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Guyana may be located in South America, but it is part pf the Caribbean and this is echoed in the culture of the country. However, don’t be surprised to see Dutch, Chinese, Portuguese and Indian influences during your time there due to its history of colonial rule and slavery.
Whilst many assume countries in the West Indies to be ideal locations for luxury beach holidays and absorbing Caribbean culture, Guyana offers more in the way of outdoor adventure. Dense tropical forests and cascading waterfalls give way to open dunes and oceans rich with diving opportunities. However, it is the diverse mix of Guyanese people that make the country such a unique place to live and visit.
Those who visit and live in Guyana are blessed with a warm and tropical climate throughout the year. Sometimes, the rainfall and humidity can be overbearing, but coastal locations benefit from cooling sea breezes.
The country can be split into four geographical zones, each which has a slightly different climate. The majority of Guyanese citizens live on the low plain along the Atlantic coast. The capital, Georgetown, is located here and temperatures average 27°C-28°C throughout the year. Inland a little is a white sandy region rich with is rich with sand dunes and areas of clay where very little vegetation grows. This area gives way to dense highland forests in the middle of Guyana, and rainforests and savannahs in the south and far west border. These areas tend to be much more humid and wet compared to the coast. Although the different areas of Guyana appear visually different, climatic changes are minor and there are also little alterations from season to season.
Generally, the north-western areas of Guyana near Venezuela tend to receive the most rainfall, as around 2500mm annually. Further east, this drops to 2000mm and down to 1500mm in the southern regions and Rupununi Savannah.
Fifty percent of Guyana’s yearly rainfall occurs in the summer, from May until the end of July on the coast and April until the end of September for inland areas. Coastal areas also experience a second wet season between November and January. Regardless of area, rainfall usually occurs in the afternoon as a heavy downpour or quick thunderstorm. You will never experience an overcast day in Guyana as, even before and after rainfall, the sky presents blue skies and bright sunshine.
Temperatures in Guyana can easily hit over 32°C, which can feel even hotter due to the humidity. July is considered the hottest month nationally, whereas February is the coolest with temperatures hovering between 23°C and 29°C. New residents and visitors to Guyana should be prepared for hot nights, with temperatures only ever dropping by a few degrees. Humidity levels average a staggering 70% annually, with inland regions hovering around 90%.
Guyana is rarely affected by tropical storms, experiencing just heavy rainfall in the summer months. Due to its location, Guyana does not have a hurricane season.
Guyana’s identity is a mix of Indian, African, European and Caribbean influences. Colonial rule and the country’s history of diverse immigrant groups calling the country home means that life in Guyana is unlike anywhere else. Despite the citizens of Guyana having differences in culture, religion and beliefs, they are all united by sharing a similar way of life and love of socialising and relationships.
Guyana may be a South American country but it is considered a mainland territory of the Caribbean and this is most noticeable on the West Coast. Cuisine, relaxing and celebrations are all Caribbean style and many who identify as Caribbean often refer to themselves as Afro-Guyanese and are mostly Christian. Generally, everyone born in Guyana refers to themselves as Guyanese, but they recognise that they are not wholly African, Indian, Portuguese, Dutch or British. Expats will also hear the term Indian-Guyanese being used too in reference to the Guyanese population of Indian decent, many who are Hindus or Muslims.
Much of Guyana’s unique culture and diverse population is explained in its history. The country was a Dutch colony in the 17th century before it was claimed by Britain in 1815. Before this, Spain had seized control of Guyana in the early 1600s, before claiming the country unattractive and moving on. Slavery is a huge part of Guyana’s past and is the reason for such a melting pot of cultures today. Slavery was abolished in 1834 and many of the Indian, African and Chinese descendants continued residing in Guyana and their descendants still call the nation home today.
It will not come as a surprise that there are many languages spoken in Guyana. English is the official and national language of the country and it is taught in all schools. The second most common language is Guyanese Creole. It is a Hybridge English and Caribbean dialect with influences of African, Indian and Dutch tongues. However, there are a number of different variations of the language existing throughout Guyana.
On the coast, expats will notice that many Afro-Guyanese citizens speak in Caribbean English. This is what many expats consider to be a stereotypical way of speaking throughout the Caribbean, with English phrases being chopped and changed, injected with West African influences, and delivered with a Creole tongue. It is very similar to Guyanese Creole and expats will be able to pick out similarities between the two.
Expats should not be surprised to hear Amerindian languages, Chinese, Hindi and Tamil spoken in certain parts of Guyana. Portuguese is also quickly becoming a second language in the south of the country on the border with Brazil.
