Guyana 2012

Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, with a tiny population of 700,000 people living in an area larger than Great Britain (and with 90% of its inhabitants living along the coastal plain).  We focus our explorations away from the coast, looking for the spectacular mammals and birds that make their homes in the huge swathes of virgin rainforest and savannah that make up the bulk of this forgotten country.  Guyana is one of the best places in the world to see the elusive jaguar.  In addition, we also look for giant otter, giant anteater, tapir and eight species of primate, including Guianan saki and brown-bearded saki monkeys, to name just a few of the mammalian stars.  There are some spectacular birds to look for as well, with no fewer than 17 species of parrot having been seen, including large numbers of red-and-green, scarlet and blue-and-yellow macaws.

The people we meet on this trip will also be a highlight, from the Amerindian people who are protecting their environment, to the families who welcome us into their homes and characterful lodges.  Guyana is just starting out as a tourist destination, and offers a truly special experience for travellers who want to get off the beaten track.

Day 01;                     January 31st 

On arrival in Georgetown, capital of Guyana, we transfer to our hotel.  This evening we meet for our Welcome Dinner.

Day 02;                     February 1st 

Early this morning we explore the Georgetown Botanic Gardens looking for a plethora of birds, including our first parrots, and the range-restricted blood-coloured woodpecker.  However, the stars of the Botanic Gardens are the West Indian manatees which were introduced by the Dutch colonial government in an attempt to keep the canals weed-free.  Later we take a tour of this sleepy “city”, admiring the beautiful colonial homes with their dainty “Demerara” shutters, visiting the Georgetown cathedral (tallest wooden building in the world) and the Stabroek Market.  After lunch we travel eastwards from Georgetown along the coast to Mahaica River, where we take a boat trip to look for Guyana’s national bird, the bizarre-looking hoatzin.  This primitive bird, with its crazy crest, hooked wings and snuffling call, is only found on the tropical rivers of South America.

Day 03;                      February 2nd

This morning we bid farewell to Georgetown, and take a small plane deep into the interior.  We fly over virgin rainforest to the small Amerindian village of Annai, set in the savannah in the foothills of the Pakaraima Mountains.  From the airstrip it is just a stroll to Rock View Lodge where we have lunch.  This afternoon our adventure begins in earnest as we drive northwards along the dirt road which joins Georgetown with Brazil.  This is the only road through the country, and is a great place to spot wildlife, including the elusive jaguar.  Our destination is Iwokrama Field Station, set on the Essequibo River, and our home for the next two nights.  Comprising one million acres of pristine rainforest, the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development was established in 1996 by the national government as Guyana’s “Gift to the World”.  Based at the research field station overlooking the black-water Essequibo River, in the heart of the forest, we explore the tracks and waterways of this magnificent area by motorised canoes, 4×4 jeeps, and on foot.   

Day 04                       February 3rd

Sunrise is always a magical time in the rainforest, and we awake to the roars of red howler monkeys and the distant calls of toucans welcoming the dawn. An extensive trail network commences at the edge of the lodge clearing, allowing easy forest access, both by day and by night.  Rainforest mammals, though never conspicuous, are well represented at Iwokrama and with luck we may encounter the impressive black spider monkey, shaggy Guianan saki monkey, and common squirrel monkey, as well as banded tamandua, kinkajou, tapir or even puma.  Iwokrama is rapidly gaining an international reputation for its healthy jaguar population and we make a special effort to find this most impressive of American cats, venturing out along the tracks at dawn and spotlighting from our 4WD vehicles at night.

Iwokrama also boasts an impressive tally of over 450 species of birds, with the full spectrum of Neotropical families, such as toucans, parrots, tanagers and hummingbirds present in the immediate vicinity of the lodge. As impressive is the continued existence of so-called “indicator species”, such as black curassow, grey-winged trumpeter and the rare harpy eagle, that attest to the absence of hunting and the true wilderness nature of Iwokrama. Large macaws are also still wonderfully common and we should be treated to daily flights of the three largest and most spectacular rainforest species: the blue-and-yellow, scarlet, and red-and-green macaws.

