The Most Amazing Wildlife In Guyana

The Most Amazing Wildlife In Guyana

There is an abundance of wildlife in Guyana, which explains why Guyana tourism has been flourishing in recent years. This is a country where the jungle is so thick that it is impossible to get any phone connectivity, let alone internet, in good parts of it. But much like in Botswana, here thick vegetation and no phone signal are only the other side of the coin of something significantly more interesting, from my point of view: the increased chance of wildlife encounters.

Wildlife in Guyana benefits from the river system and the dense jungle, which create its perfect habitat. Among Guyana animals, there are the elusive Jaguar, Capibaras, Black Caimans, the Giant Anteater, and one-of-a-kind birds such as the Harpy Eagle and Cock-of-the-Rock. There are more than 900 species of birds in Guyana; 225 species of mammals; 880 species of reptiles and more than 6500 different species of trees and plants.

The incredible abundance and diversity of wildlife in Guyana contributed to giving the country the reputation of being one of the best destinations for wildlife sightings in South America. Much like travelers have been frolicking to Argentina in search of penguins, sea lions, orcas and wales; or they have been going to the Galapagos of Ecuador to admire the marine life; they now head to Guyana to encounter animals, and to do so in a completely responsible way.

The most unique wildlife in Guyana has been given the moniker of “giants,” which is why Guyana is called Land of the Giantsand it’s every adventurers’ dream to explore it in search of these amazing creatures.

This post highlights the most incredible wildlife in Guyana and gives some final tips on how to make the most of this country.

wildlife in Guyana

Jaguars are by far among the most amazing wildlife in Guyaba

The Most Amazing Wildlife In Guyana

Jaguar – AKA the King of the Jungle                               

Among the most incredible wildlife in Guyana, there’s the jaguar. This elusive animal may well be the most famous animal in South America, one many travelers would love to see in its natural environment. This is one of the largest cats in the world, and the top predator moving on land to stalk the continent. The Audubon Magazine suggested that Guyana’s very own Iwokrama Forest could be the best place in the world to spot a wild jaguar.

Jaguars can be seen all around Guyana, especially along the rainforest belt that is at the heart of the country. Among the best things to do in Guyana to see jaguars, there’s staying at one of the local eco-lodges and joining a safari with a trained local guide, heading into the jungle at night to test one’s luck to get a glimpse of this mighty animal.

Arapaima – AKA the World’s Largest Scaled Freshwater Fish

Wildlife in Guyana is not limited to mammals. The country is home to the giant arapaimas, a fish that lives in the network of Essequibo, Rupununi and the Amazon River Basin. Arapaimas are typically found in the southwestern part of the country, where the tropical weather creates the perfect living conditions for them.

One of the most fun things to do in Guyana is trying to catch (and obviously release immediately afterwards) one of these epic fish. The best places to give it a try are the isolated pools and rivers, where fishing enthusiasts can engage in a battle to catch this water monster. Travelers hoping to catch an arapaima should carry the right equipment and follow the advice of local guides during fishing expeditions.

Rewa is a prime location for such fishing, not to mention one of the nicest places to visit in Guyana. Even I went fishing in Rewa, though not for arapaimas. Read more about my fishing experience on this post

wildlife in Guyana

Harpy eagles are some of the most beautiful animals in Guyana

Harpy Eagle – AKA the Most Majestic Bird in Guyana

Among the most beautiful wildlife in Guyana there’s the harpy eagle. This is by far the most powerful bird of prey in the world, and one of the largest birds of pray in South America. Harpy eagles can be spotted in the Kanuku and Iwokrama mountains, where the untouched tropical rainforest proves to be their perfect living environment, as there’s a lot of preys they can feed on.

The North Rupununi Region is one of the top places to visit in Guyana. Here, the Iwokrama River Lodge, the Surama Eco-Lodge and the Rewa Eco-Lodge are perfect starting point to go in search of the harpy eagle. On the Essequibo Coast, these birds can be spotted at Warapoka and Sloth Island!

