Guyana - Birding Tour
Guyana is a small nation in northern South America, about the size of the US state of Kansas. Around 70% of the country is forested, and it has largely escaped the rampant deforestation that many other tropical countries have suffered. These vast rainforests will be a prime focus of our tour, and they are home to a brilliant array of birds restricted to northern South America including amazing cotingas like the fabulous Guianan Cock-of-the Rock, bizarre Capuchinbird, the very local Guianan Red-Cotinga, and the impressive Crimson Fruitcrow, which looks a bit like enormous Scarlet Tanager. Great parrots, antbirds, and raptors also feature heavily, with a good possibility of seeing Harpy Eagle. We will also spend several days in the Rupununi Savanna of the southwestern part of Guyana, for a very different set of species; we will make special efforts to see some high endangered regional specialties like Red Siskin, Hoary-throated Spinetail, Rio Branco Antbird, and the gorgeous Sun Parakeet. Guyana is the only South American country with English as its official language, and culturally is very heterogeneous, with strong Caribbean, Asian, African, Amerindian, and Brazilian influences. This trip is not about luxury lodges, it is about experiencing fantastic wilderness areas that are still almost pristine. Our lodges are simple, clean, and have great food and service; however away from Georgetown, they do not have hot water or air conditioning, and the internet is very limited.
24 September - 6 October ($7290; single supplement: $530)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 13 Days
Starting City: Georgetown
Ending City: Georgetown
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Max group size: 8 + 1 leader + local guide(s)
Day 1: Arrival in Georgetown
The tour begins today; airport transfers will be provided to our hotel in the city, where we spend the first two nights. No birding is planned for today.
Day 2: Birding near Georgetown
We’ll depart early today with a packed breakfast, and drive east of Georgetown to the Mahaica River. A morning boat ride will offer easy birding where comical Hoatzins are easy to see as they hiss and clamber in the riverside vegetation. We’ll see many other birds as well which may include Blood-colored Woodpecker, White-bellied Piculet, Long-winged Harrier, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Green-tailed Jacamar, Black-crested Antshrike, Silvered Antbird, Little Cuckoo, and Pied Water-Tyrant. We’ll then head to some mangroves where we should find Rufous Crab Hawk and various other species before returning to Georgetown. In the late afternoon, we’ll bird at the nearby Botanical Gardens, where we have another chance to see Blood-colored Woodpecker along with numerous other species including Festive Parrot, Black-necked Aracari, Toco Toucan, Black-collared Hawk, Cinereous Becard, and many more.
Day 3: Kaieteur Falls
If time allows, we’ll return to the Botanical Gardens for more birding, and then transfer to the airport for a flight to Kaieteur Falls. Kaieteur Falls is one of the most impressive single-drop falls in the world at 741 ft. (226 m.). Weather permitting, we will see the falls from the plane as well as from several different viewpoints on the ground, but we won’t ignore the birds either. There is a great Guianan Cock-of-the-rock lek here that will give us our first chance to see this amazing beast. We’ll see other birds as well, but it is very hard to predict which ones due to the short amount of time we have on the ground; they could include such species as Red-shouldered Tanager, Roraiman Antbird, Tufted Coquette, and various swifts. Please be aware that, in the event of inclement weather, it may not be possible to land at Kaieteur Falls, in which case we will go directly to Iwokrama. We’ll then board the plane again for a short flight to Iwokrama River Lodge, where we spend two nights; despite the name, it is located on the banks of the Essequibo River, Guyana’s longest. The lodge offers spacious cabins with balconies, and the open-air restaurant/bar area makes a great viewing platform – often Red-capped Cardinals, Silver-beaked Tanagers, and other bold birds join us for meals! We’ll have the afternoon for some birding near the lodge, which can be excellent for parrots such as Red-fan Parrot, Red-and-green Macaw and Blue-and-yellow Macaws, Painted Parakeet, and others.
Day 4: Turtle Mountain
After an early breakfast, we’ll head up the Essequibo river, stopping at some rapids to see Black-collared Swallow and Capped Heron. We’ll spend the whole morning birding our way up to the top of Turtle Mountain. It’s about 2 miles each way and a 600 ft. (180 m) elevation gain, with some steep sections, but anyone not wishing to go all the way up have the option to only go part of the way, and then stay on the lower part with one of the local bird guides. The trail passes through beautiful rainforest and the list of possible birds is very long, but some of them include Yellow-billed Jacamar, Red-and-black and Yellow-green Grosbeaks, Spix’s Guan, Amazonian Antshrike, Brown-bellied Antwren, Guianan Warbling-Antbird, White-plumed Antbird, Common Scale-backed Antbird, Ferruginous-backed Antbird, Long-tailed Hermit, Black Nunbird, and Chestnut-rumped Woodcreeper. We’ll have a packed lunch back down at the base camp (which is also a great place to spend time birding), and then head back to the lodge. After a break, there will be an easy boat ride in the early evening to look for Ladder-tailed Nightjar and other species.
