The South Rupununi region in the heart of Guyana breaks away from the green rainforests and is replaced by golden grasslands as far as the eye can see. Low mountains in the distance from the edge of the grasslands, and pockets of greenery break the golden monotony by forming an oasis in the middle of the savannah. The sky hangs low in the South Rupununi and turns a surreal canvas of orange, blue and purple during sunset. In this region, which was historically focused on ranching, the tradition is firmly etched in time and a number of old timers still have hundreds of cattle managed by vaqueros, pens full of pigs, hen and other farm animals and large fields of vegetables. The South Rupununi is well known for the ranch life experience and for travellers to hone their horse-riding skills; the region is also replete with unique Amazonian wildlife that lures enthusiasts and researchers alike.
At Home in Saddle MountainSaddle Mountain Ranch is one of the more popular ranches, owned by the Kenyon family, and offers travellers an alternative to the Wild West experience where many of the vaquero (cowboys) are Indigenous Peoples. The ranch is famous for the opportunity to see giant anteaters and a number of birding species endemic to the Guiana Shield. Saddle Mountain is the result of the efforts of a passionate duo, Joan and Tommy (called Aunty and Uncle), and their children – all expert horse riders and winners of a number of rodeo accolades. Joan’s indigenous roots and Tommy’s untethered youthful lifestyle make for great stories over endless rounds of tea. Tommy worked hard during his younger years, acquiring land to establish the ranch and making a home in the middle of the savannah with his wife. It is Aunty Joan who keeps the ranch running like clockwork. From looking after the guests, ploughing the field and managing the ranch to taking guests for special trips around her land. Saddle Mountain thrums with her energy. One of the most special experiences on the ranch is spotting its shiest occupants – the giant anteaters.
The Best Way to Go Anteater Spotting
Saddle Mountain is blessed with a topography that encompasses savannah, mountains,
patches of rainforest, streams and small natural pools. The ranch lies in the shadow of the
Kanuku Mountain Range and the iconic Shiriri Mountain that add extra glamour to the views.When you step out of the ranch, the vast savannah and mountainous landscape unfolds in front of the eyes. The pale-yellow grassland carpet is dotted with grey anthills – small and large. But spotting an anteater at Saddle Mountain (or anywhere else) is not easy as they do not readily expose themselves. You need experience and knowledge of their behaviour and who better to help you out than Aunty Joan!
Jump into Aunty Joan’s four-wheel vehicle as she navigates through the dirt tracks in the
middle of the savannah. The best time to leave for your adventure is early morning or dusk,
when the animals go out for an undisturbed meal. Since your eyes are bound to constantly
play tricks on you, mistaking the anthills for anteaters, follow Aunty Joan’s binoculars for a
chance to catch sight of an anteater.
Anteaters are odd animals. With elongated snouts and a thin tongue that can be extended great lengths, they are perfectly designed for a diet made up of ants! They appear gentle but their large, curved fore claws can tear open ant and termite mounds with great ease. Keep your distance as the claws can be lethal. Anteaters usually grow 2-3 feet tall, but a giant anteater can be as large as 6 feet – snout to tail. They are usually solitary animals but keep their young close. It’s usually difficult to spot the baby riding on top of the mother, as they appear to be morphed into one.
Anteaters make their nests in thickets within the savannah, far from the prying eyes of jaguars, savannahs foxes and other predators. Follow Aunty Joan’s directions, ducking below the trees and cutting the bush with a machete and you might just get lucky and spot an anteater resting in its nest. Otherwise, it’s back to searching for them in the savannah – grey mounds bobbing up and down when they run.
Other activities at Saddle Mountain
The best way to feel at home is to get pulled into doing some work at the ranch. We suggest you get into your boots, grab a hat and get to work with the vaqueros to clean the pens, feed the animals and help them direct the cattle in and out of the stables in the mornings and evenings. Some mornings can be reserved for birdwatching. Look out for the endangered red siskin, which is found here along with other bird species endemic to the Rupununi. The streams and ponds lure you into an impromptu dip if it’s a hot afternoon. You can also visit the indigenous people of Shulainab Village (45 mins) or hike to Skull and Bones Mountain (ancient burial ground of the community). You can even take horseback riding trips for the full day if you are a seasoned rider.
After a full day’s adventure, return to a full plate of cassava farine, potatoes, and chicken or beef and plenty of stories about wildlife adventures on the ranch.
Getting there: The closest air access to Saddle Mountain Ranch is Lethem. From there it’s about a 2-hour drive from the town along through dirt trails through the savannah.
Book via: Bushmasters who will be able to handle payments and communication directly with the family, as it’s difficult to reach the ranch due to poor connectivity.