Guyana is a country that sees very little tourism. There’s very little “backpacker circuit” here (this is NOT the banana pancake trail!), and much of the tourist activities end up being quite expensive. On our visit to Guyana I wanted to spend some time in the interior, but didn’t love the thought of spending copious amounts of money on flights, especially for 4 people! Taking the bus from Georgetown to Lethem (or at least part way) would save money and let us experience travel like the locals.
We typically like to travel overland as much as possible. It’s a more sustainable way to travel with a much smaller carbon footprint compared to flying. Bus travel also (usually) allows us to see more of the country and experience it from a more local perspective. It’s not always comfortable, but who needs to be comfortable all the time!
The ‘Bus’ from Georgetown To Lethem
The bus (and I use the term bus loosely, it’s not a bus but a 13 passenger van) from Georgetown to Lethem runs nightly at around 6:30pm, arriving in Lethem at some point the next day. This is the main form of transportation for any of the locals transiting across the country. We weren’t doing the journey all at once (thank goodness!), only planning to go as far as the Kurupukari ferry crossing and Iwokrama River Lodge the first night.
There are a number of different “bus” companies to choose from, most of which are located on the same block in Georgetown. Feeling a bit overwhelmed with the choice I went with Carly’s, the recommendation from Lonely Planet.
*expert tip – Carly’s bus service is located in Rockies International Hotel & Brazilian Sports Bar. Call or WhatsApp +592-616-5984 (Georgetown), +592-638-0843 (Lethem) or +592-613-0730 (Carly).
Carly’s ended up being a great choice. We went early in the day to book our seats and were able to see the vehicle we’d be driving in. Randy was also able to lay claim to the front passenger seat while the girls and I commandeered the front bench.
*expert tip – Walk the street to see which vehicle looks like it’s in the best shape, and go with that company. With the intensity of the road the vehicles get sacked pretty quickly, so I’m sure our great van today won’t be so great 6mo from now!
(We checked out the mini-bus before buying our tickets. It was in really good shape and looked almost new.)
The bus companies want everyone at the office by 5:30, an hour before the intended departure. This gives them time to get packed up and (hopefully) be able to leave on time. We dropped our bags off early, then wandered up the street to find dinner.
Returning at 5:30 meant we had a bunch of time to sit around and wait. We befriended a Swedish Intern working in Guyana for the Protected Areas Commission, and spent our time chatting with him. The girls found another kid to play with, and before long were dripping sweat from dancing up a storm inside the night-club attached to the bus company! (It was early so they were the only ones in there, don’t worry!).
The first thing to go on the roof was 4 large rolls of fire-hose (apparently for a mining operation somewhere), followed 4 cases of water and 4 cases of Coca Cola (?!). Last, everyone’s bags were loaded and the tarp secured. Since we were getting out early our bags went in the boot of the van. Initially I thought this was a good thing, however the bags on the top are tarped so well that I’m sure they stayed cleaner than ours!
We looked so top-heavy I questioned our stability on the coming “highway” however I was assured that this was a light load! The last thing our driver did was load 2 shells in a shot-gun and put it beside him in the front seat – pointing straight back at me! Randy confirmed the safety was indeed turned on, which made me feel only slightly better.
(Can you see the shotgun Kacela’s pointing to?)
The mini-bus was over-sold by 2 people. The lady who sold us our tickets tried to explain to a group of 4 Brazilians that some of them were going in a different bus, but they were not understanding (or pretending not to!). Finally, some shoulder-shrugging happened, and everyone piled in.
Randy made himself comfortable in the front seat while the girls and I hopped on the front bench. I quickly realized we weren’t going to have the bench to ourselves, so I invited the intern to sit with us.
The mini-bus pulled away at 7pm, which I thought was pretty decent. The rest of the street full of loaded buses left around a similar time, with some going a bit early and some a bit later. It doesn’t quite make a convoy, but they more-or-less stay together so there’s another vehicle around to help if needed.
Of course, 5 min after we left, we stopped to get gas! This seems to be the theme of our travels in the developing world, no one bothers to gas up until everyone’s loaded and it’s time to go! It makes no sense to me! Of course, people got out to go to the washroom or grab some snacks, and our gas-stop took 20min instead of 5min. The first stop was followed by a second, brief police stop (where no one got out) and we hit the highway. The driver cranked up the air-conditioner and the music all at the same time. We felt like we were partying our way through Guyana.
*expert tip – If you’re traveling with kids, or are prone to motion sickness, now’s the time to take a Gravol or Dramamine!
Initially, the highway was in decent shape but it didn’t take long for that to end. The asphalt soon became so full of potholes I thought we were off the pavement. I figured the sandy road would be better than the potholed asphalt. I was wrong!
Along the road from Georgetown to Lethem there are a number of police checkpoints. This is a bit inconvenient since you have to get out each time. Getting a decent sleep is basically out of the question! Apparently, they’re looking for Venezuelans and Brazilians illegally passing through Guyana.
