Just the word ‘Guyana’ should evoke images of a faraway jungle to most travellers. This country looks small in the greater context of South America, but its jungles are vast, rising up from the swampy coast to the surreal slopes of Mount Roraima.
Guyana must be a paradise for the adventure traveller. Right?
Partially. There are plenty of big adventures to be had here, though few try. The country’s government, woefully inept and corrupt, seems like one of the few governments remaining on earth that wants to discourage tourism.
Current ads promote ‘ecotourism’ in Guyana, showing magnificent lodges and rich westerners in safaris shirts looking at birds with $7000 cameras while the guide holds their hands. That’s the main form of tourism here, and costs around $1000/day when you factor in flights, lodges, food and ‘administrative fees’. Not exactly my type of travel.
Unfortunately, currently (2022) you can’t just fly into any town in Guyana and start an adventure. The government will politely block you, saying you must go on a guided trip, as the jungle is ‘too dangerous’ for tourists, citing venomous creatures and the risk of getting lost. Those are risks we take on ourselves, and, in my experience, most countries are happy to let you pass if you are a tourist. Notably, most of Guyana is extremely safe - I’d rate the rural parts as one of the safest parts of any of the 100+ countries I’ve been to - and there isn’t much danger of getting robbed.
Suhei and myself went in late October-early November. We brought our packrafts, planning to fly one-way to Kaiteur Falls, and packraft a week down the spectacular river back to civilisation. The government in Georgetown rejected our permits, saying the only way we’d be allowed to visit would be a half-day trip by plane. One hour there, two hours on the ground, one hour back. $275 USD. Um, no.
We tried to go to Paruima, a rural village at 1000 meters altitude near the tepuis. This, too, was blocked, saying we could only go with a tour group, which charges $3600 USD per person, assuming we have six people, to go hiking there. Um, no.
We finally tried to fly to Ekereku, another rural village near a spectacular and relatively unknown waterfall. Also blocked.
Frustrated with the bureaucracy in Georgetown, we decided to rent a car and go where we want. It took two days to find an SUV in Georgetown, and then we spent eight days on an action-filled road trip to the Lethem area and back, stopping as much as possible to birdwatch, packraft, visit Amerindian villages, swim in palm oases, and camp in hoards of mosquitoes. We ended up with itchy legs and crazy awesome memories of this fascinating nation.
If you go, I can’t currently see any options besides getting on an expensive tour, or renting a car. With the car, you have ultimate freedom, and the pristine jungle lines the road for hundreds of miles. The Trans Guyana Highway is certainly one of the best jungle road trips in the world, despite being nearly 12 hours of unbroken potholes. Brazil is also paying to have it paved by 2025 or so, and it will likely change, with upcoming deforestation and population growth poised to change this country.
For these reasons, I have mixed feelings of Guyana. It’s a country I want to be able to love, for the incredible nature and the generally friendly people. But for now, the government’s stance on tourism, and the absurd prices that tourists face, won’t have us back anytime soon.