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The trip to Guyana was planned rather spontaneously, it happened when I saw a random promotion for a very reasonably priced roundtrip airfare. The company that flies directly from New York to Guayana is called Dynamic Airways, and I have never heard of them prior to discovering that deal on the internet. I couldn’t resist it, and so a month after purchasing the trip I was at the JFK boarding my plane.
The minute I stepped into the aircraft and found my seat… I instantly wanted to ran out screaming and run all the way back to my home. The plane looked like it was used for transporting cattle, before it was actually converted to a passenger airplane. I saw used bubble gums there, left kindly by the previous passengers still attached to a seat; half torn safety signs; missing seat parts, and other terrible details that really made that plane look like it was just used for shooting a scene from a horror film.
And so I clenched my teeth in fear, debating until the very last moment if I should fight or flee, and I did neither. The travel bug won, I said a prayer, and we took off. The second we left the ground, my fellow passenger’s broken seat reclined to a full ‘lay down’ position, to her surprised scream. Thankfully, except for a few scary turbulence episodes, we made it safely to Guyana 6 hours later, and arrived around 7am local time.
However, the thoughts about the sleepless night and the scary interior design of the airplane, quickly disappeared the moment I opened my window shade and was greeted with a first, breathtaking sight of Guyana’s jungle trees… In the end, it was all worth it.
Guyana, French Guiana, and Surinam, are the least explored countries in South America, and therefore they are the least visited by tourists, let alone by solo travelers like me. Why? Well, there’s a number of reasons.
Reason number one is safety. Since these countries are not frequented by visitors – the rumors, stigma, and overall unsafe reputation can quickly spread and is extremely hard to contain (I am looking at you, Colombia). Is there crime in “Guyanas”? Of course there is. And so is in New York, Paris, Madrid, Sydney, well you get the idea. So are they safe? No, not really, but you can still travel there safely if you’re smart enough to take some basic precautions (such as: not wearing expensive jewelry, flashing cash, taking a “radio” taxi when you need to go somewhere, etc).
Other reasons include: lack of direct non-stop commercial flights, limited number of hotels, under-developed tourist industry (by that I mean the lack of active local involvement in promotion of tours and the positive image of those countries to the outside World).
Despite all of these reasons, all three countries are naturally gorgeous and have a lot to offer in that untamed, pristine beauty that can only be found in the lands not yet trashed by drunk, out-of-control, wild tourists.
When I landed in Georgetown, the first thing I learned was that there’s no ATM in the airport, period. I thanked God, once more, that I had some cash on me to cover the taxi ride, since it is a habit of mine not to carry much cash and rely on the local ATMs that always (well, not always) supply me with local currency. By the way, the cost of the fare was about 25USD.
The taxi driver that took me to my hotel in the center of Georgetown, was a very friendly fellow, and we chatted the whole trip, which was about 50 minutes. Or rather, he chatted, and I listed, occasionally inserting “oh yes, wow, mhmm”, for one I was tired from a sleepless red-eye flight, for two I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying in the local “English”, and for three, I didn’t want him to think that I was unfriendly and kidnap me or do any other (criminal) things. Because that’s what I heard taxi drivers do in Guayana (mostly not true, as it turned out!). And so I nodded vigorously during the whole trip trying to keep my eyes open, and prayed to God, yet once again, that we would arrive quickly to my destination. From the eyes of a solo female traveler things can be a bit intimidating at times. Needless to say, I got dropped off at my hotel without any danger, real or imagined – that’s for you to guess.
At my hotel, I was greeted by some of the most welcoming front-desk staff that I’ve ever seen (and I travel a lot, if you haven’t figured it yet). And so my ‘official’ 5-days exploration of Guyana has began.
Since I arrived to Guyana in early November, I was told that it was the beginning of the raining season, and that some random, heavy outpours were not uncommon, and in fact I had experienced them throughout the day. As a side note – you might want to check the climate information before booking your trip, that is, if I inspire you to travel to Guayana, which I do hope to achieve.
Guyana was under control of the British for many centuries (hence the official language), and you can see the influence everywhere – from driving on the “right” side of the road, to the popular local dishes “fish and chips”).
Half of the local Guyanese population come from the African slave trade, and another half from India. Both brought to Guyana for very sad, and despicable reasons – we all (should) know the history… I did feel strange at times for being the only light-skinned person in the nearest vicinity, but I never let it go into my head. It is said that there are also other minority races present, but you do not see them on the streets as much.
If there is one thing you must absolutely try in Guyana – it’s the locally produced rum, El Dorado. You will recognize the factory on your way to Georgetown by the distinct, strong smell that surrounds the area. The older the rum, the more expensive it is, and El Dorado in particular has many different categories – from the cheapest (5 years), to the most expensive (don’t ask me). Speaking of alcohol – the other popular drink is the beer Banks also produced locally. And speaking of production – the main ones in Guyana are: rice, sugar, and gold. Yes, gold.
So what is the main attraction for the local Georgetowners on their free evenings and weekends? Apparently, one of them is the local hangout spot by the seawall that is in the center of city. Georgetown at night is a rather interesting sight – almost none of the street lights are working or maybe they do not even exist at all, so the only light around is coming from the local homes and businesses that remain active. The rest of the areas stay in the dark. So do not wander by yourself at night in Guayana, as a precaution and a good common sense.
Other details that I noticed in Georgetown are the lack of a single commercial plane in the sky, in the entire time that I’ve been there. It’s almost like being on an island 1000s miles from a nearest land. It just feels weird, or maybe I felt that way because I live in New York. Also there are a lot of cattle freely walking around – goats, chickens, donkeys, horses, dogs, cats, and…cows. Yes, it feels like you are partly in India.
Locals in Guyana are very friendly. In fact, I had a chance to talk to some of them. And here are the few things that I learned:
From an Interview with a Local:
“I am an electrical engineer, yet I am driving a taxi… because the pay is better. We are under-employed.” There was also an article in a local newspaper stating that around 40% of young population is unemployed. And from what I can guess the other 40% works as a manual labor, performing tasks that they did not aspire for, nor dreamed or hoped for. This is too sad of a reality to comprehend.
When I asked another local about Guyana’s status or relation to other South American countries, the answer was: “No one is teaching us Spanish, or about general South American history in schools, we really don’t know much about them”. And in fact, Guyana is considered much closer in spirit to the Caribbean islands rather than to its large South American neighbors.
There are a number of fun activities to do in Guyana, and I will cover them in another article. As a final note, I would like to encourage everyone if not travel to Guyana tomorrow, then at least consider it. There is much to see, experience, and explore in this beautiful land, and you will never find it out if you won’t book that ticket (hmm, and I am sure that you will find better deals than me).
Have you ever been to Guyana? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments Section below. If you are a local (or a visitor), please consider submitting your own story about Guyana and get it published here.