Georgetown may not be a world city like London, Hong Kong, or New York, but the capital of Guyana actually is it’s own kind of special. Home to the CARICOM headquarters, Georgetown is thriving these days and luckily, the amenities, hotels, and tourist attractions are keeping pace. After a week of work, I found myself at my Georgetown hotel on a Saturday morning with no plans and little faith in Georgetown. To my surprise, the day brought many things to do in Georgetown, and a heck of a lot of walking. Who knew?!
Where is Georgetown Guyana?
First things first: Guyana, and it’s capital Georgetown, sits on the Northern coast of South America. The country is part of the Caribbean community, but has a strong history and identity similar to that of other South American countries. Georgetown is right at sea level, and is where all international flights will arrive, so there is no way around Georgetown for the Guyana traveller. There are tons of hotels in Georgetown and you will find most of your modern tourist amenities here like tour agencies, banking, restaurants, and shopping.
Many people land in Georgetown, and leave right away for Guyana’s Amazon region. But, that would be a mistake…
Things to Do in Georgetown Guyana
Walter Roth Museum
This museum is cool for three reasons: 1) It’s free! 2) It’s located in an old wooden slat house iconic to Georgetown architecture and 3) it contains all kinds of artifacts from Amerindian villages and history from way back when. Clay pottery, cotton weaving, baskets, weapons, arrowheads, models of houses, cookware, and depictions of petroglyphs and cave art are all exhibited in this beautiful multi storied house on the edge of downtown Georgetown.
There is no air-conditioning in the building and the floorboards creak, making it very difficult to slyly take any photos (No photography allowed! Rule sternly upheld, trust me). The creaks do lend themselves to the sense of true old in the museum though.
Hidden away in one corner are photographs from an anthropological study done in the 1950’s, reminiscent of a Margret Mead report, but hopefully more accurate. The photos show Amerindian persons in their villages, remote and extremely disconnected from the world at that time. In fact, some of those villages in the jungle are still very disconnected from the world. I hope they have less scientists coming and taking photos of them now.
Centrepieces of the museum are two canoes. One is a dugout canoe made from a massive tree trunk. The other is merely the bark that has been stripped off a tree, strong enough to maintain it’s shape and carry a couple fishermen in it’s skin. Pretty incredible woodskin canoe in my opinion, wish I had a picture…
National Museum of Guyana
One of the first things I heard about Guyana before I went was that “everything will kill you”. I thought this was a funny thing to say. While it is funny, it’s also kind of true. And nowhere do you understand that more than at the National Museum.
Another free museum in Georgetown, the National Museum is right downtown. Showcasing the many natural wonders of Guyana, this museum proves how literally everything in the country will kill you. Entering the main floor of the museum, cases after cases of taxidermic or model animals stare you down. Intellectually, I knew that these animals couldn’t hurt me, especially the horrifying monkeys, but emotionally, it was a nightmare. Sloths, monkeys, birds of prey, four metre long snakes, tapirs, pumas, jaguars, crocodiles, massive fish, and every insect larger than your palm were featured in one room. It was overwhelming, morbid, and fascinating.
Another fun fact abut the Natural History Museum was that you could take photographs, but only if a person was in said photograph. There must have been one heck of an intellectual copyright workshop in the Ministry of Museums not to long ago. The woman who informed me of this rule saw that I was alone, and said I could take selfies. Perfect, I love close up pictures of me in a hot muggy country in poor lighting standing in front of dead animals. Challenge accepted. Apologies to all.
The Giant Sloth of Guyana
Besides informing about the many ways to die in Guyana, the museum also holds a six metre tall Giant Sloth. I did not know of the existence of the Giant Sloth, as it has been extinct for many a century, but seeing one in the flesh (kind of) definitely took my breath away. Imagine a sloth, stand it on it’s hind legs, and make it the size of a house. Skeletons and fossils of the Giant Sloth have been found in Guyana starting in the 20th century and research is still churning about their lives. One thing we know, they were not carnivores, which just seems fair. This one has an actual Giant sloth skeleton being used as the frame. Like a skeleton…
The biggest market in Guyana, Saturday is the perfect day to visit Stabroek. The market itself is crowded, busy, and full of life. The streets surrounding the market proper are also filled with vendors of everything from fruits to fish to car parts and clothes. The Market clocktower is a Georgetown icon and marks the main entrance into the official market.
Inside, the aisles and corners house jewellery stores, pharmacies, lunch counters, and dressmakers, along with sections for shoes, household goods and pet feed. Literally, anything anybody ever could need can be found in Stabroek Market.
