Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Travel in Guyana

The Lonely Planet – South America on a Shoestring travel guide devotes a few short pages to Guyana. The opening line of the ‘facts for the visitor’ section gives a pretty good introduction to the challenges facing tourists.

Nothing is easy here.

There is certainly some truth here, although there have been some changes since the guide was written. The bad news is that travelling in Guyana can still be complicated, unpredictable, frustrating and surprisingly expensive. Georgetown is dirty, dangerous and has few real tourist attractions. The roads are treacherous with wildlife, potholes and crazy drivers. There is still little in the way of tourist infrastructure. Without insider knowledge, it is very difficult to arrange journeys yourself, and often the only option is expensive guided tours. The mosquitos and the climate are brutal until you get adjusted to them. The rainy season, which for the last few years has not stuck to the usual schedule, can in the interior close down roads entirely or leave you with no option but to wade through waist deep mud. And seeing the most interesting parts of the country often involves costly internal flights or many uncomfortable and bumpy hours in a cramped bus or boat.
But despite, (and partly because of), these difficulties, this is an incredible country. Dig a little, and you will find unspoiled paradises, practically untouched by tourism. The people are incredibly welcoming and open. The culture is a wonderful mix of influences, taking in psychedelically colourful Hindu festivals, wild Carribean party spirit and traditional Amerindian communities deep in the jungle. There is a great soundtrack to life here - you are always within earshot of loud music in the costal towns, the jungle has an endless chorus of birds, frogs, insects and monkeys, and the savannah offers incredible peace and quiet. There are thousands of square miles of pristine rainforest, the highest single drop waterfall in the world thundering into a remote gorge, breathtaking open savannah and an unbelievable range of weird and wonderful wildlife. There is tasty food, world class rum, and joyful, sexy music. You can tackle almost any weather Guyana will throw at you with shorts, a T shirt and an umbrella. You can sleep in a hammock surrounded by the eerie roar of howler monkeys, bathe in pristine black water creeks and canoe down jungle rivers with giant otters for company.  If you want to get off the beaten track then you’re in luck. There isn’t a beaten tourist trail in the whole country.

I wouldn’t recommend Guyana for everyone. There are many cheaper and easier places to travel, especially coming from Europe. It doesn’t fit into many longer itineraries either – there are reasonable links to some Carribean islands, but the only easy way to get to most other countries in South America is to fly via the US. But if you’re willing to put in the effort there are great rewards to be had.

For anyone interested in travel in Guyana, the Bradt guide is highly recommended. It is probably the only decent guide book to Guyana available right now – pithy statements aside, the Lonely Planet guide is pretty useless, and most South America guides don’t even mention the country. I will also try and follow this post with write ups of some of my favourite journeys in Guyana so far.