Guyana is a hidden gem in the world of travelling. Often overlooked as a travel destination because it is remote and viewed as a rugged and rough environment for adventurers and explorers only. Guyana is actually a country of kaleidoscopic beauty both natural and man-made, modern and Jurassic. But Guyana is also its own country, with its own laws, culture and idiosyncrasies.
Packing for a weekend at the cottage only a two or three-hour drive away can be stressful, particularly if bringing any children. I have to plan ahead of time (or make guess estimates) of not only what I am doing and what I am bringing, but what could happen and what I could need. I check out news and events happening in the area, I check for things like restaurants and hotels, if we break down contingencies.
Travelling abroad is no different. You have to do your homework and preparations before you leave, as it will be harder to get help overseas to downright impossible in some places. Remember your home country government is limited by practicality and legalities in regards to helping you and may find their hands tied in some situations.
What good is a vacation when you need another one after you get home from the vacation. Researching, preparing and planning what you need to know before going, will make your trip that much more enjoyable and memorable. But travelling overseas can be overwhelming for those who have never done it before.
Before You Leave
When you travel abroad, you leave the comforts of your home behind you. The support systems, the medical capabilities and emergency services of your home country are out of your reach when you travel overseas.
There are a few things to do to help make sure a smooth vacation to not only Guyana but many parts of the world.
- Register your trip with your government. Many governments offer consulate services. This is important if something unexpected happens such as a natural disaster.
- Research the area you are visiting, know what is going on where you plan to visit. Check their local newspapers for any news that could indicate a risk, such as civil unrest. Learn about local laws and customs.
- Gather all the travel advice you can find. In todays modern world it is relatively easy to stay up to date, subscribe to travel agencies and your local government to continue getting updates and alerts.
- Ensure all of your paperwork, such as passports and visas are up to date. Double check your travel insurance.
- Plan your itinerary before you go and feel free to make use of travel agents.
The more you learn of your (possible) risks, the less they become risks. Plan and take precautions to these risks. Your home country government will do what they can to help you, if you do run into trouble. Bear in mind though, that they may be limited legally and practically.
More often than not these trips abroad end delightfully and your health never comes into play. "Oh, it will never happen to me" attitude is one reason many choose to skip travel insurance and save on the cost of it . But if something does happen to you, as it has happened to others who didn't think it would happen to them, it is best to prepare.
Medical facilities in Guyana are severely limited and lack trained specialists, medical equipment and they have poor hygiene standards when compared to many other countries. They are by no means some back woods culture who slaps 'healing leaves' onto your wound, but the standards of care and resources available to them are vastly different.
WHO (World Health Organization) lists Guyana as being endemic for yellow fever. To return to your home country you may have to prove your vaccinated against yellow fever with a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Months before you are due to leave the country for the trip, you should visit your doctor (or travel doctor) and make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations and medications. I suggest talking to him at least two months before you leave, as some vaccinations and medicine need time to run through your system before being effective or you may need more than one shot which is the case with hepatitis.
Malaria and dengue fever is also a high risk for travellers, particularly through the interior (jungles) where insects and mosquitoes are present throughout the year. You can use insect repellant, wear loose clothes that are lightly coloured and try to have either mosquito proof accommodations or a mosquito net over your bed.
If you are bringing any kind of medicine or pharmaceuticals with you make sure you have proof that the medicines are yours and legally prescribed to you. It would be smart to double-check if the medicine is allowed in the country and if there are any needed forms.
Comprehensive travel insurance is something you should have when travelling overseas, as your normal policies may (most likely) will not cover your medical expenses or transport in another country. Medical costs just for transporting you either out of the jungle or to a better facility can run you into the tens of thousands of dollars ... and that is just to start.
Passports and Visas
For most travellers a passport is your most important document, even infants need one when travelling abroad. You can not go 'home' without your passport.
Every country has its own passport validity requirements and their own entrance and exit requirements, do not assume anything. It is wise to make sure your passport is valid for at least another six months or more. It is also prudent to carry extra passport photos with you, for when you do lose your passport.
