The wildlife of Guyana has been one of South America’s best kept secrets, but the secret is out. Nicola Balram of the Guyana Tourism Authority outlines why this is such a special country for nature lovers and when and where it’s best to visit for some truly awe-inspiring natural wonders.
Guyana was called Land of Many Waters by early inhabitants, which tells you what makes the country every nature lover’s paradise. This tiny, green multi-cultural land, the size of the US’s Idaho or the UK’s England, boasts much exotic wildlife. It has vast, open savannahs, pristine rainforests and a rich, thriving culture. It is also home to some of the most hospitable people you could ever hope to encounter. If you’re planning a trip to Guyana, a local tour operator will maximise the chance of spotting the best of Guyana’s wildlife.
What Makes The Wildlife In Guyana So Special?
Most travellers are familiar with Africa’s ‘Big 5’ mammals – elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and rhinoceros. But fewer people will be aware of the impressive keystone species that reside in the Amazon rainforest. One in ten of the known species in the world thrive here. The wildlife of Guyana consists of the largest collection of living plant and animal species on the planet.
Guyana is teeming with biodiversity and plays a huge role in the preservation of the natural world. The pristine rainforests and savannahs of this land are home to some of the planet’s most iconic megafauna.
This South American country is known affectionately by intrepid wildlife enthusiasts as the “Land of the Giants”. The reason for this is that it boasts at least 15 giant species of fauna and flora, such as the Giant Anteater. Research has shown that the pristine nature of the Guyanan ecosystems make for prime breeding habitat for these creatures. The wildlife of Guyana is also relatively undisturbed. And it is because of the untapped nature of Guyana’s rainforests that these animals are able to thrive.
The world over, particularly in countries with healthy wildlife populations, steps are being taken to address the illegal wildlife trade. An increasing number of international and regional NGOs, governmental agencies and community organisations are becoming more proactive. They are working hard to manage wildlife in a more sustainable manner. In Guyana, these efforts are led by the Guyana Wildlife Conservation and Management Commission. It is charged with the protection, conservation, management and sustainable use of wildlife. Hand-in-hand with this, Guyana ecotourism is growing.
Photo Credit: Wilderness Explorers Guyana, Jaguar
Guyana’s Giant Species
One of the more popular giant mammals is the Jaguar. It plays a vital role in its habitat by controlling other species populations. In this way it contributes to the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. The best places to spot these beautiful creatures are in Guyana’s Protected Areas. This is especially true along remote rivers in the early mornings or late afternoons. While it’s not guaranteed, random sightings do also occur along the roads and riverways. Excursions can be arranged to take travellers to the areas where Jaguars are most frequently seen.
Unfortunately, this apex predator is currently listed on the IUCN Red List as an endangered species. The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development has become an important hub for conservation, scientific research and ecotourism. This protected area boasts extraordinarily untouched biodiversity. This makes it perfect for the sustained development and protection of this elusive big cat.
In the many oxbow lakes and ponds along the Rewa and Rupununi Rivers, there is a relatively healthy population of Arapaima. The Arapaima is the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish and a top predator. Just like its giant counterpart, the Jaguar, it plays a critical role as part of the wildlife of Guyana in keeping ecosystems in balance.
Protecting this species is also a critical role played by the villagers of Apoteri and Rewa. As a protected species, this freshwater giant has to be constantly monitored. Rewa has partnered with Indifly Foundation, an ecotourism organisation that protects fisheries and provides sustainable livelihoods for indigenous people. Dr Lesley DeSouza studies and monitors the population, especially their movement patterns which is critical to their protection. This has helped to restore the Arapaima population to well over 4,000.
The Leatherback Turtle
The Leatherback is the largest living sea turtle. It is a marvel to observe in its natural habitat. The Guyana Marine Conservation Society (GMCS) at Shell Beach is responsible for the protection of these beautiful creatures. Leatherbacks are listed by IUCN as a threatened species. Conservation efforts have seen a reduction in locals’ dependency on harvesting the turtle’s meat and eggs and ecotourism in Guyana has also helped.
The successful launch of the North West Organic line of products can be attributed to GMCS’ efforts. The production of this provides the local community with an alternative livelihood to selling turtle parts. From March well into August, Shell Beach becomes a nesting ground. Not only Leatherbacks but also Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley Turtles gather there to breed. This is the optimal time for travellers to visit this seemingly endless expanse of unspoilt Atlantic coastline. Their reward is the opportunity to spot these prehistoric beauties.
