One of South America’s best-kept secrets, the country of Guyana, officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, lies on the continent’s North Atlantic coast. It is known as much for its distinct Caribbean vibe as it is for its forest-cloaked interior which offers access to some of the continent’s most magnificent wildlife. Guyana also boasts of swathes of sun-bleached savannah, snaking rivers, and gushing waterfalls. Here are some interesting facts about Guyana.
Facts about Guyana
1. Guyana is the third smallest country in South America.
Occupying a total area of 214,970 km² (83,000 sq mi), Guyana is the third-smallest South American nation with only Uruguay and Suriname being smaller. Comparatively, Guyana is slightly smaller than the US state of Idaho.
2. Guyana shares a land border with three countries.
Guyana is bordered by Venezuela (789 km/490 mi) to the west, Suriname (836 km/519 mi) to the east, and Brazil (1308 km/813 mi) to the south and southwest.
3. Guyana has a 459 km (285 mi) long coastline.
Although Guyana has a 459 km (285 mi) long coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, it isn’t blessed with many spectacular beaches as some other countries in the region.
Instead, the narrow coastal belt consists largely of reclaimed swamps, marshland, and deltas of the country’s major rivers, rich in alluvial soil and intensively cultivated.
4. About 75-80% of Guyana is forested.
Guyana is one of the most heavily forested nations in the world with 75-80% of its territory being covered in forest. It is home to some of the largest unspoiled rainforests in South America.
5. Mount Roraima is the highest point in Guyana.
Mount Roraima, which is located in the Pakaraima Mountains at the point where the boundaries of Guyana, Brazil, and Venezuela meet, is the tallest mountain in Guyana. The giant, flat-topped mountain is about 14 km long (9 mi) and reaches an elevation of 2,772 m (9,094 ft). It is the source of many rivers of Guyana.
6. Guyana is home to the world’s highest single-drop waterfall.
One of the most fascinating facts about Guyana is that the world’s highest single-drop waterfall can be found in the country. Kaieteur Falls is the world’s highest single-drop waterfall and the falls cascade over a 250-meter cliff (five times higher than Niagara Falls).
The water of the Potaro River plunges down, uninterrupted for 226 meters (741ft). Depending on the time of year, the Kaieteur Falls is 90 to 105 m (300 to 350 ft) wide at the top.
7. Guyana means the “Land of Many Waters.”
The name Guyana is derived from the region of Guiana which itself gets its name from an Amerindian language and means the “Land of Many Waters” in reference to the country’s multitude of rivers and streams. In fact, Guyana is home to at least 300 waterfalls and multiple rivers.
8. Guyana is one of the ten least densely populated countries in the world.
With a population of around 800,000, Guyana is easily one of the ten least densely populated nations in the world. It has a population density of fewer than 4 inhabitants/km² (10 inhabitants/sq mi). Most of the population is concentrated in the northeast of the country along the Atlantic Coast.
9. Guyana was originally inhabited by semi-nomadic Amerindian tribes.
Guyana was originally inhabited by tribes of Amerindians such as the Lokono (Arawak), Kalina (Carib), and Warao, who were mainly hunters and fishermen.
10. Christopher Columbus was the first known European to sight Guyana.
The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus was the first known European to sight Guyana on his third voyage to the New World in 1498. Columbus claimed to have seen a mermaid called Watamamma in Guyana’s waters.
Spanish sailors subsequently claimed the area between the Orinoco and Amazon deltas for Spain but the Spanish largely avoided contact with the region.
11. The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in Guyana.
Guyana was initially settled by the Dutch in the late 16th century, who established trading posts and began importing slaves from West Africa to cultivate sugarcane.
12. Guyana is a former British colony and was formerly known as British Guiana.
Guyana became the object of a political tug-of-war between the British, Dutch and French, resulting in a land battle that continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 1814, Great Britain acquired Guyana by a treaty with the Netherlands. In 1831, the three main settlements of British Demerara, Berbice, and Essequibo were united as the colony of British Guiana.
13. Guyana became independent in 1966.
After World War II, many colonies of Great Britain sought independence and Grenada was no exception. The British granted Guyana full internal self-government in 1961 and on 26 May 1966, it became a fully independent state. Guyana was proclaimed a cooperative republic on 23 February 1970.
