What is Guyana
Guyana at a glance
Some suspect the country is in western Africa - and succumb to confusion with Guinea. No, Guyana is on the other side of the Atlantic. It is named after the large Guiana landscape in northeastern South America. The approximately 1.5 million km², predominantly mountainous area stretches between the Orinoco, the Amazon and the Atlantic coast.
Venezuela and Brazil share its western and southern hinterland. The Dutch, English and French seized in the 16./17. Century of the Eastern Territories and turned them into lucrative colonies, of which French Guiana earned by far the worst reputation as the "Archipelago of the Damned", France's infamous overseas penal colony. The captain Alfred Dreyfus, accused of treason, had to spend five agonizing years here and Henri Charrière tells of the terrible time of his imprisonment under tropical conditions in his autobiographical novel "Papillon". Guyane française is still a French overseas department and therefore part of the EU and Euroland. The penal camps have not existed for a long time, the jungle swallows their crumbling remains. Not far from there, at the European spaceport “Center Spatial Guyanais” in Kourou, Hightec has found its way into the rainforest and launched ESA's Ariane rockets into space.
The hoatzin, Guyana's national bird
and an encounter with a black caiman
Photos: © Wilderness Explorers
The neighboring Dutch Guiana gained independence in 1975 under its new name, Suriname - a South American country in which Dutch is not the official language, but rather Dutch, and where Dutch colonial architecture dominates, where African and Asian ethnic groups influence culture, street life and cuisine, creating a fascinating blend of Dutch - Afro-Asian ingredients originated.
British Guiana, owned by the English, remained Her Majesty's Crown Colony until 1966. As an independent state, Guyana, as it now called itself, was embarking on a rocky road to a better future. Experiments, setbacks and new approaches followed one another without showing a silver bullet. On one point, however, everyone agrees: Guyana's cultural diversity and unspoiled nature are the pounds with which the country and its tourism planners can proliferate. Caribbean reggae and calypso rhythms, Dutch place names and Dutch dyke building and drainage art, Hindu temples and mosques, Victorian colonial architecture, rice fields and sugar cane plantations, a colorful mixture of peoples and languages characterize the narrow, densely populated coastline. Quite different is the deserted interior, where rivers and airways form the main traffic arteries, extensive, almost untouched rainforests and savannas alternate and 728 species of birds are counted. Where an indigenous flora thrives, which is largely still unexplored and estimates speak of around 1,000 tree species, Indian villages can be explored and dramatic waterfalls can be marveled at.
Guyana is not a country of dreamy palm beaches and turquoise crystal clear water. Alluvial zones and river deltas, mangroves and salt marshes line the Atlantic, which is colored earth-brown by the cargo from the great rivers. That is why the few European tour operators have usually also included connecting (bathing) stays in Barbados, Tobago or Grenada in their programs.
Although it belongs to South America, Guyana is an unmistakably Caribbean country due to its colonial history in culture and way of life. The British overlords here and there made it possible. In addition to the English language, Guyana is linked to the Caribbean islands by other habits that have become very popular, such as horse racing and teatime, left-hand traffic and cricket as a national sport. And nowhere is the Caribbean-mainland interweaving more noticeable than in Georgetown, the "Garden City of the Caribbean" as the city is called because of its wide and airy avenues shaded by the sweeping crowns of the Saman trees. The palazzi and houses of worship from the Victorian era are enthroned on their edges in an uninhibited variety of styles from Gothic to Tudor to Renaissance and what is special: they are all made of wood, the native hardwood of the Greenheart tree. Outstanding in the truest sense of the word is the Anglican Cathedral of St. George, with 44 m one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world, a tropical Gothic dream with pointed arches, tracery windows, buttresses. No less impressive is St. Andrew's Kirk from 1818, South America's oldest Presbyterian church, with a gallery for the African slaves, who were prevented from looking down by a wall “It does not seem appropriate that they should (the slaves) see their slavemasters on their knees or with bowed heads ", as a contemporary chronicle wrote. Other notable examples of British colonial architecture are the Victoria Law Courts (1887) and Cara Lodge (1840), Georgetown's City Hall (1889) and the Houses of Parliament (1834). You should definitely not miss the huge Stabroek Market on Water Street with its cheeky cast-iron bell tower, where everything from live chickens to gold goes over the counter that makes money. The heart of the city beats here and there are plenty of opportunities to try Guyana's national drink, rum, and maybe even treat yourself to a 15-year-old “El Dorado”, which a top-class jury has just named the world's best rum.
