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Guyana is a seldom-visited country along the North-East coast of South America (no, it’s not in Africa!). An astonishing 80% of the country is covered in primary forest (compare that to 3.5% in Costa Rica, just to put it into perspective!) that’s incredibly similar to it’s Amazonian neighbour to the South. The heart of this dense, untouched natural wonder is Iwokrama forest in the Protected Area. We spent 2 nights enjoying the Iwokrama River Lodge accommodation, which serves both as a tourist lodge and a research centre for various groups studying the diverse flora and fauna in the region.
For the price, you’d think this should be luxury travel.
I’d call it comfortably rustic (if that’s even a thing!).
The cabins at Iwokrama lodge are lovely and to be honest they exceeded my expectations. The best part was the large porch with a hammock and chairs overlooking the Essequibo river. Sitting there, watching the sunrise with a hot tea was the perfect start to any day. It was also the ideal location for an afternoon siesta, something required due to the heat!
Screens on the doors kept (most of) the wildlife out while letting the evening breeze in. This let us wake up to the sounds of the forest without having any of the forest creatures sleeping with us! We even had a fan, although some of it’s benefit is lost with the necessary mosquito nets.
The showers were cold, but I did see a solar water heater on the roof of one cabin. I’m sure you could have a hot shower if you wanted. Although with the crazy heat and humidity I’m not sure why anyone would want a hot shower here!
Arriving At Iwokrama River Lodge
Most people are a bit (significantly) more sane than us and choose to fly into the FairView airstrip a short 5min drive from the lodge. In fact, the road from Georgetown to Iwokrama resort is so bad that anything other than flying isn’t even offered as an option when guests inquire. We never tend to do things the easy way, and I always do my own research and know all the options! So, instead of flying we took the overnight bus (with 2 kids) from Georgetown (you can read all about that journey here!).
We were picked up from the Kupukari ferry terminal around 6:30am. Thankfully the driver was waiting for us as we got out of the mini-bus. After briefly checking in at the check-point (which was really just us waving at the police officer and him waving us on) we bounced our way up the road a few short minutes to Iwokrama River Lodge Guyana.
We’d subsisted on potato chips and nuts all night, so we were just as hungry as we were tired. When they offered us breakfast we couldn’t drop our bags fast enough before running back to the main lodge to eat.
Our 2 Amerindian guides, Owen and Lezlin, sat with us at breakfast (they joined us for every meal). Owen was in training, so Lezlin was there to supervise and add in any necessary extra information. They were both young, but tourism is still in it’s infancy in this country so it makes sense that many of the guides aren’t very old. Thankfully they recognized that we were exhausted, so decided to wait until after we rested to give us our orientation. This was greatly appreciated as I’m not sure I would’ve remembered anything at that point.
By the time my head hit the pillow back in our cabin I was definitely at the over-tired point. The girls played and made too much noise until we threatened them with no Halloween unless they napped! By the time we finally got them to sleep I’d tossed and turned for long enough that sleep wasn’t happening forme. Oh, the joys of traveling with kids!
Meeting Sankar The Black Caiman
After lunch we had a tour of the lodge and met Sankar, the resident black Caiman who likes to hang around the dock at Iwokrama Guyana. Owen, our guide, threw rocks in the water to call him, and before long we saw a dark spiky outline undulating towards us in the water. He’s definitely not shy and looked at us expecting some food (which is what usually happens when he gets called!).
Owen ran back to the kitchen and returned with a large cow bone. He placed it on the dock and Sankar crawled out of the water to get it. The girls were quite impressed that he chomped it down in one big gulp and wanted to run back to the kitchen to get him more food. Randy offered to just feed one of the girls to Sankar but they weren’t too keen on it.
Even though we slept most of the morning, we still had an afternoon siesta after the excitement of Sankar (it’s too hot in the afternoon to do much of anything). A rain storm rolled in, and as soon as it started raining the girls put on their bathing suits and went to run around in the warm rain. Randy and I watched from our porch, enjoying how much the rain cooled things down.
