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Coq of the Rock: Trailblazing the Guianas

18 days from £4090pp

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Coq of the Rock: Trailblazing the Guianas

18 days from £4090pp
 

Group Journey

 

UK clients depart Sunday, arriving Caracas, Venezuela, the same day.
 

Day 1

Overnight in Caracas.
 

Those arriving on an international flight will be met by the tour leader or local representative and escorted to the group hotel. Maiquetía, Caracas's only transatlantic airport, is situated on a narrow coastal plain looking out on to the Caribbean. From here it is an hour's drive (traffic depending) up a battered mountain motorway to the city. Caracas is crammed into an elongated valley, oriented roughly east-west and there is a panoramic view of its layout as you approach. Overnight in the capital.

Day 2

Walking tour of old Caracas. Fly to Puerto Ordaz.
 
Caracas is brash, busy and, in its way, spectacular. Located in a dip between forested mountains, its establishment and growth is a feat of engineering, both ancient and modern. There is a walking tour of the historical heart of the city in the morning.

Take an afternoon flight to Puerto Ordaz, in the heart of the llanos. This region of vast savannah is punctuated with ancient sandstone plateaux, and is reputedly where Conan Doyle set The Lost World. Dozens of sheer-sided, flat-topped mountains called tepuys rise dramatically from the plain.

Days 3-4

By light aircraft to Canaima National Park. Motorised canoe upstream to Angel Falls.
 

Morning flight by light aircraft to the small settlement at Canaima (there are no passable access roads across the savannah in this part of the llanos). Overnight here, in a rustic lodge, and the following morning set off by motorised canoe upstream to the Cherun Meru canyon. It's a magical journey - 80km in 4hrs - and by mid-afternoon, as the walls of the rainforest and the cloud-scudded tepuys begin to close in, the boat arrives at a small hammock camp not far from the Angel Falls. Disembark for a rainforest walk that becomes an uphill scramble to the viewpoint at the foot of the world's highest waterfall: the Angel Falls. For those not up for the sweaty, 2hr round-trip trek, there is a good viewpoint closer to camp.

Angel Falls Venequela

Day 5

Fly to Santa Elena and continue by bus over the Brazilian border to Boa Vista.
 

Return by canoe to Canaima and from here fly to the frontier town of Santa Elena, a 3 hour bus ride along a paved road then crosses you over the border into Brazil to arrive at Boa Vista (this is the long road which continues south all the way to Rio). There's a frontier-town feel to Boa Vista, and its population has grown from 55,000 inhabitants in 1975 to a quarter of a million today. Spend the night - the only one in Brazil - in Boa Vista.

Day 6

Drive to the Guyana border and continue to Atta.
 

Depart by bus for Guyana, crossing the newly-constructed (2009) Takutu River Bridge. Brazil drives on the right and Guyana on the left, and there's a nifty little crossover bridge to cope with this idiosyncrasy.

Continue north into the Iwokrama, with stops in the forest along the way. Jaguars, jaguarundi, tayras, as well as striking bird life, including the coq of the rock, and the harpy eagle, are often seen among the trees. Spend the night at the Atta Camp, a block of eight small cabins. From here there is access to a fantastic canopy walkway, built out from a steep escarpment, which gives access to the creatures of the forest.

Cock of the Rock

Days 7-8

Drive to Annai and the Rockview Lodge.
 

Travel along an unpaved roads to Annai, which lies on the edge of the transition zone between the savannah and the Iwokrama forest reserve. This small village is a mixture of brick and wattle-and-daub cottages, all thatched with palm fronds. There are no roads or even tracks, just grassy thoroughfares between cottages, shops, school and church. They speak English here, as elsewhere in Guyana, and people are friendly and welcoming. 2 nights' accommodation is in Rock View, a comfortable lodge, from which you can enjoy the beauty of the savannah, and explore the beguiling settlement.

Walk way, Iwokrama

Day 9

By bus and ferry across the Essequibo river to Georgetown.
 

Cross the great Essequibo river aboard a flat-plank ferry, and pick up the bus once again for the long drive through the forest to Georgetown.

For the 2017 departure we will begin to fly between Annai and Georgetown.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Guyanas swapped hands between the European sea powers. The city still shows an interesting amalgam of cultural heritage, its population mostly a mixture of African and Asian descent, commingled with wai-wai Amerindians from the south. Its architecture too is a fusion of Dutch and colonial Brazilian, with the latter predominant.

