Sailing Down the Essequibo

So despite what mass media tries to tell you, the Amazon isn’t the only massive cool river in South America. Okay, okay, the Essequibo is nowhere near the Amazon’s almost 6500km length but it is still the longest river in Guyana. In fact, it is the longest river if you don’t count the Amazon or the Orinoco Rivers. The Essequibo essentially runs from the very south of Guyana near the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela border and traipses its way north for 1,010 km to the Atlantic Ocean. There are many tributaries that are major rivers themselves, including the Potaro River which has Kaieteur Falls.

As much as I had dreams (and still do) about visiting a remote traditional society, sadly that wasn’t for this particular trip. My visit to the Essequibo River was rather tame. But at the same time, who doesn’t love a meandering boat trip? The part of the river I saw was from a small rustic frontier town called Parika to an even more rustic frontier town called Bartica. In between those two places, you can get a pretty good feel for what life on the river is like excluding the most remote communities, of course. If it weren’t for spiders the size of my face, I’d be tempted to live in a place like this…

A trip down the 20 km wide Essequibo includes the following:

  1. Seeing many little islands, including Fort Island (an island with a fort).
  2. Bathing under a waterfall or two such as Marshall Falls.
  3. Bouncing along some rapids on the Mazaruni River (a tributary of the Essequibo).

There are a couple companies that offer day trips which are well worth the money as they save you the hassle of trying to hire your own boat. I hear you saying, but the Essequibo water is brown and I don’t want to do a tour! All I can say is that for me, it was a pretty amazing feeling to be out on this huge river traversing the rainforest, imagining jungle rural life, and wondering what would happen if I were to dangle my fingers in the water. The guide did say that there are no piranhas in this river but, I dunno…

One of the highlights of a trip down the Essequibo is a hike through the rainforest to Marshall Falls. Once my little group reached the falls, those of us brave (or insane) enough jumped into the dark waters to stand under a short but powerful waterfall. One needs to be practically the size of the Terminator in order not to be beaten down by rushing water! Energizing is the key word of the experience. But if anyone tries to tell you that you’ll hear monkeys and parrots while out there – not happening: the waterfall is too loud as are the people you’re with! Animals would be long gone. Though you may get lucky and see some from the boat. I almost combusted on the spot when I saw a toucan and a red howler monkey with a baby! (Disclaimer: I grew up playing a game called Amazon Trail so this boat trip was basically that childhood memory coming to life. I think I could be forgiven for being disproportionally happy at seeing a bird and a primate in their jungle setting).

Did You Know?

The first European on the river was Juan de Esquivel, a deputy of Don Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus.

In August 1995, there was an acid spill in the river by Cambior, a Canadian mining company. About 4 000 000 m³ of cyanide-laced waste spilled into the river causing major damage. I wonder if it even made the news back in ’95…

There be gold in them waters! Keep an eye out for the gold dredges working in the river.

The Essequibo and its tributaries is a brown colour primarily because of vegetation. Leaves can dye the colour of water so that it looks like tea. So no, it isn’t that the water is dirty.


8 responses to “Sailing Down the Essequibo


    “including Fort Island (an island with a fort)” – What an original name! I hope whoever named the island received adequate renumeration for his trouble.

    Why are you telling us who the first European was on the river? That is a highly uninteresting fact…

    Did you actually see dinner-plate sized spiders along the river? This is why your blog and National Geographic is as close I will ever get to these types of places 😦

    • i wonder if that game is where i started my photography habit, now that i think about it…

      i thought it was interesting re the Columbus connection – made me wonder if the son was as crappy as his father…

      haha thank goodness i didn’t see one but i definitely heard stories about ’em in Guyana.

  2. Ahaha! I love Fort Island! What’s on it again?

    And yay, Canada! Way to dump crap not only in your own rivers but in the rivers of people around the world!

    Giant spiders are always ruining plans! Oh well, at least you saw monkeys! 🙂

    • lol, i can’t remember what is on fort island!

      monkeys were definitely a highlight. it was the second of three animals i’d wanted to see (first was golden frog which i saw at kaieteur falls and the second was a jaguar which of course i didn’t see, lol)

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