The rain was short-lived, and cleared up in time to go for a late-afternoon boat ride up the Essequibo river. We saw some petroglyphs on a rock in the middle of the river, and walked through Rock View village, the only settlement within the Protected Area. The houses were basic, and typical to what we’ve seen elsewhere around the world.
There was no interaction with locals though, and not much wildlife out at this time of day either (other than a pair of woodpeckers). I guess the petroglyphs were kinda cool, but I’m not convinced they were worth leaving my siesta for! Maybe if I’d never seen petroglyphs before I would’ve been more excited (the downside to being a spoiled traveler!).
After dinner we went on another boat ride in the dark, to look for Caiman and Tree Boa. We found lots of Caiman, big and small, but only one small tree boa. At least, I think I saw the tree boa. Randy’s sure he saw it, same with Kacela, but Calais and I weren’t 100% convinced.
Sleeping at Iwokrama Rainforest
Even though it was still hot, we quickly fell asleep to the sounds of the rainforest that evening. This has to be one of my favourite things! It was so peaceful in a non-quiet kind of way. The frogs were pretty loud, and Owen told us that during the rainy season they’re even louder because they’re all over the lawn of the resort. It was just enough noise for me to enjoy it but not be annoyed by it, so I might consider bringing earplugs during the rainy season!
The next morning I woke up with the sun and watched the sunrise over the river from bed. It was so peaceful and beautiful. I could hear Howler monkeys somewhere in the distance, a lovely compliment to the chorus of birds.
Four Scarlett Macaws were perched in one of the trees on the edge of the forest and flew overhead as Randy walked to the main lodge to grab us morning coffee. We sat on the deck, watching the river, listening to the birds and drinking our coffees until it was time to wake the girls for breakfast (at 7:30am).
Hiking Turtle Mountain
We headed to breakfast packed and ready for a hike to Turtle Mountain. The 15min boat ride up the Essequibo was lovely and we all enjoying the cool breeze as we sped along. Kacela’s hat blew off, but luckily we were able to retrieve it before it sank! She appreciated her wet hat keeping her head cool once we started hiking.
I’m not sure what possessed me to get us into a 7km round-trip hike with a fast 300m ascent in 30+ degree weather. It seemed like a good idea when I was booking the trip.
As we were starting our hike we ran into another guest who was just ending a short morning walk at the base of the mountain. He’d seen 2 Pumas, so the girls kept their fingers (and arms) crossed in hopes that we’d see a puma as well. They were surprisingly quiet for quite a long time, but I think their quiet is still too noisy to see a large cat!
Once I realized that Puma’s are also Cougars/Mountain Lions I wasn’t as disappointment we hadn’t seen them. These cats have an incredible range, all throughout North and South America. Growing up there were often Cougars that would chase deer around our neighbourhood, so I’ve seen them before from the comfort of my house. It’s not quite as cool as seeing them in the rainforest, but it’s technically still the “wild”!
During our walk through the forest Owen pointed out a number of different trees and vines as well as their various uses. There were a number of birds, a few red Howler monkeys and a red-rumped agouti (that Calais didn’t spot, much to her disappointment). There was also a TON of insects. The girls loved watching the millipedes curl and uncurl along the path and keeping an eye out for their most dreaded creature in the rainforest, the ant…specifically the Bullet Ant!
Once we started the ascent there was a handrail along the side of the path. We used it periodically but had to be careful to check for ants before touching it! There were a few benches where we could stop, catch our breath and have a drink of water.
Calais, as per usual, was a champ and hiked the whole thing without a single complaint. Kacela, on the other hand, was a different story. She kept up, and all things considered did really well, but 2/3 of the way up she started periodically whimpering and complaining. I had to threaten to confiscate her Halloween candy, after which she promptly stopped whining!
Everyone was happy when we made it to the top of the mountain. There was a lovely breeze that did a great job cooling our sweat (we were all dripping with sweat by that point), and the views over the Essequibo river and Iwokrama protected area were phenomenal. Our guides told us that occasionally guests will bring hammocks to sleep at the top of the mountain. On another trip, with older kids, I think that would be incredible.
