Welcome to Guyana, an adventure travelers heaven! A place where you can ride a horse up a mountain, zoom across the savannah on an ATV, shoot a shotgun, swim in a gorgeous creek, learn to throw a lasso and get involved in authentic ranch life…. all in a single day!
Guyana might be unknown to a lot of the world, but that’s all changing fast! With some recent tourism pushes, Guyana is really starting to make its mark on the world as a premium destination for adventure travel. And after spending 10 days adventuring around the rugged south, we can see exactly why.
It had been a long time since such a strong sense of adventure and excitement had ran through my veins. Guyana revitalized my passion for exploring the unknown and getting off the usual tourist track. So sit back, strap in and get ready for one hell of a trip.
Starting the Guyana Adventure Travel
The adventure started as soon as we touch down at Georgetown International Airport and made our way out to the small propeller plane at Eugene F. Correia International Airport. We boarded an hour long flight with Trans Guyana Airways southwest to Lethem, a small town that borders Brazil, where there’s little more than an airstrip, a few hotels and some empty looking shops.
It’s on our flight from Georgetown that we met Ian, who is the owner and organizer of Bushmasters, an extreme adventure tour company that specializes in survival training and awesome times. Over the next six days Ian would be taking six professional travel bloggers across the wild savannah of southern Guyana.
Note: We regret to inform everyone about the sad and unexpected passing of Ian Craddock in July 2020. Ian died doing what he loved, adventuring in Guyana, and will forever be remembered for providing so much joy and adventure to so many. May he continue to be exploring and pushing the limits in his next adventure. We hope this post can showcase even just a little bit of his amazing spirit. Rest easy legend!
Bushmaster Tours in Guyana
Aside from being an absolute survival master, Ian is a real character. Years of service in the British Special Forces has prepared him for just about any challenge in life. For Ian, there’s no such thing as it can’t be done, and his wild explorations around Guyana are proof of that.
We arrived at Ian’s house after dropping off our gear at the Takutu Hotel in Lethem. It was a short drive from the airport, yet even in that drive we got a sense for just how remote and isolated this part of the world is. Paved roads are replaced with red, dusty streets. There are a handful of hotels to stay at, but other than a jumping off point for jungle and savannah exploration, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do in Lethem.
Ian’s house was like an adult adventure playground. Outside in the yard there were four ATVs (quad bikes), along with two 4×4 vehicles. Inside there was an authentic 6ft Amerindian bow and arrow resting against the couch. In one of the rooms a jaguar pelt, from one of the indigenous villages, was mounted on the wall.
Across the room there are piles of camping and survival gear spread out everywhere. As I scanned the room my eyes found the stack of machetes sitting on a small table, each one in a leather sheath with a small branded logo of Bushmaster on the front side. Everything in this room shouted adventure, and I could barely contain my excitement for the trip to start.
Ian gathered us all together in the room to explain the next steps. He ran us through all the gear we needed to pack in our rucksacks. We were given a hammock with built in mosquito net, a hammock rain cover, light blanket, foldable chair, canteen, spoon and eating containers. We also got a 3L camelback, our food provisions, dry bags to keep everything in, and of course, a machete!
Preparing for the Adventure
The next day we woke up early, eager to start our adventure tour in Guyana! After a quick breakfast at the Takutu Hotel we grabbed our rucksacks and headed over to Ian’s to collect the vehicles. The four ATVs were all lined up in a row, tanks full and ready to hit the road.
Terry, Frankie and Lionel, three local Guyanese who work for Ian, were busy loading up the 4x4s with all our equipment. Water tanks, tools, inflatable kayaks, medical kits, generator and all the other things we were going to need to survive for a few nights. Once the vehicles are ready to go, it was a concise explanation from Ian about the plan and we were off.
This is Ian’s style as a tour organizer. He is energetic, funny, full of crazy stories and knows his stuff. He doesn’t give you an answer if he doesn’t know it. And when he does, he only likes to say it once, and he does it with a precision and conciseness of a skilled expert in the survival field. He also has an amazing ability to teach you how to do something, without holding your hand throughout the process. It was this type of unguided adventure travel that I’d been missing after so many years on the road.
ATV and 4×4 Adventure
We hit the road with pace! The four ATVs led the charge at the front of the convoy, with Ian directing first, followed by two of us and then Lionel at the back. Behind him the two 4x4s were driven by others on the trip, with Frankie and Terry each manning one of the vehicles to ensure everyone was on track. I was on the first round of ATV driving and had an absolute blast. We bumped around on the trails, trying to avoid large potholes and termite mounds that had hardened like concrete in the sun.
