Why the jungles of the Guianas are better than the Amazon.
I call it jungle fever.
The strong desire to explore the untamed wilderness of the Amazon.
The urge to sit beneath a towering canopy of green, listening to the call of macaws while spying the yellow and black tail of a jaguar as it paws through its territory.
On so many occasions, I’ve found myself in the Amazon, searching for the landscapes and scenery that appear in countless National Geographic magazines.
Forests that are untouched and unspoilt, teeming with wildlife and bursting with colours.
But in the Amazon basin, I’ve yet to find it.
I have found areas that are serene and peaceful. Lush and tropical.
Never have I found the scale of pristine forests that I found in the Guianas.
Entering the region through Georgetown, Guyana – the city’s welcome is not a way to benchmark your experiences for the region.
Much like Manaus in the Amazon is an industrial city that seems out of place, Georgetown is the capital of former British Guyana that has seen far better days. Located 7 ft below sea level, the dykes, canals and water breaks are pushed to their limits each year the ocean rises a bit more. The threat of climate change is real in this city, each crumbling building cautiously watches scientific reports to know how their future will unfold.
The economy is struggling and poverty is on the rise, as evident by the garbage scattered around the sidewalks as people lounge while looking for work.
Hop on a plane into the interior, and it’s like another world.
As part of a recent Adventures Abroad tour, I hopped on a small 13 passenger plane that lifted off from the urban and took us into the pristine.
The Guiana Shield is a large land mass located just north of the Amazon Basin. The sloping volcanic and sandstone earth is home to the flat table top mountains called tepuis – a landscape that inspired the creators of movies such as UP. It is an area that experiences frequent and incredible amounts of rainfall, which turn into a spectacular river system.
From the plane, it was endless forests and snaking rivers as far as the eye can see. A few small roads and a few inhabited areas along the rivers of the interior. It took around an hour for Kaiteur Falls to appear before us.
The greater region has numerous waterfalls (Angel Falls – Venezuela) that appear to come from no where. Kaiteur just happens to be one of them.
Far away from civilization, our plane landed on an empty airstrip. Soon we were standing in the midst of the world’s highest single drop falls – alone. No crowds. No single unnatural sounds.
Orange cock of the rocks (a bird) called in the forests, rainbows appeared downriver. The falls themselves were stunning, but in a world where tourists can overrun a place, soaking in the atmosphere of this far flung waterfall by ourselves was truly a special moment.
The only transport out was a week long hike or a plane ride, so we hopped on to land at another strip of land near an area where thousands of paired up parrots flock come sundown. We sat beside the tiny island the parrots have chosen as their nightly abode, watching the light fade from the sky and allowed our boat to float downstream listening to the loud caws of the birds. It was parrot pandemonium, until the night sky came alive with thousands of stars and we were back at our own humble abode.
It was a couple days later when I found myself on another plane, this time heading for the jungles of Suriname (former Dutch Guiana). As we glided to a jungle camp 150 km from the nearest inhabitant, I kept searching for signs of life out the window.
Signs of development, signs of changes to this natural environment.
Suriname’s population, like Georgetown in Guyana, is found in their capital Paramaribo. Times have been tough to this region as well. In a region known to be full of gold, illegal mines have sprang up around the country.
I looked for that ugly scar on the landscape, where open pit mines operate fast and furious until they get caught and have to move on. The eastern neighbour of Guyana, where Norway has opted to pay the country to keep their forests instead of cut it down, Suriname opted to create protected national parks early on and have vowed to protect much of their land.
The illegal activity is mostly found in the east, and as we fly over the western reaches – not a single sign of human activity could be spotted. Rivers meandered and bent one way to the next as we looked down on a landscape that resembled a broccoli patch. Just green, as far as the eye could see.
Until we arrived at Kabalebo, a tiny eco camp built beside an airstrip cut into the empty interior of the country during a mid-20th century hunt for mineral exploration possibilities.
Now just a handful of tiny cabins sit on the opposite side of the runway, with a crystal clear river flowing on the other side. There are only a few other places in this world I can say felt this far removed from the real world.
For several days we wandered the jungles in search of ocelots, jaguars, tarantulas, caimans and capybaras. We boarded long dug out canoes, made by hand on site by a local Amerindian fellow, and navigated the waterways to find waterfalls, spot harpy eagles, surprise giant otters, and just sit in utter amazement beneath the pristine canopy.
I’ll never be able to portray the level of beauty in this place. The subtle variations in green that surrounded us. The amount of bird varieties spotted while sitting on the resort’s terrace. The silence at night interrupted by the chorus of frogs and insects. The complete darkness that lights up with the brightness of a million stars.
In this obscure corner of South America, an area no one seems to speak much of as the Dutch, English and French (French Guiana) customs seem so out of place next to Latin American neighbours, is a place of sheer beauty.
Often I’ve gotten that jungle fever and hoped to explore an untouched rainforest of the Amazon, I just should have looked further north because it was there all along.
This post was written following a 12 day Adventures Abroad tour to Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. As mentioned, it is a little visited region that is truly beautiful. An area with a deep history and many connections with North American history too (one example: the Dutch traded for Suriname to give the British New York!). This is a tour for the nature lover, just make sure you bring the bug spray.
These photos originally appeared on my Instagram – follow along in real time @meandertheworld.