The location of the three Guyanas seemed to stump most of our friends. It seems to stump most people.
They are not a big tourist destination… which was a good reason for us to go.
These three little countries are tucked up in the north east corner of South America.
We love to explore new areas and new countries.
The three Guyanas occupy a region of South America that we hadn’t been to.
The coastal areas are totally different from the interiors which are in the Amazonian basin.
As for new counties to check off your list… you can only tick two. Guyana and Suriname are independent countries, but French Guiana is actually an overseas department of France.
Let’s condense history here and just say that each of these three counties was colonized by European powers from the 1600s to the mid-1900s. That’s as far back in history as we’ll go here. Previous to the colonial explorers, the area was populated by scattered bands of Arawak Indians.
The main cities of each take on a bit of the personality… and language of the previous colonial power.
Guyana was British Guiana, Suriname was Dutch Guiana, and French Guiana… well, that was and is French Guiana.
We just skimmed the surface in each area, but it was an interesting trip. While we love exploring on our own, for this trip we joined a tour to facilitate crossing borders and getting around in a timely fashion.
Our tour moved us through the three counties in a couple of weeks. So let’s look at the three Guyanas. (Click on any picture for a larger size photo and more descriptions.)
In colonial times, this was British Guiana. Now Guyana, it has been independent since 1966.
The capital city was named for Britain’s George III, but the buildings are mostly weathered Victorian… and a statue of Queen Victoria graces the front of the Supreme Court Building.
The main part of town is easy to explore on foot. Buildings are slightly run down Victorian. People are friendly, though we were warned not to walk alone at night.
The Anglican St George Cathedral dominates one end of town. The Stabroek Market sprawls along the Demerara River.
Much of the country is wild Amazonian rainforest. Getting deep into the forest is expensive and time consuming.
Pressed for time, we took a day excursion that quickly got us across the Demerara River and up to an Aratack Amerindian Village and a taste of the rainforest.
No rainforest animals, but plenty of birds and jungle atmosphere while boating up a small side river.
And even a great way to cool off at the end of the day.
Search top attractions in Guyana, and Kaiteur Falls will come up on top almost every time. It deserves that spot. It's the world's largest single drop waterfall by the volume of water flowing over it.
You can hike to Kaiteur Falls over several days, or you can do what most tourists do and fly in for a day hike.
The falls are 741 feet high (226 meters).
There are indigenous plants and animals in the National Park that sits on the Potaro Plateau. An easy hike can take you to see the most famous species.
Even the ground you walk on is unique… it looks like it’s been paved, but it is a natural conglomerate rock.
What's not to like seeing the bright orange Guianian Cock of the Rock displaying on his lek? Or finding a tiny Golden Rocket Frog inside a Giant Tank Bromeliad?
Our flight returned us to Georgetown, and the next day we took an all day bus and ferry trip and crossed into...
This country was always officially Suriname, but in colonial times it was sometimes referred to as Dutch Guiana. It gained independence in 1975. The capital is...
The city sits on the banks of the Suriname River.
The population is very multi-cultural and prides itself on being that way. The country seems to be a blend of South American, European, Caribbean, Asian and African cultures.
The heart of old town fans out from Fort Zeelandia which was built by the Dutch in the 1600s.
The inner city, old Paramaribo, is all low level wooden building with a Dutch feel. The buildings are in various stages of repair and disrepair, but many are protected by UNESCO.
Like the other countries of the three Guyanas, it’s fun to get out of the city, onto the water, and into the jungle.
We took a day trip on the Commewijne River to visit plantations and see Pink River Dolphin.
At the plantations that tours take you to, they are prepared with other wildlife… you can hold baby caimans and land tortoises.
After lunch at the plantation, that same day trip took us to Fort Nieuw Amsterdam.
This fort was built on the confluence of the the Suriname and Commewijne rivers during the 1700s.
There is not a great deal left, but you can see some of the canons from the fort and sugar boiling pots from the surrounding plantations. There is also a nice museum of ethnic costumes.
One thing we want to tell you is that of the three Guyanas, French Guiana is not an independent country. It is an overseas department and region of France. When you arrive at customs the signs say you’ve arrived in...
...France! You will be speaking French and spending Euros.
Our first stop was a foray into the 21st century.
The Guiana Space Centre is used by the European Space Agency and the French government to launch satellites into space.
Many other counties pay them to launch satellites… including Russia, which launches more Soyuz rockets from this location than it does from Russia. It has been operational since 1968.
It has an advantageous location on that north eastern edge of South America that makes it good for space launches…
1) It is near the equator… this gives the rockets a sling shot effect that makes it easier to launch heavy payloads into orbit.
2) French Guiana has a small population, and the spaceport has open sea to the east so lower stages of the rockets or debris has less chance to hurt people.
The terrific tour of the whole facility takes about three hours.
The capital of French Guiana is Cayenne. It is a nice, but unremarkable little city. After the Space Center, we were most interested in Devil's Island.
Nowadays, catamarans sail out to this group of three small islands. It's a great tourist destination. The Salvation Islands (as they are also known) sit 6.8 miles (11 Km) off the coast of French Guiana.
There is a hospital there where, long ago, missionaries went to escape the plague on the mainland. Later it was a penal colony. You can wander on the two larger islands… Île Royale and Saint-Joseph Island.
Many of the old jail cells are still there, and guides will tell you horror stories of the terrible conditions the inmates were kept in.
Devil’s Island was reserved for political prisoners.
If you ever read the book Papillon, this was the island. You can sail around it, but you can’t land on it.
Flights into and out of any of the countries are not the most convenient. Research carefully. You’ll probably have to backtrack; maybe to the country you flew into.
Of the three Guyanas, Georgetown Guyana seems to be easiest for Americans to get to. Our fellow European tourists found it easiest to get to Paramaribo in Suriname.
Transportation is available from one country to the other, but it is not frequent, and it can be frustrating to organize. If you want to do the three Guyanas on your own, allow plenty of time.
Our tour took us on a long bus ride from Georgetown to catch the ferry to Suriname. We left at 4 in the morning. There is only one ferry a day and there are no reservations, so you want to get there early enough to make sure you can get a ticket.
There are lots of men who meet the ferry to change money for you. Others in our group did. Know the rules and be careful.
After a few days in Paramaribo we were ready for French Guiana. Another bus ride got us to the Maroni River which is the boundary between Suriname and French Guiana. We did not wait for the ferry which (for some unknown reason was deemed unreliable) but we boarded a small (very small) private boat for the crossing.
It must have been all legal, because when the border police came onboard to check that we were all wearing life preservers, everything seemed to be OK.
Within each country, what we found was that getting to the interior to explore was either time consuming or expensive, or both. That's why we chose a tour that moved us around. We allowed extra time at the beginning and end to explore more on our own.
I hope this encourages you, even with the difficulties. The three Guyanas make for an interesting little trip.