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Coq of the Rock: Trailblazing the Guianas

18 days from £4,538pp

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Coq of the Rock: Trailblazing the Guianas:
Trip Dossier

This is a trip which emphatically goes off the beaten track, taking in some of the rarely-visited highlights of Venezuela, Suriname and the Guianas. You won’t find a group tour like this offered by anyone else: the logistics of researching and organising such a trip are daunting but as South America experts we relished the challenge. You'll scramble through dense jungle to glimpse two of the continent's most impressive cataracts: Angel Falls and Kaieteur Falls; surround yourself with wildlife in a rainforest canopy and drive through sweeping savannah punctuated by ancient sandstone plateaux.

You’ll stay in sweltering frontier settlements and hammock camps in the forest; visit the French space station and an old penal colony; take boat rides down jungle-fringed rivers and lap up the atmosphere of colonial towns and brash, bold capital cities. You'll have to be prepared for delays, for things not going quite to plan, but you'll be rewarded by an unforgettable trip.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

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

Day 1

Overnight in Caracas.

Day 2

Walking tour of old Caracas. Fly to Puerto Ordaz.

Days 3-4

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

Day 5

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

Day 6

Drive to the Guyana border and continue to Atta.

Days 7-8

Drive to Annai and the Rockview Lodge.

Day 9

By light aircraft to Georgetown.

Days 10-11

Optional flight over Kaieteur Falls; explore Georgetown.

Day 12

By bus and ferry to Paramaribo, Suriname.

Days 13-14

Excursion of Suriname and Crommewijne river.

Day 15

Bus and boat to Kourou, in French Guiana.

Day 16

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

Day 17

Excursion to the Centre Spatial; drive to Cayenne.

Day 18

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Thursday.

Detailed itinerary

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Walk way, Iwokrama

Day 9

By light aircraft to Georgetown.
 

Fly north to the capital 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.

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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.

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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.

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Days 13-14

Excursion of Suriname and Crommewijne river.
 

There is 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Space station

Day 18

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Thursday.

Essential information

Clothing and equipment

Clothing should be casual and comfortable - plenty of light cotton (or light-weight wicking fabric which controls perspiration and dries quickly). Light colours are beneficial against sun and bugs. Dark clothes attract mosquitoes.

For wildlife viewing, the best colours to wear are pastel tones, like brown, beige and green, which don't highlight your silhouette in the landscape and camouflage you in foliage. Avoid strong colours like yellow, bright blue and red.

Shorts and short-sleeve shirts should be avoided in the evenings, especially away from cities. Air-conditioning in rooms and restaurants is the closest you’ll get to being cold, so a light sweater or "layers" will suffice. You may want to keep your rain jacket to hand on the canoe trip to the Angel Falls: it won’t keep you dry, but it will cut down the wind chill.

Here is a handy list:

Clothing
- Short and long-sleeved shirts / T-shirts

- Lightweight trousers; shorts

- Swim suit and towel

- Light sweater

- Sun hat / cap

- 1 pair of comfortable outdoor shoes or trainers. Also highly recommended is a pair of sturdy/waterproof sandals which come in extremly handy on a trip of this nature.

- A lightweight raincoat or waterproof poncho

- A lightweight sleeping bag liner for the night we stay in hammocks

Travel Accessories
- Insect repellent (look for 50% Deet). Boots Repel (Tropical Strength), and Jungle Formula Maximum Plus both contain 50% Deet. NB Deet has a deleterious effect on plastic-based articles.

- Strong sunscreen or sun block

- Sunglasses (suitable for strong UV conditions)

- Small torch /head torch

- Penknife (this cannot be taken as hand luggage during your flights)

- Antihistamine tablets and an epi-pen for those with serious allergies to stings

- Travel detergent to wash your clothes

- Proper lightweight waterproof bags to keep things dry (including camera etc); a tropical downpour is like jumping in at deep end of a swimming pool!

The Specifics

For some excursions to the jungle and/or local flights you may be restricted to a maximum baggage allowance of 10kg (owing to limited space in canoes or light aircraft). In addition, some of the mini buses we use have limited baggage space. A lightweight washing line is useful (you can get some which are intertwined, eliminating the need for pegs) since most clothes will dry overnight in your room, and there’s usually time (and facilities) to have washing done in Annai (Rock View), Georgetown and Paramaribo or Kourou.

A backpack or soft holdall (ideally with some degree of waterproofing) is the most comfortable way to carry your belongings, along with a small day-use backpack (25-40l capacity). Don’t over-pack – no hotels have bellboys, and few have lifts – please ask us for advice if you’re unsure.