Day 5: Iwokrama River Lodge to Atta Lodge
We’ll bird trails near the lodge early in the morning for our first chance at the weird Capuchinbird – males are partly bald and give a bizarre mooing call while displaying! We may also see other rainforest species like Ringed and Chestnut Woodpeckers, Variable Chachalaca, Green-backed Trogon, Cinereous Antshrike, and others. Later in the morning, we’ll drive south to our next lodge, making various stops along the way. Stream crossings sometimes have the impressive Crimson Topaz, and there are areas with sandy soil and stunted forest that harbor some localized birds such as Rufous-crowned Elaenia, Black Manakin, Black-necked Red Cotinga, and Olivaceous Schiffornis. We’ll arrive at Atta Rainforest Lodge for lunch. This lodge (where we spend two nights) is located in small clearing surrounded by forest which can be full of birds any time of the day. Black Curassows have become habituated here and frequently wander through the lodge clearing. Atta is best known for its canopy walkway, which offers nearly eye-level views of canopy species that can be hard to see from the forest floor. We’ll spend the afternoon on the walkway, where Guianan Puffbird, Guianan Toucanet, Todd’s and Spot-tailed Antwrens, Waved Woodpecker, Crimson Fruitcrow, Dusky Purpletuft, Guianan Trogon, Green Aracari, and Purple-breasted Cotinga are just some of the possibilities.
Day 6: Atta Lodge
We’ll start the day the canopy walkway once again looking for anything we missed yesterday, then spend the rest of the morning birding the forest trails. Red-and-black Grosbeak and Black-throated Antshrike will be near the top of our “want list”, and local guides sometimes have good stakeouts for Spotted Antpitta. Other possibilities include Ferruginous-backed Antbird, Red-billed Woodcreeper, Rufous-bellied Antwren, just to mention a few. After lunch and a siesta, we’ll spend the late afternoon birding the road where we should find Guianan Streaked-Antwren, and will have more chances at various canopy species like Marail Guan, Blue-cheeked and Dusky Parrots, and Black-spotted Barbet. At dusk, we will try for White-winged Potoo at a known stakeout.
Day 7: Atta Lodge to Surama
We’ll spend the morning targeting any birds we still need, then drive to Surama Eco-Lodge, where we stay a single night. This lodge is run by Surama Village, a small Makushi Amerindian village. We’ll spend the afternoon birding the forest edge near the lodge where we may find our first Finch’s Euphonias and Wedge-tailed Grass-Finches along with parrots, toucans, and others.
Day 8: Surama to Karanambu
Our plan for the day will largely depend on whether the Harpy Eagle nest near Surama is active – if it is, we will not pass up the opportunity to try and see this magnificent bird of prey, one of the largest eagles in the world. If the nest is not active, we may instead bird a different forest trail. There will also be another chance to see Guianan Cock-of-the-rock if we did not see one at Kaieteur Falls. Later in the day, we will transfer to Karanambu Lodge for a two-night stay, a journey of several hours. This lodge is located a few hundred yards from the Rupununi River, and we’ll spend our first afternoon birding by boat. The banks of the river and some of the smaller creeks that feed into it are a great place to look for the very shy Crestless Curassow, especially if water levels are low. Kingfishers are also common here, and we could see up to five species including Green-and-rufous Kingfisher. With luck, we could also see a family of Giant Otters.
Day 9: Karanambu
We’ll take advantage of the cooler early-morning hours to bird the savanna areas and wetlands north of the lodge. We’ll look for the rare and local Bearded Tachuri, the elegant Maguari Stork, the hyperactive White-tailed Goldenthroat, among many other more common species; we also have a chance to see a Giant Anteater. Later in the morning, we’ll head into the gallery forest near the lodge where we have another chance to see Capuchinbird along with Spotted Puffbird, Northern Slaty-Antshrike, Black-chinned Antbird, White-bellied, and White-browed Antbirds, Blue-backed Manakin, among others. After a much-needed siesta, we’ll spend the afternoon either on the river or in the forest depending on what we are still looking for.
Day 10: Sun Parakeets
We leave quite early this morning with a packed breakfast as we drive two hours through the savanna to the village of Karasabai. This is one of the last strongholds of the endangered Sun Parakeet, a truly stunning bird restricted to Guyana and adjacent areas of northern Brazil. We stand an excellent chance of seeing it, along with a few other birds such a different subspecies of White-bellied Piculet (a possible future split), and an odd, local form of Yellow-hooded Blackbird. We’ll then drive south to Manari Ranch near Lethem, where we spend the next two nights. We’ll have a relaxing afternoon so as to be ready for the early start the next day, but want to be out at dusk to look for nighthawks flying over including Lesser and Least Nighthawks.