Georgetown is proud of its "seawall", a popular promenade in the freshness of the evening and a safe barrier at high tide, when large parts of the city are 1 - 2 m below sea level. Efforts to dike and drainage go back to the 18th century, when the Dutch set about using a network of dikes, locks and canals to contain the periodic flooding of the coastal fringe.
Turtles and prospectors
The common means of transport in Guyana, small aircraft and dugout canoes with outboards, are used if you want to pay a short visit to the turtle beaches and the prospecting grounds. Shell Beach is the name of an approximately 145 km long strip on the Atlantic Ocean in northwestern Guyana, which is one of the least developed coasts in South America. It is covered by dense mangrove forests, interrupted by limestone surfaces that are used by turtles to lay their eggs. Four of the world's six species can be found here: the leatherback turtle, the world's largest reptile up to 2.10 m in length and around 900 kg in weight, the olive ridged turtle (the smallest), the green turtle and the hawksbill sea turtle. Under the care of Arawak Indians, visitors learn a lot about these amazing creatures, their natural environment, conservation programs and the life of the Indians on the edge of civilization.
Guyana has 960 km of navigable rivers and the stars on them are the six-seater speedsters called “ballahoos” and the “corials” for three to four passengers. You can reach every remote place, sometimes being carried around rapids and driving through the mangrove thicket like a tunnel. They are needed to reach the gold and diamond fields in the gravel deposits and floodplains along the western tributaries of the mighty Essequibo River. Here, “harvesting” takes place industrially, even in places environmentally friendly, but in the majority of cases uncontrolled. Thousands of “illegals” from Brazil and other neighboring countries seek their happiness here, regardless of the fragile nature.
To the waterfalls
Far away from this overexploitation region, in the midst of unspoilt rainforest and best reached by small aircraft, there is Guyana's overwhelming natural spectacle, the Kaieteur waterfall on the Potaro River. With a fall height of 228 m, it is considered the world's highest cataract, whose water masses (117,000 liters per second) plunge into the depths in free fall, a good four times higher than the Niagara Falls and, in terms of its magnificence, the Victoria and Iguazú Falls in nothing below . Werner Herzog shot his award-winning film "The White Diamond" here in 2004 with a mini-zeppelin specially designed for this project, which floated very low and in gentle flight over the dusting water and steaming rainforests. Most visitors are satisfied with a “fly-in / fly-out trip” for a few hours, only a few stay longer and take up quarters in the Kaieteur Guest House, which offers only a few beds, but all the more “comfortable hammocks” can. Those who stay a few days will use the time for an excursion through the valleys and over the plateaus of the Kaieteur National Park with its rich flora and fauna.
View of the Kaieteur waterfall
Photo: © Wilderness Explorers
It is only a 25-minute jump from the Kaieteur to another highlight, the Orinduik Falls, where the waters of the Ireng River, which forms the border between Guyana and Brazil, thunder down over steps and terraces made of jasper into a cliff with overwhelming views of the Pakaraima Mountains.