Guyana is the third smallest country in South America and the majority of the country’s transport infrastructure is concentrated in the north. The roads are often crowded with a mix of mini-buses, cars, bicycles and large commercial vehicles. Expats can also expect to see horse drawn carts, stray animals and livestock sprawled across the streets too. Foreigners are more than welcome to drive in Guyana and you can simply trade in your national licences for an international permit in the country free of charge. However, due to the questionable state of some roads, dangerous driving from locals and lack of car rental opportunities, it is often much safer and less of a headache to rely on public transport.
Throughout the northern portions of Guyana, home to cities such as Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam, and Anna Regina, public transport is how many choose to get around. There are very cheap minibuses which run along the coastal road and to Cheddi Jagan International Airport and the city of Linden. Around the cities themselves, minibuses are run by private firms. They operate in allocated zones around the cities on specific routes and have a controlled fare structure so do not be worried about being over charged. If you want freer movement around the north, it is best to hop in one of the countless yellow taxis. Alternatively, book a cab with a reputable company. Never hail a taxi from the roadside unless it is one of the official yellow taxis which are easily distinguishable.
Guyana has 607 miles of navigable inland waterways. The government run a coast-hopping services from Georgetown to several northern ports. The Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice rivers all have ferry services to allow for a quicker journey for those travelling. However, sometimes these crossings are closed due to bad weather or flooding.
Guyana did once have a railroad along the coast. It was used for both cargo and passenger services that there was, in the past 10 years, talk of the train track being resurrected. Currently, Guyana has no train service and citizens rely on public transport and their own vehicles.
The standard of healthcare in Guyana is very poor and does not meet the standards set by Western medicine. There is a shortage of appropriately trained staff, with many emigrating to countries that will provide a much higher salary for their expertise and better working environments. Medical professionals currently working Guyana are highly demotivated, which is understandable when you also consider the poor medical facilities, lack of basic equipment and medical supplies they are given to work with. A lack of sanitation and a poor ambulance service are also to blame.
Public healthcare is divided into five levels, ranging from Level I hospital posts to Level V referral hospitals. Treatment provided by public facilities is free, however, there are limited services available and patients will have to pay for a private room.
Emergency surgery and specialist medical treatment are sparsely available. Guyana cannot afford to invest in new technology and research so equipment is archaic and poorly maintained. Those who seek these procedures and can afford it often head overseas.
There is a private medical sector in Guyana, with a few facilities in Georgetown. Private hospitals are responsible for their own finances and those who opt for treatment at these Westernised facilities will need to pay through private health insurance or out of their own pockets. Due to Guyana being one of the poorest countries in the world, only expats and a minute portion of the Guyanese population can benefit from this level of care.
It is imperative that expats invest in comprehensive medical insurance whilst in Guyana. Travellers should also invest in travel insurance. This will ensure you receive exemplary care across all areas, from inpatient to specialist consultations.
The Guyanese Dollar, shown as GYD, G$ or GY$ is the official currency of the country. Each dollar is comprised of 100 cents. Expats will often see prices shown as $ instead of G$ or GY$, but rest assured the price shown is for Guyanese Dollars, just without the extra letters. Notes come as $20, $100, $500, £1,000 GYD. Denominations of coins include $1, $5, $10, 1 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents.
Guyana has long been a cash-based society and has resisted the advancements shown in international financial systems around the world. The country does have has implemented the use of ATMs, debit cards, credit cards and online payments, but the infrastructure is nowhere near as developed as countries in Europe, North America and the Middle East.
There are three options for expats wishing to open a bank account in Guyana. For some, using their home account is the best option. Others operate from an offshore account whereas others open a Guyanese account. Opening an account in Guyana means you can pay household bills, receive your salary in the local currency and have more freedom financially in the country. Services and rates vary between each provider so expats should consider the following when choosing:
Guyana’s education system is the same as the British model. For many years Guyana had one of the bets education systems in the Caribbean. However, it had issues with inadequate funding and families who could afford it began sending their children to schools outside the country. Despite budget cuts, Guyana is still championed for its schooling throughout the West Indies.
It is compulsory for children to attend school from the age of five to 16. Students will sit the NGSA (National Grade Six Assessment) for entrance into high school. A Levels were once offered in Guyana but these have been replaced by CAPE exams. These are given in all Caribbean countries and offer three types of certification.
Lessons in Guyana are taught in the national language, English. Many expat children, even those who are not from the UK or America, have a grasp of the language and are free to attend a public school in Guyana. However, the majority of parents tend to send their children to international schools so that they can study for the internationally recognised IB (International Baccalaureate).
Georgetown International Academy is the most popular international school. It is a bilingual establishment and based on the US education system. Tuition rates fall between $3,600 and $9,000 depending on the grade of your child.