Photo Credit: Annie Sonaram Wilderness Explorers Guyana, Black Caimen,
Black Caiman are found in abundance in the waters of the Rewa and Rupununi Rivers. These species are monitored and protected by Caiman House/Rupununi Learners in the Yupukari/Rupununi Region. The ongoing studies, run entirely by locals, represent an attempt to gain a thorough understanding of the animal. The aim is to learn the Black Caiman’s ecological role as well as its context within the local indigenous communities. This body of research is dedicated to a holistic approach to environmental conservation. It takes into account wildlife research and preservation, economic development and cultural preservation. This has led to a sustainable income-generating tourism enterprise for the locals. Guests are invited to join the research crew at night for Caiman spotting and tagging.
Several other species of giants can be found amongst the fascinating wildlife of Guyana. The Harpy Eagle makes its nest in the silk cotton trees found in the Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve. And the Goliath Bird-eating Spider inhabits the densely vegetated floors of the rainforest. These spiders are often the size of a puppy and can consume reasonable-sized birds! There are lesser-known giants such as the False Vampire Bat, Cane Toad and Bullet Ant. The Giant Armadillo and the Jabiru Stork can be found in Guyana’s untouched rainforests and savannahs. The conservation of all these creatures places emphasis on one premise – when people value and respect nature, it thrives.
Guyana’s Floral Landscape
A massive 80% of Guyana’s landscape is covered with unspoilt rainforests and flora. These range from coastal plains to interior savannahs, forested highlands to hilly sand and clay areas. Such an expanse of natural habitats translates to over 8,000 different species of plants. Of these, hundreds are put to use in cultural settings, medicine and job creation. An even higher number play an integral role in preserving and maintaining the ecosystem. So keen botanists should make a point of experiencing Guyana in bloom.
The Victoria Amazonica Lily is the national flower of Guyana. It is the largest water lily in the world with leaves spanning more than 3m across. Its thick stalks are submerged in 7-8m of water. These flowers can grow up to 40cm in diameter and are usually pollinated by beetles. Whenever you’re in Guyana, you can spot this beauty along the shallow waters of the Amazon River basin. It also inhabits the oxbow lakes and bayous of the Rupununi River. The natural spectacle can also be seen in the highlighted ponds around Rewa Eco-Lodge in the North Rupununi and Karanambu Ranch in central Rupununi.
And there is so much more to Guyana’s vast floral landscape. From the exotic orchids, heliconias, carnivorous sundews and delicate maidenhair ferns to the dramatic staghorn ferns, it is an attraction all by itself.
Photo Credit: Wilderness Explorers Guyana, Cock-of-the-Rock
Guyana Is A Top Location For Birding
Guyana is a birder’s paradise. Some 820 species of birds from 79 families live in the jungle canopies, on the coastal plains and golden savannahs. Almost 200 species are found in the capital city of Georgetown. It should therefore be no surprise that Guyana is a top destination to spot a mind-boggling variety of birds. And some of the more sought-after species are relatively easy to access.
Of all nature’s treasures in this tropical country, the birds are a special highlight for nature enthusiasts. There are ample locations and trails here suitable for birdwatchers. And each region offers its own unique spot for finding particular species.
Serious birders should make a concerted effort to see star birds such as the Rio Branco Antbird. Or look out for Hoary-throated Spinetail, Red Siskin, Sun Parakeet, Crested Doradito and Bearded Tachuri. Guyana is reputed to be one of the easiest places in the world to see these lifers. Visitors to the country will be awestruck by the sheer variety and colours of other birds, too. Even for veteran birders, a trip to see the wildlife of Guyana promises many first sightings.
The best way to see the country’s birds is by staying at one of Guyana’s many birding and wildlife lodges. These are situated at the edge of forests and rivers. Not only do they include close access to thickets and trails only a stroll from the rooms, but also the expertise of in-house guides. Comfortable rooms in these lodges are aesthetically in tune with their natural surroundings. The Guyana ecotourism experience is immersive and enjoyable at the same time.
