The most vibrant weekend of the year is unarguably the Easter break, when Guyanese living outside the country, time their holidays to attend the Bartica Regatta, off Georgetown and the Rupununi Rodeo in Lethem. In tow, are visitors from around the globe and locals in different parts of the country, who make an annual pilgrimage to one of these two events. If it’s a version of the Wild West that you want to experience, the belly of Guyana – Rupununi – is the place to head to. The heart of Rupununi, the easygoing town of Lethem, comes alive in the days that run up to the event. The two days of the rodeo are a celebration of horsemanship and ranching greats of Rupununi. The facts that all hotels and guesthouses are booked out months earlier, and the town practically comes to a standstill in terms of business, is testimony enough that everyone is hooked to the rodeo grounds.
What to expect at the Rupununi Rodeo
The Rupununi Rodeo is a goldmine of vaquero action for the two days. The regions’s history is intertwined with ranches and horses, even boasting of the largest ranch in the world (Dadanawa) at one point of time. Since horse-riding and ranch life are intrinsic to the region, it’s only natural that an annual event is organised to get together as a community and celebrate its roots. The sheer riding talent is breathtaking, along with a festive vibe and fun activities for all age groups. The rodeo grounds are prepared for the event, keeping in mind seating stands, animal grounds, chutes and casual events for participation. During the rodeo, the grounds have a fete-like feel, with swings, stalls for local food, almost everyone in boots and the customary cowboy hat, plenty of music, alcohol and the main vaquero events. Expect to remain riveted to your seat to see the local cowboys showcasing bareback riding, saddle riding, bull controlling, barrel races, steer roping and other tactics. For hours, bulls and horses, charge out of the chutes, cowboys gingerly balanced on their backs, loud cheering on constant loop. The arena is filled with sighs and gasps with bucking and jumping of the animals, and deft control by the vaqueros. The evenings morph into a nightlong party, as the DJs and bartenders tap the pulse of the crowd to keep the mood in high spirits.
Plan ahead for Rupununi Rodeo
There are only a handful of hotels in Lethem, so book ahead to find a place during the Rupununi rodeo. Choose from these (link) guesthouses and hotels in the city and a slight distance to ensure that you have a confirmed place to stay. You can reach Rupununi from different parts of the country via road or flight. Many public vans operate from Georgetown during this period, but it can take a whole day to traverse the distance. One can choose to take a flight to Lethem to cut short travel time by hours. Many people join the annual Rupununi Safari (link), which wends though the Pakaraimas and ends up at Lethem after eight days of adventure.
The day after the Rupununi event is reserved for a smaller, more intimate rodeo competition in the Sand Creek village, 52 km away from the town. This is a great window to see a local event and try food and drinks, along with some more horse and bull battles. Apart from Guyanese ranches, neighbouring Brazilians are also invited to the rodeo.
Extend your stay to explore Lethem and around
It is prudent to keep some time to explore places around Lethem.
- Kumu Falls – Since the tiered Kumu Falls don’t come tumbling down from a high escarpment, one can easily sit between the rocks and enjoy the gentle massage of the water – it’s almost like a natural Jacuzzi. The complex where Kumu Falls entrance is located is ideal for a picnic, as one can hang a personal hammock, cook a meal or buy one from the people who manage the place. Try the Rupununi quintessential pepper pot here.
- MocoMoco Mountain – Almost 1000 feet above the MocoMoco village lies the namesake peak. It’s a mid-level hike on a combination of steps and muddy steep path. Even though the hike is not all that easy, the gorgeous view of 360 degrees green scape from the hill is worth the climb. You can also cool off in a man-made tank perched right on top.
- Skull and Bones Mountain – To see a fascinating ancient burial ground, one has to traverse thick fields, copses of trees and climb through the wilderness to the Skull and Bones Mountain. Here, in the shade of a weathered cave, you can see large urns with bones and skulls of people who died decades ago. Apart from historical interest, the hike is great for birdwatchers and nature lovers.
- Bonfim – The border town of Bonfim in Brazil is a favourite with locals for shopping across the edge of the country. The same goes for Brazilians who have restaurants and shops in Lethem.
- Ranches – Living the ranch life is one of the most interesting experiences of the Rupununi. Lethem has great access to Dadanawa, Saddle Mountain, Karanambu, Waikin, Manari and other popular ranches, which offer an authentic ranch experience.