Ecotourism in Guyana — Wild Guyana

 
 

But there is also a growing grassroots community tourism movement that allows visitors to experience the warm hospitality offered at some of the Rupununi's smaller Amerindian villages.

Community tourism in the Rupununi has helped the locals to see the importance of conservation and sustainable land-use. With tourism moving into the villages, people’s mindsets are changing and they are realizing that visitors from around the globe will pay money to simply admire flora and fauna in their natural habitat. Amerindian communities are beginning to see new value in their surroundings and are focusing on protecting what they have for future generations.

Several organizations and donor agencies have been contributing assistance and funding to help villages develop these tourism projects. The North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, Conservation International (CI), and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) have long been providing essential training and support to villages. And the United States Agency for International Development/Guyana Trade and Investment Support (USAID/GTIS) project has also helped with tourism product enhancement and marketing, while the British High Commission funded an ecotourism good practices project that created the world’s first birding good practices self-assessment checklist.

As tourism is growing in the region, villages are learning that ecotourism and conservation does pay off. In Surama, for example, 60 percent of the village’s income is from tourism, and while some villages offer a more developed product than others, all are important additions to local tourism and should be considered on any trip to Guyana.

Visits to most of the villages listed below can be organized through the North Rupununi Tourism Programme's (NRTP) tourism coordinator, Alphonso Forde (when inquiring about a trip email all of the following: alphonsoforde@yahoo.com; communitytourismguyana@hotmail.com; flcnrddb@yahoo.com). Trips can also be organized through many of Guyana's local tour operators, such as Wilderness Explorers and Evergreen Adventures, and the more established lodges in the area. Additional contact information for some locations is given below. Villages are listed in a north-south order.
 

Fair View

Contact:  www.iwokrama.org

The only village located within the rainforest preserve of Iwokrama (and technically outside of the Rupununi), Fair View is beginning to come into its own as a tourism destination. Fair View has long been attracting visitors who come to see Kurupukari Falls and the Amerindian petroglyphys carved into the rocks scattered along the Essequibo River. Fair View also offers village tours that feature a newly constructed butterfly farm that breeds beautiful species such as Morpho, Papilionidae, Heliconiidae and Pieridae.

 

Surama

Contact:  www.suramaecolodge.com;  chicaluvchase@hotmail.com;  info@wilderness-explorers.com

The serene setting – five square miles of savanna surrounded by the jungle covered Pakaraima Mountains – is only one reason Surama works so well as the role model for community-based ecotourism in Guyana. Mountain treks, jungle walks, dugout canoe trips, preserved Amerindian culture, welcoming locals, and guides with encyclopedic knowledge of the region's rich flora and fauna have been helping to build tourism in Surama for more than seven years.

Surama's location just south of Iwokrama International Centre (they share a border along the Burro Burro River) and north of Rock View Lodge helped to initially attract visitors to the remote village, but Surama now stands on it's own as one of Guyana's finest destinations.

The area is rich in bird and mammal life and most visitors to Surama participate in a few core activities: a village tour, a hike up Surama Mountain and a dugout canoe trip on the Burro Burro River. The at-times steep hike up 750-foot high Surama Mountain winds through primary and secondary forest that provides sightings of many bird, mammal, primate and reptile species, but many are happy enough with the view from the top: a sweeping vista of the Surama valley and the surrounding Pakaraima Mountains.

Paddling a dugout canoe on the Burro Burro River is a trip that shouldn’t be missed on any visit to Surama. From the eco-lodge, the Burro Burro River and the Carahaa Landing Camp – where guests can also overnight at a basic hammock camp – is a relatively flat three-mile walk on a wide trail through the forest. The silence of the canoes on the river provides a much greater opportunity to spot birds and wildlife. To the north is Iwokrama Forest so the area is rich with wildlife, including Jaguar, Giant River Otter, Howler Monkey, Spider Monkey, Peccary, Tayra, Macaws, Herons, and Kingfishers.

Surama has also developed into one of Guyana’s best birding areas and features an extensive network of trails and a chance to see many prized species of birds such as the Harpy Eagle and Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo. Depending on the season, it’s also possible to ask your guide to bring along a handline for fishing. If the time of the year is right, you could find yourself landing a few of the many piranha, catfish and himarra found in the river.

The village has a basic yet comfortable eco-lodge to host small groups, and the tourism-generated income is spread throughout the community by rotating jobs amongst everybody involved, including the eco-lodge staff, guides, cooks and the farmers, hunters and fishermen providing the food. The village tour includes stops at homes, the school and many successful development projects including The Women’s Craft Shop and Cassava Project, The Youth Carpentry & Woodworking Project, and The Junior Wildlife Club.

