A deep dive into Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana – South America’s least known corner
Explore the sparsely populated rainforests and savannahs of Guyana and meet traditional Amerindian communities working to preserve their way of life. Then in Suriname tour the culturally-eclectic city of Paramaribo and learn about the unique West African Saramaccan communities encamped in the jungle. Then its on to the South American outpost of the European Union, home to the European Space Agency launch centre and those fabled Îles du Salut, or “Devils Island”.
We will pick you up at the airport, and then transfer you to your Georgetown hotel.Cara Lodge was built in the 1840’s and originally consisted of two houses. It has a long and romantic history and was the home of the first Lord Mayor of Georgetown. Over the years, the property has been visited by many dignitaries including King Edward VII who stayed at the house in 1923. Other dignitaries have included President Jimmy Carter, HRH Prince Charles, HRH Prince Andrew and Mick Jagger. This magnificent home turned hotel offers the tradition and nostalgia of a bygone era, complete with service and comfort in a congenial family atmosphere.
Pickup and transfer to Eugene F. Correia International Airport. Board scheduled flight for journey over the Demerara and Essequibo Rivers and hundreds of miles of tropical rainforest to land at Lethem. Transfer by 4×4 from Lethem across the savannah to Karanambu.
Karanambu, a 110-square mile former cattle ranch, is the home of Diane McTurk, conservationist and a world-renowned expert on giant otters. Karanambu is located in the North Rupununi, a region of south-western Guyana known for its expansive wetlands and savannah, as well as its biological and cultural diversity. Settled in 1927 by Tiny McTurk, Karanambu was once a working cattle ranch and Balata collection station. It is now an eco-tourist destination known as The Karanambu Lodge. Karanambu encompasses savannah, marshy ponds, riparian forest, and a 30-mile stretch of the Rupununi River.
The North Rupununi of southern Guyana is an extraordinary natural and pristine area. The landscape is an integration of four ecosystem types: wetlands, savannahs, rivers, and forests. The number of species found here is much higher than expected given its size. There are at least 600 species of fish, along with 600 species of bird, and over 200 species of mammals. Karanambu is located roughly in the middle of this beautiful and fascinating biological hotspot where endangered species like the Giant Otter, Black Caiman, Jaguar, Giant Anteater, and Arapaima can be found. The seasonally flooded savannahs and forests also draw substantial fish migrations. There may be as many as 700 species of fish at Karanambu — more than anywhere on Earth.
This region is rich in history, too. The North Rupununi is the homeland of the Makushi and earlier peoples dating back almost 7,000 years ago. Village neighbours include the Makushi villages of Kwaimatta, Massara, Yupukari, Toka, and Simoni. Several prominent explorers and naturalists have written about their experiences here, including Robert and Richard Schomburgk, Charles Waterton, Evelyn Waugh, Gerald Durrell, and David Attenborough. Lake Amuku, not far from Karanambu, was once considered by Sir Walter Raleigh, and later by Alexander von Humboldt, and others to be the location of Lake Parime on whose banks the golden city of “El Dorado” was said to be located.
The romance of the Rupununi pioneers lives on at Karanambu. The compound has the flavour of an Amerindian Village. Because of the remoteness of Karanambu, staff live on site and the children can be seen and heard on the weekends and holidays when they come “home” from schools in the nearby villages of Yupakari, Kwaimatta and Massara. This feeling of community is further enhanced by the accommodations, which are traditionally made clay brick cabins. Each private cabin can accommodate two people and includes private bathroom and Veranda with hammocks.
With both the river and the savannahs close at hand there is a wide variety of activities to be enjoyed at Karanambu. You are free to determine what you want to do based on your interests, the time of year and whether the guides have found anything especially unique and interesting to see. Two guided excursions are provided each day — one early in the morning and another late in the afternoon and into the evening. As well as being the coolest times to be out, these are usually the best times to see the different birds and animals. Trips may be on the river by boat, on the savannahs by Land Rover or along forest trails on foot to the different ponds in the area.
Late in the afternoon we will travel by boat to look for wild Giant River Otters and as dusk falls to the ponds to see the giant Amazonia Regis water lily, bloom at dusk. On the return trip we will spotlight for Black Caiman and birds and creatures of the night.
