Monday, May 01, 2023

Guyana: The bewitching country with birdwatching, oversized animals and waterfalls is now easier to reach

By Emma Featherstone

Deputy Travel Editor

May 1, 2023 12:00 am(Updated 4:13 pm)

Francis, a barefooted vaquero framed by the Kanuku Mountains, steadied his white steed and gestured towards a sparse thicket a few metres ahead. Heel-toe-heel-toe, I crept forwards. There was the slightest rustle, then it appeared: a proud brush, as thick as the tail of four foxes. Partly obscured by shrubbery, its black-grey owner presented a peep show of extraterrestrial body parts.

Minutes later, she ambled onto the open savannah and revealed all: a short mohawk running along her back; black and white stripes up her flanks; an elongated, beaky snout; mohair-trouser legs and that spiny tail that she uses as a makeshift duvet at night.

Giant anteaters are solitary animals, except when caring for their offspring. “She’ll carry a baby on her back until it’s almost as big as her,” explained Melanie McTurk, managing director of Karanambu Lodge, an eco-tourism destination in the south-western Rupununi region of Guyana.

Giant anteaters are among the animals to look out for around Karanambu (Photo: Wilderness Explorers)

Seven members of the giant anteater species, classified as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, roam this area. The sighting promoted an irrepressible grin: a frequent tick during my visit to the South American country.

One of the least densely populated countries on earth, with most people living on the coastal plain, up to 90 per cent of Guyana’s 83,000 square miles are covered by forest. It is dissected by four main rivers and their tributaries, and decorated with waterfalls, four mountain ranges, marsh and savannah. Sitting in the geographical formation of the Guiana Shield, it has cultural influences from Venezuela to the west and Brazil to the west and south: Brazilian vaquero, or cowboy, traditions are found in the Rupununi, for example.

With more than 800 species of bird, and a wild kingdom that includes giant river otters, giant armadillos and arapaimas (one of the world’s largest fresh water fish), it is a dream destination for keen naturalists and will convert the indifferent.

Yet nature is not Guyana’s only pull. Its mix of people – including indigenous Amerindian, East Indian, African, European and Chinese – has forged its cities, architecture and food. And Guyana is the only country in South America with English as the official language; it was once a British colony. Despite all this, British travellers make up just three per cent of Guyana’s visitor numbers. In 2022, there were 7,668 arrivals from the UK, based on data from the Guyana Tourism Authority.

That looks set to change due to a twice-weekly UK–Guyana flight operated by British Airways, which launched in March. Wilderness Explorers, a company that specialises in the Guianas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) and the Caribbean, has seen an “overwhelming response” to BA’s service to Georgetown, said its general manager, Carla Vantull. Other European tourists, as well as Britons, have added to the spike in interest with requests for bookings as far ahead as 2027.

St. George’s cathedral, one of the largest wooden churches in the world (Photo: Michael Runkel/Getty)                      

Most international visitors will start in Georgetown before heading to interior attractions, including Kaieteur Falls. A single drop waterfall in the Amazon rainforest that’s about four and a half times taller than Niagara Falls, Kaieteur is typically reached by a 45-minute flight from the city. “There used to be a problem filling planes, now there are not enough seats,” said Vantull. There are plans to expand the runway to allow for 18-passenger aircraft (at the moment the planes are 12 seaters).

Kaieteur’s annual visitor numbers are equivalent to Machu Picchu’s daily footfall. That said, a flight to the falls costs around US$280 and the alternative from Georgetown is a multi-day overland trip. Visitors who can take one of these routes enjoy an experience free of poncho-selling stalls, roped off walkways or queues.

The capital is a patchwork of wooden buildings, including St. George’s Anglican cathedral and homes painted in bright shades, as well as greenery, canals and the turrets of temples and mosques. It has a Caribbean feel: exchanges are typically in creole; Guyanese players hold positions in the West Indies cricket squad; genre-blending singer Eddy Grant is Guyanese-British.

The Guianan cock-of-the-rock (Photo: Wilderness Explorers)  

My walk to Rainbow viewpoint passed over 2.2-million-year-old rock formations and veered into a section of forest where flashes of traffic-cone orange settled long enough for a guide to identify two Guianan cocks-of-the-rock. With pronounced half-moon crests, puffed chests and their tangerine plumage, the adult males possess the beauty among this bird species.

It is one of the most coveted wildlife sightings at Kaieteur; another is the golden rocket frog. I saw one hidden inside the leaf of a giant tank bromeliad. As long as the nail on my middle finger, and a dangerous shade of yellow, the frog provided a brief diversion from the power of the falls. The relentless rush of water, which is the colour of milky hot chocolate, is surrounded by dense rainforest.

Guyana’s fauna and flora offer regular waterside entertainment. Indeed, it was the urge to nurture a river-dwelling creature that turned Karanambu Lodge into a tourist destination. The protector of the giant river otter was the late Diane McTurk, aunt to Melanie’s husband, Edward. Diane’s father Edward “Tiny” McTurk established a cattle ranch and balata (rubber) collection station at the same spot in 1927. Having grown up at the ranch, before moving for education and work, Diane returned to Karanambu and began to rehabilitate otters who’d been orphaned by poachers after their parents’ pelt.