Guyanese food is a culinary hybrid of African, East Indian, Portuguese and Chinese influences. These influences make us the basis for traditional Caribbean fare, with hearty curries, rice and peas, plantain and roti served as daily favourites. Households in Guyana cook three meals a day so expats should never fear going hungry.
Stews and curry dishes are very popular in Guyana. Pretty much every fish, meat or vegetable can be popped in a curry, but the most traditional is curry chicken. This is often served with rice and peas, along with a roti to mop up the juices and pick at the chicken with. Cooked on the bone, the chicken is incredibly tender and the tortilla-like roti helps absorb some of the heat.
For more of a stew, expats and visitors should try pepper pot. It is Guyana’s most popular stew, as well as national dish, and traditionally served at Christmas. Stewed meat is served in a sauce flavoured with cinnamon, Caribbean peppers, and cassava root.
You will usually find your meals in Guyana are served with white rice alongside plantain, yam or okra. Most meals also come with some form of bread. If this isn’t roti, it will most likely be dumplings or cassava bread.
If your palette has always had a penchant for Chinese flavour, Guyanese chow mein will not let you down. Chow mein noodles are boiled and fried with local vegetables and seasoned chicken. It is a popular meal with families as it is cheap to make in large quantities and still packs lots of flavour.
Caribbean food isn’t best known for its desserts, but there are some sweet treats you will likely see in Guyana. Tropical fruit is readily available, so expect to nibble on fruit flans, pineapple cake and coconut cake. Banana bread is a popular treat and banana fritters with vanilla ice-cream are a popular choice.
When it comes to an alcoholic tipple, dark rum is the main contender in Guyana. National favourites include El Dorado, X-tra Mature and XM 10 Year Old. They are of such good quality they are usually drunk neat. If you’d prefer something a little less potent, Banks Beer is the national beer. The lighter Carib beer (of Trinidadian roots) is also widely drunk.
Aside from the usual imported fizzy pop, coconut water and cane juice are high on the list of non-alcoholic favourites. The most common local drink is Sorrel; a sweet cerise beverage made from the Roselle plant.
When you read about crime in Guyana, official government websites will make out as if you are flying into a war zone. Granted, crime levels in the country are high and it suffers from lack of policing. Murder and armed robbery are an issue and muggings and burglaries take place in broad daylight. However, in a country that suffers greatly with poverty and a huge gap in wealth between those at the top and those at the bottom, often crime can be out of desperation.
Reading official websites will give you an overview of Guyana’s safety, but they fail to mention that day to day the locals are incredibly warm and petty crime is as bad as it gets. Expats and visitors should be vigilant and keep valuable items well hidden, perhaps using a money belt. The capital, Georgetown, is where the majority of crime happens and foreigners are very rarely targeted but can end up caught in scenarios. Remaining alert and using common sense, just like you would in the capital city of any country, is key.
The only other concern expats and face is related to health. Before travelling, visit your doctor. They will ensure your vaccinations are up to date and also advise you to receive Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Yellow Fever injections. Others to consider, which aren’t compulsory, include Hepatitis B, Rabies and Typhoid.
It is also worth noting that Malaria and Dengue Fever are common to the country and cases of Chikungunya Virus have been confirmed.
Guyana has a troubled history, riddles with political instability and inter-ethnic tension. However, as the years have ebbed away, so has the negativity. Today, Guyana is one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets and whether you want to learn more about the country’s heritage to explore its natural gems, there is plenty to see and do.
Lapped by azure blue waters, Georgetown is the capital of Guyana. It is nicknamed the Garden City of the Caribbean, it is rich with historic monuments and colonial architecture which echoes its past. The city is easy to navigate and is a wonderful place to explore.
Within the Upper-Takutu Essequibo region of Guyana is the Kanuku Mountains. The Eastern and Western ranges are separated by the Rupununi River and the lowlands are home to a vast majority of Guyana’s wildlife. The mountains are recognised by the WWF are a protected area and guides can help visitors explore the region.
Formed of rainforest, savanna and impressive waterfalls, Kaieteur National Park is a biodiversity bubble in Guyana. It is government protected a site of geological importance. The staff of the park are from Guyana’s indigenous communities and provide valuable insights.
The riverside town is Guyana’s oldest town and the majority of buildings date from the country’s period under Dutch rule. The Mission Chapel is one of Guyana’s most historic churches and was built in 1814. A popular tourist attraction, it is a great place to learn about Afro-Guyanese history.
A small port town in Guyana, Parika is a market town. Home to only 4,000 people, there is a mix of Guyanese and Brazilian residents. Visitors to Parika love to explore the endless markets and enjoy a boat ride to Bartica.
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