Ok, so in general, not too many people have travelled to Guyana. The Caribbean country at the top of South America (I know it’s confusing) is not at the top of most Bucket Lists. It’s kind of tough to get to and no one hears much about it. It’s a developing country with a very predominant extraction industry. All of that being said, there is one pretty big reason to get yourself over to this as yet unspoiled by tourism nook of the world. And when I say big, I mean really high. Kaieteur Falls!
Kaieteur Falls is actually the world’s largest single drop waterfall!
The waters of Kaieteur plunge from a height of 226 meters (741 feet for the readers from Liberia, Myanmar and the USA). That makes Kaieteur four times higher than Niagara and twice as tall as Victoria. Angel Falls is said to be the highest ‘Uninterrupted’ falls in the world. Don’t ask me what the difference is, I’m no waterfalls scientist! They are all freaking awesome!
You can all take a breather if your minds have just been blown!
Kaieteur Falls, the Tallest Single Drop Waterfall in the World!!!
Kaieteur Falls is located deep in the Guyanese Amazon jungle and unlike most ‘largest/highest/biggest’s of the world, it has next to no infrastructure. To be fair, the construction of what little infrastructure is there, is truly an impressive feat given the stark remoteness of the location.
So how did I end up not only in Guyana, but checking out the tallest waterfall in the world? Well, as with most of my stories, a little money and a lot of luck!
I arrived in Guyana from Jamaica on a work trip. After two days of work, I woke up and thought “I have a free day tomorrow. I should go to those waterfalls…what are they called, Kayak, Character, Caricature?”
After I Googled the right name of the waterfalls as to not embarrass myself through ignorance, I asked the crew at the office what it would take to get out to Kaieteur. Again, basically money and luck.
Patrick, one of the Guyana country team guys, called around to a few of the possible tour companies who may be going to Kaieteur the next day and luckily one agency was going and they had one seat left.
Gulp…. Well Emily, this is like the hot air balloon in Burma incident: sometimes you have to spend the money so you can live the amazing, one of a kind, totally rare experience and then lord it over other travelers heads. I mean, no, I would never. That would be cruel.
Let’s do it!
How to Visit Kaieteur Falls
So the main question is wow, why is it so expensive? Well as I said, Kaieteur Falls is located in the Amazon jungle. Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, is not. To get to Kaieteur Falls your trip, and your fee, is inclusive of a one hour flight inland.
With the exception of those balloons in Burma, I had never done any kind of flight seeing (mainly due to the price, not because I am above it, I am clearly above nothing), but I figured Guyana was a great place to start!
Arriving at Ogle Airport in Georgetown the next morning, I boarded a small sturdy aircraft along with six other Falls enthusiasts and one competent looking pilot. For those who have never flown on these small prop planes, one of the more unique facets of flying in them is the pre-boarding practice of weighing each passenger. I understand the safety implications of over-loading the weight capacities, but really?
Being the only single, I was of course relegated to the back of the plane, but this gave me the whole seat to myself so I could see out both windows to take jungle photos.
Flightseeing to Kaieteur Falls
The flight out to the Falls is absolutely breathtaking. First, you glide over the city of Georgetown, which sits right on the Caribbean and from above is full of color. Then onwards to what appears to be a blanket of green covering the blemish free earth for what seems like forever. Eventually, you realize that the plane is actually getting closer to the ground, but not from loss of altitude, but because the jungle is rising. Kaieteur Falls is right in the middle of the Potaro Plateau, an elevated body of ancient rock thought to be some of the oldest in the world. The Potaro River, coming from the Pakaraima Mountains to the south, is all of the water that is going over those rocks to make the Falls. After the Falls, the Potaro River eventually opens up to the Essequibo River, Guyana’s longest river.
What’s Kaieteur Falls All About?
But enough with geology and geography, let’s talk about less certain truths. Kaieteur Falls is thusly named commemorating Chief Kaie, a powerful olden day Amerindian leader of the Patamona tribe. Kaie felt that he was at odds with the Great Spirit. To appease this fear, Kaie took his canoe and paddled over the falls, sacrificing himself to bring peace to his tribe and protect them from neighbouring clans. Local lore says that Chief Kaie and his canoe did in fact go over the falls but instead of perishing they were made one with the stone and became part of the falls itself.
