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Guyana Overview

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Guyana's name means "land of many waters." An untouched paradise, it holds some of the most extensive contiguous rainforest in the world. Along the rivers red howler monkeys and scarlet macaws call, and black caimans, huge crocodile relatives, slide silently into the water. Lucky travelers may see a resting jaguar.

English is the official language, but people also speak a musical Creole based on English but with its own grammar. Fewer than 800,000 people live in this uncrowded country, 90% of them along the coastal strip, leaving the nearly uninhabited jungle the perfect place for an adventure vacation.


Guyana is not a Hispanic nation. Instead, many Guyanese holidays have a Caribbean flavor, and some foods and folkways. A substantial Amerindian population distinguishes Guyana from other former colonies too, while its East Indian population brings cultural similarities to Trinidad. Cricket is a favored sport here as well, and Guyana has a first class team.

Mashramani, often called Mash, celebrates the birth of Guyana's republic on February 23. Parades, steel drum music, Calypso, and masquerade contests mark this huge annual party. Mashramani means "job well done," and the festival is probably Guyana's biggest celebration. Holi and Diwali are also official holidays in Guyana; both are celebrated joyfully.


Guyana's rivers begin in the south, and flow north between ancient tepuis, mesas called by a word meaning "houses of the gods." Kaieteur tepui gives birth to Kaieteur Falls, about five times as high as Niagara. Many other tepuis rise from the savannah and the rainforest, massive escarpments of sandstone that stand out spectacularly from the greenery far below. Each isolated tabletop is an ecological island, some nurturing bromeliads and orchids, some with mysterious rock formations, fathomless sinkholes, or deep quartzite caves.

The Essequibo River, the Courtayne, the Demerara, and more provide transport in Guyana, though waterfalls interrupt many streams. Travel from east to west is not so simple, especially in a country that has yet to build many roads. At the same time, the lack of infrastructure has left the jungle whole and undivided, so far.

Saving the Guyana environment

The Dutch were the first to alter the environment of Guyana, building polders that reclaimed land from the sea. This area is now the richest farmland of Guyana, feeding the people and supplying foreign exchange. However, the reclaimed polders are susceptible to flooding, and swamps have formed between them and inland areas.

The hardwood forests of Guyana grow on sand and clay hills that quickly erode when land is stripped to harvest hardwoods or mine diamonds or bauxite. Yet the rainforest is almost untouched, partly because of the low population, and partly because of tourism.

In Guyana, eco-tourism is essential to saving the rainforest. Already, commercial interests make bids for lands that produce no apparent return. Tourist money helps preserve the environment, and its people, by contributing to Guyana's economy, one of the poorest in South America.

Astonishing wildlife

The national bird of Guyana is the Hoatzin. It is a strange-looking bird, with maroon eyes in a bald face, topped by a spiky rust-colored feather crest. Biologists debate its relationship to other birds. It inhabits the swamps and riversides of Guyana, lives on fruit and leaves, and produces a horrible smell to scare off predators. It is also clever enough to taste bad, and so it is not an endangered species.

On the other hand, the rainforest is the elegant jaguar's natural home. Though it can live in other environments, it favors the jungle ecology that covers more than half of Guyana. Here it can stalk its prey, and here it will sometimes be seen sunning itself or even swimming, a sport this solitary cat enjoys. The jaguar population elsewhere is declining, mostly due to habitat fragmentation and loss, but Guyana's rainforest is mostly intact, so far.

Many other rare creatures make Guyana their home. Giant anteaters, tree boas and the Amazon forest dragon all survive here. The harpy eagle is the largest eagle in the Americas, with a wingspan of 8 feet. The black caiman can grow 22 feet long, while the river otter can measure six feet. It is called "the wolf of the river." The giant anaconda is sometimes thirty feet long, and can prey on jaguars.

The cuisines of Guyana

The cuisine of Guyana is diverse indeed. It varies the Caribbean pleasure in sharp spice with the Indian delight in subtle curry, creating a rich savor by making the most of local delicacies. For example, crab soups and okra stews from the coast richly resemble Louisiana gumbo, with only a hint of the exotic.

Pepperpot is the national dish. A fragrant stew, it can be made with beef, pork, mutton, or even chicken. Seasoned with cinnamon, hot peppers, and cassava root sauce, it is eaten with dense local bread. Edoe, the local taro, or sweet potatoes come with many meals. Abundant fruit is made into cooling drinks or elegant desserts. The food of Guyana is fresh and flavorful.

The politics of Guyana

Guyana is a functioning democracy. Each president is elected indirectly, as the head of a slate of candidates, and then selects ministers. The legislature rules jointly with the president, and the judiciary is independent. Although there have been political protests in the past, demonstrations have never been aimed at visitors to Guyana.

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Sunset over the still waters of the Amazon



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