Karanambu’s animals attracted David Attenborough in the 1950s. Other well-known arrivals have included conservationist Gerald Durrell and Mick Jagger, who visited Diane’s otters. There were none at the lodge during my visit: its education efforts have led to fewer parentless pups.

A giant river otter (Photo: Mark Newman/Getty)
Plenty live in the river that’s a five-minute walk from the main house, although they remained hidden on my tour. A trip down the Rupununi and its offshots is a highlight of a stay at Karanambu. I tried to picture the giant river otters. “Everything’s about six foot in Guyana,” joked Melanie before we headed out to the motorised boats.

My guide for the evening was Kenneth Mandook, one of around 12 people employed at Karanambu, and its chief birder. Once we’d pushed off, I swivelled my gaze from left to right as he pointed out the creatures on either bank: pied lapwing, osprey; black-throated mango hummingbird; Amazon kingfisher; nighthawks. Then there was movement high up in branches on the right bank: a group of saki monkeys were climbing from tree-to-tree. We slowed to a stop and witnessed a moment of jeopardy: a youngster tumbling in the air before catching a branch. Soon after, sitting among the vast pads of the Victoria amazonica waterlily provided a quiet interlude. Mandook passed out metal beakers of Karanambu’s passion fruit rum punch.

With crisscross, veiny undersides and umbilical-cord roots, the lily pads protect a small collection of white buds each of which open three times. I willed the petals to part as the drum of raindrops and darkening sky added to the peace of the scene.

After a festival’s worth of river performances, there was a final act. Mandook’s head torch scouted for pairs of reflective spots: then one appeared in the distance. As we moved closer, a shape formed: it was the knobbly head of a black caiman, crouched on a rock.

We recounted it all that evening at the trestle table in the main house. The thatched building doubles as Melanie’s home. Here, I had a taste of Guyanese cuisine. Split pea soup, garlic cassava bread, made from a starchy root vegetable of the same name, “high water” fish that was caught that morning, fried plantain, and steamed callaloo. Ingredients were homegrown or locally sourced. Melanie, who divides her time between Karanambu and Georgetown, has continued the lodge’s tradition of hospitality.

Having spent her youth in Georgetown – back when jaguars were known to stalk through residential areas – she had a interest in wildlife before meeting her husband. Conservation is also ingrained in Amerindian cultures around the Rupununi, she added. “It’s a name for what local people had already been doing”.  Vantull, meanwhile, who grew up in Kamarang, an Amerindian village in Upper Mazaruni, said she “learnt the beauty of wildlife through tourism.”    Back in Georgetown, Carlos Allie, a guide and avian expert, prompted a gasp as each student put an eye to the telescope that he’d trained towards another colourful specimen at the city’s botanical gardens, from toucans to macaws. Urban wildlife doesn’t stop at birds: manatees lurk in the waterways.

Around 10 minutes’ drive from the Botanical Gardens, chef Delven Adams described the origins of the dishes he’d plated up at Backyard Cafe behind his home (visitors must book in advance). The scent of fish curry, with green seasoning, coconut, turmeric and garlic, rose from the table. Lunch closed with a pudding of cassava pone and local coffee.

Adams runs regular tours of Georgetown’s Bourda and Stabroek markets during which customers can sample fruits such as fig leaf banana, golden apple and saccharine slices of sapodilla. His food has featured on the National Geographic television series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted and he’s soon to open a permanent market cafe. Punters can also try out Backyard Cafe recipes via tutorials on YouTube. “I have enquires from all over the world; people turn up at my door asking for a table,” added Adams.   He may be bringing Guyanese national pride to the online masses, but it’s best experienced in person.   Even Attenborough’s narration can’t draw out the wonder of clocking an oversized anteater shuffling onto the grassland, just a few metres from your feet, or from salted pineapple hitting your taste receptors on a humid morning in Georgetown. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Why you should visit Guyana


Sarah Marshall

27 March 2023 • 9:59am

Kate at Pico de la Nieve 

Guyana is a great option to visit for adventure CREDIT: Sarah Marshall

Adorned with a crown of colourful feathers, the Makushi chief is a glorious embodiment of his rainforest kingdom. 

Deep in the heart of the Guiana Shield, one of the world’s last pristine tropical forests, his community have been living alongside nature for 7,000 years. It is a world that couldn’t be further from my own until he opens his mouth and – to my surprise – speaks in fluent English.

Once under British rule, Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America – making it far easier to chat about ways of life with the country’s nine multilingual indigenous tribes. 

But language is just about the only thing that is familiar: dense rainforests reverberating with thundering waterfalls and the roar of howler monkeys are far removed from North Sea shores and rolling meadows. 

Guyana's Cumbre Vieja volcano CREDIT: Sarah Marshall

Niche, offbeat and adventurous, the country is a left-field choice for British Airways, which will operate a new twice-weekly route between Gatwick and Guyana’s capital Georgetown (with a short stop in St Lucia) from Monday. Fares start at £499 return. 

