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Kaieteur, in the Pakaraimas

If it is one thing you should try to do when you visit Guyana, it is visit the Kaieteur Falls. Deep in the interior of Guyana, amid the Pakaraima Mountains, the reddish-brown clear water of the Potaro River falls a staggering 741 feet straight down. Among the highest of the world’s single drop waterfalls, it is usually considered to be the largest in terms of volume of water. All that water and height, surrounded by the flat topped Pakaraimas and lush tropical rainforest makes for a truly impressive sight.

Given it’s location, the easiest way to get there is by plane, where an hour’s flight on a small plane will land you on an airstrip just a few minutes walk away from the very top of the Falls. Otherwise it’s several days hike through deep forest, and I hear it takes days just to get from the base of the falls to the top. That’s more for a trip when you have some time to kill…and are of an intrepid spirit. Not to mention well equipped and trained. Given that the average trip to Kaieteur (if you can get a tour just to the Falls and not to any other resort stops) can cost US$150-175 (up to US$250 or $275 for the longer trip) it is not perhaps surprising that many Guyanese have not yet visited the Falls (of course, we should all wonder what homeland wonders we have yet to get around to visit in our own countries!). Chartering a plane may work out cheaper for a group and then you’re not locked in to any tourist extras. In either case, prepare for a 8-10 seater plane…some shy away from such forms of travel, but just keep in mind that the views you get are unsurpassed, especially when they circle around the top of the falls. Get ready to hold on to the seat next to the pilot for the best view!

The official website:

Kaieteur National Park occupies a prominent position in the center of the Guyana Shield. The Guiana Highlands or Guiana Shield being roughly 2 billion years old is the earth’s oldest surface. Located in north-eastern South America, it includes a large mountain plateau and rainforest system that is part of a vast watershed between the Amazon and the Orinoco rivers. Specifically, it covers 75,000 square kilometers (30, 000 square miles) and is bounded roughly by the Amazon River to the South and the Japur- Caqueta River to the southwest, the Sierra de Chiribiquete Mountains to the West, the Orinoco and Guaviare Rivers to the northwest and the north, and the Atlantic to the East.One feature of the Shield is its distinctive plateaus or table-top mountains, called tepuis by the Indians.

When you land on the little airstrip, you take a short walk over what used to be the seabed a long long time ago, try to spot the birds and golden frog they say can be seen and then you arrive at the top of the falls. Before you even catch sight of it you can hear it, and see the mist rising above the trees. And then, there you are next to the river just where it starts its 741-foot drop. The better photos are from the viewpoints a little further away, but you can’t stop snapping away in awe at being this close to this natural wonder. And then you turn to see where the water goes and there are the mountains. I love the image of those repeating plateaus as you stand next to the falls and look toward where the river snakes through those mountains. When you browse the photos you may see as many different shots of the tepui as of the actual falls! The volume of the falls also means lots of water in the air, sometimes in the form of annoying mist blocking clear shots :-) and very often rainbows everywhere. The first time I went, I felt I was in some sort of magical rainbow world. Lovely 😀 Oh, and in case you worry about the description of the water as reddish-brown, never fear, it’s not dirt – the water is actually clear, but coloured by minerals in the soil the river passes through up there.

Repeating Lines

Kaieteur is a great experience, because for such a large waterfall, you can walk right to the edge of the falls, sit on the ledges, and look down into the valley. There are no ropes or barriers at any of the viewpoints, and until recently they haven’t had any reason to rethink that. For the first time anyone can remember, there was an incident last November where a depressed young girl jumped to her death at the falls. And just before that, the tour guides saw this dog sitting by the side of the river, staying there for days. Those who knew he belonged to a miner, figured out the miner had somehow gone over the edge at that spot and the dog remained. They located the boat and the miner, but up to a month ago, the dog was still there, part of the Kaieteur landscape and history now.

Kaieteur Falls from the plane Water Sprays Wide View of the Falls

Kaieteur Falls

I have been twice to the falls now – in January 2006 and then a few weeks ago in late December (2009). Both times the falls were fairly full, although I believe January 2006 was not as dry as it is now, and so the photo on the left (coolpix E7900) shows a somewhat larger volume. As it has been dry recently, the falls would have dwindled significantly, so I was fortunate in my timing both times. So visit Guyana when it has been raining – not enough to flood Georgetown, but enough for an impressive falls. The timing might not be as difficult as it sounds…

This last trip I had my D80, and after many months I put back on the 18-135 mm lens because I wanted some wide shots. I’ve been so enamoured of the Sigma 50mm I have been using that I wasn’t sure anymore how the old lens would perform, but fortunately a lovely bright day made for good photos for my first D80 trip to Kaieteur. I went a little overboard in capturing the froth and splash and water droplets, but I love those photos. Where else will I get endless streams and gushes of coloured water splashing onto rocks just so I can try to get sharply defined water shots?

Kaieteur Flickr Set for the whole experience!

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6 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Yep, I cant wait to see the falls on my next trip!

    1. Nicole on February 12th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
  2. Chennette,

    I’ve heard about Kaieteur Falls a lot and have seen many photographs and videos/documentaries. However, you’ve presented many beautiful pictures from different angles. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Tuty on February 13th, 2010 at 1:37 pm
  3. I’ve never been… perhaps one day I will go, the thing is that I am very afraid of heights, particularly those with large water masses and falls, I almost cannot breathe…

    I really like that second photograph in the post.

    3. Cynthia on February 13th, 2010 at 4:26 pm
  4. Nicole – you will love it.

    Hi Tuty – thanks for the comments!

    I know that feeling Cynthia – although I have noticed I have learned to manage a little bit better over the years. the waterfall and water doesn’t bother me so much as the concept of an edge over which one can fall. :-) the good thing about Kaieteur is that there are many views for which you dont have to be too close to the edge at all to see the beauty of it.
    and that view of the mountains that faces the falls, is my favourite. It’s calming!

    4. Chennette on February 13th, 2010 at 6:12 pm
  5. Good post. I had the good fortune of visiting this magnificent falls a few years ago on a visit to Guyana. The tank bromeliad that grows in that area is one of the largest found anywhere.

    7. lawrence cully on March 1st, 2010 at 6:43 pm
  6. Those pictures are really beautiful. Makes me want to visit. I’ve never heard about the kaieteur falls before though.

    8. Amatullah on May 2nd, 2010 at 8:12 pm

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Global Voices Online » Guyana: Visiting Kaieteur on February 17, 2010 at 11:06 am

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  2. By Guyana: Visiting Kaieteur on February 17, 2010 at 11:11 am

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  3. […] or less consistently for the past 5 years. There are things to explore here – Georgetown, Kaieteur Falls, the massive rivers like the Essequibo and the islands in the rivers. And their wildlife is […]

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