Entry and exit requirements change regularly and sometimes depend on where you are coming from, always double-check the country you are going to visit visa needs. Citizens that are dual citizens may have some extra (or less) requirements.
In Guyana, all visitors need a valid passport and your passport must be stamped, or you may face troubles trying to leave. Those who arrive by plane need to have an onward plane ticket or return ticket. Visas are needed if you are not a national of the following countries: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Germany, United States, France, Commonwealth Countries, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Portugal.
If unsure contact a travel agent or agency, government or other resource to verify.
Currency, Bank and Credit Cards
Outside the hospitality industry, Guyana is a cash society and even more so when you get into the interior of Guyana.
Most foreign bank cards do not work in ATMs in Guyana nor at the point of sale (debit). The Bank of Nova Scotia will issue cash advances against credit cards, make sure you understand all the charges and rules associated with this.
Many of the hotels and restaurants accept credit cards but they are not widely accepted outside tourism and the hospitality industry. It is always a smart move to ensure you have either enough cash or travellers cheques on hand.
The Guyanese dollar has a fluctuating exchange rate, depending on where you come from a dollar, pound or euro ranges from $200 to $360 Guyanese dollars. Keep your cambio receipts (cambios are licensed currency exchange houses), you will need them to change Guyanese dollars on departure.
Getting There and Getting Around
Besides the fact that they drive on the left side of the road, driving in Guyana can be a challenge for some. To say it is hazardous for some would be an understatement.
It could be the aggressive driving practices, inadequate lighting, a lack of traffic controls, poorly maintained roads and vehicles that make driving so treacherous, particularly outside the city. Or it could be the mass of mini buses, cars, trucks, horse and wagon, trucks, animals and people who make it unsafe to navigate without experience.
With that said you can get a 30 day drivers permit issued by the Inland Revenue Department-License Revenue Division. I strongly suggest bringing your driver's license with you if you plan on driving.
For those not driving themselves around can use the mini buses, which are the primary means of getting around, they are well-regulated with fair prices. Taxis are another option, but be sure to use the yellow ones or the ones connected to the hotel. Yellow taxis have licenses and are safer to use.
Guyana has nearly 1000 kilometers of navigable waterways. Guyana means 'land of many waters', you will be able to get around by boat, most likely with a guide or boatman. The three larger rivers - the Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara at many points along the coastal road intersect and you will need to use a ferry or four to six person riverboat to get to the other side to continue your drive.
Possible Safety Concerns
Guyana is a tropical paradise with seventy percent of its land still covered in near pristine rainforest. Nearly ninety percentage of the population lives along the coastal belt in an area two hundred and seventy miles long by ten to forty miles deep.
The interior of Guyana is by and large not policed, while the rest of Guyana is under policed. There are car jacking, purse snatching, thefts and pick pocketing, the more serious crimes are not often geared towards tourists, such as assaults.
Regardless of what medicines you have with you, I would suggest not drinking anything but the bottled water or water that was boiled. Maybe pack some immodium, just in case.
Emergency services are not always available, there is little to no cellular service in the interior of Guyana, it is prudent you do not take short cuts and avoid non tourist friendly areas during the evening hours.
Guyana is strict about drug trafficking and at the least you can spend up to three years in jail for the offense, even if you had no idea or it was planted after you checked your bags. Ensure you pack your own bags, do not bring anything back for anyone you do not know and trust, carry your own bags and keep them in sight. Even take the extra precaution of locking all luggage.
It must be said ...
No matter where you go in the world, you are a guest in their home, always follow local laws and respect not only the places you visit but the people and their customs as well.
Despite the threat of malaria and dengue fever, the haphazard roads, the talk of being robbed and the monstrous medical bills ... Guyana is a rare gem in an increasingly concrete and glass world. It one of the more bio diverse lands in the world with a richly diverse and mosaic culture. The people are just a diverse as its land and you'll find them polite, friendly and hospitable.
Whether you are in the capital city or a remote village on a eco-tour, the wide variety of things to do and see will ensure you have a trip you do not soon forget, for all the right reasons and none of the wrong reasons.