This morning we may make an early start to reach an area of rolling grasslands, which is home to a population of giant anteaters. With luck we shall locate one of these six-foot long animals excavating its breakfast from one of the red termite mounds that stud the savannah. The giant anteater, also known as the ant bear, is a large insectivorous mammal native to Central and South America. It is recognizable by its elongated snout, bushy tail, long fore-claws and distinctively coloured pelage. It feeds primarily on ants and termites, using its fore-claws to dig them up and its long, sticky tongue to collect them. Though giant anteaters live in overlapping home ranges they are mostly solitary except during mother-offspring relationships, aggressive interactions between males, and when mating. Mother anteaters carry their offspring on their backs until weaning them.
An evening visit to a nearby pond to see hundreds of Ibis, Anhinga, Heron and Egret roosting (only in rainy season) is a highlight. If you are interested in bird watching you can explore woodland patches or gallery forest along the river where we’ll hope to find such species as Spotted Puffbird, Striped Woodcreeper, Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Golden-spangled Piculet, Bearded Tachuri and Capuchinbird. A feature bird for the area is Agami Heron. An evening walk along the airstrip offers seven species of nightjar and among the grasslands the Double-striped Thick-knees.
In the event you did not see a giant anteater the previous morning, there is time to travel out to search the savannah again. Or explore the Rupununi River in search of wild Giant River Otters, Black Caiman and Arapaima, making a boat journey along quiet stretches of river.Return to the lodge for breakfast before departure.
From Karanambu we take a boat trip on the Rupununi River to Ginep Landing. Depending on the river level, this trip offers an excellent opportunity to look for Giant Otters as there are several family groups which live along this stretch of the Rupununi River. We then travel north by road from Ginep Landing to the community of Surama.
The Amerindian community of Surama is located in the heart of Guyana. The village is set in five square miles of savannah which is ringed by the forest covered Pakaraima Mountains. Surama’s inhabitants are mainly from the Macushi tribe and still observe many of the traditional practises of their forebears. This isolated and idyllic location offers an escape from the concrete jungle to a serene and peaceful existence with nature. The guides have lived their entire lives in the rainforest, and have an incredible understanding of nature and how to utilise its resources.
On arrival in Surama you will receive a warm welcome from local staff and settle into your accommodation at the Surama Eco-lodge. A local guide will escort you for a short walk on trails to observe the forest and bird life. Your guide will take you on a tour of the village. Visit the local school, medical centre and church along with some of the village houses.
After lunch take a walk across the savannah and then climb up Surama Mountain for incredible views across the village and savannah to the Pakaraima Mountains. This is not a technical climb but can be arduous, especially after rain, and not for everyone. Your guides will happily offer alternative activities if you prefer not to do this climb. Tonight enjoy an educational walk to observe wildlife and experience the mystique of the forest after dark.
Rise before dawn for a three mile walk across the savannah and through the rainforest to the Burro Burro River. This is the best time to observe bird and wildlife along the trail. Your guides will then paddle you on the Burro Burro River for opportunities to observe Giant River Otters, Tapir, Tira, Spider Monkeys and many more species. Return to village for lunch before departing Surama.
After lunch, transfer from Surama by 4 x 4 vehicle or 4×4 Bedford Truck (converted with forward facing seats and canopy) through the Iwokrama Forest to Atta Rainforest Lodge. The Iwokrama Canopy Walkway is situated at Mauisparu, near the southern boundary of the Iwokrama Reserve in central Guyana. The walkway has four suspension bridges leading to three platforms, the highest of which is over 30 metres above the ground, and these will allow great looks at a range of canopy species, many of which you would struggle to see well from the forest floor. Amongst the likely highlights are Painted, Brown-throated and Golden-winged Parakeets, Caica Parrot, Guianan Puffbird, Waved and Golden-collared Woodpeckers and Spot-tailed, Todd’s and Ash-winged Antwrens. The walkway is also an excellent place to look for various species of cotinga including the poorly known and range-restricted Dusky Purpletuft and if there are any suitable fruiting trees nearby, you stand a good chance of seeing this bird, as well as the more widespread Purple-breasted Cotinga.
