Dinosaurs are gone, but you can still uncover many of the world’s remaining giants in South America’s biodiverse wonderland of Guyana.
Still, more than 75% covered in virgin rainforest, the small South American nation of Guyana is a goldmine of biodiversity, and within the mysterious interior of this largely untouched land, a trove of record-breakers can be found. From ferocious predators to thunderous waterfalls, the “land of many waters” (as “Guyana” means in an indigenous Amerindian language) is home to a host of literal giants waiting to be discovered. Guyana is the only South American country using English as the official language, and it’s only as far away as the Caribbean (in fact, it technically is a Caribbean nation), so grab your passport and head to this unspoiled wonderland of wildlife in search of these gasp-worthy giants.
Close your eyes and picture a waterfall. If you imagined the one you drew as a child—a roaring stream of water pouring neatly over the edge of a tropical scene and plummeting straight downward—you can thank Kaieteur Falls, perhaps the most quintessential falls in the world. Deep in the heart of Kaieteur National Park, accessible only by a multiday hike or a short Cessna flight from Guyana’s capital city, Georgetown, this 741-foot wonder is the largest single-drop fall by volume in the world. If you visit during the wet season when the Potaro River is at its fullest, the mist can be too heavy to see much of the falls, though, so aim for a journey in the drier months, October through March.
Victoria amazonica, once prized by British gardeners in the Victorian era, is Guyana’s national flower, and it also happens to be the world’s largest water lily. The impressive flowers bloom at sunset and are white at first opening then turn pink for their second opening, creating a nightly spectacle popular with visitors and locals alike. Still, it’s the leaves that are most impressive, though you may know them as lily pads. Victoria amazonica’s lily pads grow more than 9.5 feet in diameter and are strong enough to support a human baby (it’s been done, and the image remains a popular postcard in Guyana), but please consider this a “don’t try this at home” feat.
Giant River Otter
These sleek giants grow up to 5.5 feet in length and are the longest members of the weasel family. Particularly beloved for their social habits and playful antics, the giant river otter is now an endangered species due to overhunting for their pelts, but some of the strongest populations remain in Guyana. In fact, the northern Rupununi region of Guyana is home to one of the only giant river otter populations in recovery worldwide, thanks in large part to the conservation efforts of Karanambu Trust and Lodge.
INSIDER TIPThere’s an otter orphanage at Karanambu and, if you stay here, you can join their caregiver on daily walks to the river where these adorable pups learn to hunt and socialize with their “water daddy.”
If you’re looking for the cutest safari drive possible, take an early morning giant anteater drive. While they can be active in either day or night, the anteaters in Guyana are almost exclusively nocturnal, so you’ll find them meandering the savannah around sunrise, looking for a nice bush to sleep under during the hot day. Giant anteaters grow up to six feet in length and with their long hair and unusual faces, they’re just about the most adorably goofy creature you’ll find nosing about. If you’re super quiet and stand downwind of one, you can get fairly close, too. Their hearing is good and their sense of smell is outstanding, but their vision is pitiful, so one may walk right by you if it can’t hear or smell you.
Searching for black caimans isn’t for the faint of heart. These predators are known to reach lengths of 16 feet and it’s possible they can grow up to 20, making them South America’s largest crocodile, and potentially the largest left in the world (the Orinoco crocodile historically could grow larger, but human interference has all but depleted the population, and the few remaining no longer reach these lengths). Black caimans are abundant in Guyana, and there’s a UNESCO research project in the northern Rupununi region that has been catching, measuring, tagging, and releasing specimens for more than ten years. If you stay at Caiman House, you can join the research team for a nighttime “hunt” on the river.
Cattle ranching has been a way of life in certain southern regions of Guyana for generations, and Dadanawa Ranch may be the country’s most famous. In its heyday, it was the world’s largest ranch with 3.3 million acres of land (triple the size of the largest in Texas). Today, it’s not quite as large, but it’s still massive and contains 6,000 heads of cattle on its picturesque property. If you’re itching to live out your wildest ranch fantasy, you can reserve a stay at Dadanawa Ranch, just as researchers and film crews often do.
This tabletop mountain near the Venezuela border is the tallest of South America’s Pakaraima mountain chain, soaring above the clouds at more than 9,000 feet, and has inspired fantasies for centuries. It inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World, it inspired myths and legends of Amerindian religions, and it was featured in Pixar’s Up, reaching a new generation of imaginations. Unless you are one of the world’s few extreme adventurers capable of trekking to and ascending this steep giant, your only option for seeing the top of Mount Roraima, home to some species that exist nowhere else on Earth, is with a charter flight, and you’ll still be dependent on extremely fortunate weather conditions for a magnificent view.
The arapaima is the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish, with the heaviest known specimen weighing 440 pounds, and the longest reaching 15 feet. Due to overfishing and habitat loss, it’s unlikely you’d find such a behemoth in the wild today, but arapaimas still regularly reach lengths of up to 6.5 feet. Rewa Lodge is becoming famous among sport fishers for its arapaima fly fishing program, giving visitors a chance to catch this prehistoric fish. Don’t worry; it’s catch and release.
Not just a euphemism in a Sir Mix-a-Lot song but an actual creature, as well, the anaconda is the heaviest snake in the world, weighing up to 550 pounds, and is also the world’s second-longest, growing up to 30 feet in length. You’d be right to be cautious if you saw one of these giants on land, but it’s in the water where anacondas are most dangerous. They’re excellent swimmers and they often drown their prey as they constrict them in their usual method of suffocation. It’s probably best if you don’t search for this particular giant in Guyana.