The local currency is the Guyana Dollar (GYD), available in 20, 100, 500 and 1000 GYD notes. It is often referred to as “gee-dee.” 1, 5, and 10 GYD coins exist but are rarely encountered. The official exchange rate is 200GYD per US Dollar in Spring 2013, a rate which has been consistent for several years. Many establishments – especially hotels and upscale restaurants or shops – exchange at 190GYD to 1 USD.
You will not be able to use your credit or ATM card outside Georgetown. As a convenience, your driver can take you to one of a handful of ATMs in Georgetown but it may not be operational or accept your card. An ATM in the arrival hall of Cheddi Jagan Airport is intermittently operational. Establishments that accept credit cards may pass along the 2-4% bank fee associated with the transaction. It is best to inquire in advance about such fees to avoid unpleasant surprises.
There are limited shopping opportunities in the jungle. From experience, we typically recommend $30,000 GYD / $150 USD per traveler to cover incidental costs, tips, alcoholic beverages and occasional souvenir shopping opportunities on a 2-week venture where your meals, accommodation, and transportation have been paid in advance. Everyone is different, however, so ask your local guides and hosts in Georgetown for guidance.
You may be able to exchange modest amounts of cash at the front desk of the Cara Lodge or Pegasus Hotel if you are staying there.
These have limited practical use in Guyana, as only some banks accept them. ATMs are far more convenient, but TC’s do have some value as an emergency backup funding source. Keep in mind there are no banking facilities outside of Georgetown.
Guyana does not have a tradition of tips, and they are not expected. Of course, they are certainly appreciated if you are happy with the service. As a guide, a 10% tip is adequate. In the interior it is suggested that tips are given to the manager or village captain for equal distribution amongst all involved in providing hospitality and service. Also, f you are inclined to personally offer a tip for service above and beyond expectations it should be given in GYD as there are no facilities for exchanging foreign currency outside Georgetown.
Though we all feel the spirit of generosity while traveling, giving candy or money to children can lead to begging and unhealthy behavior. If you wish to do something for the children you meet, we suggest giving school supplies such as pencils, pens, crayons, erasers, and notebooks. Books are a great idea too, however be thoughtful about cultural and contextual considerations (The colorful and engaging storybook “Fun New Ways to Use Your iPad!” may not be the best selection for an 8 year old in an Amerindian village, for example)
If you are feeling more generous, we encourage you to bring along extra equipment like good-quality binoculars, scopes, tripods, wildlife identification guides, weather-sealed LED headlamps and flashights, sound recorders, GPS equipment, walkie talkies, or other gear that might be useful in nature guiding. Contact our operations team for specific suggestions. Good quality gear is far more valuable than cheap knock offs which are already available in-country anyway. Don’t bring broken or unusable gear – they have as little value here as they do at home.
It is much easier to personally deliver gifts during your visit than to ship back to Guyana afterwards.
Outside a few Georgetown markets oriented towards practical needs, there are few meaningful opportunities to shop in Guyana: in fact, one of the sheer delights of visiting Guyana’s pristine interior is the novel joy of experiencing a world free of commercial distractions. A few lodges have small souvenir counters selling locally-produced items such as raw honey, t-shirts, bags, and hats, gift cards, balata sculptures, and wood carvings, but you may spend more time looking for someone to handle your transaction than you spent selecting an item to buy.
Travelers can pick up a few bottles of Guyana’s world-class rum in Georgetown or at the airport on the way home (just bear in mind restrictions on liquids for connecting flights).
Bargaining is not part of Guyanese culture.
If you do find an opportunity to shop in Guyana, our usual recommendations apply:
- Carry your purchases home with you. Shipping your items is unreliable and your goods may arrive later than anticipated, damaged or even not at all.
- Never buy anything “valuable” or “old” unless you will still like it just as much if it does not turn out to be as valuable or old as you were told.
- Watch the item you have bought being wrapped, and check it is that same package that is given to you.
- Carefully review the receipt or credit card slip before you sign it and leave the shop, verifying the amount paid and the item bought. Keep all of your sales receipts as you may need to show them to Customs officials.
- Avoid buying gems and precious metals unless you have a high degree of confidence in your ability to assess the quality and purity of the merchandise on offer. Also consider the devastating environmental impact of Guyana’s mining sector when considering shopping for gold.
To avoid disappointment, aggravation, or – worst of all – fines, it’s wise to know what is and isn’t allowed back into your home country. US Travelers should carefully read the Know Before You Go brochure published by the U.S. Customs Service, while residents of Great Britain should review Home Office Border Agency guidelines here. Residents of other countries should inquire with their domestic immigration authorities.
Remember that purchases from duty-free shops are usually not exempt from allowances for alcohol or other imported items.
Giving Something Back
Because it can be difficult to send needed items to a distant place after your trip, it may be easier for you to bring along some gifts to share along the way. Ask to see the ‘wish lists’ we’ve collected from various villages you’ll visit on your itinerary. Of course, traveling with a bottle or two of rum to share never hurts either! No, really.