Another area where we will want to spend some time is the clearing around the lodge, as this is one of the best places to see another of Guyana’s “must see” birds, the Crimson Fruitcrow. This species is seen here on a reasonably regular basis, as it often comes to feed in some of the nearby trees. The clearing is also a reliable site for Black Curassow as there is a family party which has become habituated to people and regularly passes through the clearing. With reasonable luck, you should be able to add this bird to the impressive list of species you will see around the lodge and walkway.
Atta Rainforest Lodge is 500 metres from the base of the Canopy Walkway, offering comfortable private-room accommodation with ensuite bathrooms, delicious home-cooked meals, and traditional Amerindian hospitality. The lodge is completely surrounded by tropical rainforest which offers a complete immersion in the rainforest experience. The main building is open sided with views across the gardens to the towering forest on all sides and houses the bar, dining area and kitchen.
Before dawn return to the canopy where you will welcome the dawn chorus. From this tree top vantage you can sometimes see Red Howler Monkeys and Black Spider Monkeys. Apart from the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway itself you can enjoy wildlife and bird watching walks on the trails around the area. For those interested in botany many of the trails have the key trees species marked. Many bird species, stunning insects, noisy amphibians, and playful primates make the surrounding forest their home and you can be fairly certain to spot some extraordinary wildlife without even trying too hard. Deer and agouti are also regular visitors to the lodge. Return to the lodge for breakfast before departure.
Travel through the Iwokrama Forest and eventually the road leaves the rainforest and enters the vast North Rupununi savannah which is vast open grassland and wetlands. The road travels through the savannah and the foothills of the Pakaraima Mountains with an excellent opportunity for savannah birding. Jabiru Stork are often seen along this stretch of road. Continue by 4×4 to the airstrip for schedule flight to Georgetown. Board scheduled flight for return journey over hundreds of miles of tropical rainforest to land at Eugene F. Correia International Airport. Pickup and transfer to Georgetown.
Georgetown the chief port, capital and largest city of Guyana is situated on the right Bank of the Demerara River Estuary. It was chosen as a site for a fort to guard the early Dutch settlements of the Demerara River. The city of Georgetown was designed largely by the Dutch and is laid out in a rectangular pattern with wide tree lined avenues and irrigation canals that criss cross the city.
Most of the buildings in the city are wooden with unique architecture dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. For the most part the buildings have Demerara shutters and designed fretwork which trim eaves and windows. Main Street, Georgetown provides several excellent examples of old colonial homes, a prime example of which is the State House, built in 1852. The State House is set in large gardens and is painted green and white and has hosted many visiting dignitaries.
During your visit to Georgetown there are a number of interesting sights that should not be missed: the most famous being St. George’s Cathedral. The Cathedral is one of the world’s tallest free standing wooden buildings and was consecrated on 1892. The foundation stone was laid on November 23, 1890 and the building was designed by Sir Arthur Bloomfield. The story of the cathedral is told on the interior on tablets and memorials of a historical and sentimental nature: it is the tale of the history of Guyana in general and of the Diocese in particular.
At the beginning of the Avenue of the Republic stands the Public Library housed in the Carnegie Building. Other historic buildings along this promenade are the Town Hall, a splendid example of Gothic architecture, and further along are the Victoria Law Courts and St. Andrews Kirk. St. Andrew’s is the oldest surviving structure of any church in Guyana.
The famous Stabroek Market, once described as a “bizarre bazaar”, contains every conceivable item from house hold goods and gold jewellery to fresh meat and vegetables brought to town on the river daily. The clock tower can be seen for miles around and is a famous landmark.
No trip to Georgetown would be complete without a visit to the Botanical Gardens and zoo. The Botanical Gardens houses one of the most extensive collections of tropical flora in the Caribbean and are laid out with ponds, canals, kissing bridges and bandstand. Over 100 species of Guyanese wildlife can be observed at the Zoo including a wide variety of tropical fishes and birds.
The National Museum which contains a broad selection of our animal life and heritage should not be missed, nor the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, which explains Amerindian history and life style.
The tour will include walking along the Avenues with an experienced guide who will give you the history, rumour and facts on Georgetown and its citizens. The group will be accompanied at all times by a vehicle, which will be used for travel between areas of interest. During the tour there is always the opportunity to purchase that unusual gift or unique Guyanese handicrafts, or for the daring the chance to delve into the gold and diamond market.
