Guyana is a standout destination of 2019 for several reasons. Wildlife and birding come first to mind, but there are myriad cultural charms that leave visitors in awe of the country. The ancient traditions of indigenous peoples are fascinating for the outside world and offer an insight and immersive experience that is distinctive from other countries. A conservation mindset is part of the cultural norm. The people and the Government of Guyana greatly value (link to the statement on the website) the land and are committed to nurture it. Even though the words sustainability and conservation have been used a lot in the travel industry, Guyana has been working tirelessly to protect its environment for decades. Some of the country’s homegrown nature-based community projects have instilled a sense of pride and ownership in both natural and cultural heritage within the beneficiary villages. Some of the most inspiring nature-based community projects warrant a visit and afford one-of-a-kind experiences
The Karanambu Trust
The Karanambu Trust is fuelled by the legacy of Diane McTurk, Guyana’s foremost pioneer of ecotourism. It was McTurk who put decades of hard work behind rehabilitation and reintroduction of the giant river otters that live in the wetlands of the namesake lodge. The trust was formed in 1997 to take Diane’s work forward, and has been in the business of conscious hospitality for years. The trust works towards making Karanambu a protected region of the Rupununi, where the occupants of the pristine savannah and wetlands and the wildlife that inhabit them are safe from development or exploitation. Apart from otter rehabilitation, the trust has led field ecology courses and biodiversity studies and emphasized local participation. For more information,visit www.karanambutrustandlodge.org.
Inquisitive about the caimans of the deep rainforests? Join the research crew of Rupununi Learners, who set up base in 2005 in the village of Yupukari. Peter and Alice Layton have been refining previous research and setting new standards on field study, with a focus on black caimans. Rather than keeping the study isolated, this is now a full-blown community project, where Yupukari and other villages participate in understanding the importance of caimans in this region and gaining new insights into the species. As a result, the caiman is a much loved and protected reptile in the region, and lends itself to a sustainable business for everyone concerned. The exciting part is that guests are invited to join the research teams for caiman tagging, which is what it sounds like: observing the capture of caiman and assisting in data collection while caiman are weighed, measured, sexed, and tagged. Other projects such as a turtle rearing programme and a jaguar camera-trapping survey brings many experts to Caiman House and to the nearby field station and affords a deeper travel experience for visitors. Visit www.rupununilearners.org for more information.
Guyana has managed to bring about some of the best projects that intersect community, conservation and tourism, creating a solid foundation and business for community-led and owner tourism. The heart of Guyana’s rainforest is brimming with bio-diversity but is still delicate and vulnerable. The eco-lodge serves as the anchor for conservation of wildlife and biodiversity in and around the village. The concept of Surama Eco-Lodge transcends community-based tourism. Here the community owns and operates the lodge, and the profits are distributed back to the village. Naturalists and guides, who know the land and its history well take guests for hikes, fishing trips and wildlife spotting and bird watching walks. The orientation from the guides is authentic and full of anecdotes. The community’s children have pioneered a wildlife club that puts on presentations on culture and nature for guests who visit. Learn more at www.suramaecolodge.com.
Rewa Eco Lodge
Looking to get a taste of the unspoiled interior of Guyana? While there are plenty of wilderness touring companies, it is another thing to experience virgin rainforest through the eyes of the locals. Rewa Eco-Lodge is a community-led and owned tourism enterprise that is run by the Rewa village in the heart of the Rupununi. Established in 2005, the Indigenous peoples from the Makushi tribe own and run the eco-lodge, and offer visitors an in-depth view into ‘Rewa slice of life‘. One of the highlights of the Rewa experience stems from the community’s focus on the conservation of its fisheries. The community has enforced a strict catch and release policy on some of its endangered species. This includes the world’s largest freshwater fish – the arapaima. After the villagers noticed the decreasing population of this fish, they and supported agencies such as Conservation International worked to increase the population through conservation of the species. Though you cannot take this catch home with you, the reward is the thrill of the catch and seeing one in real life! Being closer to nature traversing the waterways offers an an in-depth view of the conservation efforts and wildlife protected by the community. Visit www.rewaecolodge.com for additional details.
Iwokrama River Lodge
Nestled in the heart of Guyana’s rainforest, the Iwokrama River Lodge serves as the base for the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development. A trip to this lodge will give you the opportunity to learn how locals and researchers work together to preserve the Iwokrama Rainforest and its many wildlife and birding species. Travellers learn and take part in this through guided tours of the rainforest and waterways with a seasoned guide or in participation in on-site research and educational programmes. Iwokrama is well known for its role with SAVE (Scientific, Academic, Voluntary and Educational) based travel organisations. This includes universities and research organisations whose main focus for visiting Guyana is on research and conservation efforts; the Iwokrama rainforest serves as the perfect backdrop and field site for these activities. Visit www.iwokramariverlodge.com for more details.