Cheddi Jagan from the PPP became president in 1992. After he died of a heart attack five years later, his wife, Chicago-born Janet Jagan, assumed the role. Janet Jagan is the first American woman to become president of a country. After Jagan resigned due to ill health in 1999, three presidents have since followed: Bharrat Jagdeo, Donald Ramotar, and currently, David Granger.
Those who are fortunate to travel to Guyana are greeted by a landscape ripe with virgin rainforests the likes of which simply are not seen in many locations on the face of the earth today. The mere fact that modern infrastructure is often lacking in Guyana compared to the rest of the region is perhaps its most appealing attribute to those seeking an authentic ecotourism experience. Because these areas have remained largely untouched, they are home to some of the rarest animals and plants in the world.
All-inclusive tours are the way to go, as this is the best way to get into the interior and see the rainforest in all of its splendor. This is also how you can stay for a night in a traditional Amerindian village, and gaze upon pastures where you can participate in an animal safari. You might get lucky and see such unique creatures as giant anteaters, harpy eagles, jaguars, arapaima, otters, black caiman, and so much more that you likely never thought you would ever be able to encounter up close.
The culture has been largely untouched by the outside world for thousands of years, so one can experience life as it was long before history even revealed Guyana to us in the first place. The beauty of the tourist experience here is the lack of people. You are likely to encounter only a few other tourists during your time in the rainforest, and this is by design. As a part of the concern ecotourism policy implemented by Guyana, the goal is to keep the region as pristine and raw as it has been for millennia.
Visiting here is an opportunity to connect with nature and disconnect from the modern world. You will get dirty. There will be mud, bumpy roads, and large swaths of greenery that have been untouched for many years. There are no ATMs—but it’s not like the Amerindians would accept your money anyway. This type of old-fashioned adventure might not be for everyone, but it certainly is the experience of a lifetime if you have it in you.