Guyana travel guide
Guyana might not be on everyone’s bucket list, but with its unspoiled rainforests, golden beaches, sweeping savannahs and meandering rivers, this little-known South American nation offers rich rewards for those daring enough to visit.
Wild and welcoming in equal measure, Guyana’s attractions range from the awesome natural splendour of Kaieteur Falls, to the charming, stilted wooden houses of its capital, Georgetown.
Jungle trekking, freshwater fishing and wildlife watching are the big draws, and while few succeed in sighting the country’s famously elusive jaguar’s, nature lovers will have the opportunity to spot giant anteaters, giant otters and, sticking with the supersize theme, arapaima, the world’s largest freshwater fish.
In many ways a trip to Guyana is a jump back in time, a refreshing tonic in a world of instant gratification and constant connectivity. But while the country’s tourist infrastructure is almost non-existent, ATMs scarce and holidaymakers rarer than the wild cats that roam the rainforests, pioneering travellers certainly won’t be left wanting.
One of the few Caribbean countries that is not an island, multicultural Guyana has more in common with the West Indies than it does South America; from the English and Creole spoken on the streets to the curry dishes served on dinner tables.
Guyanese culture and cuisine reflect the ethnic makeup of the country, which consists of Indian, African and European people, who were brought over to the Caribbean by Dutch and British colonialists. There is also a substantial Amerindian population, which distinguishes it from other parts of the Caribbean.
Travellers looking for a destination with a difference, a country well off the tourist trail, will find Guyana a joy to discover. It’s by no means cheap to fly there and exploring the country will require a strong sense of adventure and a willingness to forsake creature comforts. But that’s a small price to pay for what Guyana gives in return.
214,969 sq km (83,000 sq miles).
770,610 (UN estimate 2016).
3.4 per sq km.
President David Granger since 2015.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo since 2015.
110 volts AC in Georgetown and 240 volts AC elsewhere, 50-60Hz. American-style (two flat pins with or without grounding pin) and British-style plugs (three square pins) are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels remain high and police capacity is low. There are regular armed and violent robberies against businesses and individuals. There is a risk of passers-by being caught up in such incidents – the Police tend to respond with firearms if shot at or threatened. At the end of September 2015 armed robbery was up by 3% in comparison to the same period in 2014, and in the same period 114 murders took place (in a country with a population of just over 750,000).
At the end of September 2015 the Guyana police force recorded a 10% increase in serious crimes and a 5% increase in murders compared to the same period in 2014.
Many of the crimes in Guyana are common to countries with wide gaps in wealth and where the perception is that all foreigners are wealthy. Muggings have taken place in broad daylight. Burglary and theft from cars are commonplace. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Try to avoid showing obvious signs of wealth.
Take extra precautions to safeguard your passports, money, tickets, mobile phones and other valuables. Even if you are staying with family, do not leave valuables in view. Keep them somewhere less obvious than your baggage. Use hotel safes if possible. You should be particularly vigilant when leaving local banks to ensure that you are not being followed.
In Georgetown, avoid the Tiger Bay and Albouystown areas and take care in Sophia, all of south Georgetown, Buxton and Agricola. Take particular care in the Stabroek Market area where robberies are a daily occurrence and where in January 2011 there was a grenade explosion which killed 1 person. Avoid walking alone around Georgetown, even in the main areas and don’t walk anywhere at night.
A number of assaults have taken place in the Botanic Gardens. Birding enthusiasts should be particularly vigilant. If possible go with an organised group and avoid taking valuables with you.
If you walk along the sea wall, avoid the more deserted stretches and walk at times when other walkers are most likely to be about (around 5pm to 6pm).
You should take normal precautions. Confirm the local situation in advance, avoid travel after dark, travel in convoy whenever possible and carry a means of communication.
Guyana is vulnerable to flooding. The coast of Guyana is below sea level and protected by a sea defence and dam system. Guyana also experiences heavy rainfall. The main rainy seasons are generally May/June and December/January. Infrastructure, including drainage systems, is poorly maintained.
If possible, avoid travel to and from Georgetown Cheddi Jagan international airport late at night and before dawn. There have been incidents of violence and fatal accidents caused by erratic driving. There have also been incidents of violent theft by gangs who follow cars travelling from the airport, and attack their victims when they reach their final destination. Always drive with windows closed and doors locked.
Driving in Guyana can be dangerous because of poor road sense of road-users, frequent hazards, inadequate lighting and poor road conditions in some areas. Drive defensively and limit driving at night as much as possible. The worst incidents have almost inevitably involved minibuses. When driving at night take extra care to avoid cyclists, pedestrians and animals.
If you’re planning to drive in Guyana, an International Driving Permit is recommended. Alternatively, you can get a local driving permit, valid for 1 month, from the Licence and Revenue Office in Georgetown on submission of a valid British driving licence.
Avoid using minibuses. They are driven dangerously and are responsible for the majority of road accidents in Guyana.
Although some taxis have been the target for robbers, they remain the safest means for visitors to get around town. Only use taxis from reputable companies. Don’t hail taxis from the roadside.
Tourist travel can often involve flying in light aircraft. There have been several accidents in recent years on the main tourist routes, including Kaieteur Falls, Lethem and Linden – some with fatalities.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is unable to offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
In 2007 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Guyana.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air which operates some flights into Georgetown Cheddi Jagan international airport. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out and the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority have halted those Insel Air flights to Guyana which use their own planes (flights using aircraft chartered from other companies are allowed). UK government officials have been told to avoid flying on Insel Air as a precaution.
River and sea travel
There have been armed attacks against boats in and around the waters of Guyana. Be vigilant and take appropriate precautions.
Only use scheduled ferry services when crossing the Corentyne river between Guyana and
Suriname. Using water taxis (backtracking) from Suriname to Guyana can lead to arrest, imprisonment and then deportation.
If you’re travelling on Guyana’s rivers use registered boat services equipped with lifejackets. Don’t travel by boat after dark.
Although the UN’s International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in 2007 ruled on the maritime border dispute between Suriname and Guyana, there remains a historical border dispute between Suriname and Guyana over land in the New River Triangle area in the south east of Guyana. Venezuela does not formally recognise the legitimacy of its current border with Guyana, in the north west of Guyana, and has recently issued a decree which has increased tensions at a political level between both countries. Generally these issues are not high profile, and the border areas are remote, but you should keep these disputes in mind if you’re near the border areas.
National elections held in May 2015 were generally violence free. However, demonstrations can turn violent. You should avoid all large political gatherings particularly in times of heightened tension, including around the time of elections. Local government elections are scheduled to take place in early 2016.
The following UK mobiles work with roaming services – tri-band or quad phones; Vodafone and O2. A 3G data service is also available.
Power cuts occur and you may find yourself without water or electricity for short periods of time. Consider packing a torch.