Kaieteur Falls was first seen by a European on April 29, 1870 and is situated in the heart of Guyana on the Potaro River, a tributary of the Essequibo. The water of Kaieteur, one of the world’s natural wonders, flows over a sandstone conglomerate tableland into a deep gorge – a drop of 741 feet or 5 times the height of Niagara Falls. There are no other falls in the world with the magnitude of the sheer drop existing at Kaieteur. Amerindian legend of the Patamona tribe has it that Kai, one of the tribe’s chiefs (after whom the falls is named), committed self-sacrifice by canoeing himself over the falls. It was believed this would encourage the Great Spirit Makonaima to save the tribe from being destroyed by the savage Caribishi.
Kaieteur supports a unique micro environment with Tank Bromeliads, the largest in the world, in which the tiny Golden frog spends its entire life and the rarely seen Guiana Cock- of-the-rock nesting close by. The lucky visitor may also see the famous flights of the Kaieteur Swifts or Makonaima Birds which nest under the vast shelf of rock carved by the centuries of water, hidden behind the eternal curtain of falling water.
Depending on the specific day you travel, this excursion may include an extension to Orinduik Falls or Baganara Island Resort (at no additional cost). Orinduik Falls is where the Ireng River thunders over steps and terraces of solid jasper, a semi-precious stone. With a backdrop of the rolling grass covered hills of the Pakaraima Mountains, this is truly one of the most beautiful locations in Guyana’s hinterland. Its name is derived from the Amerindian (Patamona) word, Orin, which is the name of an aquatic plant found in these falls. The Ireng River forms the border between Brazil and Guyana. In contrast to Kaieteur, Orinduik is ideally suited for swimming and you will find natural Jacuzzi’s as the falls tumble down the steps of Jasper.
If your tour includes a stop at Baganara Island, you will be invited to spend the afternoon just relaxing or choosing from a variety of activities such as canoeing, fishing, table tennis or volleyball to name a few; after you have enjoyed our delicious buffet lunch.
Pickup and transfer to Eugene F. Correia International Airport. Board scheduled flight for journey to Suriname landing at Zorg-en-Hoop.
Paramaribo, the capital city of Suriname, has been placed on the UNESCO “World Heritage” list of historical monuments since 2002. You will receive a guided tour, by car and on foot, along the most prominent historic locations in downtown Paramaribo during which you will be impressed by the unique architecture. The guide gives you extensive information about the former “Fort Zeelandia”, the Presidential Palace, the Independence Square and many other monuments. The monumental buildings are a true representation of the colonial history of Suriname. After a stroll past the Waterkant, along the bank of the Suriname River and through the Palms Garden, you will also enjoy other interesting sites such as a mosque right next to a synagogue.
Formerly a statuesque townhouse, the Eco Resort Inn has been lovingly renovated while maintaining the authenticity of its exquisite colonial architecture. It has been transformed into the most charming lobby of one of Paramaribo’s most favoured hotels with numerous eco-friendly features.
Located within a 5-minute walk of the historic centre of Paramaribo and the tantalizing city life, rooms offer either a breath taking view of the Suriname river or a beautiful view of our lovely garden. The hotel is simply ideal for guests who want to visit Suriname to relax and unwind.
This morning we will travel approximately 70 km to the South of Paramaribo, where on the right bank of the Suriname river, lies Jodensavanne. A former Jewish settlement, it is named after the Jewish people who settled in this savanne area around 1650. This former Jewish villagope is where the ruins of the most ancient synagogue of North and South America lies and the graveyard can still be seen. Nowadays, these remnants have been cleaned and a simple cottage has been set up as a museum. The tour continues to recreation park Colakreek where you have the opportunity to swim and relax in the refreshing water. The leaves falling in the water give the creek its dark color which looks like that of the Coca Cola drink, hence the name Colakreek. Return to your hotel in time for dinner (on your own).
Today we head to the Commewijne district which is situated to the east of Paramaribo across the Suriname River. The tour takes us along the former colonial plantations, most of which are now abandoned. We make a stop at plantation Peperpot where the old coffee and cocoa factory, deputy-director’s house and the old office are located. This former plantation is one of the oldest plantations in Surinamese history. Peperpot was established by the English and already existed before Suriname was conquered by the natives from Zeeland under command of Abraham Crijnssen in 1667. This is one of the last plantations still in its former original state. On the plantation you can still see coffee and cocoa plants as well as an ancient shed and factory, the manager’s residence and a kampong (workers’ living area). Peperpot is renowned for the many birds which can be spotted.
