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Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

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Minnesota
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Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Guyana has really sparked my interest lately. I've traveled with tour operators before, and have had great success, but wondering if Guyana would be easy/safe to travel on my own (well -- not totally alone, would likely be my husband and myself...). I understand getting anywhere out of Georgetown is pretty challenging.

Any help or experience with Guyana travel would be so appreciated! THANKS!!

Berkeley, California
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1. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Hi EJMinnesota-

Great that you've got your eye on this interesting and infrequently-visited part of the world!

You'll hear various opinions on this topic, but from my experience most people choose to work with a tour operator (in Guyana or their home country) simply because many of the lodges in the interior don't have great lines of communication to the outside world. Also, transportation logistics once you're in the Rupununi are difficult - if not impossible - to arrange on the spot. There just aren't that many vehicles, and those that are available are in high demand.

(the Rupununi is in the south/central part of the country where most tourists go to experience the rainforests and savannahs)

Outside Georgetown, Guyana is a remote and wild place with sparse population and little infrastructure. That's the perfect setup for adventure in nature, but not terribly amenable to flying by the seat of your pants.

Step one: if you haven't already, read reviews here on TA for places like Iwokrama, the Canopy Walkway, Rock View Lodge, Caiman House, and Karanambu Ranch. Be sure to read up on the Amerindian-operated community tourism projects of Surama Eco-Lodge, Rewa Eco-Lodge and Maipaima Eco-lodge. Rewa and Maipaima are the hidden gems and have seen very few visitors. You may need to search for those lodge names here on TA because the menus are not well laid out.

Then, get yourself a copy of the one and only travel guide to Guyana published by Bradt (author Kirk Smock is a friend of mine and he knows this place inside and out). The book is a good primer on nature, Amerindian culture, history, and the tourism circuit.

Next, head over to YouTube and do a search for "Lost Land of the Jaguar." The 10-minute long Part 1 - Clip 1 intro is an exciting glimpse into what you'll be experiencing.

Judging from your handle, I'm guessing you're in the northern US. You might want to contact AdventureLife.com, Geographic Expeditions, Nature Travel Specialists, or Holbrook Travel. They are a few of the better US companies operating Guyana trips these days. That's not to discount others in the market... they're just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

If you have a specific interest in birds, there is a slightly different list of bird specialist companies I could dig up.

I have led several trips to Guyana for US groups, and the local company I prefer to work with is Wilderness Explorers in Georgetown. There are others (you'll see them mentioned in these forums: Iwokrama's Travel office, Evergreen, Rainforest Tours, and Dagron) so feel free to shop around. Wilderness has some Google maps to help you sort out where everything is - just go to their website (wilderness-explorers.com) and you'll see the link.

Safety isn't a huge concern, despite dire US State Department's warnings. The only issues are in Georgetown, and all in all I don't think foreigners are any more at risk there than anywhere else in the world. Once you get into the interior, crime is unheard of but the risks are more environmental: you're in a remote wilderness setting far away from medical care. You simply need to prepare and plan ahead.

Word of warning: Guyana is one of South Americas more expensive destinations, and lodging everywhere remains rustic. The price of remoteness, pristine nature, and a highly undeveloped tourism infrastructure is no one can achieve any economy of scale. If primary growth rainforest, rare creatures, and (english-speaking) cultural interactions interest you, however, it's well worth it.

There's an active group of Guyana travelers passing through these forums so you are sure to get additional suggestions and tips if you post additional questions.

Berkeley, California
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2. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

One other thing: don't forget that Parimaribo, the capital of next-door Suriname is a real treat, and accessible by a one-hour flight from Georgetown's in-town airport. The interior there offers a completely different cultural experience with the Maroon tribal villages. Then, one more hop takes you to French Guiana, home of the European Space Agency's launch center at Kourou as well as the totally awesome Iles du Salut, commonly referred to as "Devils Island". French Guiana is technically a part of the European Union! So many unexpected discoveries in this odd corner of South America!

Minnesota
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3. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Thank you so much -- this is exactly what I needed. And thanks for the encouragement... The additional research I've done I've come to the conclusion that it almost seems more affordable to go with an operator (and definitely easier). I have to admit, I was a little surprised at how costly Guyana travel is, but because of it's remoteness and lack of infrastructure (ironically two things that I find very appealing about exploring Guyana); completely makes sense. I'll also take a look at the Bradt issue you recommended...

Thanks again!

Denver, CO
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4. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Thank you very much for this informative post!! I'm watching the Lost Land of the Jaguar right now and have ordered the guide book from the library.

My husband and I are going on honeymoon in these destinations in October. We'll be flying into Georgetown and, ideally, would like to fly to French Guyana, and then work our way back. We have two weeks. (Yes, we're American.)

I noticed in your post, that it is possible to fly from Geogetown from French Guyana via Suriname. Can you tell me what airline and how I can book tickets?

Thank you!

Monique

Berkeley, California
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5. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Hi Monique:

What a great honeymoon trip!

By the way I lived in the Denver area for quite a while - attended Regis High School, lived in Littleton, etc. You are headed to a place as different from the Rocky Mountains as anything on this green earth gets!

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Quick honeymoon tip: when you're in Georgetown, splurge on the Quamina Suite on the 3rd Floor of Cara Lodge. Mick Jagger and Jimmy Carter among other VIP's have stayed here! Probably the most romantic/charming option in Georgetown.

