Guyana is on the mainland of South America situated between the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south, Suriname to the east and Venezuela to the west. Guyana is known for being the “land of many waters”. With 215,000 square kilometres (83,000 sq. mi), Guyana mainly consists of vast rivers forged in the Amazon basin, rich forest lands, and savannahs. Originally inhabited by several indigenous groups, Guyana was settled by the Dutch before becoming a British prison colony then eventually a plantation economy in the 18th century. Guyana eventually gained its independence in 1966 and officially became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. The legacy of British rule is reflected in the country’s language and diverse population, which includes Indian, African, Amerindian, Chinese and multiracial groups.
Despite being on mainland South America, Guyana has deep ties to the Caribbean region due to shared language, culture, economy and history as former British Empire colonies. Guyana has the distinction of being the only English speaking South American nation. Most Guyanese speak an Anglophone creole infused with Dutch, Arawakan and Caribbean words. Guyana has been a member of the CARICOM group of nations since gaining independence in 1966 and is currently home to the CARICOM headquarters.
Guyana is the country of my birth and the place where I gained my identity. I spent 2016 revisiting some of my favourite spots as a child to remind myself of the foundation that I belong to. Like many former British colonies, Guyana is a young nation trying to find its way in the world dominated by more powerful nations. I felt an enormous pride touring the capital city of Georgetown to see the revitalization of national monuments and re-discovering Guyana’s interior viewing the vast tropical rain-forest that dominates the majority of the country.
ExxonMobil began oil and gas exploration offshore Guyana in May 2015 and announced a significant discovery of high quality hydrocarbon reserves, including crude oil. With the pending development of oil and gas reserves, my hope is that the government has contracted a good deal with ExxonMobil that enables economic development in Guyana where Guyanses can finally see an increase in living standards. My caution to the government is the heed the mistakes of the Niger Delta region where the population has not gained from oil cultivated in their lands but suffers from polluted farmlands and high fuel prices.
I dedicate this blog post to the Guyana I remembered as a child and rediscovered in 2016.
I first learned of Kofi in nursery school as a five year old. My teacher explained the significance of the colours of Guyana’s flag the Golden Arrowhead. Black is for the perseverance of the people and red is for the blood sacrificed by the people. The story of Kofi, an Akan man, began in West Africa where he was sold into slavery. He worked the plantations of the then Dutch colony of Berbice (present day Guyana) where he forged a slave rebellion in 1763 of more than 2,500 slaves against the colony regime. Kofi’s rebellion is commemorated to today in Guyana every year on February 23rd as Republic Day.
Independence Square – Kofi Statue (image from December 2016 family trip)
No trip to Georgetown would be complete without a visit to the Botanical Gardens – one of Georgetown’s popular recreation parks. The Botanical Gardens houses one of the most extensive collections of tropical flora in the Caribbean and are laid out with ponds, canals, kissing bridges, bandstand and manatee pond. My parents took their wedding pictures on the Kissing Bridge and the photo of my father in his full military suit with my mother in her lovely white gown is still makes me smile every time I visit the gardens. As a child I remember taking trips to the zoo with my classmates to view an old lion, jaguar and curious monkeys that always took my lunch. On other occasions my father brought me and my sisters to the gardens for family photo shoots and family picnics.
(Images above from December 2016 family trip)
The Essequibo River is the largest river in Guyana. The river starts in the Acarai Mountains near the Brazil-Guyana border and flows north for 1,010 kilometres (630 mi) through rain forest and the savannah grassland and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Essequibo is home to one of the largest set of river islands in the world. Towards to mouth of the river, the large flat and fertile islands of Leguan (11 sq. mi), Wakenaam (17 sq. mi), and Hog Island (23 sq. mi) sit prominently on the Essequibo landscape. Fort Island is home to ruins from the Dutch colonial era. Essequibo is also known for its vibrant river culture where communities have existed for centuries commuting with canoes and now speed boats. Eddy Grant, famous Guyanese singer, has set up residence on the river with his twin island villa. The Essequibo is an ideal yet remote place to set up residence or just visit for a few days.
Bartica, Essequibo, is a town on the left bank of the Essequibo River in Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region 7) on Essequibo River. Bartica is considered the “Gateway to the Interior” as the town is often asks as a launching point for people who work in the “bush”, mining gold and diamonds. Bartica is also a central location for Essequibo river communities commuting to Georgetown by speedboat or ferry to refuel and restock before going back to their more remote river communities deeper into the Guyanese rain-forest region.
Kaieteur Falls is the world’s largest single drop waterfall by the volume of water flowing over it. Located on the Potaro River in the Kaieteur National Park, it sits in a section of the Amazon rain-forest included in the Potaro-Siparuni region of Guyana. It is 226 metres (741 ft.) high and is about four times higher than Niagara Falls and about twice the height of Victoria Falls in Africa. Upriver from the falls, the Potaro Plateau stretches out to the distant escarpment of the Pakaraima Mountains. Kaieteur National Park is my favourite destination in Guyana; however there are many more regions in the vast interior that I’m yet to explore. Places like the Canopy Walkway, Rupununi Savannahs, Sumara Village, Santa Rosa Mission, Lethem and so many more.
Recommended tour companies for Guyana highlands and rain-forest experiences.