The Three Guianas, the Forgotten Gems of South America. Have you ever heard of them? I promise you, once you discover them, you will never forget them.
Estimated Reading Time 11 minutes.
We are uncovering the mysteries of The Three Guianas, the Forgotten Gems of South America.
1. A concise history of the Three Guianas
2. Why visit the Three Guianas
3. Culture of the Three Guianas
4. Destinations in the Three Guiana
5. Getting to the Three Guianas
6. Ride the Three Guianas, the Forgotten Gems of South America with MotoDreamer
As the world becomes more accessible and our planet seems to grow smaller. Some feel a powerful desire to break new ground. To travel further and to boldly travel where almost no one has gone before.
Author´s Note: I am sure I have heard those words before. It must have been a famous 90-year-old Spaceman in his younger days.
Firstly, in South America, there’s no better example of the “Places that mass tourism forgot” than its three smallest nations. Uniquely, known collectively as the Three Guianas.
Strung side-by-side along South America’s northeastern Atlantic coast. The Three Guianas, from east to west, are Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Only French Guiana remains an overseas territory of France.
Guyana claimed independence from the British in 1975. Also, the same year, Suriname rid itself of Dutch rule.
A concise history of the Three Guianas
Back in 1498, on his third voyage for the Spanish. Columbus first laid eyes on the mangrove-strewn coastline of the Guianas and its warrior-like Carib Indian inhabitants. He didn’t particularly like what he saw.
The hungry gold and silver Spanish decided plundering the Guianas wasn’t worth the effort. However, they did make the occasional slave raid.
When the Dutch, French, and British began pushing south from the Caribbean. They were keen to stake out a piece of South America for themselves.
That only left the Guianas since Spain and Portugal had already claimed almost the entire continent.
The Dutch began to settle the land in 1615, by establishing trade in sugar, cocoa, tobacco, and other prized commodities from the tropics. Introduced diseases quickly wiped out the indigenous workers they’d initially hired. So the Dutch imported new sources of labor in the form of West African slaves.
After the Second Anglo-Dutch War, under the 1667 Treaty of Breda. The Dutch retained modern-day Suriname and ceded the area east of the Maroni River to the French.
The following 150 years were marked by power struggles that saw the sovereignty of the region shift between the colonists.
By 1800, Britain had established dominance in Suriname, although it remained under Dutch control.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The Treaty of Paris reaffirmed Dutch sovereignty in Suriname, while Britain purchased the adjoining Dutch colonies, renaming them British Guyana.
Finally, in 1834, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. Once again, the colonists found themselves seriously short on labor.
Hence, this triggered the next wave of immigrants, this time from the Asian colonies and particularly India. Consequently, today, the Guianas are perhaps the most widespread mix of ethnic backgrounds in Latin America.
Today, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana showcase overt Asian and Sub-Continental influences. They naturally mixed in with European, Latin American, and indigenous culture.
Why visit the Three Guianas?
You’ll never complain they’re “too touristy.”
The Guianas remain three of South America’s least-visited countries. That’s not because they’re not worth visiting (far from it). Tourism hasn’t been high on the agenda for these, until recently, agriculture-based economies.
In contrast, their big brother neighbor, Brazil, overshadows them. The three Guianas are home to precisely zero world-famous “bucket list” attractions. Thus, the Guianas remain obscure to just about everyone.
They’re full of incredible natural beauty, including one of the last pristine rainforests on earth.
A fact you may not know is that The Three Guianas form part of the 270 million-hectare Guiana Shield. Known as “the greenhouse of the world,” thus ensuring this globally important eco-region straddles the northern boundary of the Amazon Jungle.
Now plenty of Pristine forests covers around 80% of the Guiana Shield. Also, its dense vegetation and mountain-fed rivers are a refuge for iconic species like the jaguar, river otter, and giant anteater.
Although the coasts of all three countries meet the warm northern Atlantic. If you’re hoping for postcard-perfect beaches, sadly, you won’t find them in the Guianas.
Instead of sandy beaches, you will encounter tangled mangroves dominating the coastline. In addition, beyond them, lie the Orinoco Delta Swamp and Guiana Freshwater Swamp Forests. Culminating, in rivers, mudding the seafront as they empty into the Atlantic.
Remember, delving deeper into the wilds of the Three Guianas isn’t going to be easy. In fact, only a few roads connect Georgetown, Paramaribo, and Cayenne to a handful of regional rural towns.
To hike this barely explored wilderness, with its sheer mountains, windswept savannah, and countless waterfalls. The help of an independent expert adventure motorcycle touring operator is essential.
Surprisingly, and slowly, ecotourism is making in-roads into the Guianas. While at the same time, their economies are swiftly transitioning to being oil and mining-based. In particular, Suriname’s recent gold boom looks to be setting the country on the path to widespread deforestation.
Culture of the Three Guianas
The mishmash of cultures that are glaringly evident in everyday life in the Guianas is nothing short of fascinating. Did you know that Guyana, South America’s only English-speaking country, is home to the only two Test Cricket Grounds on the continent?
In complete contrast, Guianan cuisine is a hodgepodge of influences garnered from the French, the Bushinengue descendants of the West African and Caribbean slaves. And all blended with indigenous ingredients.
You’ll also see Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian eateries alongside Creole restaurants and French patisseries in the capitals.