St. George’s Cathedral
Another major tourist attraction in Guyana, St. George’s Cathedral is the landmark in Georgetown and one that most Guyanese will mention when you ask them what to see in Georgetown. The Cathedral is one of the tallest wooden churches in the world, and really is an incredible feat of architecture soaring to a height of 43.5 metres. That is over 7 times the height of the Giant Sloth! Opened in 1892 and completed in 1899, St. George’s stark white exterior is extremely impressive, but that is nothing compared to the inside.
The interior, gothic artistry, intricate stained glass, and immaculate woodwork speaks not only to the detailing of the Anglican church builders, but to the history and culture of Guyana through the ages. Much of the material was locally sourced. Oddly interestingly, the massive chandelier that hangs centre stage was a gift from none other than Queen Victoria.
Attending a church service at St. George’s is a true experience even for the heathens among us. I was lucky enough to be there on a Sunday once, and would recommend trying to catch Sunday morning service at 9am. The musical acoustics are incredible and the singing is beautiful. Try to wear better clothing than I did…
Guyana Botanical Gardens and Zoo in Georgetown
I have mentioned before how I’m not normally a gardens kind of gal, but I had heard the Guyana Gardens was actually pretty great, plus it was on my way back to my hotel. It is also free.
So I swung through and it is very pleasant. One of the only dedicated green spaces in the city, the Botanical Gardens is a sprawling oasis in the city that is also home to the Guyana Zoo. I did not do the zoo. Zoos in developing countries do not inspire me. But the garden was lovely. I wandered the various pathways and visited peaceful fountains and romantic bridges and gazebos. Fellow gardens patrons were mainly young families or young couples potentially about to start young families. Make good choices!
I was thrilled after a long day of walking to find a shaved ice vendor, who sold me the world’s best shaved ice for $1. Hot tip: Shaved Ice in Guyana is not just ice with flavoured syrup. It also has condensed milk thrown on for good measure! As if there wasn’t enough sugar in the syrup…
I happily took my shaved ice to find a bench, only to remembering the tales of anacondas appearing basically out of nowhere out of the grass. Everything in Guyana will kill you!!! Hoping to keep my lower extremities intact, I lifted my feet up and maintained vigilance. Anacondas of all things!
Best Examples of Architecture in Georgetown Guyana
Due to the climate of Guyana, older homes and buildings are mainly made of slat wood sidings with many vents and open air spaces. Wandering around Georgetown is the best way to see some truly beautiful (if not always well maintained) examples of this lovely architecture:
Georgetown City Hall
The High Court (watched over by Queen Victoria!)
Guyana National Parliament Building
Guyana National Library
Best Places to Stay in Georgetown Guyana
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Hotels in Georgetown Guyana
Cara Lodge, Georgetown
4.1 Stars, Historic hotel in the heart of Georgetown with restaurant, bar/lounge
Herdmanston Lodge, Georgetown
3.9 Stars, City-center Georgetown hotel with modern rooms with excellent service and restaurant/bar *This is where I have always stayed and they have been great to me.
Kanuku Suites, Georgetown
3.1 Stars, Georgetown apartments/hotel with restaurant and bar
Tourist Information for Georgetown Guyana
Georgetown is walkable, but taxis are also pretty cheap. A 5 minute taxi ride will cost $2, so take a taxi in the heat of the day or after dark.
Most major international flights into Guyana will arrive at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, about 60 minutes south of Georgetown. A taxi from the airport to town will cost about $30USD. There is also the closer Ogle Airport, that flies to the Eastern Caribbean. There have been departure taxes when leaving Guyana previously, it seems to depend on the mood of the government.
Georgetown is a great jumping off point for exploring the Amazon jungle and getting to Kaieteur Falls. There are several Guyana tour agencies in town, so really look around and compare. Tours do not go every day, so plan ahead!
Traveller Safety in Guyana
While Georgetown has some crime issues, walking around during the day as a solo female felt totally safe. I definitely got more unwanted attention than I would have liked in the form of catcalling and kissing noises etc; unfortunately a reality of Caribbean travel. It felt pretty harmless, though most locals won’t walk alone at night, so neither should you.
A Truly Guyanese Experience
Georgetown is a nice little town, but if you really want to experience Guyana, you need to get out of the city. With my work, I was lucky enough to see some farming villages out in Region 5. One of my best memories from Guyana was sitting with a family enjoying some traditional Guyanese food, glasses of El Dorado rum, and beating the heat in the shade.
Guyanese culture is one of genuine hospitality and welcoming. There is no way to leave a private home without a bag full of fresh fruit (in my case papaya, bananas, and green beans) and a full tummy. Experiences like these and meeting folks around the planet are why I travel, and why I end up writing from countries like Guyana. Not too many people get the opportunity to see the other side of the world, and I’m very fortunate to have had that afternoon in my life.
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