The rainforest project
In the heart of Guyana, the large rainforests of the Iwokrama and Pakaraima Mountains spread out, one of the four last largely untouched rainforest zones on earth (the other three are in the Congo, Papua New Guinea and the Amazon region). 360,000 hectares of the Guyanese rainforest are under the supervision of the Iwokrama International Center for Rainforest Conservation and Development. The aim of the work is the preservation of the rainforest, its sustainable economic use and the development of ecotourism. The forest region, which is incredibly rich in animals and plants, is open to interested visitors who can go on boat trips and hikes with knowledgeable rangers and join research teams or go to eventful camps deep in the jungle. A visit to the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway is one of the highlights of an excursion to this remote area. It is a network of narrow suspension bridges and platforms that meander through the rainforest more than 30 m above the ground and provide an unobstructed view of the tree tops, their bird life and monkey colonies. At the same time, you can see from a very unusual perspective what is going on deep down on the floor.
Out and about on the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway
Photo: © Wilderness Explorers
Through the savannah
South of the Iwokrama region, the tropical rainforest abruptly merges into the Rupununi savannah landscape. A mountain range lines the wide grassland. It is the home of the Indian "vacqueros", as cowboys are called in this area near the border with Brazil. Many speak Portuguese. In general, the relationship with the southern neighbor is much more intense than with the Guyanese bacon belt on the distant Atlantic. Scattered palm trees, man-high termite mounds and the tireless anteater who tampered with them, narrow gallery forests, a breathtaking world of birds and grazing cattle characterize the picture. Some large cattle ranches, which were founded by Scots, have existed here since the end of the 19th century, such as the large Dadawana Ranch. Their 7,000 cattle graze on 4,500 km² of grassland, guarded by vacqueros from the tribe of the Wapishana Indios, who go about their work barefoot with horses and leather lasso like a hundred years ago. Some farms offer very simple accommodation in weather-beaten log houses without electricity or telephone, with gas and candlelight, rough food and nights in the hammock. Ox carts and bicycles are common means of transportation in the savannah, as are a few of the indestructible “4WD” vehicles that struggle over “poor roads” and sometimes need four hours to cover 130 km. But even they have no chance when the sky opens its locks between June and August, large parts of the savannah are transformed into a lake landscape and leisurely boat trips are the order of the day instead of bumpy jeep tours.
Text: Eckart Fiene
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General travel information and current Entry requirements as well as notes on security and medical care can be found on the following pages of the Foreign Office (Berlin): Foreign Office
Guyana is located in northern South America. The country shares borders with Venezuela (in the northwest), Brazil (in the west and southwest) and Suriname (in the east). In the north it borders the Atlantic Ocean.
With 214,970 km², Guyana is the third smallest country in South America after Suriname and Uruguay. Venezuela makes claims to the entire area west of the Essequibo River (about 60% of the Guyanese territory!) And Suriname also claims a southeastern part of the country for itself. The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague of September 2007 settled a number of disputes with Suriname. Thereafter, the border river Corentyne / Corantijn belongs to the Surinamese national territory and thus control of all shipping traffic on the river. In addition, the arbitration ruling regulates the conflict over the resource-rich marine area off the coast in such a way that Guyana is awarded around 2/3 and Suriname 1/3 of the disputed sector.
In the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, a republic with presidential features has emerged as a form of government. The country's president is head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Guyana's National Assembly consists of 65 members elected for five years. Guyana comprises ten regions. A Regional Democratic Council, elected for five years, deals with the respective regional affairs.
Founded in 1781 at the mouth of the Demerara River in the Atlantic, Georgetown is the largest and most important city in the country. According to official information, there were around 119,000 inhabitants here and in the greater metropolitan area in 2012.