As I rounded a corner I slammed down the accelerator and a sudden burst of speed erupted from the ATV. The back tires slid out as I continued to crank the handlebars to the right and held the accelerator down. Just as the ATV started to slide out of control I let go of the accelerator, straightened up, hit the gear up button and burst off down the trail, leaving a trail of red dust in my path.
We approached a river and slowed down to assess the level of water and our ability to cross it. Ian took a calculated look and said we were good to go, so he sent the 4x4s across first and then we hit the water with speed and determination to make it across.
On the first day of adventuring we rode 105km out of town and into the savannah. Day two we rode 101km, with all of us rotating between driving the ATVs and 4x4s. During this time we crossed rivers, hammered down dusty red roads, bumped across the savannah and carved a path through the very sparse terrain of southern Guyana.
On a couple of occasions we passed small shops and used this an opportunity to fuel up on an ice cold beers to wash out the dust. At one shop there was a large bottle of murky white liquid being sold in old Coke bottles. After an inquiry we found out it was a bottle full of cow fat! Our shocked faces were met with equally shocked expressions from the locals at the thought that we’re not using large bottles of cow fat regularly in the kitchen.
Over the next few days we continued along the trails. Six riders, over 350km and only two crashes. Naturally I was one of them. After getting a little too confident on the trails I decided to take the ATV off road and hammer through the uncharted savannah. As I bumped along, trying to avoid 3 foot tall termite mounds, my vision was blurred through the long grass, obscuring the obstacles in my way.
I looked to my right to see the convoy of vehicles running along the trail and then directed my attention back to the savannah just in time to see that I was heading straight towards a fallen tree. I had a split second to brace myself before the ATV hit the tree at 50km an hour and I was bucked from the seat. Momentarily, I held onto the handlebars, thinking I was going to land it, before I was ripped from the vehicle and thrown into the air.
I tried to tuck and roll mid flight and managed to land on my shoulder, before spinning onto my back and sliding several feet though the padded long grass. The spectacle ended with my limbs catching up to my body, me on my back and my legs in the air. From the microphone in my ear I heard someone call out, ‘man down!’. I took a moment to compose myself, before standing up and assessing the damage. A banged up elbow, but thankfully I was fine. I jumped back on the ATV, rejoined the track bashfully and decided to stick to the trail in the future.
Camping Under the Stars
After each day of riding we established a camp under the stars along the river. On the first day Ian delivered a safety instruction on machete use, before setting us free onto the barren landscape to find a tree and hang our hammocks. Having this complete independence was one of the best parts of this trip. Ian gave just the right amount of instruction, before letting us fend for ourselves like real life jungle adventurers.
As each of us found a suitable area, we chopped and slashed our way to a clearing and strung up our hammocks for the night. After getting our bedding organized we returned to the communal camp area where Ian already had a fire going. After a quick jump in the river, to clean our clothes and wash off the dust, we spent the night sitting around the fire, cooking up our camp meals and exchanging stories underneath the stars. With no light pollution whatsoever, and only a slither of a moon, the stars were incredibly bright.
Where we slept was not your average camp spot. There were no facilities or other established areas. It was just us and the wild. Ian told us that we were among only a dozen other people who had stayed near this spot before, and they were all just from his previous trips. After swapping a few more stories we retreated back to the hammocks to avoid the mosquitos and to try and get some sleep.
From my hammock I could see the stars through the black mosquito net mesh that protected my hammock from an army of mosquitos that awaited my fresh blood. Even through the mesh the stars shone bright enough to light up the ground below. The faint light of my iPhone illuminated my little cocoon bed for the night, as a soft breeze slowly swung my hanging hammock.
Even though I was stripped down to my underwear it was still boiling and I could feel the beads of sweat dripping down my forehead, temporarily resting on my eyebrows and creating a small pool of water, before dropping down into my eyes. I felt like I was never going to get to sleep in this heat, but before I knew it the vibrant colors of a savannah sunrise are awakening me from my hammock.
Saddle Mountain Ranch Guyana
After a few days on the trails we arrived at Saddle Mountain, where the real ranching adventures begun. Situated deep in southern Rupununi, Saddle Mountain Ranch is any aspiring cowboy’s dream. Operating as an active ranch since 1990, Tommy and Joan, have made their own little slice of paradise out in the middle of nowhere in Guyana.
