Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Martei Korley
This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting life and culture in Guyana, the “Land of Many Waters.”
Guyana is a place that is not seen often enough. For years, this country of about 750,000 has existed mostly outside of the lens of international media and camera-toting tourists.
Maybe you’ve seen a panorama of Kaieteur Falls, grainy footage from Jonestown or, if you have some Guyanese friends, a pic of one of the stilted houses common in Georgetown. But, even in the era of Google Image search, you won’t find much content to prepare you for the depth of Guyana’s interior, the relatively untouched jungle and forest which constitutes most of the country’s land mass.
Admittedly, our own picture of Guyana was somewhat limited before our arrival. So we were determined to see as much of the country as possible during our short stay. Traveling into the interior “overland” was certainly an attractive option, but, for us, not feasible. Unless you’ve got a a lot of time on your hands — traveling to many interior points from Georgetown can take a few days each way — your best option is to see the country by air. Several operators, including Air Services Ltd., Roraima Airways and Trans Guyana Airways, operate flights out of Georgetown’s Ogle Airport. These airlines can get you just about anywhere there’s an airstrip, from Baganara Island, in the Essequibo River, to Lethem, home of the Rupununi Rodeo.
The most popular flight for visitors is the one which takes you to Kaieteur Falls, the world’s largest single-drop waterfall and Guyana’s No. 1 attraction. A day trip will typically cost about $145US, a bargain as it not only delivers you to one of the world’s great natural wonders, but it is an experience in itself. Even if you’ve just arrived in Guyana, you’ll have a good lay of the land after a flight to Kaieteur.
On a Sunday morning in June, we caught a flight to Kaieteur with pilot Paul Pitteloud of Air Services Ltd. Flights took about an hour each way, with a 15-minute flight between Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls, a smaller set of falls along the border with Brazil, in the middle, for a total six-hour trip. (A recommendation to operators: more time in Kaieteur!)
These small planes travel at or below cloud level, making it possible, as a passenger, to track the entire trip, taking in sights for hundreds of miles around. Minutes into our flight, we were able to pinpoint the Santa Aratak Mission, an Arawak reservation we’d visited a few days earlier. Eventually, majestic Mount Roraima appeared on the horizon.
See Martei Korley’s photos of Guyana from the air below. And visit us again for more photos from this journey, when we touch the ground at Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls.
All aboard! Pilot Paul Pitteloud of Guyana’s Air Services Ltd. displays his credentials.
The Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. Unlike the crystal-blue waters most associate with the Caribbean, sea water off Guyana’s coast is brown due to mud and tannin deposited by large rivers, like the Essequibo and Demerara. At several thousand feet up, the division between the Atlantic and the Caribbean becomes strikingly clear.
Canals run alongside many roads in Georgetown. Here, one stretches from the outskirts of town almost indefinitely into the horizon.
A cluster of islands in the Essequibo River. Guyana’s largest waterway is home to numerous bodies of land, including Hogg Island which, at 23 square miles, is larger than some Caribbean nations.
A tributary snakes its way towards the Demerara River. The small clusters of white sand indicate past or current human settlements.
A mystical view begins to take shape, as we arrive in Guyana’s interior highlands.
These “table-top” mesas are known as tepui, a word which means “house of the gods” in the native tongue of the Macushi, the indigenous people of the Guiana Highlands and Venezuela’s Gran Sabana.
Mount Roraima, Guyana’s largest peak, appears on the horizon. Roraima sits on the border with Brazil and Venezuela, occupying parts of all three countries.
The Pakaraima range dominates west-central Guyana. An ancient crystalline plateau that was once below sea level, some of the oldest sedimentary rocks in the Western Hemisphere are found here.
The Potaro River meanders its way through the highlands on its way towards Kaieteur.
“The Land of Many Waters” isn’t a modern catchphrase coined for marketing purposes — this is what Guyana means in a language spoken by one of the country’s Amerindian tribes, according to local lore.
A small set of falls prepares us for the massive one to come…
Kaieteur Falls emerges from the seemingly endless Amazon forest.
A flight to Kaieteur usually involves a few photo-ops, as pilots loop around the attraction for maximum viewing. See Kaieteur from the ground in our upcoming photo series from the world’s largest single-drop waterfall.
Capt. Paul Piteloud cools off from the sun, during a stop at Orinduik Falls. We’ll be stopping at these falls, too, in an upcoming photo feature.
Our vessel — a 13-passenger, single-propeller Cessna Caravan, at rest, in Orinduik.
Capt. Piteloud navigating the skies, as we head back to Georgetown.
Cruising at an altitude of 4,300 feet.
One last look at the highlands.
This ain’t the Internet: An analog tracking system guides us home.
In a moment of Top Gun-style showmanship, a pilot from Trans Guyana Airways gives us the thumbs up as he overtakes our plane.
The sandy area near the center of this photograph is Santa Aratak Mission, an Amerindian (Arawak) settlement along the Kamuni Creek— the same Demerara tributary seen above on the way to Kaieteur.
These flat wetlands signal our return to Guyana’s low-lying coastal plain, where the overwhelming majority of the country’s people reside.
Rice fields stretch practically as far as the eye can see, with the Demerara River and the outskirts of Georgetown in the distance.
The Demerara is the source of what many would call Guyana’s finest export — Demerara rum. The earthy, savory character of Demerara rum is said to be on account of the humid climate along the river, which speeds up the aging process. That and the century-old wooden stills used by Demerara Distillers, the country’s last remaining rum estate, and producers of Guyana’s famed El Dorado brand.
A striking view of downtown Georgetown. Guyana’s capital city begins where the mouth of the Demerara River meets the Atlantic Ocean.
A view of Georgetown from above. The burgundy structure in the foreground is Stabroek Market. The white structure in the center of the frame is St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, the world’s second-tallest wooden structure.
Atlantic waves crash near the Guyana Sea Wall in Georgetown. In a few hours, this stretch of the Sea Wall will play host to an epic, Sunday night lime. See our feature on this weekly tradition here.
Capt. Pitteloud after a safe landing.
A crew fixes the flat tire we picked up sometime after taking off from Orinduik.
That’s a wrap…