Planning a trip to the Three Guyanas (Guyana, former Dutch Guyana, and French Guiana) is very challenging. One will quickly learn that convenient flights between these nations is not easy and overland travel is not recommended and time consuming. We only had a week to complete the trip and after much planning, we were able to put together the following itinerary:
We booked our tickets on May 3, 2015; just over seven months in advance. We were not initially planning to go to Trinidad, but the 20+ hour layover made it a freebie. There is not a lot of flight availability in this region and when we saw that hotels were filling up for the time period we were planning to be there, we thought it was time to book the flights to ensure we would be able to do the trip. I’m not going to lie on this one-airfare to Georgetown, Guyana is NOT cheap. From Toronto, we each paid $870 round trip. The flight on Suriname airways from Georgetown to Paramaribo was more affordable; $110.
One thing we noticed in Georgetown and Paramaribo is that the airports are a long drive from the cities. Be sure to negotiate a good taxi fare. These airports are converted military airbases thus the long distances from town.
When visiting Guyana, make sure you have a Visa brand credit card. In addition, ensure you have a lot of small bills in both US and Guyana currency for emergencies. If you see an ATM, use it. We did not see a lot of ATMs that were on American networks. Taxi fare from the airport to downtown was $25. There are private security companies everywhere which is a good sign that it’s not the safest place in the world. Just use common sense: don’t flash expensive cameras and cell phones (one reason I always keep my Sony Cybershot handy), don’t show large amounts of cash, and leave the Rolex at home. If you’re unsure, have the hotel call a taxi for you. We were always hooked up with safe, reliable drivers this way. I felt a bit uneasy walking at night since the street lighting was iffy and we walked past many open areas from our hotel to get to the only restaurant anyone knew of: 704 Sports Bar.
One cannot go to Guyana and NOT see Kaieteur Falls. We arranged our trip in advance using this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost was $145 a person. Very important to note that the flight leaves from the Ogle Airport in town. Taxi fare from downtown to Ogle was 1500 local currency.
On our last day in Guyana, I received and email from InselAir stating that our three flights on December 31 were all cancelled. I called the airline and they refused to issue us a refund. All they would offer to do was to book us on the next date. Since we had to stick to our itinerary in order to get home, we refused to be rebooked. So we were stuck with no way to get back to Georgetown. At this point we were out our airfare and a way to get back to make our flight home. I later filed a dispute with my credit card company and the money InselAir took from us was returned. Thank you Citi Bank.
We talked to a lot of people and our options were: go “backtrack,” try to take a bus, take a taxi, or try to find a flight from Paramaribo. Backtracking was out of the question since it involved finding someone to drop us off by boat and re-entering the country illegally. We were assured, “It’s safe. We do it all the time.” The problem with this method was that our entry back into Guyana would not have been documented so when we presented ourselves to the immigration officer before our flight to Toronto, we would not have had the entry stamp nor travel card. We were about to surrender our travel card when we flew out to Paramaribo. We learned that taking a bus was not an option because everything was closed for New Years. We decided to go on to Paramaribo and investigate the remaining options there.
As we were heading to the Georgetown airport to catch our flight to Paramaribo, I thought we were going to be killed. The taxi driver was on some type of mission and was driving as if he were being pursued by the police.
When we arrived in Paramaribo, we faced the other extreme. This taxi had seen its best days long ago. This car had no suspension and made creepy noises over every speed bump and turn causing the driver to drive very slowly. We thought we would never arrive. Taxi fare to town was $35 to the Wyndham. We were rather surprised over the large Muslim influence in Paramaribo. All prices are in U.S. dollars, but the local currency is accepted everywhere. ATM machines are plentiful.
The first thing we did was have the Wyndham find us a driver to French Guiana. The cost came to $300. We were probably overcharged, but we were ensured we had a safe driver who was known to the hotel manager and we knew he would wait for us while we went to French Guiana. This was very important since we wanted to be sure to get back to Paramaribo. We prepared our belongings for the day and put items we didn’t want to take in the safe. One minor detail was that the safe wasn’t bolted down. Another delay. The maintenance man told me that the safe was fine. I had to explain to him that someone could just pick it up and walk off with it. His solution–he secured it to the closet with two skinny screws. With the safe “secured,” we went to the lobby to meet our driver. The first thing we had him do was take us to the airport to see if we could get a ticket back to Georgetown. We drove out to the local airport and we were in luck! $165 each got us a seat on a six seat plane leaving the next day so off to French Guiana we were.
Our driver made sure that we had beer to drink in the back seat for the two and a half hour drive. I was worried about what I had read about the condition of the roads, but the roads surprisingly weren’t in that bad of shape. They were paved and smooth all the way with the exception of about a 200 foot strip.
We arrived at the French Guiana/Suriname border too late for the ferry. Private boats were shuttling people back and forth for 20SRD. We witnessed a lot of illegal immigration on both sides of the border. Freddy detailed this leg of the journey in detail here.
We were back on schedule. In the morning, we paid 15SRD to go to the commuter airport and we landed in Ogle airport in Georgetown. At least the flight cancellation got us closer to town when we came back. I guess there was a bright side to having our flights cancelled.
We had a pretty low key New Years Eve. We went to 704 Sports Bar and back to the Herdmanston Lodge where we met the owner Keith Williams who was quite kind and hospitiable.
The next day we started our journey home with a 20 hour layover in Trinidad. We felt we had to also see Tobago while we were there. That’s another story entirely.
Here are some photos of this trip.
Church in Georgetown
Poor house in Georgetown
Another nice house
Street view in Georgetown