With the Chief’s name lending itself as namesake, and the word ‘Teur’ translating to ‘falls’, really Kaieteur Falls is named “Kaie Falls Falls”.
After an hour soaring over the jungle, and getting closer and closer to the earth, the plane was following the river valley of the Potaro and all of the sudden there it was!
An absolutely massive tall cliff with a shit ton of water falling over it.
Or as my father would say “a bunch of water coming over a bunch of rocks”.
After an hour of uninterrupted jungle, viewing Kaieteur Falls from the air really is a bit of a shock. Not that it really should be, I paid a lot of money to get there! Unable to hear the roar of the falls over the thunder of the airplane, the sheer amount of force that was being pushed over the edge of Kaieteur was unbelievable.
And thinking back to Chief Kaie, well you had to hand it to the guy, that’s one way to go!
After a circle above the Falls, we landed at the Kaieteur airstrip, built originally back in the 30’s and then redone in the 70’s. Must be one of the more remote airstrips I’ve been to, and I’ve been the outer Solomon Islands.
The Kaieteur Visitor’s centre is where we met with our guide, who was to lead us to 3 different lookouts and enlighten us to the flora and fauna along the way. The first viewpoint was the furthest away, and the trail required the slightest of tricky footwork. Some of the party was not wearing the best shoes or attire for this kind of trail. I was in running shoes and yoga pants because I’m an over prepared nerd.
Visiting Kaieteur Falls Guyana
At the first lookout, a natural rock slab, the guide tells everyone to stay at least 8 feet from the edge. There is no guardrail. If you slip or fall, you and Chief Kaie will have a lot to talk about.
To be honest though, 8 feet is really far from the edge. This direction was largely and quickly ignored. No one can take a good waterfall selfie that far from the edge! Don’t worry though, everyone myself included, still stayed a respectable distance from the edge.
The second lookout was about 100 meters closer to the falls and is the location of a now nonexistent old Boy Scout Camp site.
Holy shit, Guyanese Boy Scouts are super hard core!!! To get to the Falls overland, it is a 5 day journey that involves all forms of land and water transport, and a heck of a lot of trekking. Kudos youth of Guyana past, your parents must have hated you!
The closest lookout is called Rainbow Viewpoint. With the Falls about 75 meters away, the roar is a loud one and the rainbow of the mist is clear.
From this view you also have the best view looking north up the Potaro River cutting through the Plateau. The river winds around several small rocky islands and the view is so pristine. Being lucky enough to actually see it made me feel unduly blessed.
Here I am, in the Amazon Jungle (and yes that jungle it is humid as Hades), next to the tallest waterfall in the world, and all I could be was awe-struck.
And click happy with the camera.
Upon return to the Visitor’s Centre, I checked out the balata figures. Balata is this very cool natural kind of plasticine that the local people harvest from the Bulletwood trees. The resin is extracted from the trees and then filtered, dyed, and dried. The resulting moldable material is then sculpted into animal or human scene figures. I bought two. The unique souvenirs come with a card warning against direct sunlight or high heat. Balata will melt. Good to know.
Also, I just had to Google how to spell ‘plasticine’ and after 32 years I was corrected in thinking it was pronounced plastERcine. Life-long learner right here.
Flying to Kaieteur Falls from Georgetown
After 2 hours on the ground at Kaieteur, we made our way back to the plane and our pilot. I hopped into the back seat again, before looking up front and realizing “Wait, there is a co-pilot seat… in the front… I wonder…”
Can I sit in the front??
Swiftly buckled into the shotgun seat and feeling unreasonably powerful, the pilot said only one thing:
“Can you do me a favour? Do not touch that (pointing to the secondary hand controls in front of me) or those (pointing to the foot pedals).”
And like that, I flew away from Kaieteur Falls! Tickled pink in the front seat, I had the best view of the Falls for our last flyover. Actively not moving my feet while sitting on my hands.
My water bomber pilot Grandpa would have been very proud!