At dawn we take a canoe ride along the river, watching the forest wake up.  After breakfast we hike to nearby Turtle Mountain, which affords magnificent views of the Essequibo River and surrounding rainforest, and also provides a good vantage point from which to scan for treetop primates or aerial birds of prey.  Returning by motorised canoe, we visit the strange Amerindian petroglyphs on the rocky islets in Kurupukari Falls and the nearby Amerindian village of Fair View.  This afternoon we venture back on to the road in our search for wildlife, continuing after dark with spotlights.

Day 05;                      February 4th 

This morning we leave the Field Station early and drive back along the road through the heart of the Iwokrama Forest, stopping for any mammals we see.  The road also offers excellent birding, and we look for species such as Guianan red-cotinga, marail guan and blue-backed tanager.  Our destination is the Atta canopy walkway, and after lunch at the lodge we take a walk through the forest and climb up to the walkway.  This 200ft walkway, constructed 100ft above the forest floor, allows us access to the rich realm of the rainforest canopy.  Time spent on the canopy platforms may reward us with eye-level views of red howler monkeys, assorted tropical butterflies and canopy-feeding flocks of birds including colourful araçaris, manakins and tanagers.  After dinner we continue our quest for nocturnal mammals, and go out spotlighting along the road.  Jaguars have been seen recently in the vicinity of Atta Lodge, and we will keep our fingers crossed. 

Day 06;                      February 5th 

Daybreak finds us back on the canopy walkway enjoying the dawn chorus.  White-throated and channel-billed toucans yip and yodel, and barred forest falcons call, while howler monkey troops space themselves through the forest with their deep roars.  After breakfast we walk to a Guianan cock-of-the-rock lek – a site in the rainforest where males of this spectacular, luminous orange, foot-high bird species gather together to display for the females.  These birds are truly spectacular, and we hope that some males (and their drabber females) are in residence.  Leaving Iwokrama Forest we drive out into the savannah again and back to Rock View Lodge.  The Rupununi savannah is to Guyana what the Gran Sabana is to Venezuela, an extensive area of grassland with termite mounds and scattered riparian woodland.  Much of the savannah is devoted to cattle raising, though the large ranches are no longer very productive.

Day 07;                      February 6th 

At dawn we take a hike in the foothills of the Pakaraima Mountains.  The views across the savannah and villages as the sun rises are spectacular.  After breakfast we transfer to Kwatamang Landing where we board our motorised canoes.  From here we travel along the Rupununi River, looking for giant river otters, black caiman and a variety of waterbirds and raptors before we reach the Rewa River and the Amerindian community of Rewa.  The journey is approximately 50 miles by river, but can be as short as 2 hours or as long as 4 hours depending on the water level.  The area surrounding Rewa comprises rainforest, mountains and oxbow lakes and we explore each of the habitats in our search for wildlife.  The community of approximately 220 people is predominately from the Macushi tribe, with a few families from the Wapashani and Patamona tribes.  Villagers practice subsistence farming, fishing and hunting.

In 2005 the community constructed the Rewa Eco-lodge to establish a sustainable eco-tourism business.  The lodge itself is situated on the river bank overlooking the Rewa River with views down to the Rupununi River.  This afternoon we take a boat up the Rewa River followed by a short hike to beautiful Grass Pond.  While we are here we hope to see brown capuchin monkeys and capybara, as well as a host of birds.  As dusk falls we watch the flowers of the Regia amazonica water lilies open, ready to entice in their night-flying beetle pollinators.

Day 08;                      February 7th 

This morning we enjoy breakfast at dawn overlooking the Rewa River, before heading out by boat along the Rupununi River to an oxbow lake.  From here we take a short hike up Awarmie Mountain.  Along the way we look out for black spider monkeys which are often in this area.  There is also good birding along the trail with white bellbirds calling, as well as a chance of ornate hawk-eagle, black curassow, red-fan parrot and bay-headed tanager.  The area also has a high density of macaws including scarlet, blue-and-yellow and red-and-green.  At the summit there are stunning views across the forest to the distant Kanuku and Makarapan mountains.

We return to the lodge for lunch, and then take a walk through the community of Rewa to see how the locals live.  We have the opportunity to visit villagers’ houses where we can experience their everyday life.  Later this afternoon we travel up the Rewa River to a location known as Seawall.  This rock formation is a great place to fish for peacock bass or take in the beauty of the location.  En route we visit sand banks where giant river turtles come to lay their eggs, as well as keeping a look out along the river banks for red howler, squirrel and brown capuchin monkeys.  