14. Guyana has a longstanding border dispute with Venezuela.
The border issues between Guyana and Venezuela date back to the 1840s when the UK (who ruled Guyana back then) and Venezuela both claimed the Essequibo territory. In 1899, an international tribunal of arbitrators from the UK, the US, and Russia drew boundaries for Venezuela and Guyana which designated the territory to Guyana much to the chagrin of Venezuelan officials.
The Essequibo territory comprises almost 75% of the area of Guyana. Roughly the size of Tunisia or the US state of Georgia, Essequibo holds the preponderance of Guyana’s wealth—its oil, gold, diamond, bauxite, manganese, and other minerals, as well as agricultural lands and timber. It also boasts a wealth of riches in terms of biodiversity.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is now intervening in a historic boundary border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela.
15. The currency of Guyana is the Guyanese dollar (GYD).
The Guyanese dollar (GYD) debuted in 1839 as a transitional currency and has been Guyana’s sole legal tender since the country’s independence in 1966.
16. Guyana doesn’t observe daylight saving.
Clocks do not change in Guyana and daylight-saving has never been observed in the country.
16. The capital and largest city of Guyana is Georgetown.
Situated on the country’s Atlantic coast and lying slightly below sea level, Georgetown is the capital and largest city of Guyana. Laid out in a grid with wide streets, it is famous for its British colonial buildings constructed of tropical hardwoods.
17. Indians comprise the largest ethnic group in Guyana.
One of the lesser-known facts about Guyana is that Indians make up the country’s largest ethnic group. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, and the termination of the apprenticeship system in 1838, the British government decided to import indentured laborers from India to work on Guyana’s profitable sugarcane plantations.
Over the next 80 years, over 230,000 indentured Indians were brought over into Guyana by the British. Despite the hardship they encountered, a vast majority of the Indians who came over opted to stay in Guyana after they had served their contract and many brought their families over from India.
Most of these Indians hailed from the present-day states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar in north India. A significant minority, however, came from South India. Today, Indo-Guyanese remain the mainstay of plantation agriculture, and many are landowners; they are also well represented among other professions.
18. Guyana is a multiethnic nation.
Besides the Indo-Guyanese, who make up about 40% of Guyana’s population, the country’s demographic profile is highly diverse. Afro-Guyanese (Guyanese of African descent) make up about 30% of the population.
People of mixed ancestry constitute about one-fifth of the population. The indigenous Amerindians inhabitants now make up just 10% of Guyana’s population. The remainder of the population is of Chinese or European (primarily Portuguese descent).
19. Guyana is the only South American nation in which English is the official language.
English is the sole official language of Guyana and is used in print, in the media, in the judicial system, and in public services all over the country. However, most Guyanese speak Guyanese Creole, an English-based creole that has loan words from African, Indian, Amerindian, and older Dutch languages.
20. Christianity is the most popular religion in Guyana.
Approximately two-thirds of Guyanese are Christians. The majority of Christians are Anglicans and Roman Catholics but there are also groups of Evangelicals, Methodists, Mormons, Pentecostals, Baptists, and Seventh-day Adventists.
Hindus make up some 25% of Guyana’s population, and Muslims (Sunni and Shia) about 7%. The remainder of the population is either irreligious or belongs to other faiths.
21. Guyana was home to the world’s most successful lawyer.
One of the coolest Guyana facts is that it was home to the most successful lawyer in the world. According to Guinness World Records, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, senior partner of Luckhoo and Luckhoo of Georgetown, Guyana, succeeded in getting 245 successive murder-charge acquittals between 1940 and 1985.
22. Guyanese politician Cheddi Jagan was the first person of Indian descent to be head of government outside of South Asia.
Cheddi Jagan became the first person of Indian descent to be head of government outside of South Asia when he was elected Guyana’s Chief Minister in 1953.
23. The national flag of Guyana is known as the “Golden Arrowhead.”
The national flag of Guyana has come to be known as the “Golden Arrowhead” in honor of its unique design of two triangles (one within the other) issuing from the same base. It has a green field with several triangles stretching out from the hoist side.
The first triangle is red, and it is bordered by a black triangle. A longer yellow triangle stretches out past those two, and it is bordered by a white triangle.