Nature of the Trip

It's important from the outset to be aware of the nature of this trip. Some of the accommodation is basic, transport is often ad hoc, and 'day-to-day' itineraries are at best a guide to intentions rather than cast-iron promises of what the future holds. The Guianas are a region we know, but we've run relatively few escorted group trips there, because transport, accommodation and infrastructure present a number of practical difficulties. Things do go wrong; short bus rides will turn into marathons; border crossings and immigration will frustrate. Public transport is intended for local people, who often don't have the rigid timetables we are accustomed to live by in our world. It is hot and some of the days have early starts and long days of travel, so there will be some tiring days, but this is part of the nature of travel in such an undeveloped region.

We've considered making the trip more comfortable, however we feel substituting flights for some of the surface-transport journeys would add considerably to the cost, and risk losing some of what makes any overland trip memorable: that heady mix of excitement and discomfort, serendipity and cock-up. If you don't relish that, don't book this trip.

Transport

4 flights (1hr each); 6 land journeys (longest 6hrs); 2 motorised canoe trips; 2 sea crossings; 3 river ferries.

Accommodation

Simple hotels, basic lodges in Guyana and 1 night in a hammock at the base of Angel Falls. This is a discovery Journey. The standard of accommodation varies - we try to keep the price competitive whilst aiming to provide the basic comforts. In towns, you'll usually have a room with private bathroom, shower and toilet. Even where facilities are more basic, we aim to ensure that they're clean.

There are a very limited number of rooms available in some locations, so passengers paying single supplement may occasionally have to share a room with another passenger of the same gender.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch 5; full board days 3,4,6,7,8.

Included excursions

• Caracas: city tour
• Angel Falls expedition
• Excursions at Rock View and Atta
• Georgetown: city tour
• Paramaribo: river cruise and visit to former plantation
• Kourou Space Station
• Iles du Salut

Summary of nights

18 days, 17 nights: Caracas 1, Ciudad Bolivar/Puerto Ordaz 1, Canaima 1, Angel Falls 1, Boa Vista 1, Atta rainforest 1, Rock View 2, Georgetown 3, Paramaribo 3, Kourou 2, Cayenne 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of Journey Latin America tour leader
• All land and domestic air transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and insurance
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions
• Some domestic flight taxes

Optional excursions

Due to the nature of this tour there are a only a handful of optional excursions available. The main one is the trip to the Kaieteur Falls from Georgetown. The full day excursion costs in the region of $300 USD, but it will depend on the number of passengers wanting to do the trip.

Currency

Take cash in US$ (and for French Guiana, euros) up to the total limit your insurance will allow. Travellers' cheques are difficult to cash. ATMs which give access to cash are available in cities, but it's worth having plastic for both Visa and Mastercard. Tell your bank in advance where and when you're going. We recommend a daily budget of $35-40 USD per person per day to cover the cost of meals and daily expenses including tips and taxes. If you choose to visit Kaieteur Falls you should allow an additional $300 USD.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

International airport tax should be included in the cost of your ticket. There may be a local airport fee within Venezuela of $2 USD.

Climate

The Journey enters 5 countries, but we travel within a fairly thin band between 10 and 5 degrees N of the equator. So it's tropical, i.e. hot and humid throughout. Along the Caribbean coasts of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, October is statistically one of the driest months in the year. Venezuela and Brazil, at least the parts we'll be visiting, are just at the end of their wet seasons. The climate figures for Santa Elena in Venezuela are broadly comparable to those for Boa Vista and the southern part of Guyana ("the Rupununi").

It's worth noting the differences between Caracas airport (near sea level) and Caracas city (800m higher), both in rainfall and temperature; note that Ciudad Bolivar is likely to be very hot. At the other end of the scale, Cayenne's annual rainfall is over 3,600mm, but October's is 74mm - i.e. only 1/60 of the yearly total. But it's all tropical - it can rain anytime, often in short and very heavy bursts.

Vaccinations

Preventative jabs or tablets are recommended for: malaria, typhoid, polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and hepatitis A. Consult your local GP, or health clinic - he or she will probably refer you to the NHS fitfortravel website.

Take precautions against being bitten -by applying insect repellent, especially in the evenings out of cities. A valid yellow fever certificate or official doctor’s note stating why you cannot be vaccinated must be produced when crossing some borders, so it is essential that these are carried. There are several brands of gel or foam which can be used for washing your hands where no clean water is available.

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

Visas

British passport holders (and almost all others) will need a visa for Suriname. This can be issued during the journey when you are in Georgetown, and costs around $35 USD. You'll need spare passport photos.

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa for the other countries, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Clients with a different nationality enquire or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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