“We are the biggest UK carrier to the Caribbean, so we know its destinations are hugely popular with our customers and we expect Guyana to be no exception,” says Neil Chernoff, director of networks and alliances at BA. “With more than 80 per cent forest coverage, it is a naturally beautiful country that is largely undiscovered by tourists.”

Whether it is the promise of spotting wildlife or the chance to immerse yourself in indigenous culture, there are plenty of reasons to make Guyana your next great adventure.

Feel the rush of an epic waterfall

National attractions like Kaieteur Falls tend to come with queues, ticket booths and restrictive safety railings. It has none of these. 

The world’s largest single drop waterfall – four-and-a-half times the height of Niagara but with less than one per cent of the annual visitors – remains just as nature created it. 

 Kaieteur Falls

Experience the world's largest single drop waterfall CREDIT: Kevin Schafer/Getty Images

Seen from above on a 55-minute day-trip flight from Georgetown, an emerald plateau of thick jungle abruptly caves away as the Potaro River crashes into a deep valley etched into the landscape. 

Follow a trail through rocky chasms draped with vines to walk almost to the edge of the falls, where swallows dive into the mist. In the same park, designated in 1929, look out for tiny golden frogs in the rosettes of bromeliad leaves and cock-of-the-rock birds impressing females in a lek (courtship ritual).

Experience a unique way of life

In a village originally built as a film set, Makushi couple Glendon and Jean Allicock invite tourists to learn about a culture under threat. Meet them during a stay at Surama, Guyana’s first indigenous ecolodge, with rooms designed in the style of traditional thatched benabs.

Surama Cultural Group 

Learn about Guyana’s indigenous culture at the first ecolodge CREDIT: Sarah Marshall

In an outdoor kitchen, younger members of the Surama Culture Group strain cassava through a woven matapee and roast maggots plucked from nut shells.

There is tale telling, too: Glendon, wearing a jaguar’s tooth necklace, shares the story of how his stepfather tackled the predator with a machete, while Jean explains how local shamans are initiated by spending several months in the forest living on hummingbirds. 

Get involved with community conservation

In the past, it took Rewa villagers three days to paddle to the nearest town and collect their post. But the arrival of a motorboat has made it easier to access this eco-minded community at the confluence of the Rewa and Rupununi Rivers, who have established their own lodge.

A nearby pool, popular with catch-and-release anglers, contains the world’s highest number of arapaima: an enormous freshwater fish that is able to live for 24 hours out of water. Paddle along the river, through lily pads the size of dinner plates, and look for bubbles on the surface. 

Giant lily pads at Rewa

Wildlife spotting has never been so beautiful, surrounded by lily pads the size of dinner plates CREDIT: Sarah Marshall

Back on land, follow rough trails in the forest to find the goliath birdeater –the largest spider in the world by mass and size – or climb nearby Awarmie Mountain for a view of the valley. To connect with more than community life, wander through the camp to reach Rewa’s village square, where – surprisingly – public wifi is available. 

See the sights in a quirky capital

A South American city with a creole culture, Georgetown – Guyana’s coastal capital – is a compelling mix of dilapidated European architecture, quirky museums, wild parks, a cricket ground and stalls selling fiery Caribbean food. 

The Gothic-style St George’s Cathedral, built in the late 19th century with a native hardwood called greenheart, is one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings. 

Among other remnants of Dutch and British rule is a contentious statue of Queen Victoria, whose head was blown off during anti-colonial protests in the 1950s. Sent to Britain for repair, she now stands in front of the high court but is still missing her nose. 

St. George's Anglican Cathedral

With a mix of influences in design and culture, the coastal capital Georgetown is well worth a visit CREDIT: Sarah Marshall

One essential stop on a city tour is Guyana National Park, where it is possible to hand-feed bunches of grass to tame resident West Indian manatees. And if you don’t have time to travel deep into the jungle, the city’s botanical gardens feature more than 100 species of bird, including the blood-coloured woodpecker, white-bellied piculet and festive parrots.

Feast on fiery cuisine

Guyana’s cuisine features, among other things, zingy spices and unusual rainforest ingredients – and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay claims the country has “some of the most exciting food on the planet”. 

During his visit for National Geographic TV show Uncharted, he cooked with local chef Delven Adams, who runs tours of Georgetown market. He then cooks the ingredients he has collected back at his friendly Backyard Café – literally built in his back garden. 

Even if Guyana’s national dish – pepperpot – is not on the menu, Adams can advise on the best places to try it. The fiery beef stew is slow-cooked for several days. (According to local folklore, one chef had his on the go for 75 years.)


This traditional Guyanese dish of stewed meat flavored with cinnamon, hot peppers, and Cassareep CREDIT: Getty Images/Johnny Mad

Unsurprisingly, given its proximity to the Caribbean, rum is the tipple of choice here. Set on the east bank of the Demerara River, just outside town, the Demerara Distillery makes award-winning El Dorado aged rums using vintage stills. Visit the heritage museum and taste rums in the Barrel Bar, constructed from old oak casks.

