Content Contributed by Claire Antell – UK Representative of Wilderness Explorers
The three Guianas are part of the Guiana Shield, one of the world’s oldest and most biologically diverse regions dating back 1.7 billion years. This relatively unknown region of the world is covered by more than 80% pristine rainforest and is home to the Neotropic Big 5 – the jaguar, black caiman, giant river otter, giant anteater and the impressive harpy eagle, the largest raptor in the Americas. Travellers will marvel at these giants and others like the little golden frogs that thrive within the giant bromeliads and the mighty arapaima fish as they surface for air in the giant Victoria Amazonica-strewn lakes of the Guyana savannahs.
The ‘Wild Coast’ along the three Guianas is one of the most-important nesting grounds on the planet for four species of turtles, including the Giant Leatherback. The coast is also home to a melting pot of diversity with Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana each culturally unique from one another with heritage to match. If you’re looking for a highly rewarding off-the-beaten-path experience, look no further than the Guianas.
Travel the Way it Used to Be
To travel through all three Guianas is to explore one of the least-known and least-visited corners of South America. Wedged between Brazil and Venezuela and the Atlantic on the north-east shoulder of South America, the largely-undiscovered destinations of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are shaped by an eclectic mix of cultures, religions and races, indigenous communities and an extraordinary colonial footprint. Tourism is still somewhat undeveloped and the infrastructure lacks the sophistication and variety of choices of other more established Caribbean and Latin American destinations. Instead, there is a privilege of being in a raw and unspoilt region, set against a backdrop of stunning scenery where nature, adventure and cultural tourism predominate. You will journey by riverboat, mountain paths, rough roads and small planes and stay in comfortable, rustic lodges where your visit economically benefits the Indigenous communities you visit.
A Sampling of Adventures amid the Three Guianas
Only a select few operators specialise in adventures to this trio of destinations. Wilderness Explorers offers scheduled and tailor-made tours across the Guianas, combining the highlights of all three countries in a couple of weeks. One itinerary option combines the wonderful Maroon community of Danpaati on the Upper Suriname River with the charms of Paramaribo with the Guiana Space Centre and Devil’s Island and Cayenne in French Guiana. It then takes you to Guyana to experience the delights of the Iwokrama Rainforest including its canopy walkway and Turtle Mountain, a stay at the Indigenous community owned and operated Surama Eco-lodge, as well as a unique culinary and market tour of Georgetown and sunset river cruise on the Demerara River.
A wildlife tour in the Three Guianas includes a houseboat excursion on the marshes of Kaw in French Guiana, into the isolated ranches of wildlife-rich savannahs and emerald green rainforests, and the summit of a mountain near an Indigenous community. Here your senses will be bombarded by the sights, scents and sounds of the jungle, including the extraordinary screech of the red howler monkeys, the world’s loudest mammal and a glimpse of the Goliath Bird-eating Spider, the largest spider by mass in the world. During your tour across the region, you will visit the stunning remote Kaieteur Falls in Guyana which is almost 5 times the height of Niagara and is home to thousands of swifts who swoop down to roost behind the falls at dusk. River journeys on bronze-tinted waters will take you to oxbow lakes where giant waterlilies open as the sun sets and nature unfolds around you as you drift back to your river lodge looking at the stars and spotlighting for caiman, tree snakes and night-birds along the banks. The wildlife-viewing opportunities and quality of guiding are generally best in Guyana, where tour guides will be delighted to take you through the wildlife of the rainforest, rivers and savannahs and share with you some of the myths and stories of their culture.
Turtle and dolphin-watching are currently easiest in Suriname and French Guiana. Birdwatching in Guyana is particularly rewarding even for less-experienced neotropical birders due to the large number of widespread species that can be seen as well as the ‘star birds’ such as the rare sun parakeet and red siskin. Even if you’re not into birding, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of seeing the stunning orange Guianan cock-of-the rock, the many species of colourful parrots and the mysterious and imposing harpy eagle.
The Authenticity of a Rich History
Combine some of the world’s best tropical wildlife spotting with the intoxicating yet dark history of a region that embodies the struggle to escape colonial rule. This has resulted in a unique blend of English, French and Dutch-speaking nations, peppered with indigenous villages and pockets of Asian and African communities. Where else can you sample delicious Indochinese soup in a Hmong Market bought with Euros in a South American outpost of metropolitan France? Or eat peanut soup in an African community deep in the forests of Dutch-speaking Suriname and hear songs sung by the Maroons? Or attend a duck curry festival and eat curry and roti washed down with rum or beer overlooking the rice-fields of Guyana at the crossroads of the English-speaking Caribbean and South America? These three countries offer an enigmatic fusion of festivals, rodeos, Amerindian heritage celebrations and the world’s longest Carnival, in French Guiana.
Trip Planning and Getting There
Although it is possible to fly easily between Guyana and Suriname, it is not possible to fly between them to French Guiana. Instead, there are exciting overland journeys to be made and river border crossings, such as that between Suriname and French Guiana where you feel like you have not just crossed a river but an entire ocean once you have left the dusty Surinamese outpost of Albina and arrived at the very French customs office in Saint-Laurent du Maroni. To fly to Cayenne on a plane from Paris is to have taken a domestic flight complete with its cargo of French papers, cigarettes, wine and bread.
The Three Guianas is a very rich and rewarding destination to explore. Often it is easiest to book an organised tour, be it in a group or on a private basis, so that the logistics and any visas are taken care of, allowing you to simply relax and enjoy the very different experiences each country has to offer. In French Guiana, English is not always spoken except in the hotels and restaurants in Cayenne, so English-speakers may choose to pre-book an English-speaking guide where possible through their operator.
The best season to arrange a tour to the three Guianas is September through to April, with the main wet season traditionally occurring between May and July and a short rainy season on the coast in December-January.
Air Access via North America and Europe
Air access to the region from Europe and North America is improving with airlines such as American Airlines and Copa Airlines flying frequently to Georgetown and talk of other carriers coming to Guyana with the onset of extensive offshore oil production bringing investment to the country. From the UK, the easiest access is through Barbados via LIAT, or Port of Spain, with Caribbean Airlines. Flying from Europe, there are frequent scheduled flights with KLM to Paramaribo and Air France to Cayenne making it possible to fly in or out of Cayenne in French Guyana and Paramaribo in Suriname on KLM combined with an overland journey between the two capitals. There are regular flights each day between Georgetown and Paramaribo making it easy to include Guyana in a three Guianas trip. Your local operator will be able to advise you on the best routing.
Travel Better in Guyana
Guyana is working hard to conserve its vibrant wildlife and ecosystems and protect its culture and heritage. We realise that it is often difficult to understand how you can support these aims and make a difference when you travel. That’s why we’ve set out to help you by creating Visitor Guidelines For Sustainable Travel. All passionate globetrotters, curious culture seekers and bold adventurers are encouraged to do all they can to leave a positive impact on the people and places you visit in Guyana.