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