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What Should I Know About Guyana?

Guides are on hand to take visitors canoeing in the village of Surama, a highlight of Guyana.
Guyana is in the northern part of South America, and shares a border with Brazil, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Guyana abolished slavery in 1834.
Guyana shares a border with Brazil, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Atlantic Ocean.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
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Guyana is a mid-sized country in South America. It covers 83,000 square miles (215,000 sq. km), making it a bit smaller than the state of Idaho. It shares borders with Brazil, Suriname, and Venezuela, and has coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.

Guyana, like much of the north coast of South America, was settled by Warao, Carib, and Arawak people long before the arrival of Europeans. Although these groups were largely destroyed by European conquest, small numbers remain. Guyana was first spotted by Europeans in 1499, when Amerigo Vespucci, after whom the Americas are named, began to map the coastline. While some small Portuguese and Spanish settlements were formed in these early years, they rarely lasted long.

The Dutch first settled in Guyana at the end of the 16th century, establishing their first armed fort in the 1620s. Although the British settled some parts of what is now Guyana, the Dutch controlled the majority of the region, with the British settling more in what is now Suriname. The Dutch held on to Guyana until the end of the 18th century, when the British captured the entire colony. The Dutch retook it for a single year before the British regained control, this time turning their attention to cementing their ownership of the land.

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Slavery was abolished in parts of British Guyana at this point, although it remained in full force in other regions until 1834. Following the abolition of slavery throughout Guyana, and the subsequent fleeing of the freed slaves into the interior of the region, the British imported massive amounts of East Indian workers. This was similar to the situation in Suriname, where a large portion of the population consists of the descendants of these East Indian workers, as well as workers from Portugal and China.

Guyana began the move towards independence at much the same time as other nations in the regions, creating parties in the early 1950s and formulating the ideologies for the state that was still to come. The ruling ideology, however, appeared to be leading on a track towards Marxism, something which caused concern both within Britain and the United States. The British therefore suspended the Constitution in 1953 and sent in troops to ensure the Communism groups did not seize control of the country.

In the early 1960s, Guyana continued its move towards independence, which it finally achieved in 1966, following a tumultuous period in which the United States and British worked to destabilize the country to reduce the influence of the Marxist-leaning People’s Progressive Party (PPP). The founder of the PPP, Forbes Burnham, was elected Prime Minister, and ruled the country with an iron first. In 1980 the country adopted a new Constitution, which declared the state to be shifting from a Capitalist state to a Socialist state, and making Burnham the Executive President.

Burnham died in 1985, after more than 20 years in power. His successor began shifting the country away from Socialism, and undid many of Burnham’s autocratic policies. In 1992 Guyana held what were widely hailed as the first truly free elections since its independence, and the country has since continued to be relatively democratic and open in its politics.

Crime can be something of a problem in Guyana for travelers, and tourists are advised to guard against kidnappings and theft. The land makes up for these dangers, however, with some of the most pristine and beautiful natural settings left on Earth. Waterfalls can be found throughout Guyana, some of which are easily in the running for the most impressive on the planet. Kaieteur Falls, with their 820 foot (250m) drop and 330 foot (100m) width, rival Victoria and Niagara for sheer amount of moving water. The village of Surama is also a highlight of Guyana, where huts built in the traditional style are offered as accommodation for tourists. Guides are around to take visitors canoeing and hiking, and at night they can partake in a traditional meal and watch dancing and singing. Overall, Guyana is a great destination for those willing to go a bit off of the beaten path, and with their focus on eco-tourism, the infrastructure is likely to continue to improve.

Flying into Guyana usually involves coming through either a Caribbean island or from nearby Venezuela or Suriname, although direct flights do leave from some US cities. Crossing overland can be accomplished from Brazil, but due to border conflicts with Venezuela no crossings are allowed there.

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