Discover brilliant birdlife

With more than 840 bird species recorded in the country, this is an avian Arcadia. Some of the best sightings can be enjoyed from the 500ft-high Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, deep in the Guiana Shield. 

The walkway comprises a series of suspension bridges, connected by several decks, running through the canopy of the Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve – a protected area of almost a million acres of pristine rainforest that has become a base for scientific research. Tours set off at 5am, with the aim of spotting species such as the green aracari, scarlet macaw, Guianan toucanet and channel-billed toucan. 

Cock of the rock bird

If you're interest in bird-watching, there are tours run by those in the know that might even have you spotting a jaguar CREDIT: Sarah Marshall

Back at ground level, there is always a chance of running into red-rumped agoutis, tapirs and elusive jaguars (this is one of the best places in Guyana to see them), especially if staying overnight at the nearby Atta Rainforest Lodge, staffed by Makushi Amerindians and Guyanese naturalists. 

For most birders, a key sighting is the harpy eagle: a powerful predator capable of snatching sloths with its claws. Experienced Guyanese naturalist and photographer Leon Moore knows where the most accessible nests can be observed; he leads small group tours to Iwokrama and beyond.


Monday, March 27, 2023


Monday March 27 2023, 12.01am,

 Jamie Lafferty - The Sunday Times

Despite being the only English-speaking country in South America, Guyana has long been a mystery for most British travellers. Blessed with extraordinary wildlife and one of the purest remaining wildernesses on the continent, it has largely been ignored by everyone aside from committed birders looking to spot some of the 800 or so species found within its border.

Now, however, this former British colony is a little bit closer, thanks to the launch of a new British Airways flight to the capital, Georgetown, providing the first direct link with Europe.

1. Kaieteur Falls

Ironically, interest in Guyana has been spurred by the discovery of oil off its Atlantic coast in 2015. But for travellers the attraction will lie less in its fossil fuels than its extraordinary natural beauty, cascading waterfalls and blossoming eco-tourism. A visit here is a journey into the wild. Here are the highlights.

See a thundering cascade and dazzling wildlife

Unarguably one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the world, Kaieteur is the nation’s icon and the planet’s largest single-drop waterfall by volume. It may not match Angel Falls in Venezuela for height, but it’s still 225m tall, and whereas its nominal rival is a mere trickle in the jungle this is a thundering, exhilarating cascade. With its own airstrip and national park, it’s also surprisingly accessible thanks to a short (if often bumpy) flight.

There are three separate viewpoints and, at the time of writing, still very little in the way of restrictions — vertigo sufferers may find the lack of safety rails a little daunting, but photographers will be delighted by the dizzying access.

The mist from the falls in rainy season breathes life into the surrounding valley, providing enough moisture for golden rocket frogs to live their entire lives inside giant tank bromeliads, many of which hang perilously over the cliffs facing the falls. Elsewhere, one of the most popular hiking routes passes a courting location for the absurdly flamboyant Guianan cock-of-the-rock, a bright orange bird that looks as though it’s dressed to provide security at a punk gig. 

2. Surama Eco-Lodge

Learn from indigenous people

Guyana’s oldest eco-lodge is right in the heart of the country, where the jungle has started to thin out towards baked savannah. The Surama Eco Lodge has many elements you’d expect — easy access to nature, sustainably constructed buildings — and some great tours into the wilderness, where you can expect encounters with giant anteaters, scarlet macaws and, if you’re especially fortunate, the mighty harpy eagle.

The lodge is owned and run by local Makushi people, one of the nine distinct indigenous groups in the country. As well as meeting community members at the property, you can also make a visit to the Surama cultural village — originally built as a film set it’s now used by the indigenous people for demonstrations and lectures about their fast-fading way of life and language. Among the classes there’s hammock making and the baking of cassava bread, as well as the chance to try a local hooch known as “fly”. The cultural show at the end — a mix of folkloric songs and poems — has toured internationally and been performed for visiting royals.

3. Georgetown

Explore the food scene and the two rivers

For a long time travelling through the capital felt like a necessary evil en route to discovering the more beautiful and natural parts of the country. As visitor numbers have grown, however, this British-built city has improved, with a growing number of bars and restaurants catering to an increasingly international crowd.

If you want to learn something about the culinary history of Guyana, the Backyard Café is a must. Its owner and chef, Delven Adams, leads tours of the central market before taking you back to his family-run restaurant for an expertly prepared meal made with the produce that he has just acquired, as well as a lengthy talk on the country’s cuisine and dishes, such as coconut bread, and baked fish with mango salsa (

For accommodation, more international brands are arriving each year, but for a sense of Guyana’s colonial-era architecture try the Cara Lodge, which dates from the days of the British Empire. 

The city and surrounding area is best explored through an organised tour taking in the Guyana National Museum, with its hulking full-scale model of a giant sloth, and sunset trips up the Demerara and Essequibo rivers — at day’s end thousands of birds, including spectacular scarlet ibises, come to roost by the slow-moving waters. If you’ve a little extra time, more elaborate boat trips include visits to the Sloth Island nature reserve, where you’re likely to find some incredibly lazy residents.