After enjoying the views (and the breeze) and taking a few pictures, we made our way back down the trail. Kacela exclaimed repeatedly that we were so much faster on the way down! The boat trip back also helped cool us off and we arrived back at the lodge just in time for lunch and to say good-bye to the one other couple staying at the lodge. The second night we were the only guests!
We enjoyed our siesta time even more the second day because we were physically tired from the hike. The girls did some homework then played together while Randy and I had a short nap. We went to visit Sankar again, and on the way back up Calais exclaimed, “I could get used to this”. We were settling into our travel legs again, getting used to a good mix of adventuring and down-time, surrounded by incredible nature.
Life was pretty good.
After our siesta we went for a nature walk on some of the trails around the lodge. We started our walk on Screaming Piha trail and walked along the river banks for a short time before turning inwards and slowly making our way in a semi-circle back to the lodge. Again, we saw a number of birds and a red-rumped Agouti (Calais saw this one, so she was pretty happy!).
One of the girl’s (other) favourite things in the forest was the rather large Mora seeds. They were scattered all over the Iwokrama forest floor and many were sprouting from the recent rains. Some of the seedlings were a couple feet tall, and others were barely poking out of the pod. We often had to pay attention to where we were stepping because they were large enough one could roll an ankle if they weren’t careful (and not wearing proper footwear, which we really were not!).
It was cooler walking under the shade of the canopy, but still sweating hot! As we were exiting the forest we came across a small Blue Maroon butterfly. Both girls LOVE anything small and spent a surprising amount of time watching the little insect.
Then, as soon as we emerged from the trees, they found the grass infested with tiny grasshoppers and spent a good 10min chasing them! Thankfully we were in sight of our cabin, so we left them behind with the grasshoppers and went to have a shower to cool off.
As the sun began to set the Scarlet Macaws flew across the sky above us to perch on a branch along the edge of the forest. Their return signalled the end of the day. We made our way up to the main lodge to have a drink and play a card game before dinner.
I had good intentions to stay up in the evening, but the heat won and I barely made it past the girl’s bed time. The plan for the next morning was to be gone at sunrise, so I figured that was a good excuse for an early night!
An Early Morning Boat Ride on The Essequibo River
The sunrise over the Essequibo River again was spectacular. The pale pink and baby blue reflected on the surface of the water, while Howlers called in the distance and Sankar swam over to greet us. We headed out for a boat ride around Indian Village Island. For the first half hour or so we didn’t see much, but once we got to the North end of the island there were a number of different birds. We saw hawks, Osprey, Macaws and many others. Kacela loved looking through the ‘birds of Northern South America’ book to name what we spotted (with some help from our guides!).
Breakfast was waiting for us when we returned. We ate one last meal with our guides, then filled out our comment forms, left a tip, then packed up and loaded our stuff into the Land Cruiser for the drive to Atta Lodge.
Know Before You Go To Iwokrama Forest Guyana
Getting To The Lodge:
- Iwokrama rainforest location is in the middle of the rainforest (duh!) and it’s not easy to get to. You either have to fly from Georgetown to the FairView landing strip (which can get quite expensive), take the night bus and get picked up at the ferry (uncomfortable), or arrange private 4×4 transport (also expensive, especially if you’re staying for a few days as you have to pay for daily wait time).
Paying For The Lodge:
- We pre-paid for our stay shortly after booking. If you live in Guyana you can pay in person in the Georgetown office with a credit card (and pay the 4.5% credit card fee), however living in Canada our easiest option was a wire transfer. I always get a bit nervous sending a wire transfer because once the money’s gone, it’s gone! Luckily it worked well for us, although it incurs a crazy $45US fee (Plus there was a $20US receiving fee that we weren’t aware of).
Staying At The Lodge:
- We stayed in a family cabin with a queen size bed and two twin beds. Each evening during dinner someone would come in do “turn-down” service (spray for bugs and put down the mosquito nets).
- The electricity is solar and was sufficient for everything we needed (which wasn’t much).
- One of the cabins had a solar powered hot-water tank on the roof, so if you really NEED hot water it’s an option. To be honest we enjoyed our cold showers after sweating during the day.
- We had a fan that we were able to run during siesta time and at night when we slept. This made it comfortable to sleep and was greatly appreciated!