Day 11: Red Siskins
A very early start is necessary this morning (we’ll depart at around 3:30am with a packed breakfast and lunch, and coffee will be available at 3:00am). We drive about three hours south of Manari to the village of Sand Creek, where a local guide will accompany us to the best locations to see the endangered Red Siskin. This species formerly ranged in much of Colombia and Venezuela, but has been nearly wiped out due poaching and other factors. It was discovered in Guyana in 2000, far from any known previous site, and this area is now probably the best place in the world to see it. The siskins are usually best seen near springs at the base of the mountains, and we will stake out one or more of them, waiting for the birds to come in; they are seen by most visitors, but are occasionally missed. Other birds we could see in the area include White-barred Piculet, Aplomado and Bat Falcons, Blue-tailed Emerald, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Finch’s Euphonia, and Cayenne Jay. On our way back to Manari, we’ll spend more time birding the savanna, where we’ll have another chance at species such as Bearded Tachuri and Double-striped Thick-knee.
Day 12: Ireng River and return to Georgetown
We don’t have to leave quite so early this morning, as we drive north of Manari to the Ireng River on the Brazilian border. Along the way, we’ll check grasslands and wetlands for Nacunda Nighthawk, Pinnated Bittern, and any other last species we haven’t seen yet. Rio Branco Antbird and Hoary-throated Spinetail are two very local species that are considered critically endangered due to the predicted future deforestation of most of their range. They are usually easy to hear, but can be shy and hard to see in the dense thickets they prefer. However, we know some great spots where we stand a good chance of getting some looks. Other birds in this area include Pale-legged Hornero, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Pale-tipped Tyrannulet, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Crested Bobwhite, and Red-bellied Macaw. We’ll return to Manari for lunch, then pack up and head to the airport for a short flight back to Georgetown, where we spend one final night.
Day 13: Departure
The tour ends this morning with transfers to the airport.
PACE: Moderate. Early starts are the norm, with most being about 5:00am-5:30am. Some breakfasts and lunches will be packed lunches taken in the field. There are a couple of earlier starts later in the trip. However, on most days, there will be downtime of at least an hour or two after lunch.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding is done from flat or only slightly inclined roads and trails. There are a few exceptions to this: On day 4, there is hike of 2 miles each way with some steep sections – some participants choose to only do part of this hike, and bird the easier parts of the trail with our local bird guide. Reaching the canopy walkway requires going up a steep trail – the trail is well made with about 150 steps and a hand railing. Except for day 4, you can expect to walk about 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) per day on average. Most drive times are around 2-3 hours (not counting birding stops), but longer drives are required on days 10 and 11. Outside of Georgetown, roads are unpaved and often rough, and due to the remoteness and the tiny population, the availability of vehicles is very limited. As such, vehicles are often aging and somewhat uncomfortable, and the AC usually doesn’t work. We’ll have regular birding and leg-stretching stops to help make it tolerable.
CLIMATE: Warm to hot, with temperatures typically about 75-90F (24-32C). Rainforest areas are also a bit humid. Some rain can be expected.
ACCOMMODATION: Apart from the three nights in Georgetown (where the hotel is excellent and has all the expected amenities), lodges are somewhat basic, but always clean and well run. All have private bathrooms, but do not have hot water or air conditioning; power is supplied either by generator or solar panels, and wi-fi is either incredible slow or totally lacking. The power supply is sufficient to light up the rooms and charge devices, but it is not strong enough to use hair dryers. For lodges that use generators, the generator is only turned on for a few hours each day. Mosquito nets are also provided, and will be set up for you by lodge staff each evening.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, and since much of the tour takes place in rainforest, photography is often challenging. There are no feeders. However, in the savanna parts of the trip, at the canopy walkway, and on some of the boat rides, there will be some good chances for casual bird photography.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Visas are not currently required for tourists from the US, Canada, UK, most (but not all) EU countries, South Africa, New Zealand, and various other countries. Travel requirements are subject to change; it is always wise to check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 12; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 13 (if you have a very early flight on day 13, you may miss the included hotel breakfast); some drinks (lodges include water/and or juice with meals as well as tea/coffee and provide safe drinking water between meals); one way flight from Georgetown to Iwokrama on day 3 (this flight will stop at Kaieteur falls weather permitting); one way flight from Lethem to Georgetown on day 12; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 12; local guides; ground and boat transport as specified in the itinerary; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (these transfers may be shared with other tour participants if they are on the same flight); entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters in the Georgetown hotel if you require their services; international flights; passport/visa fees; excess luggage charges (there are strict luggage requirements for this tour); snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, wi-fi, and personal items; medical/emergency evacuation fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.