What´s really awesome is the fact you will find common ingredients including fresh seafood, smoked fish, cassava, and a vast array of tropical fruits.
Furthermore, if you want local flavored spirits, head for the rum and locally produced firewater called tafia.
Destinations in the Three Guianas
Cayenne, French Guiana
Cayenne, a port city of roughly 138,000 inhabitants, is the capital of French Guiana. It’s charming if run-down aesthetic in sharp contrast to its strong ties to the EU as well as French culture, law, and order.
However, by far the most surprising addition to the city is the French European Space Centre. Also known as the Guiana Spaceport since 1964. Furthermore, it’s strategically located close to the equator and where the French and European Space Agencies launch their satellites into orbit.
Laidback, tolerant and diverse. The capital of Suriname, built on a shell-sand reef over the Suriname River. Barely five meters above the ocean at low tide.
The city’s historic center was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2002. Famous locally for its fusion of European and local elements, particularly its distinctive Dutch colonial architecture. Also, lovely wooden cathedrals and grand government buildings add to the city’s slightly bizarre aesthetic appeal.
Check out the 17th century Fort Zeelandia and the bustling Central Markets.
You will enjoy the crowded market with the morning’s seafood catch and food stalls serving cheap, freshly cooked Dutch-Indonesian favorites.
Guyana’s capital population of 200,000 dwell in Georgetown, with nearly all running at their own leisurely pace.
The closest city to the Caribbean, in its heyday, Georgetown was considered the “Garden City of the Caribbean.”
Georgetown still boasts a vibrant contemporary street life. By painting a curious contrast against a background of crumbling colonial mansions, overgrown parks, not-all-that-visited museums, and European churches.
Yet Georgetown is no sluggish backwater. The city is the headquarters of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM-Caribbean Community – CARICOM), established to further economic development in the Caribbean nations, and its restaurant and nightlife precinct showcases a surprisingly cosmopolitan sensibility.
Georgetown, situated at the Demerara’s mouth, originates some 346km inland in the central rainforests.
Georgetown, is surrounded by lush tropical scenery, including the incredible Kaieteur Falls. The world’s largest single-drop waterfall is approximately four times taller than Niagara Falls. Surprisingly it is one of the most powerful waterfalls on earth.
The Iwokrama Forest spans 3,710skm in the very heart of the Guiana Shield. One of the four last pristine tropical forests in the world. Tropical lowland forest covers much of the reserve, protecting some of the most species-rich habitats on earth.
The Burro-Burro River winds its way through the center of the rainforest. At the same time, the 1,000m high Iwokrama Mountains form the geographical focal point of the park.
The Iwokrama Reserve is one of the only localities within the Shield to boast eco-tourism facilities. The Iwokrama River Lodge is a hub for sustainable tourism, research, and conservation. It offers guided hikes, suspension bridge walks, wildlife-spotting boat cruises, and treks to Turtle Mountain. You will marvel at the panoramic views of the jungle canopy and the mountain ranges beyond.
Getting to the Three Guianas
Most international flights into the Guiana capitals arrive from the Caribbean or Brazil.
It maintains close ties to its French overseers, around a dozen flights per week from Paris to Cayenne.
Direct flights still connect Paramaribo and Amsterdam. You can fly straight to Georgetown from New York, Miami, Port of Spain, or Panama City.
If you’re reading this blog, then you’re probably not interested in traveling to the Guianas on some cushy European airline.
Reaching the Guianas overland is way more fun, although not without its challenges. You’ll need to ride in on your own set of wheels as there are no real options for obtaining a bike in the Guianas.
Brazil has the only open border crossings with all three of the Guianas. The Venezuela-Guyana crossing has been closed for years).
Most overlanders enter the Guianas by crossing Oiapoque in Brazil to St Georges de L’Oyapock, 188km north of Cayenne.
The border towns are split in two by the Oyapock River. The crossing is done on motorized wooden boats. Some will comfortably accommodate a couple of big bikes.
Once inside the Guianas, the highways between the capital cities are generally good. There aren’t too many roads heading inland, and the ones that are, are usually unpaved and guaranteed rough.
Rural traffic is pretty much limited to the odd 4WD or truck slowly grinding its way through the dirt. These roads cut a winding sliver out of incredibly dense forest surroundings, making for a spectacular off-road adventure.
Ride the Three Guianas the Forgotten Gems of South America with MotoDreamer
Getting to Guianas by motorcycle is a logistical challenge and a guaranteed workout for your off-road riding skills. Not many people do it.
With no real moto touring culture in the Guianas, solo travel can be difficult and somewhat risky. Especially if you find yourself broken down in the middle of the jungle! MotoDreamer is one of the only motorcycle touring specialists that visit the Guianas.
The Trans-Amazonian Challenge is just about the biggest, craziest adventure we offer, visiting eight countries in 52 days. We take off in late summer and follow the weather to get the best riding conditions possible.
But we call it a “challenge” for a reason! With plenty of off-road experience under your belt, this will be a trip of a lifetime!
Plus, you can say you’ve been to the Guianas! If your buddies have no idea what you’re talking about. Don’t worry, at least you know your little South American secret is their loss!
Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)
Edited for SEO optimization by Mike Bowley at www.mikedbowley.com
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Let the Three Guianas be your stepping stone to a world of wonder and pleasure.
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