From Parika there is a vehicle ferry up the Essequibo River to Bartica on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, returning next day, US$1.50 one way. The 58 kilometre journey takes six hours, stopping at Fort Island; small boats come out from riverside settlements to load up with fruit.
On Fort Island is a Dutch fort (built 1743, restored by Raleigh International in 1991) and the Dutch Court of Policy, built at the same time. There is also a small village; the rest of the island is dairy farms. Speedboats do the journey at any time, US$4.25 per person, 1-2 hours, depending on horsepower.
Bartica, at the junction of the Essequibo and Mazaruni rivers, is the ‘take-off’ town for the gold and diamond fields, Kaieteur Falls, and the interior generally. Opposite Bartica, at the mouth of the Mazaruni, is Kaow Island, with a lumber mill. The stelling (wharf) and market in Bartica are very colourful. Bars flank the main street; Crystal Crest has a huge sound system and will play requests. Easter regatta, mostly power boats. A good boatman and guide is B Balkarran, 2 Triangle St, T2544.
The Essequibo is navigable to large boats for some miles upstream Bartica. The Cuyuni flows into the Mazaruni three miles above Bartica, and above this confluence the Mazaruni is impeded for 190 kilometres by thousands of islands, rapids and waterfalls. To avoid this stretch of treacherous river a road has been built from Bartica to Issano, where boats can be taken up the more tranquil upper Mazaruni.
At the confluence of the Mazaruni and Cuyuni rivers are the ruins of the Dutch stronghold Kyk-over-al, once the seat of government for the Dutch county of Essequibo. Nearby are the Marshall Falls (30-60 minutes by boat from Bartica, US$50 per boat, return), which are beautiful, but too dangerous for swimming. You can swim in the nearby bay, part of the Rainbow River Marshall Falls property.
The Kaieteur Falls, on the Potaro River, rank with the Niagara, Victoria, and Iguazú Falls in majesty and beauty, but have the added attraction of being surrounded by unspoilt forest. The Falls, nearly five times the height of Niagara, with a sheer drop of 228 metres, are nearly 100 metres wide. They are unspoilt because of their isolation.
The Kaieteur Falls lie within the Kaieteur National Park, where there is a variety of wildlife: tapirs, ocelots, monkeys, armadillos, anteaters, and jungle and river birds. At the Falls themselves, one can see the magnificent silver fox, often near the rest house, the cock-of-the-rock and the Kaieteur swift, which lives behind the falls. At dusk the swifts swoop in and out of the gorge before passing through the deluge to roost behind the water. Tiny golden frogs live in the tank bromeliads. Permission to enter the national park must be obtained from the National Parks Commission in Georgetown, T59142 (this is arranged by tour operators). In the dry months, April and October, the flow of the falls is reduced; in January and June/July the flow is fullest, but in June, the height of the wet season, the overland route is impassable.
A trip to the Kaieteur Falls costs US$160 with most operators, minimum five people (can be negotiated lower for larger groups, for example US$135 for nine with Roraima Airways). The trip includes two hours at Kaieteur Falls, two hours at Orinduik Falls, lunch, drinks, park entrance fee and guide; sit on left for best views, take swimming gear. Trips depend on the charter plane being filled; there is normally at least one flight per week. Cancellations only occur in bad weather or if there are insufficient passengers. Operators offering this service are Wilderness Explorers, Wonderland Tours (Richard Ousman), Torang Guyana, Shell Beach Adventures, and Rainforest Tours. To charter a plane privately costs US$1,000 to Kaieteur and Orinduik. Wilderness Explorers and Rainforest Tours in Georgetown offer overland trips to Kaieteur for US$500 for minimum of three people; rate includes all transport, meals, camping gear, guides and flight back to Georgetown.
The Pakaraima Mountains stretch from Kaieteur westwards to include the highest peak in Guyana, Mount Roraima, the possible inspiration for Conan Doyle’s Lost World. Roraima is very difficult to climb from the Guyanese side.
Orinduik Falls are on the Ireng River, which forms the border with Brazil; the river pours over steps and terraces of jasper, with a backdrop of the grass-covered Pakaraima Mountains. There is good swimming at the falls which are a 25-minute flight from Kaieteur. Vincent and Rose Cheong run a tourist shelter and are full of information about the area. Wilderness Explorers offer four trips per year from Orinduik north on the Ireng in dugout canoes with Amerindian guides.
