The one wildlife specie you’re bound to encounter several times during your trip into the heart of Guyana is the black caiman. Sprawled on the banks of rivers with their mouths agape, or swimming with their eyes gleaming in the night, the caimans are fascinating to watch. One of the best places for a close encounter with them is the historic eco-lodge Karanambu, at the edge of Rupununi savannahs. Karanambu’s swamp, savannah and riverside topographies make it an interesting place for wildlife enthusiasts.
Giant otters tend to take centre stage at Karanambu, as this is the home and passionate project of the late conservationist Diane McTurk, who spent most of her life taking care and rehabilitating orphaned otters. Karanambu became the model lodge for eco-tourism thanks to Diane’s work, winning her accolades and eyeballs of researchers and greatest wildlife authors of all times. A project that might have started as a focus on otters soon brought other creatures into the fold. The local community got involved and strong tenets of eco-tourism were introduced that made Karanambu an essential stop for wildlife enthusiasts visiting the country. The Karanambu Trust was established in 1997 and a private Protected Area was created for the conservation and protection of the ranch’s 324 sq km of bio-diversity rich habitats that includes countless flora and fauna.
Karanambu falls on the trail of eco-lodges in the Rupununi and demands at least 3-4 days. Plenty of activities like horse riding, anteater watching, hikes and meeting the local community can fill up your days, but one of the most fun evenings involves a slim boat, a guide, passion fruit punch and caimans.
The lodge lies at the edge of the Rupununi River that wends its way along the ranch offering birds, caimans, fish and other wildlife species a water resource to live comfortably by. In the monsoons, the water swells, rising several feet high but the summers make the river shrink considerably, exposing roots of the mangroves and even making the boats difficult to float if one hits a muddy patch in the middle. But the expert boatmen and guides know exactly how to navigate and offer a full experience.
Leave the lodge in the afternoon so you have at least 3- 4 hours till dusk. The boat is launched from a small sandy bank, and glides on the river, flanked by a dense forest. On the sides, labbas and other small animals scuttle away, birds like the Pale-tipped Inezia Bearded Tachuri. Pale-legged Hornero, Yellowish Pipit, Bicolored Wren, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater and Grassland Yellow Finch sweep in and out of view through the dense foliage on the side. If you’re lucky, you may spot an otter family swimming ahead, but they are sure to scoot out of way and hide in the bush until you’ve passed. The most relaxed occupants of the river are the caimans, hardly getting frazzled by extra company. At best, they swim away or continue sleeping moth wide open, and enjoying the sun while it lasts.
In places, the river becomes narrow with drooping mangroves at an arm’s length. It feels nothing less than being on a National Geographic-esque expedition. The hour long ride on the boat gives you first row seats to the best of wildlife, and the anecdotes by guides make the time pass swiftly. The narrow channel of the river opens up into a sprawling large lake – this is the playground for monkeys – at least trees that line the edge of the lake. It’s the perfect spot to open up the passion fruit punch with some snacks, and enjoy the sounds of the jungle dominated by howler and capuchin monkeys.
The journey back is timed with the setting of the sun. If you’re travelling in the dry months, there is not a single blob of cloud to dot the otherwise clean canvas of sky. Slowly bright stars start appearing, till the inky blue sky is covered in a sparkling carpet. Down below, the boat splashes through the water with the sounds of the jungle more distinct. It’s time for many nocturnal animals to become active offering a treat for the ears as well. It is common for fish to jump into the boats, or using them as trampolines to jump across. Knowing that there are caimans in the water, the experience can be unsettling but be assured that caimans jumping into the boat are unheard of. The black water mirrors the sky as caiman eyes sparkle in the water. It is a surreal scene of scores of glinting eyes that shine even brighter when the torchlight scans the water.
You reach Karanambu right in time for dinner, to discuss the day’s adventures with other guests.
Vitals: The closest airport to Karanambu is Lethem, which is connected by Both Air Services Limited (ASL) and Trans Guyana Airlines (TGA) by daily flights to and from Georgetown. Mini buses that take 12-14 hours also run from Georgetown.