- The food was fantastic! We had a good mix of local food and “international” dishes, and it was always delicious. They’re able to cater to special diets but due to the remote location these info needs to be provided well in advance of your stay.
- There’s “government free wifi” available at the lodge. It’s quite slow, so don’t expect to do too much on it. It’s limited to 256mb during the day and unlimited from 6pm to 6am (although it was VERY slow between 6pm and bedtime) and on the weekends. You can pay to use the Iwokrama wifi if you need more (I’m told it’s not much faster though).
Iwokrama Tours & Activities:
- We typically had 2 activities a day; one in the morning after breakfast, and one mid-afternoon (around 4pm). You can pick and choose the number and types of activities you do while at the lodge prior to your stay. We found 2 activities to be the perfect balance, giving us ample siesta time in the afternoon while still feeling like we did enough.
- We had private guides (because one was in training) dedicated to us during our entire stay. They ate meals with us and led all our activities. Our guides were very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, but also young and shy. They lack the years of experience being comfortable interacting with guests. We still very much enjoyed our stay, and know that as tourism begins to get more popular here the guides will continue to gain more experience and get better and better.
Iwokrama River Lodge With Kids
This was a great thing to do with our kids and they really enjoyed themselves. Sankar was definitely a hit, but they also enjoyed the wildlife spotting. The individual attention from our guides meant we were never rushed and could move at whichever pace suited us at the time.
The one thing that would’ve made this perfect is a pool!! But, you can’t ask for everything.
Kacela suggests you ask for Owen and Lezlin as guides, and have Owen feed Sankar. And, if you visit over Halloween, make sure to bring candy from Georgetown so you can trick or treat from one cabin to the next. She also suggests that you look for a Jaguar and a Puma in the Iwokrama rainforest.
(This is supposed to be one of the best places on the planet to spot a Jaguar! We weren’t lucky enough to spot one, but the other couple saw one on the drive to the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway one afternoon, lucky them!)
Tips for Visiting With Kids:
- Pack them sturdy shoes (like these ones) for walking in the rainforest.
- Prep them ahead of time to not touch any plants unless they’re told they can (many plants in the rainforest can cause rashes, etc when touched).
- Talk about ants! Our girls are petrified of ants (they DO bite!), but they also love them. Learning about the different kinds of ants in the rainforest has helped them develop a fascination along with their fear.
- Read about the Rainforest before you visit in one of these great books.
What To Pack For Iwokrama River Lodge:
- Bring lots of bug spray, like this DEET-free option containing Picaridin, which is just as effective; or buy some Crabwood Oil once you’re there (but bring some coconut oil or lotion to dilute it in, it’s pretty potent)!
- Sturdy shoes for hiking (these Keens Terradora are my fav for travel because they’re very light weight) and flip-flops for the boat (like these Ipanema sandals that I’ve worn around the world).
- Long, loose pants and a comfy, quick dry shirt for hiking. We wore shorts hiking, but would’ve been more comfortable (from the bugs and branches) with our legs covered.
- Siesta clothes – a sundress for the ladies (this Columbia dress is my current fav…it packs up small and is super light weight); comfy shorts and a second quick-dry shirt for guys (this Ex-Officio shirt is Randy’s fav for a quick-dry, light weight option).
- A hat (mostly for the boat rides), we just bring ball caps!
- Flashlight for animal spotting at night, like this compact Pelican flashlight.
- Headlamp (or cell phone light) for walking back to your cabin after dark, like the USB-chargeable Black Diamond Iota.
How Much Doest It Cost To Visit Iwokrama River Lodge?
We paid $1271 US for 2 night’s accommodation in a large 4-person cabin, 3 meals a day (half price for the kids) and 5 activities.
- Triple Cabin – $235US/night
- Meals – $60US/day/adult, $30US/day/child
- Boat Tour (Caiman spotting, Indian House Island and Petroglyphs) – $54 US each
- Turtle Mountain Tour – $175 US
- Nature Trail Walk – $44 US
- Forest User Fee – $15 US each
Our transfer from the ferry to the lodge: $7US/person
Onward transfer to Atta lodge in 4×4 vehicle: $140US total