4. Rewa Eco-Lodge

Find giant otters and prehistoric fish in the jungle

Rewa is one of those lodges buried so deep in the jungle that wildlife interactions will be unavoidable. Prizes include the near-mythic arapaima, a colossal prehistoric fish that breathes at the surface, giving it a huge advantage when the dry season arrives. Sports fishermen come from around the world to catch (and release) these giants.

Fans of creepy-crawlies will not go wanting — a short trip from the lodge, guides have marked hiding spots for the impressive Goliath bird-eating tarantula, which may not actually eat birds, but which is nonetheless the world’s heaviest spider.

In the deepest depths sunlight won’t penetrate the foliage, but the lodge’s expert guides are still able to help spot birds and primates in the canopy. If that feels at all claustrophobic then the good news is that time is also spent out on the Rewa and Rupununi rivers, speeding along on skiffs with a cooling breeze. There’s plenty more wildlife along the riverbanks, including giant otters and dozens of kingfishers, as well as cayman sunning themselves on sandbars.

One of the most popular excursions stops at one of these river beaches (making sure it’s clear of Crocodilia first) to have a barbecue dinner while the sun sets over the jungle. Racing you back after nightfall, the guides will then use spotlights to find yet more wildlife.

 The captivating South American country with a new direct flight (

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Guianas: 'Lost World' rediscovered

guianas kaieteur falls

(CNN) — Taking time off from his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Arthur Conan Doyle penned a tale about a remote corner of South America where dinosaurs and other colossal creatures stilled roamed the earth.

Most readers thought "The Lost World" was entirely fiction. But Conan Doyle's far-fetched saga was inspired by reports that explorers were bringing back from three small European colonies that border Brazil at the top end of South America: British Guiana, Dutch Guiana and French Guiana.

Nowadays they're the independent nations of Guyana and Suriname, and the French territory of Guyane (French Guiana).

For most of the past century -- since "The Lost World" was published in 1912 -- they've been little more than geographical trivia. Cricket legend Clive Lloyd hails from Guyana, and Guyane is famed for its Ariane rocket launches. But for the most part, the region has long flown beneath the radar of global awareness.

However, all three are finally stepping out from the shadows as their natural, historical and cultural wonders are discovered by travelers questing new worlds to explore.

While there may not be dinosaurs, the Amazon rainforest that covers around 80% of the three countries does harbor very large wildlife: giant river otters and giant anteaters, anacondas that can reach 28 feet (8.5 meters) in length, spiders as big as your hand, and a huge carnivorous river fish called the arapaima that makes piranhas seem like puppy dogs.

Giant anteaters roam the Rupununi savannah in Guyana.

The region also boasts an incredible cultural melting pot.

"Guyana" or "Guiana" is an Amerindian word that means "Land of Many Waters." But given how history unfolded, it could just was easily mean land of many peoples or languages.

With English spoken in Guyana, Dutch the lingua franca of Suriname and French the mother tongue in Guyane, they are the only countries in South America were Spanish or Portuguese are not the official language.

After two centuries as a Dutch colony, Guyana was handed over to Britain in 1814 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The Dutch managed to retain control of an adjacent colony that centered around the Suriname River. Apparently it was 17th-century Italians who first settled the Guyane coast, but it was the French who soon claimed a territory that would one day harbor their most notorious prison.

Guyana gained its independence in 1966, Suriname in 1975, while Guyane morphed from French colony to overseas department in 1946 (and later voted against independence from France). But the die had already been cast in terms of their cultural identity and ethnic variety.

The colonial empires imported slaves and indentured servants to work the plantations, people from as far away as Java, India and West Africa. Together with the indigenous Amerindians and descendants of European settlers, they comprise one of the world's most diverse populations. And by extension, one of the most varied culinary destinations.

As a lifelong fan of Conan Doyle -- and the Jurassic Park stories that his writing inspired -- I decided to discover South America's lost world for myself.

Guyana Forest. 

There  are only four places left on the planet with pristine, primary rainforest -- New Guinea, central Africa, part of the Brazilian Amazon and here in Guyana," British adventure guide Ian Craddock tells me over drinks in Georgetown, the coastal capital city.

The next morning I'm on a small plane headed into that huge green wilderness.

First stop: Kaieteur Falls. Although largely unknown outside Guyana, it's actually the world's largest single-drop waterfall -- 741 feet (226 meters) without interruption. Twice as tall as Victoria Falls and more than four times higher than Niagara.

There's a double rainbow over the falls as I peer into the gorge from the edge of a lofty rock ledge near the national park lodge and landing strip. I'm not usually acrophobic, but it's an awful long way down. Away from the falls, the jungle is filled with marvelous creatures like the golden tree frog and the cock-of-the-rock bird with its bright red feathers.

Guyana's Amazon region isn't just trees. There are also vast tropical savannahs like the Rupununi, my next stop in the journey south. An early morning drive from Waikin Lodge ends with my first sighting of a giant anteater, a massive creature with immense claws that's said to be the only animal that can take on (and defeat) a jaguar.

Reaching Yupukari, an indigenous settlement on the southern edge of the Rupununi, I rendezvous with Ashley Holland, a veteran wildlife guide who's leading a small group of us up the Mapari River.

