“Guyana? Where is that?”
“Is that an island in the Pacific?”
Clearly, Guyana is not the best-known country in the world, and even among South Americans you’ll find many incapable of spotting the country on the map, even though it lines the northern coast of their continent.
Admittedly we weren’t able to spot it on a map before shipping our vehicle to South America in 2007, and before visiting it we didn’t know much more than that it had been a British colony until 1966.
Among overlanders and (regional and local) off-roaders part of the country is particularly appreciated for its off-the-beaten-track trails: the Rupununi Savanna. International overlanders will automatically cross this astounding part of the country when traveling between Suriname and Brazil. But Guyana offers so much more. And to tell you what, I am writing this blog post.
Drive to Parika and organize a boat to visit the restored Fort Island with Fort Zeelandia and the old Court House (read about it here).
From Georgetown you cross the longest floating steed bridge in the world and drive to the stelling (wharf) in Parika. From here you take a ferry to cross the Essequibo River to the Essequibo Coast.
On the other side of the river there is only one road, going to Charity. You can drive it quickly and efficiently but for the slow travelers there is enough to admire:
- The quaint architecture of wooden houses with balconies and Hindu flags on poles in the garden.
- The last remnant of what once was an abundance of sugar cane plantations: one chimney in what is now a rice plantation.
- The graveyards where Muslim graves are characterized by the symbol of a crescent moon and Christian graves by a cross.
The Damon Monument in Anne Regina, which is a reminder of the infamous Essequibo Rebellion in 1834. There have been a number of important rebellions in this country you’ll find various monuments in the honor of those who fought and died.
From Charity to Moruca
In Charity we parked our Land Cruiser at the police station and took a boat to Moruca (no roads go farther east from Charity). It’s such a lovely side trip. A place to linger, to walk around, to canoe through the savanna, to find a small Bed & Breakfast and chat with local people. More about that in this post.
Worth a visit: Guyana Heritage Museum in Meten-Meer-Zorg, run by Gary and his wife, both who were born in Guyana but lived abroad for many years. You’ll find the historic paraphernalia such as coins, bottles and ceramics, as well as books about Guyana or from Guyanese writers (according to Gary, the movie the Horse Whisperer was based on a horse whisperer from Guyana). Lots of old maps, drawings, and art as well.
Along the way, stop for Maubi: a drink of maubi (bark of the maubi tree) with cinnamon, clove and ginger. You can snack on egg balls, chicken balls, fish balls, potato balls, cassava balls, you name it!
From Georgetown you can drive to Bartica (via Linden) but much more interesting is the ferry going from Parika. It’s a seven-hour ride. Be early, around sunrise, at the stelling. It’s fantastic to watch the world waking up here: little and big boats arrive with fresh produce for markets and cars and trucks arrive from all over to ship materials, foods, supplies and what have you to Bartica. Stuffing the ferry with as much as possible is quite a sight!
Bartica is a mining town. Not to do any mining here, but to stock up on fuel, materials, and food before going to/returning to the rainforest, where the mining takes place. It creates a pleasant vibe of people coming and going, happy to be back for a day or two. You can explore part of the gold mining business here, you’ll find small businesses buying gold from miners on every corner. People are friendly, inviting you for a drink, we found.
From here you can either drive to Linden, or go farther south to explore the rainforest. When we drove here there were no sign boards but the few people we met were enough to get directions (there are not many choices in roads so that helps). It’s only a couple of hours to the Shemira Crossing and a beautiful drive through the forest.
On the other side of the crossing we camped at the Anarika logging concession and got a tour through the now abandoned wood factory (once, apparently, the largest in the Caribbean, read about it here).
Back on the main road from Linden to Lethem you’ll find a turn-off to Mahdia. This includes another ferry crossing, the Mabura Crossing. Note that for this crossing you need to have bought a ticket in Georgetown (find more info this on the practical travel information page I mentioned in the beginning of the post).
Mahdia is Guyana’s center of gold mining. Not in the town (more a place to go for a beer, a party, and for the miners to find a woman) but in the forests around it. Gold mining is largely legalized and during our visit (2012) it was perfectly safe to drive here, walk here, and visit gold mines in the area. The latter was a great opportunity to see serious gold mining from up close. We wrote about it here.
Mahdia is also the base from where you can hike to the Kaieteur Waterfall. We didn’t do that, but know it’s possible. You’ll need a guide. Instead we tried driving to the Gerraway Stream but the road was too damaged and cars in front of us were too stuck to get out so we had to turn around.
Back at the main Linden-Lethem road you cross the Kurupukari Crossing (again, buy your ticket in Georgetown!) and traverse the Iwokrama forest. Here you can stay at local communities, organized (check your guidebook) or independently (just get permission from the village captain (called a touchow)).
The Savanna is open in every direction. Not many roads and hard or impossible to travel in rainy season (worst roughly between Feb-May) but perfectly doable during the rainy season when the unpaved roads have a hard surface and just create a lot of dust. Rough camping, staying in local communities, hiking, wildlife watching, you name it and you can find it. We just loved it (and shared our experiences here and here).
We enjoyed staying at the Rockview Lodge but unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to drive to the far south to the Dadanawa Ranch and even farther south. That one remains on our bucket list.
Just south of the Rock View Lodge you’ll find a small peanut butter factory, a women empowerment initiative (find it here). Apparently there are more of them in the savanna.
The place to cross the border or to go for a drink and get the latest gossip and travel information from Shirley at Shirley’s Bar.