With so much wildlife in Guyana that includes birds of prey, it’s easy to see why this country has quickly become a top destination for bird-watchers!

wildlife in Guyana

Spotting giant anteaters is one of the coolest things to do in Guyana

Giant Anteater – AKA the World’s Largest Anteater

One of the most unique wildlife in Guayana is the giant anteater. This animal is characterized by tiny eyes and ears, which are a great contrast to its long snout, body and tail. Needless to say, it is a really interesting animal to admire from up close.

These Guyana animals can be found in the Iwokrama Forest and the Rupununi Savannahs. They are not easy to spot, so one of the best things to do in Guyana if hoping to spot giant anteaters is to hire a local trained guide, as these will know where to spot them and how to localize them. Ranches like Saddle Mountain or Karanambu are great starting point to go in search of anteaters. From there, it is possible to head out several times during the day into the forest, in search for the perfect opportunity to take a photo of this gentle giant. Don’t forget to get a good travel camera for that!

Guyana wildlife

Giant otters are among the most unique wildlife in Guyana

Giant River Otter – AKA the World’s Largest and Rarest Otter

One of the most unique Guayana animals is the giant river otter. Of all the otter species in the world, this is by far the largest, and possibly the hardest to spot. These animals where first documented in detail at the Karanambu Ranch, in the region of North Rupununi, in 1988 by the conservationist Diane McTurk.

She was the one who started the rehabilitation work of the otters at the Karanambu Lodge. Since then, otters have thrived in the area, making this one of the best places to see wildlife in Guyana. It’s a place many tourists travel in order to observe these rare and incredible creatures in their natural environment.

things to do in Guyana

Mighty caimans are among the most scary wildlife in Guyana

Black Caiman – AKA the World’s Largest Alligators 

One of the nicest things to do in Guyana is cruising along its waterways, and the reason for that is that this provides an excellent opportunity for wildlife spotting. Caimans are a common sight here, and a mighty one. Black caimans are the biggest members of the alligator family. These reptiles, that live along slow-moving rivers, lakes and other freshwater habitats around the country, are carnivorous.

Caimans are the largest predators in the Amazon, and they prey on a variety of fish, other reptiles, birds and mammals. They can be spotted on any river in the heart of the country. The best place to stay to see wildlife in Guyana, if wanting to spot caimans, is the community-owned Caiman House. From there, it is possible to go caiman tagging – which is done for conservation purposes.

Capybara – AKA the World Largest Rodent

When it comes to wildlife in Guyana, as far as statistical superlatives go, the country holds the first place even when it comes to rodents. Indeed, it is home to the world’s largest rodent, the capybara. This is found in the savana, dense forests and near rivers and lakes. Capybaras live in family groups, and that’s how they are usually spotted. They look like a huge rat or groundhog.

wildlife in Guyana

Admiring the gorgeous flora: one of the things to do in Guyana

There’s More Than Wildlife in Guyana 

Those that think that animals are the main reason to visit Guyana should think twice. There are many more things to do in Guyana other than admiring its incredible wildlife.  There’s more than just wildlife in Guyana: the country is indeed home to Victoria Amazonica — also known as the World’s Largest Lily. This is Guyana national flower, and it can be found in oxbow lakes and in the shallow waters of the Amazon Basin.

The leaves of Victoria Amazonica sprawl up to 3 meters in diameter – they are so big that they can actually hold a baby. The night Victoria Amazonica bloom, their flowers are white. Yet, it is interesting to observe that they turn pink on the second night. Witnessing this process is just one more of the amazing things to do in Guyana.

Other Reasons To Visit Guyana

Responsible tourism should be the only way to travel, and Guyana is proving to be one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world, with the local authorities making an effort to protect the vibrant wildlife in Guyana, as well as its culture and heritage.

In line with this effort, the government has put together a series of Visitors Guidelines for Sustainable Travel, where it invites all travelers, adventures seekers, culture curious and all tourists to follow a few simple rules to leave as little impact as possible on the country and the world. It’s just one more reason to support Guyana tourism.