There's plenty to see here: riverside Stabroek market is fun, bustling and chaotic; there are manatees and lots of birds in the botanical gardens; and the legendary Bourda Cricket Ground.

Days 10-11

Optional flight over Kaieteur Falls; explore Georgetown.
 
The 3 nights spent in the capital allow for an optional excursion to Kaieteur Falls. It takes about an hour - the first 10mins over cultivated areas, and thereafter tropical forest - to fly to the small airstrip at the top of the falls. The pilot usually does a fly-past first, to give some perspective on the Potaro river and the canyon below the falls. There's no tourist infrastructure, just a tiny settlement of 3 huts, one of which serves as an airport lounge.

On arrival there is an easy walk and then a scramble in a loop through the rocky forest, past copses of giant bromeliads - home to microscopic frogs - to a number of viewpoints. The first, at around 200m from the cataracts, gives a face-on view of a prodigious quantity of water, which is stained chestnut brown with tannins. At the third viewpoint you are literally on the edge of the falls, on a rock platform less than a metre away from the torrent as it plunges 226m into the canyon. Most people inch towards the rock's lip on their bellies. Some prefer to stand well back.

Georgetown

Day 12

By bus and ferry to Paramaribo, Suriname.
 
Departing Georgetown by minibus along a coastal road wending eastwards towards the Corentyne river, which forms the frontier between Suriname and Guyana; a region of sugarcane and rice plantations, threaded by canals (built by the Dutch to drain the low-lying land, and to access the cane for market).

Cross the estuary by ferry and continue by road, hugging the coast to Paramaribo. Suriname was Dutch territory, and modern-day Paramaribo has inherited not only the language, and the attractive clapboard architecture, but also its melting pot of cultures. Thousands of indentured labourers were shipped in from the Dutch East Indies to work the plantations, and they brought their Indonesian cuisine with them, as well as their religion: mosques are a common sight, and the largest in Paramaribo is right next to the synagogue.

Days 13-14

Excursion of Suriname and Crommewijne river.
 

There is also an included excursion on the Suriname and Crommewijne river. You will spot local seabirds en route to visit one of the former plantations and the open air museum at New Amsterdam, which will give you a fascinating insight into Suriname's former colonial history. Spend the rest of the time at leisure.

Paramaribo houses

Day 15

Bus and boat to Kourou, in French Guiana.
 
Depart by bus towards Albina, and another river border, the Caroni. From here shuttle canoes make the short trip across to St Laurent, in French Guiana, once the receiving station for new inmates bound for the notoriously brutal penal colony maintained by France until the mid-20th century. Continue on a smart paved road to Kourou.

Guiana is a département of France. They send deputies to parliament, the currency is the euro, its citizens are members of the EU and enjoy the full protection of the French labour law. It's expensive: lots of things are imported from France. Kourou is home to many of France's top scientists and astrophysicists, because this is the base of the Ariane space rocket programme.

Day 16

Excursion to Iles du Salut, and the erstwhile penal colony.
 

Full-day excursion to the former penal colony on the Iles du Salut. The archipelago lies about an hour out into the Caribbean and consists of 3 islands: Ile Royale, Ile St Joseph and Devil's Island. The cells, guards' quarters and administration blocks on Ile Royale have been converted into accommodation and dining facilities, and there's an excellent small museum that recounts the history of the place, and the privations that both the convicts and the guards had to endure. There's a small church, the remains of a hospital, and a cemetery with memorials to the prison staff. At Ile St Joseph work is underway to clear the jungle from many more of the prison cells.

Iles du Salut

Day 17

Excursion to the Centre Spatial; drive to Cayenne.
 

A morning excursion to the Centre Spatial, where there is a fascinating museum, and there may be an opportunity for a tour of the space centre itself. Depart by road for Cayenne, French Guiana's main city. It's a hotchpotch of building styles, some glorious belle époque, others more modern and on the shabby side. This is a pleasant place to spend some time; sipping a cold drink in one of the bars in the Place des Palmistes, you could almost be on the Riviera. The busy market is worth a visit, and there is a footpath up to the remains of the old fort that overlooks the town.

Space station

Day 18

Depart for international flight or extension.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day, Thursday.
 

18 days from £4090pp

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