GUYANA, SURINAME AND FRENCH GUIANA
Hardly anyone in South America has been – join the exclusive travel club
The undiscovered countries of the Americas, the three “Guianas” are small nations tucked in to a corner between Venezuela and Brazil, with Caribbean coasts to the north, and the southern swathes delimited by the Guiana Shield, sometimes dubbed “the greenhouse of the world” for its unspoilt, species-rich jungles.
Guyana, formerly a British colony, has a rough and ready capital, Georgetown, and some of the best jungle retreats in the region in the Atta Rainforest Lodge and Iwokrama River Lodge. With Venezuela off-limits due to instability, waterfall-baggers should visit the Kaieteur Falls – the world’s tallest single-drop fall, in its namesake national park.
Suriname was retained by the Netherlands in exchange for Britain taking control of New Amsterdam – aka Manhattan – back in 1667. OK, Britain won that one. But, while the greenery on the US islet has been razed to the ground, Suriname is a tantalisingly wild and beautiful land. Capital Paramaribo is immaculately preserved, with Unesco-listed Dutch colonial, mainly wooden, civic buildings, hip coffee shops and a lovely riverside dining area. Inland is a vast jungle and labyrinthine network of rivers.
The most beguiling of the three is probably Guyane/French Guiana, a French Overseas Department, with a sizeable Foreign Legion (who do their jungle training here) and the Guiana Space Centre north-west of Kourou.
Cayenne, the capital, is a romantic little city. The real highlights of French Guiana, though, take the form of “dark tourism”: the atmospheric ruins of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, the arrival port for prisoners, and the grimly thrilling penal colony of the Iles du Salut, the most famous of which is Devil’s Island.
Don’t miss: Cayenne, Devil’s Island (in French Guiana); jungle stays and wildlife safaris (in Guyana); Paramaribo (in Suriname).
How to do it: Explore’s (explore.co.uk) new 12-day Backwaters of Guyana Expedition includes a seven-day journey paddling dugout canoes on Guyana’s Burro Burro river, spotting macaws, otters, tapir and agouti, and sleeping in hammocks in the jungle.
Steppes Travel (steppestravel.com) offers a 15-day itinerary taking in Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname. This trip takes in the wildlife, Amerindian culture and colonial history of the three Guianas and a visit to the space centre.
TOP: Devil’s Island in French Guiana. ABOVE: If you are lucky you could catch a carnival at Georgetown. LEFT: The canopy walkway at Atta Rainforest Lodge - one of the best jungle retreats in Guyana