Each of the five colors has special significance to the people of Guyana: green for agriculture and its vast forests; white for its many rivers and waterways; red for dynamic action and the zeal of the citizenry; black signifies endurance; and gold for its copious mineral wealth.
24. The national animal of Guyana is the jaguar.
The largest cat in South and Central America, the jaguar can reach up to 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in) in length (add another 60 cm for the tail) and weights up to 130 kg (286 lbs). It is distinguished by its yellowish-orange fur dotted with dark, floral-shaped spots called rosettes.
Guyana hosts a large number of jaguars, which make their home in the country’s vast unspoiled forests. Two jaguars even adorn the official coat of arms.
25. The national flower of Guyana is the Victoria Regia lily.
Guyana’s national flower – the Victoria Regia Lily, is the largest of all water lilies. It was discovered by Robert Schomburgk, a German Botanist in 1837 during an expedition to Guyana, and is named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
26. The national bird of Guyana is the Hoatzin.
The hoatzin (known as the Canje Pheasant in Guyana) is a rare species found mainly in the swamps and mangrove trees of the Amazon. The hoatzin has the dimensions of a pheasant, but is much slimmer, with the neck and tail longer and has a smaller head.
27. In 1978, more than 900 people committed mass suicide in Guyana – after following cult leader Jim Jones to the country – in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre.
Guyana became world-famous in 1978 in the wake of the infamous “Jonestown Massacre,” which before 9/11, was the largest single incident of intentional civilian death in American history. In 1977, charismatic but delusional American cult leader Jim Jones moved the Peoples Temple and its members to a settlement he had been building since 1974 in the remote wilderness of northwest Guyana.
Although Jonestown was claimed to be a socialist utopia, politicians in the United States had become concerned with developments in the commune whose members were regularly humiliated, beaten, and blackmailed. Many were coerced or brainwashed into signing over their possessions to the church.
A US representative Leo J. Ryan was sent to Guyana to inspect the Peoples Temple’s activities and the Jonestown compound. After cult members murdered Congressman Leo Ryan and four other US citizens at a nearby airstrip, Jones enacted a suicide plan at the Jonestown compound.
A fruit drink laced with cyanide was given to children and adult members at the behest of Jones, killing 909 people, a third of whom were minors. Jones himself died of a gunshot wound. The Jonestown Massacre’s legacy lives on as this notorious event is the source of the phrase, “drinking the Kool-Aid” (even though in actuality it was Flavor-Aid).
28. Guyana is the only country in South America where homosexual acts are still illegal.
Engaging in homosexual acts in Guyana can warrant life imprisonment, though it is not enforced.
29. Cricket is the most popular sport in Guyana.
As is the case with most Caribbean nations, cricket is the most popular sport in Guyana. It is also regarded as the country’s national sport and forms an intrinsic part of the nation’s culture.
Internationally, Guyanese cricketers play for the West Indies cricket team. Some of the most famous cricketers from Guyana include Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks, Alvin Kallicharan, Colin Croft, Roger Harper, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
30. Guyana has won only one Olympic medal.
Despite having competed regularly at the Summer Olympic since 1948, Guyana has a solitary medal in its medal tally. The nation’s sole medal came at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow when boxer Michael Anthony won bronze in the men’s bantamweight division.
31. The national dish of Guyana is Pepperpot.
Pepperpot is Guyana’s national dish, made popular by the indigenous Amerindians. This dark and flavorful stew is traditionally prepared using beef, but some versions use mutton, pork, or chicken. Salted beef, oxtail, or pigtail can also be used.
The meat is cooked with cassareep (a sticky black sauce made from cassava root) and spices such as chili peppers, thyme, cinnamon, orange peel, cloves, onions, ginger, and garlic. Pepperpot is often served at Christmas and special occasions.
32. There are no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Guyana.
Guyana is one of the few countries to not have any UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, that might change in the future as there are five sites listed on UNESCO’s tentative list.
33. Guyana could potentially be the world’s next petrostate.
Guyana is bracing itself for an oil boom after the discovery of more than 8 billion barrels’ worth of oil since 2015. In what has been dubbed as “the largest crude oil discovery in recent years,” the huge amount of oil has led to Guyana potentially becoming the world’s next petrostate.
34. Guyana drives on the left.
Guyana is one of the two South American countries along with Suriname which drives on the left.