From Peperpot, we make a stop at the mini-museum of Marienburg, a former sugar plantation before enjoying a delicious lunch in a typical Javanese restaurant (warung) in Tamanredjo before continuing to the confluence of the Commewijne and Suriname Rivers at Nieuw Amsterdam. Here we will a visit the outdoor museum Fort Nieuw Amsterdam. The large fortress was built as a defense for the crop fields that were situated along the upper parts of both rivers.
We continue our tour to the pier at Leonsburg where we will be picked up for the Sunset Dolphin tour. While having a drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) we enjoy the cool breeze and river views. Meanwhile the captain searches the horizon for the dolphins. Normally we see them swim by in groups of up to 20 dolphins. Sometimes they’re very curious and if we are lucky they will jump and play close to the boat.
After having enjoyed this playful company we part for wonderful restored plantation where we will enjoy freshly made local snacks like barra, baka bana or eggroll while experiencing the beautiful sunset. All this takes place in a relaxing atmosphere of the old plantation village on a wooden deck near the waterfront of the Commewijne River. After the sun has set we will get back on board, pour another drink, and slowly make our way back to Leonsberg. Transfer back to the hotel.
We make an early start to comfortably pace ourselves through the journey. The first leg of our travels takes us eastbound along Suriname’s coastal road, a throughway that is intermittently getting a much-needed facelift, to Albina border station. Formalities here rarely take more than a few minutes, and soon we find ourselves in Piaka canoe crossing the Maroni River headed for French Guiana or “Guyane” as it is frequently (and confusingly) called locally. Arrival at St. Laurent du Maroni is relatively uncomplicated, and our French guide will be on hand to help us navigate the usual customs and immigration formalities. French Guyana is a Department of France, so technically you have entered the EU upon landing here. And, evidence of this connection to the “1st world” is immediately evident: every car seems to be a late-model Mercedes, Volkswagen or Peugeot, the roads are in near perfect condition, espresso coffee is on tap nearly everywhere, and the Euro is the currency of choice.
We make a brief visit to the well-preserved Transportation Center here in St. Laurent. The facility once served as the transit point for slaves and indentured servants imported from overseas and destined for plantations throughout South America and the Caribbean. A hard-to-miss curiosity just offshore is the British steamer Edith Cavel shipwreck, so overgrown with trees and shrubs that it could be mistaken for a natural island. It partially sank in bad weather in 1924.
Continue to Kourou. The Hotel des Roches rests on a tiny finger of sand jutting into the Kourou River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The tower adjacent to the hotel, Dreyfus Tower, was a communication link to the Iles du Salut: its rocky perch serves as a perfect place to relax during sunset. Overnight at Hotel Des Roches in a Standard room. (Check in time 1400hrs, Check out time 1400hrs)
After a breakfast buffet at the hotel we will transfer to the pier for an excursion to what is commonly referred to as “Devil’s Island” which in reality is actually a triangle of three islands – Îles du Salut, or the Salvation Islands – seven miles off the coast of Kourou. We set sail aboard a fine motorized catamaran towards our first stop, Île Saint-Joseph. The islands played a central role in French history as far back as 1792 when they were first employed as a transit point, first for explorers, then slaves and later for political prisoners. Île Saint-Joseph is the southernmost island and is home to the most striking incarceration facilities that made up this notorious penal colony. Île Royale is the site of the oldest buildings on the islands, featuring an old church, administration buildings, officers’ quarters, and today, a good restaurant and lodging facilities. Ironically, the actual Île du Diable (Devil’s Island) is inaccessible to visitors due to dangerous shoreline conditions. This is the island where the prison’s best-known occupant, Alfred Dreyfus, was famously secluded.