These birding hotspots, eco-lodges and conservation societies have contributed birding checklists for the benefit of travellers:
- Arrowpoint Nature Resort
- Baganara Island Resort
- Kaieteur National Park
- Rewa Eco-Lodge
- Karanambu Lodge
Photo Credit: Wilderness Explorers Guyana, Kaieteur Falls
Guyana’s Kaieteur National Park
The powerful coffee-coloured Potaro River thunders from a height of 226m (741ft) to make the majestic Kaieteur Falls. Kaieteur is one of the highest, most powerful single drop waterfalls in the world. It is nearly five times higher than Niagara Falls and twice as high as Victoria Falls. It is found in the lush, rainforests of Kaieteur National Park. This spans 627 sq km around the iconic waterfall. Of the hundreds of bird species found there, the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock is the most famous. And there are White-collared Swifts and macaws that are often seen roosting in the lush surroundings. Other fascinating flora and fauna include Tank Bromeliads and the Golden Frog. The brilliant Morpho Butterflies can also be spotted in the Kaieteur gorge. The combination of the magnificent waterfall and the wildlife exudes a feeling of pure magic. It is a special place, fascinating to residents and tourists alike.
When Is The Best Time To Visit The Wildlife Of Guyana?
Being a tropical country that sits just above the equator, Guyana has only two seasons. These are the peak, or dry, season and the green, or rainy, season.
Peak (Dry) Season
To visit the coastlands: mid-January to May and mid-July to mid-November
To visit the interior regions: January to early May and September to December
The dry season is the most convenient for getting around and exploring the country. The lack of rainfall, apart from light showers makes the roads much easier to navigate. It’s also easier to see the wildlife of Guyana. Wherever you are it will feel like summertime most all of the time. Fortunately, it cools down at night, and the scattered showers and cool swimming holes offer intermittent relief.
Green (Wet) Season
To visit the coastlands: May to mid-July and mid-November to mid-January
To visit the interior regions: Mid-May to August
Rain rolls through Guyana during this time. There will be light showers on some days, heavy rains at times, but also sometimes no rain. There are often extended periods of sunshine even on some of the rainiest of days. Daytime is usually cooler than in the dry season, but it is more humid. Getting around the rainforest and savannah in the wet season is challenging by road. However, it is the best time to travel by boat and to see Guyana’s waterfalls in full flood. As an added bonus, the raised rivers get you closer to the trees for great bird watching experiences.
Guyana’s Journey Towards Sustainability
An increasing number of tourists want to ensure they are only having a positive impact on the people and places they visit. Guyana has taken on board sustainable and ecotourism and is making a journey towards becoming a Green State. It embraces conservation values and promotes protected areas and species. It also supports biodiversity preservation and improving the wellbeing of local people.
The Government believes that when communities benefit from wildlife, they have an economic incentive to protect it. This can be seen in action in the many community-led and locally owned indigenous tourism enterprises that can be found country-wide.
Surama Eco-Lodge, Rewa Eco-Lodge, and Caiman House Field Station & Guest House are acting as the blueprint for sustainable, community-led and owned ecotourism in Guyana. The host communities own the enterprises, which results in all of the residents receiving economic benefits. What’s equally beneficial is that host communities have an incentive to protect wildlife habitat and preserve traditional culture.
Due to the success of community-led and owned tourism (CLOT), numerous indigenous communities throughout Guyana offer lodging and tours. You have to get permission to visit and follow the village code of conduct to ensure you positively impact the people you meet.
As it grows as an acknowledged wildlife sustainable tourism destination, Guyana has begun to receive international recognition. This can be seen in its recent prominent awards:
- The World’s #1 Best of Ecotourism and a Top 10 Sustainable Destination at ITB Berlin, the world’s leading travel and trade show (March 2019)
- 1st Place for the Guyana – Welcome back to Nature Video at the Golden City Gate Awards (March 2019)
- The #1 Best in Sustainable Tourism at the LATA Achievement Awards (June 2019)
- The #1 Best in Destination Stewardship at the CTO’s Sustainable Tourism Awards Programme (August 2019)
- Silver Place (2nd) in ‘Best of Adventure’ from the International Travel & Tourism Awards, for its sustainable adventure practices (November 2019)
- 2nd place in ‘Best of Americas’ at IB Berlin by the Green Destinations Foundation (March 2020)
How To Travel Better In Guyana
Visitor Guidelines For Sustainable Travel are available to help tourists choose Guyana ecotourism and make a positive difference when they travel. A Guyana Travel Advisory is also available to help travellers plan a safe visit.
Would You Like To Visit Guyana In 2021 And 2022?
A local expert will ensure you have the best experience and can advise you on how, when and where to visit for the wildlife you would like to see. Find Guyana tour help here.