Day 09;                      February 8th 

This morning we travel by boat to a nearby trail for a hike through the rainforest and into the savannah before continuing our journey by boat back to Rock View Lodge in time for lunch.  This afternoon we visit the Amerindian village of Annai, before enjoying sundowners overlooking the tropical gardens and swimming pool at our lodge.   

Day 10;                      February 9th 

After breakfast we depart for the drive south to Ginep Landing, on the banks of the Rupununi River.  Here we board motorised canoes for the scenic river journey to Karanambu Ranch, arriving in time for lunch.  This is the family home of Diane McTurk, widely known for her work rehabilitating orphaned giant river otters, and returning them to the wild.  Diane and her otters have appeared on numerous television programmes, including National Geographic, Jeff Corwin Experience, Really Wild Show (BBC) and the Calgary’s “Zoo World”.  Karanambu has a long history of visiting naturalists and Diane’s father, Tiny McTurk, has welcomed David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell (Three Singles to Adventure).  Dinners with Diane, and the rest of the family and staff, are always fun, and include stories on the history of the family and “Wild West” nature of the Rupununi Savannahs.

Afternoon takes us out on the water again, to look for the water-birds that make Karanambu’s wetlands their home.  We visit Crane Pond, home to large numbers of wattled jacanas, anhingas, storks, egrets and the spectacular boat-billed heron. With luck, we may find a troop of Guianan squirrel monkeys returning to roost in the waterside trees.  

Day 11:                      February 10th 

We have plenty of time to explore everything that Karanambu Ranch has to offer, both on land and by boat.  We follow the maze of lagoons along the Rupununi River in search of giant otters, before winding along narrow waterways through gallery forest.  While on the river we watch the treetops for family groups of red howler monkeys, and the exposed river banks for capybara and black caiman.  These quiet backwaters are also home to the legendary arapaima, largest of all scaled freshwater fish, and we may be lucky enough to glimpse the dappled skins of these 10-foot long animals as they bask on the surface of a lagoon.  We also visit the beautiful Akurri Pond, which is blanketed by the enormous pads of the Regia amazonica water lily, Guyana’s national flower.  As the shadows lengthen and dusk approaches we enjoy Karanambu’s customary rum punch sundowners as we drift down the river.  

Day 12;                      February 11th 

We make an early start this morning to reach an area of rolling grassland, home to a small population of giant anteaters. With luck we can locate one of these six foot long animals asleep under a bush, its luxuriant tail wrapped around it for warmth, or watch one excavating breakfast from one of the red termite mounds that stud the savannah.  Later we transfer by boat to the Amerindian village of Yupukari, home to Caiman House.  Caiman House is the hub of several development projects, and the base for an ongoing field study of the black caiman, the largest member of the alligator family and an endangered species.  Tonight we venture out on the Rupununi River to observe the capture of caiman as part of the research.  The caiman are weighed, measured, sexed and tagged before being released back into the river.  The research has already discovered interesting information on caimans’ nests that was previously unknown.

While we are out after dark we have the opportunity to enter the nocturnal world of the Rupununi River and its gallery forests, and experience a world of wildlife entirely different than that viewed during the day.  Just after darkness settles on the river a variety of creatures emerge, and we look for snakes, green iguana, frogs and nocturnal birds, such as common potoo and boat-billed heron.

Day 13;                      February 12th 

After breakfast we transfer to Karanambu airstrip to board our charter plane for the short flight to Orinduik Falls, set on the Brazilian border.  After exploring these falls we reboard our plane and fly to the remote Kaieteur Falls, in the very heart of Guyana.  Only discovered by European explorers in 1870 this fabled waterfall was named after Kai, chief of the Patamona Amerindians, who (legend has it) sacrificed himself to the great spirit Makonaima by canoeing over the falls in an effort to spare his people from destruction at the hands of the savage Carabishi tribe.  Considered by many to be one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls, Kaieteur drops an unbroken 741ft into a magnificent sandstone gorge.  In addition to marvelling at the falls, we hike through the surrounding forest in search of such rare Guianan endemics as the golden poison-dart frog, which lives in the area’s abundant tank bromeliads.  We also have a second chance to see the spectacular Guianan cock-of-the-rock.  We end our journey back in Georgetown.

Day 14;                      February 13th

This morning we transfer to the airport for our international flights home, or for the Trinidad extension.

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