Named after a nearby mountain that looks like a horses saddle, Saddle Mountain ranch is full of exciting adventures, delicious home cooked meals, stunning landscapes and plenty of opportunity to immerse yourself within authentic Guyanese ranching life.
This simple, yet beautiful, homestead is surrounded by miles and miles of open savannah, with the property itself enclosed between luscious mango trees. There are goats, chickens and all kinds of Guyana wildlife that can be found on the ranch. There’s even the rare spotting of a jaguar. If you make it to Saddle Mountain Ranch, be sure to ask Joan about her story fighting off a jaguar with a machete. The rooms are simple and open aired, making the afternoon breeze a very much welcome feeling after a sweltering day. Fortunately there aren’t as many bugs here, so you can leave your window open and catch a breeze during the night.
Riding a Horse at Saddle Mountain Ranch
As an active ranch, Saddle Mountain Ranch has plenty of horses that get used on a daily basis to assist with the work duties. While leisurely horse riding is not an activity these horses usually encounter, it must be a welcome break from the demands of ranch life that sees them out herding cattle across the savannah.
For our horse riding experience we got up early to make the most of the cooler temperatures of dawn. After the local crew saddled up the horses we received a crash course in handling and riding, but the real learning came from just doing. It had been at least 20 years since I’d last straddled a horse, and I was pretty sure my horse knew it. I awkwardly tried to synchronize my erratic jolting with the horse’s trotting, but end up bouncing around so much I thought I was about to fall off.
After half an hour, a numb backside and plenty of gorgeous views, I was finally starting to get the hang of it a little more. I tried less to find the rhythm and instead just let the horse jolt me into a rhythm. Walking was easy, trotting was hard, but cantering was much simpler, as the smooth gait of the horse made it easier to work with.
The only problem with cantering is that it meant the horse was now going a lot faster! I tried to hold on, with one hand on the ropes and the other holding onto the saddle for dear life. It was only towards the end of my third horse riding session that I realized the more I relaxed, the easier it was to ride.
My final cantering moment down the home stretch was the real highlight of my career as a horse rider. My horse, finally understanding my lack of abilities, gracefully gliding down the track; me, one handed holding onto the ropes, furiously swinging my hat in the air like a real cowboy. It felt pretty damn cool!
One of the biggest draws to Saddle Mountain Ranch is the opportunity to experience authentic Guyanese ranching life at its best. And while you’re there you’ll be able to learn from the best, because at the ranch you’re amongst cowboy royalty with Tommy and Judah.
Tommy, the former Rodeo King of Guyana, has a long history of being involved in movie productions and any cowboy / Western related content that was filmed in Guyana. With that type of pedigree it’s no surprise that Judah, his son, is currently a two time Rodeo King of Guyana himself. Not only that, but Tommy’s daughter is also a legendary barrel racer.
Ranching activities start off by learning how to throw a lasso, with a lesson in technique, as well as some attempts on a target. Don’t worry if you end up in a tangled mess of rope, or trip yourself up, we were doing plenty of that. If you’re up for it, you can take your latest skill into the corral, and test out your talents on a real life moving target.
As part of an active ranch, the herd occasionally requires some maintenance and looking after. One of these jobs is to brand the calves and to castrate the bulls. Please note that this is not a staged activity put on to appease tourists. This is just one of many everyday ranch activities that help support the livelihood of the whole ranch. Some people may feel a little uneasy about the idea of branding calves, but every person is free to choose how they want to participate.
Whether you show up at the ranch or not, these are activities are performed daily in order to maintain the herd and support the business. For anyone who considers this an act of cruelty, I’d only ask you to compare that to the lives of cattle in other parts of the world. One act of branding on a thick cow hide, ensures this cow can live in the open savannah, free from antibiotics, pesticides and enclosures. This is the real free range.
Swimming in the Creek and Eating Delicious Food
After a long day of ranching there’s nothing better than taking a short walk down to the waterhole to take a refreshing swim. Forget changing your clothes, just walk down in your filthy, sweaty clothes and jump straight into the cold water. We all took a bar of soap down and scrubbed our clothes while wearing them, before splashing about in the water and jumping off the overhanging palm tree.
