"Kaieteur Falls? Where is that?" "Do you mean Niagara Falls?"
"No it's in Guyana"
"Where?" "Why would you want to go somewhere no one's heard of? Choose Victoria Falls or IguaÇu, why go to a small waterfall?"
All typical conversations I would have with people after mentioning it is on my travel bucketlist. But Kaieteur Falls, probably the most important tourist destination in Guyana, is about five times higher than the more well known Niagara Falls and about two times the height of Victoria Falls.
Now I would have said people's attention usually in the response of "Wow really? And it's not as popular? But why?"
Guyana is a short flight from Trinidad and Tobago, compared to my usual long haul travels, so when my cousin pitched the idea of tagging on a visit to the Falls to her business trip, it was too tempting to say no.
Kaieteur Falls is a single drop waterfall on the Potaro River in central Guyana. Located in the Kaieteur National Park, the total height is 251 metres (822 feet) and its unique combination of great height and large volume makes it one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world.
We booked a tour via Roraima Airways for the day trip to the falls. It was a one hour flight from the Cheddie Jaggan International Airport (CJIA) in Georgetown to the landing strip closest to the falls but one look at the small propeller plane would make anyone want to say a quick prayer (despite knowing the airline had a perfect safety record).
The aerial views were spectacular from the minute we took off but got more dramatic as we went further away from the city; it was one hour spent getting lost absorbing the unique flora, fauna and rivers of the rainforest below and taking numerous photos before it came into full view. There it was...a dream come true, simply breathtaking as it finally became "real." No crowded tourists, no traffic jams to get there, in fact I was so caught up in the natural beauty below that the small airstrip we were to land on came out of nowhere.
On landing we met our Amerindian guide who would escort us for our two hour tour to the falls and back. The walk to the falls from the landing strip is about fifteen minutes and there would be three major photo opportunity points. We were all gamed!
As we set off, I couldn't help being impressed when the guide took us on a pretty well-developed trail; explaining along the way that the Kaieteur National Park supports a micro environment of giant tank bromeliad plants, the largest in the world. The golden frog - tiny yellow coloured 1-2 inch frogs that look more like large insects - is also indigenous to the area. We were lucky to spot one but to be honest, all I had on my mind although I'm such an experienced traveller, was being on the lookout for snakes which I am still extremely scared off and here we were in the middle of the tropical jungle!
The first viewpoint we got too was called the Boy Scout's View. All fear of snakes went away as I was suddenly filled with mixed emotions staring at the falls - excitement, amazement, you name it, I felt it! This spot used to be the endpoint of an initiation hike that young Boy Scouts used to do here as they went from the bottom to the top. Oh my, can you imagine that?
The guide gave a quick brief on how the falls got its name. I was now more fascinated.
According to Amerindian legends of the Patamona tribe, "Kai" was one of the tribe’s chiefs. The falls was named after him when he committed self sacrifice by canoeing himself over the falls. It was believed this would encourage the Great Spirit "Makanaima" to save the tribe from being destroyed by the savage rival tribe the "Carabishis."
As mighty as these falls might be, notice no safety railings? NONE!!
Another uniqueness of Kaieter Falls is that there are absolutely NO railings and no one seems concerned about that little fact. Probably because of its remote location and limited visitors but it is quite ok to get up close and personal with the falls. Thankfully my cousin Kavita was happy to walk out and pose for the photo. Definitely not for the fainthearted!
The gorge on the other side seemed to go on forever, meandering through the lush rainforest on either side. From the edge of a precarious overhanging rock visitors were allowed to look over. It was a surreal looking at the misty base of Kaieteur Falls...too surreal!
But magical at the same time to be able to lean over (only Rakesh dared too) and be at one with nature.
There were no souvenir stands around with sellers rushing to harass you to buy their overpriced goods, no lines of tourists, no pushing and shoving to try and get a good photo of the falls, no traffic jams to get here... it was magical and a breath of fresh air indeed to visit this hidden gem of a natural wonder little explored by the world!