Georgetown, Guyana: Planning Your Trip

Kaieteur Falls, Potaro-Siparuni, Guyana
Tim Snell / Getty Images

Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, is almost fairytale-like in appearance thanks to tree-lined streets and quaint Dutch colonial and Victorian architecture stemming from its days as a Dutch and an English colony. Georgetown lies below the high-tide level, protected by a seawall with a series of canals crisscrossing the city. When rains are heavy, flooding is a risk.

Located on the mouth of the Demerara River fronting the Atlantic Ocean, Georgetown, originally called Stabroek, was an ideal location for a European presence in the Caribbean. Rich in timber, bauxite, gold, and diamonds, the land supported sugar cane plantations and enriched the colonial governments. The Spanish, Dutch, French, and English all had their eyes on this region, and each struggled to possess it for years.

The Dutch initially gained the upper hand and established Stabroek on the lines of a tidy, Dutch city. The British occupied the Dutch colony in 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars and renamed the capital and largest city Georgetown in honor of George III. This was convenient for the British who were also fighting what they termed the “American War,” known in the US as the War of 1812.

British Guiana, as it was then called, was the center of border conflicts with its neighbors, Venezuela and Suriname. These conflicts continue, making it difficult to travel between these countries without first passing through another.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Georgetown is in May through July, when the rainy season subsides and makes way towards winter.

Language: English. While Guyana is the only South American country to have English as its official language—a byproduct of British colonization—most Guyanese speak Guyanese Creole as their first language. However, getting around using only English is very feasible.

Currency: Guyanese Dollar

Getting Around: Guyana has limited public bus service that is frequent and affordable. Taxis are the most common form of transportation across the country; a price for the ride can be negotiated with your driver before you get in the car.

Travel Tip: Kaieteur Falls in Kaieteur National Park is the world's widest single-drop waterfall, and one of the most remote waterfalls in the world, completely surrounded by lush, pristine rainforest. Visitors who wish to reach the falls will need to hire a tour company that will charter a plane to the beginning of a trekking point that accesses the falls. 

Things to Do

There are plenty of places to see in Georgetown as well as in the surrounding interior of the country. During your stay, keep your eyes peeled for the unique features of the local architecture, such as the lowered shutters with window boxes and the combination of Dutch and English touches.

  • St. George's Cathedral: This cathedral is reputed to be one of the world's tallest wooden buildings, with a spire that rises over 132 feet.
  • The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology: Housed in an elegant wooden building, this museum displays an interesting collection of artifacts and relics of Amerindian culture.
  • Umana Yana: Erected by the Wai Wai people of Guyana and northern Brazil for the Foreign Ministers' Conference in August 1972, this palm-thatched structure is now an honored attraction. Umana Yana is an Amerindian word meaning "meeting place of the people."
  • Liberation Monument: This monument, located on the Umana Yana grounds, is dedicated to the struggle for freedom everywhere.
  • The Botanic Gardens: Scattered with Victorian bridges and pavillions, you're sure to find many types of amazing tropical flora here, including the huge lily pads of the Victoria Regia Lily, Guyana's national flower, first discovered in the Berbice River and named for Queen Victoria.
  • Parliament Building: Built in 1833, this is where Guyana's emancipated slaves purchased their own land for the first time. Parliament still meets here; the building was visited by Queen Elizabeth during her state visit in February 1994.
  • Old Stabroek Market: This historic cast-iron building with a striking clock tower is home to the largest market in the city, featuring lines of stalls filled with food, clothing, jewelry and handmade goods.

What to Eat and Drink

Guyanese cuisine is a melting pot of Caribbean, Indian, South American and Chinese influences. Curry is a popular dish, as well as metamgee, a meal comprised of dumplings that are made from corn flour, plantains, yams, cassava and eddos root, which are then cooked in coconut milk and flavored with grated coconut.

Locally grown fruit in Guyana include bananas, guava, papaya and cherries. You will typically find root vegetables like cassava and sweet potato as the base of many meals. The national dish of Guyana is pepperpot, a slow-cooked meat stew that is often served at Christmas and other holidays.

Where to Stay

The most developed area of the country, plenty of hotel and hostels can be found in Georgetown. Some great options include the Rainforest B&B, a cozy bed and breakfast featuring a veranda overlooking a lush garden, the modern Kings Hotel & Residence, located downtown, and the Ramada Georgetown Princess Hotel, overlooking the Demerara River.

Culture and Customs

Despite being in South America, the culture of Guyana feels very Caribbean. The country, which gained independence in 1966, shares a culture that is similar to that of the West Indies, particularly in the coastal areas. There is significant Indian influence in the country due to 65 to 70 percent of Guyanese being of Indian descent, the descendants of plantation laborers brought over during British colonialism. Indian holidays like Diwali and Holi are celebrated here, and dishes such as curry and roti are staples of the country's cuisine. Also similar to India, cricket is one of Guyana's most popular sports.

Money Saving Tips

  • Tap water in Guyana is not safe to drink, so make sure to stock up on bottled water in bulk when you first arrive.
  • Due to a lack of tourism infrastructure, Georgetown is much less expensive than traveling to the interior of the country, much of which is only accessible by small planes.
  • Entry to most museums in Georgetown, such as the Guyana National Museum and the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, is free.