Discover more things to do in Guyana and a series of tips on how to plan a trip to Guyana.

Have you ever been to Guayana? What wildlife in Guyana did you see?

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Discover all the nicest wildlife in Guyana - via @clautavani

A concise guide to the things to do in Cartagena

A concise guide to the things to do in Cartagena

Colombia is huge, and it would require several months of travelling to discover its many beauties. However, one of the places to visit in Colombia, for however long one may be staying, is Cartagena, which is considered – and rightly so – the most beautiful city in the country. It is a perfect Caribbean vacation spot, it can be easily reached through regular flights and long distance buses. It is ideal for romantic city breaks: picture cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bouganvillea, beautiful facades, street art, music and lovely restaurants. It is great for nature lovers and beach bums too: it is a good starting point to visit the beautiful Islas del Rosario, where I could escape to whenever I felt like relaxing on the beach or snorkeling on the coral reef. There are so many things to do in Cartagena, that it is no surprise Cartagena is one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia.

Cartagena is one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia

Cartagena is one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia

Having this in mind, Cartagena has always been on my list of places to visit in Colombia, and in fact, it was my first stop in South America after having spent three full months in Central America. Despite my original plan to reach Colombia in the most adventurous way (sailing San Blas, in Panama, to cross the border via sea), I ended up having to be a not so adventure traveler and catch a flight from Panama City through Bogotà – read here to find out what happened. As soon as I landed, I knew there would be so many things to do in Cartagena.

Things to do in Cartagena: have a cold cerveza

Things to do in Cartagena: have a cold cerveza

Things to do in Cartagena

I am all about first impressions, even when it comes to places I visit: the minute I stepped off the plane and walked into the city, I fell in love with Cartagena, and it will be a long lasting affair I think. I knew I would soon find out what to do in Cartagena.

Right on the Caribbean, it enjoys a hot climate – if anything, too hot! – year round (December to April are the driest months), but the breeze that starts blowing in the afternoon cools the city a bit, making it more pleasant to walk around. It was entirely built by the Spaniards in such a way that the wind coming from the sea could circulate more easily, to bring relief from the heat. And relief I had to seek – just to give you an idea, imagine that despite being used to it, I was so exhausted from the humid heat that I would spend my day walking in search of a cool spot, drinking freshly pressed juice, and do one of the must things to do in Cartagena: sit in a tiny alley and wait for the breeze to come.

Things to do in Cartagena: sit in a tiny alley in Getsemani to enjoy some cool breeze

Things to do in Cartagena: sit in a tiny alley in Getsemani to enjoy some cool breeze

The old town of Cartagena is one of the tourist attractions of Colombia, in particular the inner walled city with the historical districts of El Centro and San Diego, with many beautiful squares, churches, museums and other places of interest. Getsemaní, the outer walled town, may not be as well preserved as the rest of the historic centre, but it is full of character and it is undergoing constant renovation. This is also where I managed to experience a bit of action and meet the locals. Quieter during the hot day hours, it gets really lively when the breeze starts blowing. I didn’t have to work hard to find out what to do in Cartagena: just walk out of the door!

I then saw people pulling chairs right outside their doors and sitting there to enjoy the cool(ish) air. Children would start playing football in the squares and Plaza Trinidad, the heart of neighbourhood, would become a football field, while everybody sit on the benches to have a chat and a drink, and street food vendors magically started appearing. Chances are I would meet people who were glad to share their anedocts about Getsemaní. I met the former mayor just by chance, as I sat next to him in the square and said hello: he was up for a chat and eager to explain a lot about the history of the area. This is how I learned that Getsemaní used to be a brothels area in the past.

Places to visit in Colombia: Getsemani, Cartagena

Places to visit in Colombia: Getsemani, Cartagena

I am a strong believer of getting the feel of a city rather than visit each single museum, church, square in it, although I know that there are so many things to do in Cartagena. It is in any case impossible to visit them all, there are so many. So, my budget tips for savvy travellers is to pick a few among the many places of interest. If interested in churches, I would enter them for free during mass, but I had make sure to wear appropriate clothes. Since I had a tight budget, I found that walking around is a free and great way to explore the city. That’s my favourite activity for sure.