 

Wowetta

Contact:  bertiexavier@yahoo.com

Located just south of Surama on the northern edge of the Rupununi Savannah, tourism in Wowetta is run by Kuwanaru Tours, a community-based project managed by a local tourism board. Kuwanaru Tours has constructed an exceptional hiking trail through primary forest that teems with birds and mammals, but none that get more attention than the roughly 30 Guianan Cock-of-the-Rocks that nest in nearby caves and perform their mating dance on leks at the end of the trail.

The 6km trail winds through primary forest that holds an array of wildlife, and while the chances of seeing nocturnal mammals are slimmer during the day, it's common to see evidence of their existence, including peccary and tapir tracks, jaguar claw markings on trees, and giant armadillo burrows.

The area is also rich in birds and those who bring binoculars and a little patience will enjoy scouring the forest for a variety of forest species. The hike is also a great time for visitors to learn more about the culture of Guyana’s indigenous people, as animal and bird sightings are often joined by tales of local folklore that explain their appearances, shapes, or names, and the many plants, trees and berries in the forest are explained through their local uses.

 

Rupertee

Contact:  coming soon

The village of Rupertee, located near Rock View Lodge, has long depended on the endemic species of the Paurine tree (Centrolobium paraense) for building houses, furniture and crafts, but years of overuse was slowly decimating the tree. In an effort to protect the Paurine tree, the community began a conservation project to help promote sustainable harvesting of the wood. Rupertee also created a nature trail leading up the mountain where the trees grow.

The Uncle John Nature Trail begins with a beautiful hour-long walk through the savannah and then winds up a fairly gentle slope along the side of the mountain, passing through secondary forest. Many trees along the way have labels announcing the common, scientific and Makushi name of the species. Paurine trees are present in all forms of growth, from the incredibly hard, thorn-covered seeds to saplings and adult trees. The highlight of the trip comes in the views of the Pakaraima Mountains, Surama Valley and the Burro Burro River from the top 600-foot mountain.

The secondary forest doesn’t have an extremely rich diversity of birds and wildlife but with luck you’ll see Capuchin, Spider or Red Howler Monkeys and perhaps White-Lipped Peccary. Birds include Blue-headed Motmot, Green Oropendola, and species of Macaws, Parrots, Woodcreepers, and Trogans.

 

Annai

Contact:  coming soon

Perched on a central hilltop, the small Amerindian village of Annai has two distinct faces. One is home to the Annai district administrative compound, which has a health center, police station, guesthouse and administration offices, and the other is a very traditional village of clay brick thatch-roof houses clustered closely along the top of the hill.

Instead of offering nature-based tours, Annai has focused on developing a cultural tourism product that gives visitors an insight into the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous population. Visitors experience the history and culture of the Makushi Amerindians through a village tour, traditional dances and local crafts. Annai’s idyllic hilltop setting, complete with the largest thatched benab in Guyana, provides a perfect panoramic backdrop to the tour. There is a guesthouse for visitors who wish to overnight at the village, and Rock View Lodge is also a short walk away.

 

Aranaputa

Contact:  zitajacobus@yahoo.com

The main tourism draw at Aranaputa is the Clarence Mountain Nature Trail and Cabin. The fairly steep, but well-maintained trail climbs the Pakaraima foothills and offers amazing views of the entire North Rupununi Savanna. Those who like hiking will enjoy the trip most, but thanks the regular resting points along the trail, most people can complete the trip without problems.

At roughly 400 feet, there is a resting benab literally built on the side of the mountain and from this point on a clear day you can see Annai, Wowetta, Makarapan Mountain, the Kanuku and Pakaraima Mountains, Surama Mountain, the Rupununi River and the vast savanna that lies between them all. The view is worth a trip in itself, and makes a fine destination for those who don't want to go to the top.

At 1,000 feet there is a basic cabin and kitchen for overnight guests, and for those with enough energy, a rougher, more difficult trail leads to a rocky outlook at 1,600 feet. The final stretch is more demanding, but going to the top is highly recommended for anybody who feels they can handle the hike. The views – in all directions but immediately behind – are spectacular.

Mammals that are seen with some regularity in the area include Tapirs, Peccaries, Jaguar (often only their markings or tracks), Spider, Capuchin, Squirrel and Howler Monkeys. Bright tropical birds like Toucans, Parrots and Macaws are also regulars on the mountain. To increase your chances of seeing more birds and wildlife, plan to stay overnight; the village provides food and hammocks.

Aranaputa also offers horseback rides in search of the Giant Anteater, and a couple of excellent cultural offerings that include a tour of the Women’s Co-op Peanut Butter Factory and Wildlife Club presentations. On a tour of the Peanut Butter Factory, visitors can watch – and participate in – the process of turning locally grown peanuts into natural peanut butter. The Junior Wildlife Club cultural presentations feature school children wearing traditional clothing and theatrical costumes. Cultural traditions, local lifestyles, hundreds of years of history and the interaction between the local populations and wildlife are folded into their spirited presentations.

