Phoning from USA to Georgetown: 011-592+ 2 + five digits
Georgetown Guyana’s capital, and chief town and port, is on the east bank of the mouth of the Demerara river. The climate is tropical, with a mean temperature of 27°C, but the trade winds provide welcome relief. The city is built on a grid plan, with wide tree-lined streets and drainage canals following the layout of the old sugar estates. Parts of the city are very attractive, with white-painted wooden 19th century houses raised on stilts and a profusion of flowering trees. In the evening the sea wall is crowded with strollers and at Easter it is a mass of colourful kites.
Although part of the old city centre was destroyed by fire in 1945, there are some fine 19th century buildings, particularly on or near High Street and the Avenue of the Republic. St George’s Anglican Cathedral, which dates from 1889 (consecrated 1894), is 44 metres high and is reputed to be the tallest wooden building in the world (it was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield). Above the altar is a chandelier given by Queen Victoria. The Gothic-style City Hall dates from 1888; its interior has been recently restored and may be viewed. Other fine buildings on High Street are the City Engineer’s Office, the Victoria Law Courts (1887) and the Magistrate’s Court. The Public Buildings, on Brickdam, which house Parliament, are an impressive neo-classical structure built in 1839.
Opposite, is St Andrew’s Presbytery (18th century). State House on Main St is the residence of the president. Much of the city centre is dominated by the imposing tower above Stabroek market (1880). At the head of Brickdam is an aluminium arch commemorating independence. Nearby is a monument to the 1763 slave rebellion, surmounted by an impressive statue of Cuffy, its best-known leader. Near Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel on Seawall Rd is the Umana Yana, a conical thatched structure built by a group of Wai Wai Amerindians using traditional techniques for the 1972 conference of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The National Museum, opposite the post office, houses an idiosyncratic collection of exhibits from Guyana and elsewhere, including a model of Georgetown before the 1945 fire and a good natural history section on the top floor. (0900-1700 Monday-Friday, 0900-1200 Saturday. Free). The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, opposite Park Hotel on Main St, has a collection of Amerindian artefacts (closed mid-1999).
The Botanical Gardens (20 minutes’ walk from Anglican Cathedral, entry free), covering 50 hectares, have Victorian bridges and pavilions, palms and lily-ponds (undergoing continual improvements). The gardens are safe in daylight hours, but keep to the marked paths. Do not go to the gardens after dark. Near the southwest corner is the former residence of the President, Castellani House, which now houses the National Art Collection (closed for renovation, mid-1999), and there is also a large mausoleum containing the remains of the former president, Forbes Burnham, which is decorated with reliefs depicting scenes from his political career. Look out for the rare cannonball tree (Couroupita Guianensis), named after the appearance of its poisonous fruit. The zoo (poor condition but being upgraded) has a collection of local animals including manatees in ponds. The zoo also boasts a breeding centre for endangered birds which are released into the wild. (0800-1800, US$0.30 for adults, half-price for children; to use personal video US$14.50). There are also beautiful tropical plants in the Promenade Gardens (frequently locked) on Middle St and in the National Park on Carifesta Ave. The National Park has a good public running track.
The Georgetown Cricket Club at Bourda has one of the finest cricket grounds in the tropics. Near the southeast corner of the Botanic Gardens is a well-equipped National Sports Centre. Nearby is the Cultural Centre, an impressive air-conditioned theatre with a large stage. Performances are also given at the Playhouse Theatre in Parade St.
Despite being located on the Atlantic, Georgetown, capital of Guyana, is known as the ‘Garden City of the Caribbean’. This gives some idea of the country’s orientation, in trade and cultural terms. The coast, where most of the population live, is a strange mix of coconut palms and calypso music, Dutch place names and techniques for draining the land, Hindu temples and Islamic mosques, all of which reflect the chequered history of the country. The thinly-populated interior is different again, with life revolving around the rivers through the tropical forest, or, further south, the scattered ranches of the Rupununi Savanna.
The main tourist potential is in the largely untouched interior, where places of interest are so spread out that they are best reached by river boat or plane. Highlights include the Kaieteur Falls, among the highest in the world, the Orinduik Falls on the border with Brazil, the Iwokrama Rain Forest Programme, and travelling on any of the rivers. On the coast there are no beaches for bathing, but in the far northwest is Shell Beach, a protected area for marine turtles and birdlife.