There's plenty to see along the way: black caiman (an alligator relative) snoozing on the sandy banks, giant river otters giving us a quick look-see before disappearing into the depths again, and three-foot (one-meter) electric eels that allegedly emit enough juice to electrocute a person. (Holland says that isn't quite true).

We spend four nights sleeping in hammocks and bathing in the river at Holland's remote -- but surprisingly comfortable -- jungle camp in the upper reaches of the Mapari watershed. Days are spent on jungle hikes or slowly cruising the river in search of wildlife.

Our most astounding finds are a fist-sized Goliath bird-eating spider (world's largest arachnid), a huge Gladiator tree frog, a pair of tapirs (South America's largest mammal) swimming across the river right in front of our boat, and a very rare sighting of the world's most powerful raptor -- a mother harpy eagle and her fluffy feathered chick.

Heading down the river and back to civilization, I think to myself maybe there are no dinosaurs, but this is close as I'm ever going to come to a real-life Jurassic Park.

Suriname: Coat of many cultures

From Georgetown it's about a two-hour flight to Paramaribo, Suriname's bustling little capital. And because we're landing at the old aerodrome near the city center rather than the new international airport 33 miles (54 kilometers) out of town, clearing customs and immigration takes all of five minutes.

I've arranged for guide Desmond Budhan to meet me on arrival, but rather than head straight for my hotel overlooking the Paramaribo River, Budhan -- who describes himself as a third generation Hindustani-Surinamese -- wants to show me straight away how diverse his hometown is.

We pay our respects at an ornate Hindu temple, drive down a street with ethnic Chinese shops adorned with songbirds in wooden cages, and wind up at the Javanese Market, where locals clad in traditional Indonesian fashion are haggling over batik fabric or munching barbecued satay slathered in peanut sauce. I've gotta keep reminding myself that I'm not in Asia. 

Historic Fort Zeelandia was the start of Suriname's capital,

Suriname's melting pot derives from the Dutch having a global empire comprising an incredible range of religions, languages and ethnic groups, a colonial realm that once included present-day nations such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

Many of those who wound up in Suriname were either forcibly relocated from other parts of the Dutch empire or voluntarily immigrated to this remote South American shore in search of better lives than back home.

The Dutch also have a legacy, an inner city filled with 17th and 18th-century colonial buildings that now house museums, restaurants and handicraft shops.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the old town revolves around Fort Zeelandia, an amazingly well-preserved Dutch citadel with exhibits on Suriname history, art and ethnic groups.

Compact and easy to get around on foot, I spent several days wandering old Paramaribo. Wherever I roamed, the city's coat of many cultures was on display.

At Neveh Shalom Synagogue I walked barefoot across the sandy floor of a shrine built in the 1720s by Sephardim fleeing the Inquisition in Europe. Along a new promenade in the Palm Garden, I met Amerindians selling traditional foods, handicrafts and holistic cosmetics made from ingredients found in the Suriname Amazon.    

The Suriname-Guyane frontier lies about a two-hour drive east of Paramaribo through a region populated by the Marron people -- the descendants of African slaves who escaped the Dutch plantations and fled into the jungle. 
Produce sellers create a makeshift market located on the shore in Saint-Laurent du Maroni, Guyane. Jody Amiet/AFP/Getty Images

Guyane: Escaping an infamous past

At the end of the road in Suriname is Albina, a sleepy river port where ferries depart for the French territory on the other side of the water. Climbing into an outboard-powered dugout canoe, I cruised over to Saint-Laurent du Maroni, Guyane's second largest city.

Just like that I'm in the Eurozone -- many of the cars are Peugeots and everyone is speaking French. The steeple of a red brick Catholic church rises above the old town. I find a great little Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and contemplate what this laid-back town is most known for: its infamous Camp de la Transportation.

France began shipping political prisoners to French Guiana during the revolution of the 1790s. By the late 1800s, the bulk of deportees were men and women found guilty of murder and other serious crimes.

However, the prison camps never occupied more than a small portion of the colony. French Guiana also had its sawmills, gold mines and tropical plantations.

Camp de la Transportation in Saint-Laurent du Maroni was an infamous prison. Joe Yogerst

Devil's Island, the offshore portion of the penal colony, gets all the props. But the sprawling camp in Maroni is where the most devilish deeds took place. It was here that prisoners were inducted into the French penal colony system, where they were often incarcerated for years or even decades, and where many were dispatched via the guillotine.

Fluent in French, Dutch, English and Marron patois, Gilbert Samson guided me around the prison, many of the cells still outfitted with rusty iron shackles and the gray coral-stone walls scarred by graffiti made by long-ago inmates. One of the grassy quads is flanked by death row and the spot where the camp guillotine once stood.

Samson shows me a solitary confinement cell (No. 47) with the name "Papillon" is scratched in the stone floor. That was the nickname of renowned convict Henri Charrière, sentenced to life and hard labor at the prison colony in the early 1930s when he was convicted of murder.

He staged numerous daring escapes -- by sea and by jungle -- and later described his trials and tribulations in a best-selling book that was made into two movies.

