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Guyana's Spectacular Kaieteur Falls


Guyana, whose name means 'Many Waters,' has some of the most spectacular waters as well, especially the long, deep drop of Kaieteur Falls, deep in the interior of the country, in the Amazon rainforest.


Getting there isn't easy—it takes days by road or river—so most visitors come by small plane. That's a mixed blessing: On the one hand, only about ten thousand visitors a year make their way to Kaieteur National Park; on the other hand, it's been spared the spectacle of Disney-like 'attractions' and huge parking lots.


In fact, the closest thing to a parking lot is the dirt airstrip at the visitor center for the national park. We were welcomed there by our young Amerindian guide, refreshed ourselves, and got ready for our hike to the falls.


The walk to the falls passed through mountain meadows with quite a variety of grasses and other plants, especially bromeliads, many of which were not yet as green as the one above; we were ahead of the rainy season, which makes the falls and the land around it even more spectacular.


Some of the flora along the hike show sharp color changes depending on how much moisture is in the air; when it's damp, they hold water as a reserve against drier times.


Other parts of the hike passed through more heavily forested areas, including the opportunity for a Tarzan-like swing on a long hanging vine, as demonstrated by our guide. Several others tried it out... I did not!


More interesting plants along the way, with varied colors, and then... our first close-up view of the falls, and the river below.


Kaieteur is the world's tallest single-drop waterfall, dropping 741 feet from its cliff in the Potaro River to a series of steep cascades at the bottom which add another eighty feet to the total. All told, nearly five times the height of Niagara.


We visited in March, before the rainy season that makes the falls even more spectacular. It's among the most powerful waterfalls, with an average of about 175,000 gallons a second flowing over the edge and down the Potaro to its junction with Guyana's longest river, the Essequibo. Note the dry and rainy season photos below...

P1310387-001Kaieteur Rainy SorenriiseWikiSorrenriiise/Wikimedia

This photo has a story: it was taken in 2019 by a park geologist during a long dry spell; it is one of very few ever taken close-up at the bottom of the falls.

Zach_Shah_Photo_of_bottom_of_Kaieteur_FallsZach Shah/Wikimedia

Wikipedia is careful enough in its description to say that the falls were 'rediscovered' in 1870 by British surveyors, although even that is questionable considering that the local Amerindians had never forgotten or lost track of the falls!

P1310412P1310418P1310416Some of us were a bit more adventurous than others...

There are several local legends about Kaieteur's name. The indigenous people living near the falls told the surveyor, Charles Brown, that the name meant 'old man fall' and was named for an unpleasant old man who was put in a boat by relatives and sent over the edge. Another version, from the Patamona people, is that it was named for Kai, a local chief, who paddled over the falls as a self-sacrifice to save his people.

Both stories reflect the power of the falls and the importance of the river, and the deep green interior, for its residents as well as for visitors.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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