When we bought our tickets, we had to show our passports, and the numbers were written down on a manifest carried by the driver. At each checkpoint the manifest was compared to the passengers. It seemed a bit silly because the manifest was hand-written and not provided ahead of time. But, it’s likely a deterrent to those attempting to pass through illegally.
The first real checkpoint was a few minutes before the town of Linden, just before 9pm. The girls had fallen asleep about 30min into the drive (thank goodness!). Randy took the passports to stand in line and I stayed in the mini-bus with the kids. A lady police officer came to check on us and must’ve decided we were who we said we were because she didn’t make us get out.
Randy was second in line, right after the intern. He handed over his passport and the officer immediately asked for $10 US. “What for?” Randy asked. The police officer just shrugged his shoulders. Randy said “no” to the bribe, took his passport back and walked away. I wondered if the locals were also asked for $10 from the officer? Something tells me they probably weren’t!
After enjoying a few short hours in the front seat, Randy decided he should probably sit with his sleeping kids who’d were sprawled on the intern’s lap. The intern happily accepted the front seat, and Randy got to run interference to prevent the girls kicking each-other in their sleep.
Following the first check-stop we entered the town of Linden. The driver stopped for gas (again!) and a few people piled out to use the washroom. It didn’t take as long as the first stop and soon the A/C was cranked and we were bouncing and swaying down the sandy road.
Carly, the driver, didn’t like to let the A/C run for too long. Once everyone was chilly enough to pull on a sweater, he’d turn the A/C off and in no time we’d all be sweating! Then someone would open the windows and a fine red dust would swirl around inside the bus.
The second checkpoint was somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night (just after midnight, it’s M&D Restaurant & Bar on Google!). On one side of the highway there was a small house with a very poorly made wooden-slat walkway that was extremely difficult to navigate in the dark after unsuccessfully trying to sleep for 3 hours! I thought Calais & I were heading to the washroom, but when we got inside and asked the police officer pointed across the road. He asked my name and I replied, “Hunter, 4 people”. He nodded and waved us back out again.
The washrooms were shockingly clean, and there was even toilet paper! I was honestly expecting a hole in the ground, so I was pleasantly surprised. The little store carried cold drinks, a few snacks (chips, nuts, very basic items) and was also preparing meals that looked like rice and chicken or fish. We bought a cold orange juice and a bag of chips for each of the girls, mainly just as a thanks for the clean toilet!
From the last checkpoint it’s a couple more hours to the ferry. The ferry runs daily from 6am to 6pm, and most of the mini-buses try to arrive early enough for the driver to get a few hours of sleep. This was the stretch of road that was the craziest for me! By this point I was exhausted, but I just couldn’t seem to get comfortable (possibly because I had one kid’s head in my lap, and the other kid’s feet on my shoulder!).
Another mini-bus started to overtake us at one point and the driver sped up, while still swerving around the various ruts and holes in the road. We were so top heavy that I could feel the whole mini-bus sway with each sudden movement (of which there were a LOT) and was sure we were going to tip over! It only lasted about 30sec and the other mini-bus passed us. Then, our driver slowed right down to get out of the dust! I was sure grateful that the entire ride wasn’t like that, because I think in some cases it can be.
Not too much later we stopped in the middle of the road. I was trying to sleep so didn’t pay much attention to what was going on. Apparently, the van in front of us got stuck in some sand and everyone (well, all the men) had to get out to help push! Thankfully our driver made it through without an issue…but I think getting out to push at some point is a common occurrence on this road.
We arrived at the little shop/hammock lounge/outdoor dance bar beside the ferry just before 3am. A few people piled out of the vehicle and others laid across the seats to get a bit of sleep. The girls had been sleeping for about 7hrs by this point, and there was just enough noise that they were NOT going back to sleep. Randy got up with them and hung out at the little bar while I laid across the seat and managed to get about an hour of sleep.
It went from dark-to-day just after 5am. The music in the bar kept playing, but people started trickling back to their mini-buses. Howler monkeys growled in the distance, and our driver decided it was time to load up and head down the road to the ferry.
A few mini-buses had already started loading. It was definitely a precarious process. The mini buses turned around and reversed down the little hill and onto the ferry over a ramp made of wooden slats. We loaded up three buses wide and four deep. Once the 12 buses were loaded the ferry began to pull away from the landing. The river was low, and the ferry was loaded with 3 more buses than usual. It was so heavy that the front end was essentially beached.
They told everyone who was standing to move towards the back of the boat, then spent at least 10 min slowly moving all the mini-buses back as much as possible. The ferry still wouldn’t budge. Finally, they conceded defeat, unloaded three of the mini-buses and we were our way, late of course.