Whether or not this particular cell is where the legendary escapee-author was actually jailed is beside the point: the hideous events portrayed in his autobiography really did take place in an around Saint-Laurent du Maroni.

Criticized for its extreme brutality and inhumane conditions, the penal colony closed in 1946. Less than two decades later, Guyane became the site of Europe's version of Cape Canaveral. Nowadays, the Centre Spatial Guyanais in Kourou with its Ariane launches is the territory's number one tourist attraction. How ironic that those rockets blast off into another largely mysterious place -- outer space -- every bit as fascinating as the lost world of the three Guianas.

( Please contact us for our 3 Guianas tour package


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Briton, 21, becomes first woman in the world to climb 2,000ft sheer 'wall' of mountain in Guyana rainforest

Anna Taylor, 21, has completed one of the toughest climbing challenges in the world by climbing the daunting walls of Mount Roraima in the rainforests of GuyanaThey took two weeks to climb the daunting 2,000ft-high prow – sleeping in special hanging tents with a perilous drop beneath them.
We did it: The team at the summit after the gruelling climb. Mr Houlding's team did not have to climb back down again after reaching the summit earlier this month. Instead they were carried from the plateau by helicopter
The flat-topped summit of the 9,000ft mountain is said to have influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World – where dinosaurs roam the area – and the 2009 animated movie Up where characters arrive in a house floating with the help of thousands of balloons.

Miss Taylor, from Windermere, Cumbria, was the youngest member of the team on the month-long expedition facing venomous spiders, snakes, scorpions and swamps led by fellow Briton Leo Houlding, 39. Their climb on the new route on the prow – labelled the 'wall' – saw them roped in at all times on the vertical face.

 Now back home, Miss Taylor said: 'It was the most incredible experience of my life. 'The whole wall is really steep and it's very physically challenging to tackle. We slept in 'portaledges' up there – essentially special hanging tents for rock climbers that you attach to the side of the cliff.

t is a tepui – flat-top mountain – that sits on the border between Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela in the Amazon basin. Nicknamed the Floating Island, scientists say it has a unique eco-system with many plants only found there.

It has a 20 square mile flat summit, surrounded by cliffs on all sides. Mr Houlding's team did not have to climb back down again after reaching the summit earlier this month. Instead, they were carried from the plateau by helicopter.


Sunday, November 03, 2019

Leo Houlding to lead expedition to free-climb Amazonian 'lost world' Roraima

Mount Roraima. Photo: Martin Harvey/Alamy
Roraima is often sheathed in cloud. Photo: Waldo Etherington
Climber and explorer Leo Houlding will brave venomous snakes, mud and mosquitos in a trek to summit a South American ‘lost world’.

The Cumbrian adventurer hopes to help two local Amerindians to the summit of the 2,810m flat-topped tepui Mount Roraima. Joining his team next month will be fellow Cumbrian climber Anna Taylor, who will be taking part in her first major expedition.

The six-strong group hopes to post a first route on the 600m continually overhanging prow of the Guyanan mountain. 
Trad climber Taylor, 21, is the latest to join outdoors brand Berghaus’s team of athletes, which includes Houlding. The company is sponsoring the expedition to the tepui, in the rainforest on the borders of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana.

A Berghaus spokesperson said: “It is the location that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic work of fiction The Lost World and more recently the Disney animated movie Up.

“The main objective of the expedition is to free-climb a new route on the prow of Roraima, which lies in Guyana, a former British colony that gained independence in 1966. The country has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world and is 80 per cent covered in forest.

“It was first climbed with extensive aid in 1973, by a team of British climbing legends, including Hamish MacInnes, Don Whillans and Joe Brown, and in a BBC documentary. 
“Access to Mount Roraima involves a 53km trek through pristine, untracked jungle from the closest airstrip in the Amerindian community of Philipi.”


Leo braves tropical nasties for first ascent on Amazon 'lost world'

A belay on the Cerro Autana climb. Photo: Alastair Lee
One of Britain’s top climbers has followed in the footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan’s Doyle’s adventure heroes with an ascent to a South American ‘lost world’.

Leo Houlding’s climb of the Cerro Autana, the 1,400m table mountain which towers above the Venezuelan rainforest was filmed by cinematographer Alistair Lee for a movie to be released later this year.

Cumbria-based Houlding has just returned from the trip during which, in contrast to his Baffin Island climb for the Asgard Project, saw him endure 35C heat, 100 per cent humidity and torrential rain.

Cerro Autana is a spectacular quartzite-sandstone tepuy – a table mountain similar to the one supposedly still inhabited by dinosaurs in the Conan-Doyle book – situated deep in the jungle in the state of Amazonas in eastern Venezuela.

The starting point for the expedition was the frontier town of Puerto Ayacucho, easily reached from Caracas by car or plane. From there, the team made their way to the Piaroa community of Ceguera by an eight-hour boat ride up the Orinoco and its tributary Rio Autana.

“There were so many unknowns and hazards, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and unforgettable moments. If it were not for their extremely inaccessible location, the Autana Caves would surely be known as one of the wonders of the world and the top of Cerro Autana was an amazing place.