Your tour begins on Île St. Joseph which can be easily circumnavigated on foot in less than 2 hours. The prison buildings here are quite well preserved, and you can meander at will through the cell blocks, dormitory buildings, and other structures while taking photographs or simply soaking in the powerful ambience. The countless scenes of nature slowly but relentlessly reclaiming the land here are really quite remarkable… you’ll lose count of how many tree roots you see growing out of one cell door and curving around to enter an adjacent cell. If your walking tour wraps up early, there are plenty of shady trees under which you can catch a cool breeze, or you can dip your toe in one of the shallow tide pools on the north side of the island.
Guided visit of the island before lunch including museum, main buildings, children cemetery, convict building, guards horse, jails, etc. Lunch in the Auberge des Iles. Return to Kourou by Catamaran at 1800 and transfer in bus to hotel.
Breakfast at hotel. Transfer to the Centre Spatiale Guyanaise (Guyana Space Centre) for tour. Launch schedules are a closely-held secret so our schedule today may be amended on short notice. The usual tour includes a motor coach tour which criss-crosses the centre’s mammoth facility, including stops at various assembly buildings and control centres. The entire tour is offered in French, but your guide will supply translations as often as possible.
Transfer to Cayenne. This afternoon enjoy a tour of Cayenne, which is the capital, administrative and commercial centre of French Guiana. At the same time, it is a typical creole town with about 50,000 inhabitants, half of the entire population of the country. The Fort Cépérou, the Place Léopold Heder, the hotel of the Jésuites, the Place de Grenoble, the Place des Palmistes, the colonial hospital, the Franconie Museum, the town hall and the city centre are the gems of Cayenne. We will also visit the traditional market, full of exotic odours, as well as an opportunity for shopping.
Best Western Hotel Amazonia is a budget hotel centrally located in the main shopping area of Cayenne. Bars, restaurants and parks are all only a short stroll away. Each of the 124 rooms include a fridge, room safe, direct line telephone, free internet access via Wi-Fi and flat screen television with satellite channels. The hotel also has a swimming pool. (Check in time 1400hrs, Check out time 12midday)
Transfer from your hotel to the Félix Eboué Airport for your international return flight. (Some schedules and itineraries may require you to transfer by land back to Paramaribo).
Important note regarding tours to Kaieteur Falls
Flights to Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls are operated on chartered aircraft and all flights have a minimum passenger restriction. Therefore, any booking to Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls is subject to a minimum of 12 passengers being available to travel. In most cases we are able to fill flights, especially if scheduled for a weekend. However, in the rare case that we cannot meet the required numbers we will reschedule the trip to another day during your stay, if this is possible. Wilderness Explorers retains the right to reschedule a flight as a first option. If we cannot reschedule the flight Wilderness Explorers will guarantee a flight, with a minimum of 2 passengers, to Kaieteur Falls only or a combination of Kaieteur Falls and Baganara Island Resort. This means you see the major falls of Kaieteur, but miss Orinduik Falls. If a flight is cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control, such as weather, we will endeavour to reschedule the flight during your itinerary. If this is not possible then a full refund on the flight will be made.
Why Travel with Wilderness Explorers?
For more than 20 years, we’ve been working at the crossroads of adventure travel and community tourism. Not from the sidelines or behind a desk, but on the ground. In the jungle. On the boats. Getting our feet dirty and seeing everything first-hand. Tourism isn’t our business – it’s our life. Our handcrafted itineraries prove it.
Our partners in the field aren’t just suppliers in the traditional sense: we are deeply involved with the development of the lodges, tours, training programs, and attractions that draw adventurous souls to this part of the world. Back in 1999 Wilderness Explorers was one of the first tour operators to embrace the now-fashionable idea of community tourism, partnering with the Amerindian Makushi village of Surama in Guyana to provide marketing and administrative support for that country’s first indigenously-operated ecolodge. These days we continue to work with lodges and regional consortiums with tourism development aspirations. Hand-in-hand we are building opportunities for economic growth that don’t rely on resource extraction or the mass-market.
We know that tour companies are increasingly looked upon as unnecessary middlemen in a world where the internet connects everyone with marvelous ease. And, no doubt, someone with ample time and patience could organize their journey independently. But we know that sometimes you want to spend less time researching and more time travelling. If that’s you, we can vastly simplify your trip planning, get you into the best (and often least-known) lodges, prioritize your activity list, and set you up for an unforgettable getaway. Having the time of your life once you get there? Well, that part is entirely up to you!