The 2012 census determined 746,955 residents. In 2002 there were still 751,223 inhabitants. High emigration and low birth rates are responsible for the declining population. With 2.04 children per woman, Guyana ranks 113th in a country comparison. 71-72% of the population live in rural regions, 28-29% in cities. Guyana's historically determined ethnic diversity cannot always guarantee the peaceful coexistence of different cultures. It has repeatedly caused socio-economic and political tensions. Hence the state's evocative motto: “One People, one Nation, one Destiny”. According to investigations from 2012, the descendants of Indian contract workers make up the largest population group with 39.83%, followed by residents with an Afro-Caribbean background (descendants of West African slaves = 29.25%). In third place with 19.88% is the strongly increased group of “mixed heritage persons” - citizens of the country who emerged from mixed marriages. They are followed with 10.51% by the likewise expanding Amerindians (American Indians), i.e. the indigenous part of the population, who are organized into nine tribes. The small minorities include the Chinese (0.18%), Portuguese (0.26%) and whites (0.06%). Here are some explanations: Dutch plantation owners were the first to use African slaves in the sugar cane fields, and English owners followed suit. The sudden shortage of labor after the final liberation of the slaves (1838) forced the owners to look for new workers, this time on a contractual basis. Around 30,000 Portuguese, mostly from the island of Madeira, came to the country between 1835 and 1880. The Chinese were also recruited: around 14,000 set out between 1853 and 1881. They made up the smallest group of immigrants, while Hindu and Muslim contract workers from India and what is now Afghanistan made up the largest contingent. In the decades between 1838 and 1919, around 238,000 came to the then British colony. The linguistic rule valid at the time denied the Portuguese, since they were recruited workers, from belonging to the group of whites. This distinction still applies today, as the statistics reveal. In 2012 she speaks of “415 whites” and “1,910 Portuguese”.
Guyana's constitution guarantees freedom of belief and religion. The colorful juxtaposition of countless faiths reflects the large number of ethnic groups that have made their home in the country. According to data from 2012, Hindus (24.83%) top the list, followed by Pentecostal supporters (22.80%), Roman Catholics with 7.08%, Muslims with 6.77% (Guyana has been permanent member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation / OIC)) and Seven-Day Adventists with 5.41%. Anglicans come in at 5.22%, Methodists at 1.35%. There are also Jehovah's Witnesses (1.29%), Bahais 0.06%, Rastifaris (0.47%) and others.
English is the official language, "often spoken with a Caribbean Creole flavor". Hindi and Urdu are widespread among Indo-Guyans, and Indian tribal languages dominate in some remote areas.
There is left-hand traffic! Only in the densely populated coastal area does a tolerably developed road network exist.The trunk road connection from the capital Georgetown to Lethem on the Brazilian border is also easy to drive. Most of the roads (around 90%) are rather slopes, narrow, winding, sometimes sandy, sometimes muddy and always full of potholes. The large and small rivers and canals that open up the hinterland are all the more important for the transport of people and goods. Those who like it faster and more comfortable can fly to dozens of domestic "airstrips" in small fan planes from Trans Guyana Airways or Roraima Airways. Example of a flight to Georgetown / Guyana: From Frankfurt / Main with Air Canada to Toronto and on to Port of Spain / Trinidad. From there with LIAT / The Caribbean Airline to Georgetown. Outbound flight in a good 19 hours, return flight in 19.5 hours also via Port of Spain and Toronto. Another option is British Airways, which fly from London Gatwick to Bridgetown / Barbados. There LIAT / The Caribbean Airline takes over the passengers and brings them to Georgetown.
Guyana is one of the poorest countries on the American continent. However, recent economic development has shown positive trends due to the high demand for raw materials and increasing direct investments, which rose by 19% in 2015 alone. The country is richly endowed with natural resources such as wood, bauxite, gold and agricultural products (rice, sugar) as well as fish and crustaceans. The export of these products accounts for about 60% of the Guyanese gross domestic product. The small domestic market, an insufficiently developed processing sector and, above all, the inadequate infrastructure have a negative impact on economic development. The majority of the population (around 90%) lives in the narrow coastal fringes, but Guyana is rich in the hinterland, which is only sparsely developed. Changing that has been a priority for years (in addition to the announcement that the product range will be expanded): building new, robust roads, rehabilitating runways and improving ship connections on the rivers. It is possible that this will happen if expectations in connection with the oil discoveries off the coast are met. In the spring of 2015, enormous oil fields were discovered in the Guyana-Suriname Basin, around 180 km off the coast, which aroused great hopes for an expansion of the economic sector. The inadequate infrastructure is also an obstacle to the development of tourism. One tries primarily to attract North American and European “ecotourists” interested in the rainforest attractions into the country - quite successfully: In 2010, 152,000 visitors came to Guyana, in 2014 there were already 206,000.
