The main attractions in Guyana are its absolutely gorgeous and unique flora, fauna, and landscapes. One phenomenal piece of the country’s nature is Kaieteur Falls and National Park, a place that is difficult to describe without resorting to clichéd superlatives. It is also the kind of place that once you see it, you don’t really want to tell people about it because the fact that it is so little visited is part of its beauty.
When I received the opportunity to visit Guyana, one of the things I just had to see was Kaieteur Falls and the rare Golden Frog that lives there. By the time I was able to visit the falls, I’d already seen numerous giant spiders, including tarantulas, so I really needed something pretty cute to cleanse my brain.
Kaieteur Falls is a single-drop waterfall on the Potaro River in Kaieteur National Park in Guyana, South America. It’s measured at 741 ft high from the initial plunge over a cliff to the first break. Then it cascades over a series of giant rocks, so when that is included in the total measurements, Kaieteur Falls grows to 822 ft tall. The thing with this set of falls is that while many others in the world are taller, there are very few that have the combination of height and water volume. As such, Kaieteur is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world with an average flow rate of 23,400 cubic feet per second. Its average width is 370ft but it can swell to 500ft in the rainy seasons. Kaieteur Falls is four times higher than Niagara Falls and is twice the height of Victoria Falls. At the top of the falls is the Potaro Plateau which stretches out to Pakaraima Mountains in the distance. The Potaro River, after tumbling over cliffs as Kaieteur Falls, makes its way to the Essequibo River which is one of the longest and widest rivers in South America.
There are several legends behind the name of Kaieteur. According to the Patamona people (an Amerindian group of Guyana), Kaieteur Falls was named for Kai, a Toshao (chief) who saved his people in a war by paddling over the falls, sacrificing himself to Makonaima, the Great Spirit. Another legend is that Kaieteur was named after a cranky old man who was forced into a boat and shoved into the falls by his relatives: Kaieteur = old-man-fall. Personally, I like the latter story over the former…
Getting to Kaieteur Falls is an adventure in its own right. Kaieteur National Park is located in the centre of Guyana’s rainforest so unless you want to trek for days on end, the only way to get there is by flying. I took a flight from Ogle Airport, the secondary airport in Georgetown (capital). It took some doing to get a flight because tours run only when there are enough people to fill a 6-seater plane (unless you rent the whole plane yourself). And getting enough people is harder than one would think – there just aren’t that many tourists in Guyana. Luckily, there was a Puerto Rican couple who had chartered a flight for themselves but were open to others joining them to cut back on the costs. The day of the tour, the organizers were about 3 hours late. Three hours. THREE. Thank goodness for my sanity that the flight was still available that afternoon for us to take – I’m not sure why it was available because more often than not, tourists wait days before they can get a flight themselves. There were others at the airport that we saw being turned away because there were no other flights that day to Kaieteur. But when the Universe gives, I take with both hands and run.
Prepping for the flight was quite amusing – we had to weigh ourselves in order to ensure that our combined weight was not too much for the puny little plane on which they planned to put us. Once that was done, we had lunch which was included in the tour price. After everyone was fed, watered, and was a little heavier, we piled onto the plane and headed off to the unknown. Destination: Kaieteur National Park, 627 square kilometers large.
It is about an hour flight from Georgetown to the National Park in a little rickety plane. I sat in the back and once turned around to see what was behind me. I saw duct tape. I didn’t know whether to laugh or start to ponder how ludicrous it would be if I died in my quest to see some falling water and a two-inch frog. But soon the passing scenery captured my attention – flying over rainforests as far as the eye could see, green periodically punctuated by a pink flowering tree or by scars made from mining. When we landed at the park, our pilot went into the Visitor Centre and promptly came back out announcing that he’ll be our guide. Turned out there was no one at the Centre. In fact, there was no one AT ALL in the park! We had an entire national park all to ourselves! It was fantastic.
The walk to the falls was fairly tame as the path was pretty groomed. It wound its way through the rainforest, periodically spitting us out to various scenic points that allowed us to see that we were getting closer and closer to our goal. And then finally – we reached the top of the falls! Standing up at the edge was mind-blowing. The view was amazing, staring into the gorge with the Potaro River winding its way through it, my imagination running wild as I viewed the dense rainforest below wondering what undiscovered species make their homes down there. And I did manage to find my frog! The tiny golden yellow frog lives its whole life in Large Tank Bromeliads, and after peeking into a few, I finally found one! I didn’t even mind that I didn’t see any macaws or butterflies or even the Cock-of-the-Rock. My frog!
Things to Know
Price: tour prices range from US$185 to US$230 per person in a group flight. The tours do tend to include return airfare, transfers, entrance fees, boxed lunch, guided tour, and soft drinks/water.
Overnight: It is sometimes possible to stay overnight in the park as there is a guesthouse on site. Pre-arrangements are definitely necessary.
Safety: Hiking shoes are not necessary (I wore flip flops) but do remember you will be walking – don’t wear heels or that kind of thing. By the falls, there are no railings and the ground is very bumpy/rough so please, be careful.
Patience: Having some will be necessary. If you prefer not booking a tour and just want a flight, you may need to show up several days in a row at the airport before you’re successful in snagging one. I met someone who tried five times before getting a flight…