By SHERYL NANCE-NASH

Special to the AmNews

You don’t have to search hard to find Guyanese culture in New York City. As of three years ago, there were more than 140,000 Guyanese living in New York City, making them the fifth-largest foreign-born population in the city, according to the U.S. Census’ American Fact Finder.

Guyana is familiar, but still a bit mysterious. Many people from the United States haven’t traveled there to check it out for themselves. That’s changing—and, in fact, some travel pros think Guyana is likely to grow in popularity for a variety of reasons. For starters, it is becoming more reachable with airlines planning to expand their flights there, making it more accessible, and then there’s the trend in traveler’s seeking adventure, as well as seeking out off-the-beaten-path places.

So if you’re curious, there’s plenty to learn and explore. This tiny country of about 775,000 people in South America borders Suriname in the east; Brazil on the south and southwest; Venezuela in the west; and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Georgetown is the center of action. Visitors fly into Georgetown, the nation’s capital and where 90 percent of the population lives.

The name Guyana comes from the native Arawak dialect, which means land of many waters; the moniker holds up. Waterways and waterfalls, including Kaieteur Falls—one of the tallest and most powerful waterfalls in the world—can be found here. But, don’t come in search of turquoise beaches. Instead, you’ll find rivers and creeks for chilling from the heat. Know the sun there is no joke, and hot, hot, hot. But that’s part of the fun. The wet season is May to July and December to January, that’s not the ideal time to visit.

Often when ex-pats chat about “back home” they’re recounting stories about life in Georgetown, however, the treasure lies in the outlying areas, which are made up of savannahs, rainforests and tons of wildlife. Here, there are more than 900 species of birds, along with jaguars, giant anteaters, the endangered Black Caiman crocodile, and Arapaima gigas (also known as pirarucu), the largest scaled freshwater fish.

So what can you expect on your journey through Guyana? Adventure, surprise, a good time for sure.

Start in Georgetown

When you think of a capital city, you likely envision a city all spiffed up with all the bells and whistles. Well, Georgetown is more grit than glitz. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Its rawness gives it a certain, “Je Ne Sais Quoi.” Venture here and you’re a step closer to earning your cool card. For sure, you’ll want to spend a day or two in town. Hit the Bourda Market, the largest of four markets in the city. There are blocks and blocks of vendors selling everything from passion fruit, papayas, plantains, coconuts, guavas, pineapple, peppers, bora (long string beans), cassava, meats, fish, rice, nuts, to cleaning supplies, toiletries, fabric, everything imaginable. While most people are walking leisurely, if you’re in a hurry you can drive up in your car and someone will take your order without you leaving the comfort of your car. If you want to take a break from your shopping, pop in to the rum shop. Even at 9:30 a.m. you’ll find locals throwing back local favorite Banks beer, downing rum and playing pool. Stabroek Market is also worth a look-see.

Seeing all that food will stir your appetite. The place to handle that is the Backyard Café. Chef Delven Adams is one of Guyana’s most popular celebrity chefs. His cuisine is helping to put Guyana in the spotlight. He serves food that’s made with organic and local staples, and one of his specialties is garlic snook (a local fish), served with sides of rice, plantains, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Diners also have the opportunity to visit Bourda Market with Adams and help him pick out ingredients for a special meal. The restaurant is literally in the backyard of a home. And it’s appropriate because you will feel comfortable like you are at home. Adams and crew treat you like family. You won’t feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Make the most of your time in Georgetown. Explore the National Park, where you can pick up grass from the ground and feed the endangered West Indian manatees. Don’t worry, they’re big babies, friendly. You’ll also find soccer fields, a YMCA, and monuments that commemorate the nation’s history. Birdwatchers will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. Guyana is a mecca for spotting the rarest species of birds. You’ll see plenty at the Botanical Gardens. Better still, the park is also home to the Guyana Zoo. Get a peek at jaguars, monkeys, anacondas, sloths and more. Georgetown has historical sites like St. George’s Cathedral, one of the tallest freestanding wooden buildings in the word. The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology showcases artifacts of the Amerindians. Do keep the history vibe going with visits to the National Library of Guyana, City Hall and St. Andrew’s Kirk, the oldest building in Georgetown continuously used for religious purposes.

As for where to make your home away from home, consider the chic King’s Hotel and Residences or charming Cara Lodge. Both places are under $150 a night.

Move to the magic of the

interior

Once you leave the big city, you can go miles and miles through the savanna without seeing anyone. This is not the time to fly solo. Hang with locals who know the deal. You can get tours through companies like Wilderness Explorers, Evergreen Adventures, Bushmaster or Journey Guyana. Take an hourlong plane ride from Georgetown to Lethem (flights cost around $140), which is part of the Rupununi Savannah. The city is located beside the Takutu River and sits right on the border of Brazil. 

Check into the Caiman House in Yupukari. You can walk back into ancient times for $115 a night, including three meals. Be ready to go not only rustic, but also primitive. Wi-Fi is very limited, as is hot water, and electricity and modern plumbing. The food is fresh fish, veggies, fruits, and local ingredients and cooked with a lot of love. The Amerindian women smile with pride when visitors rave over the food. No stay at Caiman House is complete without a night ride with researchers who are working on a project for UNESCO to monitor the Black Caiman. You can go out on an 18-foot aluminum boat searching for the creatures who will elude researchers who want to tag them, chart their weight, length and other vital statistics. It’s eerie, creeping along the river, with the strongest light that of the moon, and bats swooping by to pluck fish from the river for supper. Researchers chase and chase and finally after a tussle, the Caiman furiously biting the boat, do they make their catch. It’s a scene right out of the movies, exhilarating.

You’ll want to take the hourlong boat ride to Karanambu Ranch, where husband-and-wife owners Melanie and Edward McTurk are eager to share stories of Guyana’s past and present. You’ll get the real deal come mealtime—like Guyanese pepperpot (stewed meat), rice and veggies. You know what rocks that—a rum punch or Banks beer. Nature is the star here, with the large Victoria amazonica lilies, birds, otters and even piranha. Another bonus is the on-site otter rehab project, where injured or orphaned otters are nursed back to health before being released back into the wild. Watch them during feeding time and at play.

One of the wonderful surprises about Guyana though, is that it’s a little bit country and cowboys do their thing there. Ranch life is part of the culture. The Rupununi Rodeo, which takes places around Easter, is no doubt the biggest, most exciting celebration of the year. The rodeo is complete with bull and horse rides, roasted meats, local wines, crafts, and games that include catching a greased pig. If you want to sample the scene, stay at Saddle Mountain Ranch, a working ranch owned by the Kenyon family. Joan is warm and welcoming, husband Tommy entertaining with his jokes, and son Judah has served as Rodeo King. The rates won’t set you back at $68-$102 and includes three meals and unlimited access to horseback riding and ATVs.