Dutch and British colonisation made an indelible mark on Guyana, leaving behind a now dilapidated colonial capital, a volatile mix of peoples and a curious political geography. The country's natural attractions, however, are impressive, unspoiled and on a scale that dwarfs human endeavour.
Guyana has immense falls, vast tropical rainforest, and grasslands teeming with wildlife. If the government doesn't destroy the environment in a bid to pay off its huge foreign debt, it could be the eco-tourism destination of the future. Right now, it's for the rugged.
Home invasions, carjackings, kidnappings and shootings are on the increase in Guyana, particularly in Georgetown and New Amsterdam. If driving, lock all your doors. The East Coast Demerara is also a high-risk area, particularly Buxton, Friendship and Annadale, as are the East Bank regions and the highway from Timerhi to Linden.
Veins of social and political unrest run through Guyana, and Georgetown is a magnet for sporadic, low-level violence. Although it's rarely directed at foreigners, visitors are advised to avoid walking alone after dark, maintain alertness at all times and keep out of Georgetown's Tiger Bay and Stabroek Market areas and all of the city's south.
Full country name: Co-operative Republic of Guyana
Area: 215,000 sq km
Capital City: Georgetown
People: 51% East Indian, 43% Afro-Guyanese, 4% Amerindian, 2% European & Chinese
Language: English, Hindi, Urdu
Religion: 57% Christian, 33% Hindu, 9% Muslim
Government: republic within the Commonwealth
Head of State: President Bharrat Jagdeo
Head of Government: Prime Minister Sam Hinds
GDP: US$2.7 billion
GDP per capita: US$4,000
Major Industries: Sugar, bauxite, alumina, gold, rice, timber and shrimp.
Major Trading Partners: UK, USA, Canada, France and Japan
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Visas: A visa is 16.00 for three months. If that length of visa is not required, 30-day visas are granted at the borders.
Health risks: malaria (Malaria is endemic in the interior), cholera, dengue fever, typhoid
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4
Dialling Code: 592
Electricity: 120/240V ,50/60Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The best time to visit Guyana may be at the end of either rainy season, in late January or late August, when the discharge of water over Kaieteur Falls is greatest. Some locals recommend mid-October to mid-May, which may be wet, but not as hot. If you want to travel overland to the interior, come during the dry seasons.
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Guyana's capital and only large city lies on the east bank at the mouth of the Demerrara River. Georgetown had a miserable beginning, but developed into an attractive colonial city distinguished by gracious colonial architecture. Most sights, food, accommodation, and nightlife are near Main St.
Today, some parts of the city, and the botanic and zoological gardens are well-maintained, but the rest of the city is weathered and dilapidated. A profusion of flowering trees lend it the somewhat optimistic name 'Garden City of the Caribbean', despite its location on the Atlantic coast.
Guyana's premier attraction ranks alongside the Niagara, Victoria and Iguaz˙ falls in power and majesty - with the added bonus of being surrounded by virgin forest. Its waters drop 250 precipitous metres (820ft) from a sandstone tableland and, depending on the season, are nearly 100m (328ft) wide.
Its isolated location means wildlife thrives in the area, but it also requires determination to reach. Small planes fly to the falls from Georgetown but seats can be difficult to secure. Otherwise, it's a rugged two-day walk with a guide from Bartica.
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