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No direct air service into French Guiana except through Paris or Guadalupe, as far as I know...

It *is* convenient to fly between Ogle (the in-town airport in Georgetown) and Zorg-en-Hoop (the in-town airport in Parimaribo, Suriname). Daily service is offered by Blue Wings and GUM Air (joint service with Guyana's TGA). The flight is only about 75 minutes long, usually on a single-engine Cessna Caravan or twin-engine Dehaviland Otter. Cost is only about $100-120 USD per passenger, good value all things considered. Book these flights through a Georgetown tour operator such as Wilderness Explorers or whoever is handling your Guyana tour arrangements.

Do get your Suriname visa in advance. I personally like VisaHQ.com since you can manage the whole process online.

Once you're in Suriname, give yourself at least a day for a Parimaribo city and commewijne plantation tour, maybe see the pink river dolphins at sunset, before moving on to French Guiana (or Guyane as they like to call it).

You hire a care to drive you pre-dawn from Parimaribo to Albina on the Maroni River. This is a 2-3 hour bumpy road that you'll be happy to leave behind. A quick stop at the border office, then you walk out to the water and board a a small boat/canoe or ferry to take you to the opposite shore (20 minutes) to St.Laurent. Here you are setting foot on European Union soil... in South America!

At St. Laurent, your French Guiana guide will meet you and shuttle you several hours to Gailibi Beach (turtles) or Kourou (Space Center and Iles du Salut) or Cayenne.

I know that many French tourists hire their own car in Cayenne for self-drive excursions around Guyane, but I am not familiar with any car rental companies in St. Laurent. In fact, there are no tourist services at the St. Laurent du Maroni border checkpoint, and on my two visits there in March, I didn't see a single taxi. You really are going to want to have arrangements pre-made for a guide and driver meet you there.

Since you're here in the US you might check out Geographic Expeditions ( geoex.com) who has a three-Guianas tour that follows this route. Even if you don't travel with them, their itinerary might give you some ideas for pace and routing.

Ideally, your Guyana tour operator should be able to manage the whole program for you... Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana. Unless you have oodles of time on your hands, that will prove a lot easier than trying to piece it all together yourself, especially since there are language issues in Suriname and French Guiana. (english guides are available in both those countries, but the language barrier is a challenge nonetheless)

Word of warning: costs in French Guiana are quite high, especially in light of the quality of lodging, etc. It's easily the most expensive of the three Guianas. BUT - it's totally worth visiting, and you'll be one of the very few Americans that go there each year.

One French Guiana suggestion I want to make, especially since this is a honeymoon trip: try to spend at least one night out on Ile Royale (one of the Iles du Salut). The accommodations there are not fancy, but the tranquility on the island is absolutely splendid. Such a rare treat, too: very few people do more than spend a few daylight hours walking the perimeter. The old buildings, flowers, scenery over the other islands, all add up to a classic off-the-beaten-path gem. They don't take direct bookings, so you need a tour company in the US, Guyana, or Cayenne to make the arrangements for you.

Edited: 23 August 2010, 00:59
Denver, CO
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6. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Thank you very much for all this invaluable advice. We've got most of our itinerary generally figured out, now it's just a question to see if we can all fit it in and the logistics.

As for the tour operators, we have always traveled FIT (Foreign Independent Tours), mom has been in the travel industry for 40 years and both my husband and I have lived in foreign countries and are pretty experienced at traveling. I've done places like Syria and Burma independently and in neither place I spoke the language. (I speak French.)

Hopefully, I don't need to be 'escorted' around these beautiful countries the whole time, but we'll see.....

Again, thanks for your tremendous advice. I will definitely take you up on some of your advice.

Monique

Berkeley, California
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7. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Traveling independently is good... but in this part of the world, the key thing is don't show up expecting to make arrangements on the spot.

Have a great trip!

Denver, CO
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8. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Yes, I am starting to get the feeling this is a "book ahead" world!

Thanks!

Wisconsin
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9. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

I traveled to Guyana in '06, and I loved it. Be sure to check out Kaieteur Falls. I did the 5-day overland trip with Rainforest Tours and would highly recommend a guide named Tony. The flight from Kaieteur Falls back to Georgetown gives a great view of the interior and takes off right over the falls.

Newcastle upon...
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10. Re: Guyana -- can I do this on my own?

Unless you are short on time, you won't necessarily need to book everything in advance. Most of the resorts in the interior have representatives in Georgetown, so you can book there, or through a local travel agent, when you arrive. A good travel agent is Muneshwars, near the wharf (opposite Fogartys department store). The 14-seater minibuses travel all along the coastal strip (including the crossing point to Suriname), they work on specified routes, you can just flag one down, or find out where the bus park is four your destination (the various bus parks are dotted around the Stabroek market area) but for other destinations check with the locals, as roads can sometimes be impassable. I was there last month (August) and the road from Georgetown to Brazil was practically closed due to flooding. You can also take light aircraft to most destinations around Guyana, book these with a local travel agent. (main airline is Transguyana). The locals are friendly and generally willing to help foreigners, especially those with a few dollars to part with, but in general they won't rip you off, the fares are generally fixed - bus drivers can be a bit pushy, fighting for passengers and grabbing your bags, but don't worry, just go with the flow - tell them where you want to go and they'll make sure you get on the right bus. Travel around Georgetown is more convenient by taxi - the fare is G$400 to any destination within the city. Have a good trip.