After cleansing ourselves from a hard day on the ranch, that home cooked meal from Joan felt so rewarding to tuck into. Casserole, mashed potatoes, rice, beans, veggies and so much more delicious food. If you’re a meat eater you can eat the beef straight off the ranch, where it doesn’t get more sustainable than that. Everyday we were on the ranch Joan and the kitchen crew whipped up some amazing food. There was a selection of fishes, chicken and beef, always accompanied by huge platters of sides and ice cold jugs of fresh lemonade and fruit juices.
Kayaking on the Takutu River
After five days of hardcore adventure travel in Guyana, we didn’t think this trip could get anyone more jam packed until we finished the trip with a kayak down the Takutu River. On the last day we traveled on the vehicles out to a section of the Takutu River, which works as the border between Guyana and Brazil.
Even though we were running out of time, Ian wanted to give us a taste of the kayaking trips he offers. We only hit the water for a few hours, but usually Ian offers multi-day, even multi-week, trips that venture deep into the pristine rainforest and jungle.
The ATVs and 4x4s stopped at a spot along the river and we unloaded the inflatable kayaks. After a brief, yet concise, demonstration we set off on preparing our kayak. We lugged them down to the river and docked them along the bank. Across the width of the river we could see Brazil, so Chris and I took this opportunity to swim across to the other side for a laugh.
After launching our kayaks onto the river we paddled along for the next couple of hours, stopping a couple of times along sand banks to take in the scenery and chat with local fisherman from both sides of the river. Even in these few hours we got a sense of how awesome an adventure along the rivers would be.
Picture this, each night, deflating the kayak, walking into the jungle to set up camp for the night, experiencing the real jungle, before doing it all again the next day. It’s on those sorts of trips that Ian told us we’d be likely to encounter Guyana wildlife like anacondas, jaguars, pumas, ocelots and the other cat species found in the jungle.
After deflating the kayaks and jumping on the bikes for an hour we arrived back in Lethem. Dusty, dirty but definitely not defeated, we sat around at the Takutu Hotel with a cold beer and reflected on what an incredible six days we just had.
Between six professional travelers and bloggers, we all agreed that this trip was one of the most authentic adventure experiences we’d had in a long time. No fancy hotels or meals, no private transport, no guides holding your hands, just pure exploration like the old days. So, who’s ready for an adventure?
Traveling to Guyana
Located in the northeast corner of South America, Guyana is a little harder to get to than other more popular hotspots on the continent, but once you’re there it’s definitely worth it. Traveling overland to Guyana is difficult, as it borders Venezuela to the left, which isn’t the safest country to travel through at the moment. To the east and south it borders Brazil and Suriname, but the easiest way to enter Guyana is by air.
Cheap flights to Guyana can be found if you book ahead of time, with Caribbean Airlines being the major airline that flies into Georgetown. A lot of flights to Guyana from the US go through New York or connect through Florida on your way past other Caribbean countries.
Guyana Packing List
The key to adventuring in Guyana is to pack light, as you’re often going to be carrying a lot of your gear with you. Lightweight, quick dry clothes are key, as well as things that are going to protect you from the elements and bugs. Here’s a list of our top things to pack for Guyana adventure travel.
Long sleeved microfibre top – I wore this everyday, literally! The long sleeve is key, as it keeps the sun off you during those long days on the ATV and horses. It’s also good to defend yourself against the bugs.
Brim hat – Another thing to protect your head and face from the intense sun! It’s absolutely brutal out there, and without a good hat you’re gonna get burnt.
Buff – When you’re tearing up the track on the ATV you’ll need something to cover your mouth. A scarf or Buff works great. It also keeps the sun off your face.
Hiking boots – For this trip they weren’t super essential, but you will need them if you go deeper into the jungle and do more trekking.
LifeStraw – We take our LifeStraws Go bottles absolutely everywhere, because when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, the one thing you need to survive is safe drinking water!
Sunglasses – Get yourself a good pair of sunglasses, because between the dust and the sun you’re going to need eye protection. We always recommend SunGod glasses, because they’re basically indestructible. And believe us, we’ve put them to the test!
Thanks to all the amazing people at the Guyana Tourism Authority for making this trip happen! Everything about this trip was incredible and I can’t wait to visit again. Thanks also goes to Caribbean Airlines for helping assist with flights, and Inmarsat Global for keeping us connected, even in the middle of nowhere! As always, all opinions are my own and I would never recommend a destination I didn’t truly believe in.