Outside Cartagena

Visiting the archipelago of Islas del Rosario is one of the things to do in Cartagena. Located about 35 km south of Cartagena and consisting of 27 small islands – some of them so small that they only fit one single tiny house – it can be visited on a one day cruise leaving from the Muelle Turistico. This would normally start between 8 and 9 am and stop in many islands as well as in Playa Blanca, a long white sandy beach, before returning to Cartagena in the late afternoon. I would not miss it: the Caribbean waters are so clear and clean, the visibility so good, the coral reef so lively that I had to at least take a peek. Besides, here are some of the best beaches in Colombia.

Tours can be arranged through the hostel, and it should cost no more than 20 dollars including lunch. Carrying snorkeling gear is a good idea, otherwise it can be rented for cheap on the spot. I was so lucky to be randomly invited on a private boat, so I also managed to skip the crowds and got a chance to enjoy the freshest and loveliest lobster and crab: local fishermen usually approach the boats with their catch of the day, and offer to cook it. Cheap and delicious!

Best beaches in Colombia! Islas del Rosario, Colombia

Best beaches in Colombia!

Islas del Rosario, Colombia

I had to jump in!

What to do in Cartagena: eat lobster, crab and patacones: 100% fresh, 100% delicious

What to do in Cartagena: eat lobster, crab and patacones: 100% fresh, 100% delicious

Where to sleep and eat in Cartagena:

As one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia, Cartagena is inevitably more expensive than other places in the country. But since it is big and varied, there is something for any budget. Couples on a romantic getaway will enjoy boutique hotels. Younger and penniless crowds won’t have problems finding a good backpackers hostel. Just make sure to read the reviews before dropping by or committing to a room or a bed. I made the mistake of not doing it (what do you know, I am considered an experienced backpacker!) and ended up in the seemingly quiet Mama Waldy in Getsemaní. Pity it gets wild after dark, with parties and loud music until well after midnight, right in the common area where all (cramped and somewhat dirty and suffocating) rooms face, making sleeping almost impossible.

Good food is easily available in the many local eateries and even from street stalls, with lots of options – from grilled meat and corn to arepas and amazing tropical fruit and fruit juices. By all means, no matter what the guide book may suggest, avoid pizzerias – they are sad businesses and the food taste like it comes straight out of a can or a box: no reason to spend a fortune to eat poorly when, for a few dollars, you can have much better and fresher food in the street.

Things to do in Cartagena: try all the fresh fruit!

Things to do in Cartagena: try all the fresh fruit!

For more things to do in Colombia, click here!

How To Cross The Border In Latin America

How To Cross The Border In Latin America

gap year in Latin America is most travellers’ dream. Many embark on a trip entailing long haul flights and several border crossings, and being aware of the border crossing requirements and the possible scams can help backpackers save a lot of time – not to mention a few bucks. Here are a few questions, answered for you on the basis of my very own personal experience, a lot of research and advice from expert travel agents and backpackers.

Should I get a one way plane ticket when flying from my home country?

You may, but this may carry the risk of not being allowed to board the plane. Most Latin American countries permit to enter on a tourist visa are for 90 days or so. You should therefore be able to offer proof that you are leaving within that period. This means that, when landing, you should already have a return or onward ticket of sort. In order to avoid problems and having to carry you back at their own expenses, most airlines will demand that you have a return ticket, and should you fail to produce one they may deny you the right to board the plane. It may happen, it has happened. The way around this is buying a ticket that allows you for date-changes and re-routing (you may have to pay a fee, but this is better than wasting an entire ticket and being unable to travel).

Do I have to pay a fee when crossing borders?

Most countries won’t ask you to pay any fee when you leave their territory, but some do (ie Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras). Border crossing fees are usually just a few bucks and you can pay in local currency or in US dollars. Have some spare change ready. Be prepared for scams though. Some officials may ask for bribes. It never happened to me though!