The local Piaroa Indians revere it as the stump of the tree of life, from which all life grew. Due to its sacred status and close proximity to the porous Colombian border, access to Autana is prohibited and extremely difficult to secure on both a national and local level.


Monday, September 02, 2019

Discovering Angel Falls on “Devil Mountain”

Discovering Angel Falls on “Devil Mountain”
Angel Falls - Venezuela

CANAIMA, VENEZUELA, November 29, 2014 – If ever there was an ideal made-for-Hollywood adventure it would be the discovery of Angel Falls in Venezuela. The blur between reality and myth in the life of Jimmie Angel is a screenwriter’s nirvana that would do Indiana Jones proud.

Born in Missouri in 1899, Jimmie Angel was an adventure lover with a passion for flying. Following World War I, he contemplated the idea of becoming a commercial airline pilot but decided the job would be too confining to suit his personality.

For a while, he worked as a barnstormer, test pilot, stunt pilot and flight instructor before heading south to Mexico, Central America and South America in the 1920s. Intrigued by the idea of exploring remote, unexplored territories, Angel became especially fond of Venezuela.

Over time, the celebrated folklore surrounding Jimmie Angel made it difficult to separate myth from reality. Unverified stories that he taught himself fly when he was 14, that he was a Royal British Flying Corps Ace in World War I, that he created an air force for a Chinese warlord in the Gobi Desert or that he worked as an aviation scout for Lawrence of Arabia all became part of the legend.

Among the accounts, which intensifies the mystery, involves an American geologist known only as McCracken who met Angel in a smoke-filled bar in Panama in the early 1920s. For a fee of $5,000, a hefty sum at that time, Angel agreed to fly McCracken to a river of gold flowing through an unknown tepui (plateau) in the Gran Sabana of southeastern Venezuela.  Some say that part of McCracken’s deal did not allow Angel to use instruments so the pilot could not return by himself later.

Using only hand signals, the mysterious stranger directed Angel to the river where they removed as much gold as possible and still be able to take-off.

Jimmie Angel's historic plane, El Rio Camino, Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela  (wikipedia)
Jimmie Angel's historic plane, El Rio Camino, Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela
McCracken never returned to Venezuela. He died in the United States and Angel spent the remainder of his life searching for the lost river of gold. It is uncertain whether the story is true, but Angel told it often and his obsessive search for the river may have been an indication of its validity.

In November 1933, while flying a solo flight in the canyons of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana, Angel claimed to have sighted a “mile-high waterfall.” Understandably, with other “tales” from Jimmie’s past, there were serious doubts about its authenticity.

One reason for the scepticism was the seasonal nature of many waterfalls, and the Auyántepui rising from the neighbouring Kamarata Valley was uncharted at the time. It was believed that the indigenous Kamarakotos Pemón tribe knew of it, but regarded the tepui as an evil spirit so they feared to talk about it.

Finally, in the spring of 1935, Angel convinced three other explorers to fly an expedition into the canyon to verify his claim and take pictures.
L.P. Dennison published the adventure in 1942 in a book titled Devil Mountain. Wrote Dennison, “’ Now I will show you my waterfall!’ shouted Jimmie with glee!”

When he spotted the falls himself, Dennison was in awe. “I could only stare in amazement. It looked like an immense rope hanging over the canyon wall, and it fell for all of 3,000 feet, possibly more, without interruption until it spread out into a billowy cloud of fine, fluffy mist.”

Now vindicated, Angel and his wife, Marie, flew his beloved Flamingo aeroplane, named El Rio Caroni, returned to the falls on several occasions between 1935 and 1937. The Caroni River was the primary visual navigational tool Angel used to find his way back to the waterfall.

Still seeking his “golden river” in 1937, Angel intended to land on Auyántepui for some exploration on foot. Though the landing went smoothly at first, El Rio Caroni hit soft ground and nose-dived into a layer of mud causing a broken fuel line.

Fortunately, in anticipation of problems, Angel had parachuted supplies to the area before attempting the landing. Despite being well equipped, the trip back to civilization required an arduous 11-day trek by the four-person expedition.

Jimmie Angel died in 1956 at the age of 57 from a cerebral haemorrhage resulting from the complications of a head injury when loose cargo struck him while landing earlier in the year.

Seven years earlier, in 1949, World War II correspondent and photojournalist, Ruth Robertson led the first successful land expedition to Angel Falls. The falls were then declared the tallest in the world at 3,212 feet and Robertson’s story is documented in the November 1949 edition of National Geographic titled “Jungle Journey to the World’s Highest Waterfall.”

In 1964, the Venezuelan government declared El Rio Caroni a national monument. It was dismantled by the Venezuelan Air Force in 1970 and partially restored and reassembled by the Aviation Museum in Maracay.

Though the airport in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela is small, it is the gateway for excursions to view Jimmie Angel’s magnificent waterfall. Meanwhile, tiny El Rio Camino sits proudly on the lawn in front of the terminal paying homage to the Devil Mountain discovered by an Angel.