This is an extensive area of dry grassland in the far southwest of Guyana, with scattered trees, termite mounds and wooded hills. The rivers, creeks and ponds, lined with Ite palms and other trees, are good for seeing wildlife. Among a wide variety of birds, look out for macaws, toucan, parrots, parakeets, osprey, hawks and jabiru storks (take binoculars). Many of the animals are nocturnal and seldom seen. The region is scattered with occasional Amerindian villages and a few large cattle ranches which date from the late 19th century: the descendants of some of the Scots settlers still live here. Links with Brazil are much closer than with the Guyanese coast; many people speak Portuguese and most trade is with Brazil.
Avoid visiting the Rupununi in the wet season (mid-May to August) as much of the Savanna is flooded and malaria mosquitoes and kabura/sandflies are widespread. The best time is October to April. River bathing is good, but watch out for the dangerous stingrays and black caiman. Note that a permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs is usually required to visit Rupununi, unless you are going with a tour operator. Check in advance if your passport is sufficient. A separate permit to visit Amerindian villages is needed from the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, office of the President in Georgetown.
(Phone code: 072)
A small but scattered town on the Brazilian frontier, this is the service centre for the Rupununi and for trade with Brazil. There are many small stores, a small hospital (T2006), a police station (T2011) and government offices. A big event at Easter is the rodeo, visited by cowboys from all over the Rupununi. Prices are about twice as high as in Georgetown. About two and a half kilometres south of town at St Ignatius there is a Jesuit mission dating from 1911. In the nearby mountains there is good birdwatching and there are waterfalls to visit.
Annai is a remote Amerindian village in the northern savannas, south of the Iwokrama Rainforest Programme. It is possible to trek over the plains to the Rupununi River, or through dense jungle to the mountains. One-two hours on foot are the villages of Kwatamang and Wowetta where Raleigh International built a Health and Community Resource Centre in 1995. 25 kilometres north of Annai is the Amerindian village of Surama which organizes its own ecotourism activities through the village council and can accommodate guests in the new guest house (E per person, meals extra). Birding (US$6), night trekking (US$9), boating (US$30-60)and Land Rover trips (US$30) arranged; every visitor pays a village fee of US$3. In Georgetown contact Jackie Allicock T65412.
This is a 388,000 hectare project, set up by Guyana and the Commonwealth to conserve about two percent of Guyana’s tropical forest. In addition to conservation, the Programme will involve studies on the sustainable use of the rainforest and ecotourism. It is hoped that the results will provide a database for application worldwide. The Field Station is at Kurukupari, on the northern boundary of the reserve. You can meet research teams, take boat trips and stay at satellite camps deep in the forest (Clearwater on the Burro-burro, Kabocalli and Turtle Mountain on the Essequibo). The wildlife is exceptionally good, including macaws, toucans, black curacow, peccary, howler monkeys and more. It is one of the best places for seeing jaguar in the wild. Fishing is also good, especially for peacock bass. Local guides escort visitors through the forest on many trails. One goes to Turtle Mountain (45 minutes by boat, one and a half hours’ walk), go early for great views of the forest canopy. Another trek is to the top of Mount Iwokrama, a difficult 20 kilometre round trip; for the less fit there is a 10 kilometre trail to the foot of the mountain to a pleasant stream and Amerindian petroglyphs. There are set rates for boat and Land Rover use and for field assistants to accompany you. Tourists stay in simple cabins at the Field Station, paying a fee for the bed and a user fee. For charges, which change frequently, contact The Administrator, Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, 67 Bel Air, Georgetown, PO Box 10630, T0251504, F59199. All meals cost US$5 (beer is sold at the shop on Martin’s Island).
The Takutu River separates Lethem from Bonfim in Brazil. The crossing is about 1.6 kilometres north of Lethem (taxis, or pickups, US$2) and two and a half kilometres from Bonfim. Small boats ferry foot passengers (US$0.50); vehicles cross by pontoon, or can drive across in the dry season. Formalities are generally lax on both sides of the border, but it is important to observe them as people not having the correct papers may have problems further into either country. All procedures for exit and entry are carried out at the police station, on the left as you approach the crossing. There is also immigration at Lethem airport. Buses from Bonfim to Boa Vista (Brazil) about six a day, two and a half hours, US$6; colectivos charge US$18.