Chicken buses Guatemala

Chicken buses take directly to the border – photo courtesy of J. Stephen Conn (Flickr)

Will I be asked for proof that I am leaving the country even when border crossing via land?

The short answer is “yes.” You will most likely be asked. I was not when I crossed the border between Guatemala and Honduras, but I was in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Should you fail to produce proof when asked, you will have to buy a ticket there and then (an international bus ticket, and occasionally even a flight) and chances are that either you use that bus ticket or you lose the money. A bit of advanced planning on the itinerary may be of help here, or try to get refundable tickets – do some search on the web, because when in a rush at a border you won’t have the time to do so. Be aware that when crossing the border between Costa Rica and Panama you will be asked to show proof that you have a plane ticket to your home country. I had to show proof I would be flying back to Italy within the allowed 90 days in Panama.

How does border crossing work? 

In Central America, it really is easy: you first go to the authorities of the country you are leaving and they will stamp your passport with an exit stamp, and if required ask you to pay a small fee. Then you walk the very short distance to the other country border authorities and show your passport and the other required documents (ie proof of onward travel). In South America, it may be slightly more complicated as you may have to walk up to 5 km between the two border authorities – there usually are buses, cabs or bici-taxis that carry travellers for a small fee (ask the price in advance and try to negotiate if you can). Be aware of the border crossing times: remember that some borders are not open 24 hours.

Nicaragua sunsets

Beautiful sunsets await when crossing the border to Nicaragua

Are there things I cannot carry?

Aside from the obvious (drugs and weapons), some countries (ie Chile) have very strict rules on carrying fruits and vegetables from other countries. You will be asked on your immigration form to declare whether you are carrying any. You will then be searched, and should you be caught with any items that are not permitted (or for which you should pay a fee), you will have to pay a penalty and will have to go through the process of weighting the goods, numbering them, etc. You will be sent a bill to your home address (the one on your passport) and should you fail to pay it when you receive it, you may be denied further entries in the country. In doubts, drop whatever you think may cause you problems.

Are scams frequent?

I have never experienced any, but I was always prepared, having all my documents in good order, change to pay any exit fee and transportation, etc. However, I have heard of travellers who, unwilling to wait for the bus between two borders, accepted rides from dodgy taxis and were then robbed of all their belongings. I have also heard of backpackers having to pay a bribe to border authorities that were unwilling to let them cross the border for whatever reason (ie the border was about to close, and they even negotiated the bribe). Keep your eyes open, know the rules, be ready to wait.

Guatemala markets

Beautiful markets in Guatemala

How do I cross the border between Panama and Colombia?

There is no land crossing between Panama and Colombia – the Darien region between the two countries is deep jungle with no roads and it is plagued by dengue and paramilitary groups or drug traffickers. Unless ready to risk your life, you have to either catch a flight (VivaColombia flies from Panama City to Medellin and Bogota for as little as 30 USD), take the ferry from Colon to Cartagena (Ferry Xpress connects the two countries twice a week, and the prices are very reasonable) or sail via San Blas. If you are keen on seeing San Blas, opt for the sailing cruise but be aware of the risk of getting seriously seasick. The cruises normally last 5 days, and take you from Portobelo (2 hours drive from Panama City) to either Capurgana (immediately on the other side of the border) or Cartagena. Should you land in Capurgana, you will have to catch a speed boat to Turbo as there are no land connections. Should your boat go all the way to Cartagena, be aware that the distance from the last stop in Panama and Cartagena is of 36 hours – which will be spent in the high waters on one of the roughest seas in the world. Keep this in mind should you think you may get seasick. Plane ticket prices are normally around 150 to 200 US dollars. Cruises are between 500 and 600 US dollars and include meals, transportation, but not drinks.

Here’s a bit more about exit fees and visas. It’s also good to be informed of the Central America 4-border control agreement.

Know the rules, avoid the problems!