Four natural spaces determine the landscape of Guyana. First there is the coastal lowlands on the Atlantic. Most of it is up to 2 m below sea level. Where dykes and drainage canals have not been built (and attempts have been made to do so since the early 18th century), flooding occurs seasonally, especially in the far north. The narrow coastal zone makes up only 6% of the total area, but is home to 90% of the country's population. Here there are the best conditions for intensive agriculture and the settlement of industries. The fertility of the strip, which is only five or six kilometers wide, comes from the rich mud that the Amazon washes into the sea far south, where it is picked up by currents flowing to the north and deposited on Guyana's coast. To the south of the lowland zone there is a hilly area interspersed with sand plains and granite rocks, which is densely overgrown with hardwoods. This sparsely populated part of the country with an extension of about 250 km is the country's treasury, as there are considerable reserves of bauxite, gold and diamonds. Highlands (150 - 1,500 m) cover about two thirds of the area of Guyana. It is home to dense rainforests with as yet little explored flora and fauna. Far in the southwest the tropical rainforest thins out and savannah takes its place. The meager grassland covers around 15,000 km² (7% of the land area). Some large cattle farms work the terrain.
With the exception of the southwestern savannah areas, which have drier winter months and lower amounts of precipitation, Guyana has a tropical rainy climate with consistently high temperatures. The main rainy season lasts from May to August, a second, shorter rainy season from December to January. Of course, the rainy phases can also shift or be less pronounced than in previous years. The annual rainfall is between 2,000 and 3,000 mm on the coast and 1,500 mm in the south-western interior of the country. The average temperature is between 26 and 28 degrees and the minimum temperature does not drop below 20 degrees. The maximum temperatures reach 31 to 34 degrees, so no extreme values, but the high humidity is a problem for some travelers.
In particular, the still largely untouched rainforests are the habitat of striking plants such as the huge Victoria Regia from the family of water lilies, the colorful orchids, the heliconias with their large decorative inflorescences, the greenheart, which provides iron-hard ebony, the sky-storming mora tree that grows on its protruding protrusions, like a Gothic wall, rests on buttresses or the bromeliads, in whose flowers the tiny poison dart frog "Golden Frog" hides for life. And the black caiman, which can grow up to four meters long, lurks in the countless waters, watched suspiciously by the world's largest river otter, the world's largest freshwater turtle and the arapaima, probably the largest freshwater fish. The green anaconda, one of the largest of the giant snakes, glides through the bushes and the largest venomous snake in the New World, the bushmaster, which resembles rattlesnakes, is on the move. Heavy tapirs appear at night, watched by jaguars, ocelots and puma, and if you can't see them, you can always hear them: the red howler monkey. The giant anteater, which eats up to 30,000 ants and termites every day, roams the area. One of the largest and strongest of the 50 types of eagle, the Harpy Eagle, which is called "Harpyle" in German, circles above it. Bright red Scarlet Macaw parrots circle the treetops and with their feathers upright, Guyana's national bird, the Hoatzin, arrives, while the cock-of-the-rock in bright orange plumage begins its spectacular wedding dance.
The local currency is called the Guyana dollar. With the EC card, money can be withdrawn from a few machines with Maestro symbols (Georgetown, New Amsterdam). But: a foreign transaction fee is due for every transaction. The use of common credit cards to withdraw money is cheaper and problem-free. Major credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, car rental companies and tour operators.
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