Why Do Travelers To South America Forget About Guyana?

Friday, February 12, 2010

If there is perhaps one travel trend of the last decade that I could try to point to, I would have to say that it is the emergence of South America as a prime destination for travelers. How many people do you talk to that say, “I would love to go there”? Chalk this up to recent political stability, the relative strength of foreign currency, and let’s face it: word-of-mouth. So the question remains: Is it possible to get “off-the-beaten-path” in South America? Well, how many people do you know have traveled to Guyana when heading south of the equator?

Guyana — the only English-only speaking country in South America — is a country that the NYT points out, “has started pushing to capitalize on its often stunning scenery, abundant wildlife and rich Amerindian heritage, repackaging itself as a haven for adventurers, naturalists and eco-tourists.” A stay in its interior affords visitors a chance to make excursions into the rain forest for glimpses of spider monkey colonies, toucans, and morpho butterflies.

The Guyanese have it just about right in describing their no-frills take on travel in their country. In what has to be one of the best travel quote I’ve ever read: “Guyana’s special. It’s not a place to come if you just want a vacation — you have to really want to come here. If you don’t, maybe we don’t really want you.” Perfect.

  • I work in the travel biz and happen to be making my 3rd trip to Guyana this spring in as many years. I have been consistently surprised by the mental shut-off I observe in travel editors, adventure travel companies, and otherwise adventurous individual travelers when I talk about visiting Guyana. Perhaps it is precisely because the collective imagination has nothing to grab on to when the country name comes up (except for – sigh – Jonestown). Those who happen to have caught the BBC "Lost Land of the Jaguar" series, or Herzog's "White Diamond" react differently: their imaginations have been fed just enough to engender curiosity rather than a blank stare. Then there is the nearly universal belief that Guyana is in Africa…. (headdslap)

    As someone who promotes tourism in Guyana, I share a typical Guyanese concern that the country will eventually 'turn hot' and many of its most charming qualities will get lost in the stampede (for example, when you fly in to Kaieteur Falls, all you see is the tiny airstrip and the falls: no tour busses, no OSHA-mandated observation decks, no postcard touts, etc). Indeed, it's a fine line between encouraging sustainable development through ecotourism and creating a destructive economy that feeds on tourism. Fortunately, most Guyanese are conscious and wary of the latter.

    The conundrum, then, is to make Guyana more popular… but not too much.

  • I think b/c most people haven't heard of it! Love that quote at the end.

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