Changes in Guyana

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Image via Wikipedia

GEORGETOWN, Guyana — From October 1-12, Guyana played host to an esteemed group of tourism professionals – tour operators, researchers, journalists, and conservationists – on a product familiarization trip spotlighting the South American country’s nature and cultural tourism activities. The participants were all seasoned world travelers and their feedback places Guyana on par with other top nature destinations.

The trip featured birding, wildlife watching and cultural activities in Georgetown, Kaieteur Falls, Karanambu Lodge, Caiman House at Yupukari Village, Rock View Lodge, Aranaputa Village, Surama Village and Eco-Lodge, Fair View Village, Iwokrama River Lodge, Atta Rainforest Lodge and Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, and Baganara Island Resort.

Highlights of the trip included several “life birds” for the participants and a confirmed sighting of the White Woodpecker along the Abary River – a new species for Guyana. The trip also showcased some new tourism developments in Guyana, including eight new rooms that were recently completed in the beautiful jungle clearing at Atta Rainforest Lodge and Iwokrama Canopy Walkway; Surama’s new cultural group that performed in full regalia; and a new tour at Fair View interpreting the preparation of cassava, from ground to edible food. Guyana’s unspoiled nature also amazed the group.

According to Cari Gray, who organizes and designs high-end, individually crafted trips through her company, Gray&Co., “Guyana offers the rare opportunity to witness up close a pristine rainforest ecosystem brimming with diversity combined with authentic cultural interactions with remote Amerindian tribes.” Gray continued, “Guyana deserves to be high on the list of savvy travelers who want to experience the ‘undiscovered’, easily compared in global environmental significance to the Galapagos or Ngorongoro Crater.”

Avid birder, writer and owner of the European tour operator Probirder, Gerard Gorman said, “Guyana is a great destination for wildlife watching.” Gerard was impressed by his time at Iwokrama, saying that the million-acre rainforest reserve “is a wonderful example of how science, conservation, ecotourism and a local community can work together to protect an endangered habitat.”

Photographer and videographer John Canning viewed much of Guyana through a lens while capturing footage for his company, Media Sherpa Consulting and Productions. Having filmed in 55 countries did nothing to lessen the effect that Guyana had on John. He declared, “Guyana was a delightful surprise! As a professional media producer, I found the amazing abundance of animals, beautiful landscapes and the delightful and friendly people providing a rich environment to shoot and tell stories. As an adventure traveler, the untamed rainforests and research projects visited provided marvelous discoveries and challenge. I feel I have just started exploring Guyana and will be back!”

Two travel journalists on the trip found Guyana to offer up plenty of writing fodder. Theresa Storm said, “Guyana is one of the world’s very few remaining almost untouched wildernesses – from an aircraft, virgin rainforest stretches as far as you can see and more. The bounty of flora and fauna is almost overwhelming. Guyana offers adventure and nature lovers a lifetime experience, one that will always be remembered as top of the list.”

For journalist Laurie Gough, the trip was an honor. “I feel so completely privileged to have had the chance to see this astoundingly beautiful country so untouched in its secret jungled interior that when a flock of macaws rainbows the sky above you, howler monkeys unleash their unearthly roar, or a blue morpho butterfly flits by on electric-blue wings, you truly feel you’ve entered another world – one that must have existed eons ago.”

The conservationists and birdwatchers on the trip were equally awed. Chris Sharpe, Director of the tour operator Birding Venezuela, found that “Guyana is home to a host of birds that are not easily seen elsewhere.” Chris, also a conservation biologist, was equally impressed by Guyana’s ecosystem. “Guyana’s vast extension of pristine tropical forest forms part of the world’s largest tropical wilderness and is an almost unique natural resource,” he said. “For a conservationist, it is tremendously exhilarating to fly for an hour over the canopy, unbroken by agricultural plots, roads or towns.”

Mike Braun has been to Guyana many times for the Smithsonian Institution, but was pleased to find new growth in the tourism industry. “I’ve been traveling and birding in Guyana for 15 years,” Mike reported. “Travel used to be slow and complicated, but things have changed. This trip was smooth, comfortable and a lot of fun. The pristine forests and abundant wildlife are matched by few countries in the New World, and Guyana’s system of ecotourism lodges made it easy to see both.”

Greg Butcher, Director of Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society, found great potential in Guyana’s forests, saying he would “heartily recommend [Guyana] to all birders.” Greg added, “It was fun seeing an ecotourism industry in development. Not all the comforts of home were available, but then home doesn’t offer the spectacle of Guyana and its natural wonders.” And speaking as a conservationist, Greg noted Guyana’s importance for the world. “Guyana is poised to be a poster-child for sustainable development. The government is very interested in ecotourism and in sustainable forestry. The unbroken forests of Guyana are a fabulous carbon sink, preventing untold amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that would cause a lot of global warming…Now is the time for the world to offer Guyana suitable rewards for maintaining its natural treasures.”

Some participants have already begun writing about their trip. Gerard has written about his experience on two blogs. Greg wrote several blog postings from Guyana on the blog for Audubon Magazine, and he will also be writing a feature article about Guyana for Audubon Magazine Online. Mike Braun has also already received interest for a birdwatching trip to Guyana for 2011.

The familiarization trip was organized by the Guyana Sustainable Tourism Initiative (GSTI), a joint project of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) and the United States Agency for International Development / Guyana Trade and Investment Support (USAID/GTIS) project. For more information on the GSTI and tourism in Guyana, visit http://www.guyanabirding.com.

The GSTI familiarization tours would not be possible if local tourism suppliers were not pledging their full support. For this program, GTA-USAID/GTIS is grateful for the generous contributions from Wilderness Explorers, Cara Lodge, Grand Coastal Inn, Guyana Pegasus, Baganara Island Resort, Surama Eco-Lodge, Iwokrama International Centre, Atta Rainforest Lodge, Rock View Lodge, Karanambu Ranch, Community and Tourism Services (CATS), Caiman House at Yupukari village, and Fair View and Aranaputa villages.

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