The crossing only took about 10min, less than the amount of time spent trying to redistribute the weight. Unloading the ferry happened quickly, and once we were back on land we drove up the hill to the Iwokrama protected area checkpoint. All passengers on the 9 mini-buses got into a VERY long queue to go through the check point.
(The check-point line up with the mini-bus passengers from 9 mini-buses!)
The river crossing was the end of the mini-bus ride for us. We had a 4×4 and driver waiting to take us a few min down the road to Iwokrama River Lodge. Carly, our, mini-bus driver called out to the police officer, we waved at him, and he waved us through. I was happy to not have to stand in the big, long line-up, and I was happy to not be getting back on the mini-bus!
The bus ride from the ferry crossing to Lethem takes another 4-5hrs (when the road is good in dry season). There’s a checkpoint a few hours ahead near Atta Lodge at the far end of the Iwokrama protected area, and then again at Annai (where there’s food and drinks available to purchase). The mini-buses typically arrive in Lethem the afternoon (unless something goes wrong, which happens… often!).
Stopping between Georgetown and Lethem
It’s possible to hop on and off the mini-buses at different points along the road. You just need to get to a checkpoint (ideally) and find a mini-bus that has space. Once you get south of Annai there are a few other buses that just drive within the Rupununi. Your accommodation can help you find out when they’re running and book you a spot.
We decided that our 12hr bus ride was adventurous enough. After Iwokrama River Lodge we chose to spend a little extra money on 4×4 transportation between the rest of our stops. We also chose to fly back from Lethem to Georgetown. Our flight was $125US per person. It was significantly more than the $50US for the bus, however the time savings was worth the extra expense (plus it was WAY more comfortable!)
Taking the Bus from Lethem to Georgetown
The entire trip is possible to do in reverse and ends up being quite similar. Mini-buses leave Lethem around 6pm and drive through the night. Carly’s and Cindy’s both have easy-to-find offices in Lethem just up the street from Hotel Takutu.
The first stop is Surama junction, which only takes a couple hours (in good conditions). They sleep until it’s time to leave to be at the South Iwokrama check point when it opens at 4:30am. From here they continue on to the ferry, typically arriving not long after the first ferry crosses at 6:30am. The buses tend to arrive back in Georgetown by mid-afternoon the following day, and stop at all the same checkpoints.
Tips For Taking The Georgetown To Lethem Bus
- Buy your ticket early in the day and ask for the front seats!
- Carry your passport with you as you’ll need to produce it at the checkpoints.
- Bring plenty of water. Although you’ll stop lots along the way the only drinking water will be in plastic bottles. I suggest filling multiple containers ahead to save the plastic. (We had 3 insulated bottles and a platypus. We made ice cubes for the insulated bottles and then refilled with the platypus once they were empty. This way we had cold drinking water for most of the trip!).
- Buy snacks in Georgetown, including something substantial for breakfast as there’s really no breakfast stop. Snacks are available to purchase at all the stops along the way, but the selection is limited. There’s a decent supermarket around the corner from Carly’s where you can load up on snacks after you’ve dropped your bag off.
- Dress in dark coloured clothing. The van was spotless when we left Georgetown, and absolutely caked in red dirt everywhere by the time we hit the ferry. We were completely covered in red dust, so you’ll want dark clothes that won’t stain.
- Keep a sweater, pack-towel or sarong handy to cover yourself when the A/C is pumping, and tuck away when the A/C is turned off. I also suggest a Buff that you can use to cover your mouth & nose because of all the dust.
- Bring ear plugs (the driver will likely blast dance music most of the way) and a neck pillow if you have any hope of sleeping.
- Consider taking a sleeping aid of some kind (Gravol/Dramamine/Benadryl). Choose something that will help you sleep but doesn’t knock you out because you have to get out at the check point. The best point to take this is after the second check point, which will be around midnight. You should have about 6 hours where you can stay in the van until you have to get out at the check point on the other side of the ferry.
- Be prepared for anything, especially if you’re traveling in the rainy season (summer). The longest horror story I heard was a 44hr trip from Lethem to Georgetown in July. The van bottomed out a tire in a large hole and ended up stranded. They were stuck for 5 hours waiting for a big truck to pull them out. Then, the driver was tired (of course) so they stopped and spent the night on the side of the road.
Cost To Take The Bus From Georgetown To Lethem
A ticket is 12,000 GYD per person ($75CAD, kids were full price as they took up a seat). Although we only took the bus part-way, we still had to pay full price. This felt like a bit of a rip-off, especially as the driver picked up a couple after the ferry, so he essentially re-sold our seats!
If you pick up the bus part-way along the journey you’ll have to negotiate a price as some drivers will still try to charge you 12,000 GYD!
Would I do this trip again with kids? Honestly, I would do it the same way again. I think doing the entire stretch from Georgetown to Lethem in one go would be a LONG one with kiddos in tow, but going part-way was completely do-able.
If you’re thinking about doing this trip, make sure to PIN ME for later!