 

Rewa

Contact:  rudolphedwards@yahoo.com

Located at the confluence of the Rewa and Rupununi rivers, Rewa village is more isolated than other tourism destinations in the north - it’s accessed by a roughly four-hour boat ride or 2½-hour bum-jarring motorcycle ride - but it also has one of the most beautiful settings.

The Rewa River is renowned for the excellent wildlife viewing and the area offers visitors one of the best chances of seeing many of Guyana’s great mammals, including Jaguar, Ocelot, Tapir, Capybara, Giant Armadillo, Peccaries and seven different monkey species. In the rivers there are healthy populations of Giant River Otters, Black and Spectacled Caiman and Giant River Turtles.
The primary forest that lines the Rewa’s banks also provides for excellent birdwatching.

Fish life in the rivers is also rich. Peacock bass, pacu, piranha, payara and several large species of catfish can be caught with relative ease. Thanks to a local conservation project, the many oxbow lakes and ponds along the Rewa have a relatively healthy population of Arapaima, the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish.

Besides attracting tourists to the area, the rich biodiversity of the Rewa River has long brought researchers and organizations intent on helping the village to conserve their natural surroundings. Villagers are learning to fish, hunt and log in a sustainable manner and through ecotourism they see the value in keeping many of their species alive.

Thanks to a community grant provided by Conservation International, Rewa now has a new eco-lodge to host visitors. Activities offered by village guides include a community tour and many nature-based options including treks through the rainforest and savannah, up splendid Makarapan Mountain, and boat trips up the Rewa River.

 

Yupukari

Contact:  www.rupununilearners.org;  info@rupununilearners.org

Yupukari village sits atop a hill located along the Rupununi River about one hour from Karanambu Ranch (via road or river). Thanks to the relatively new Caiman House Field Station, the village has been enjoying growth in development projects, new jobs, ecotourism, and conservation ethic.

Caiman House was built a few years ago in Yupukari by an American couple, Peter Taylor and Alice Layton-Taylor, who came so Peter could conduct an ongoing field study on Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger), the largest member of the alligator family. Besides the research, several participatory development projects that have been established, resulting in four new classroom libraries in the village schools (stuffed with roughly 6,500 books), an internet-enabled public library, and Yupukari Crafters, a nonprofit furniture and craft project that creates village jobs and sustains educational development. To accommodate visitors a new guesthouse was built and activities were organized.

A highlight is the “Creatures of the Night Tour,” which begins just after darkness settles on the river. At this time many creatures emerge like Black Caiman, Spectacled Caiman, Tree Boas, iguanas, frogs, bats, possums, tree dwelling rodents and capybara. Sleeping monkeys and birds are also often seen.

The area around Yupukari is rich in many bird and mammal species and nature hikes and dugout canoe voyages along the Rupununi provide excellent ways to enjoy it. Visitors are also invited to accompany the caiman-catching crew, which now consists largely of Yupukari locals, and observe caiman capture from a separate boat. Guests are then offered the opportunity to assist in data collection once the caiman is pulled to shore and secured. Caiman are weighed, measured, sexed, and tagged, and depending on the season, caiman nests, eggs and hatchlings are also studied.

 

Nappi

Contact:  www.fosterparrots.com;  shirleyjmelville@yahoo.com

Nappi village lies where the Rupununi Savannas converge with the foothills of the Kanuku Mountains – a range Conservation International has said supports the highest biodiversity in Guyana and is one of the last remaining pristine Amazonian habitats. With support provided by the U.S. based organization, Foster Parrots Ltd., Nappi has a beautiful new Maipaima Eco-Lodge and 250 square miles of protected lands at the base of the species-rich Kanuku Mountains.

In an effort to provide the local villagers with an alternative to income gained by exploiting the land (through the wildlife trade, logging and mining), Foster Parrots agreed to build the eco-lodge for the village of Nappi based on their agreement to declare 144,000 acres of tribal territory, and all wildlife within, as protected. The ecotourism project is community run with all profits benefiting the village.

Activities include a village tour with stops at the school, church and a visit to one or two balata craftsmen to watch them carve figures and traditional Amerindian scenes from the natural latex. From the eco-lodge there are also a series of great hiking trails that vary in length from short (hours) to long (days). The area is great for birdwatching, animal spotting and nature photography. Some highlights include healthy populations of Red-bellied, Scarlet, Red-and-green, and Blue-and-yellow Macaws, as well as Giant Anteaters, a variety of primates, Jaguars, and unexplored waterfalls.