Extracted from the 2017 edition of AMH (right).
The Guianas were among the least visited countries by overlanders in South America. Now, further cut off due to Venezuela’s inaccessibility, they’ve slipped off the end of most travellers’ bucket lists.
The information below has been checked and linked but not updated and is not included in the 2020 edition of AMH.
Like Belize, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana – the Guianas – have a Caribbean rather than Latino culture, and like Belize, few riders make the diversion so for those that do there’s a sense of pioneering rather than following the hordes. The route is obvious; in fact from one end to the other there’s no choice. Once there, fly-in tourists may wonder how on earth you got here.
The colonial history of the Guianas saw the rice and sugar plantations helped along with immigration from the former British and Dutch territories in India and Indonesia as well as Hmong refugees from Laos and Maroons, descendants of African slaves. The less accessible and developed inland regions not suited to cattle ranching remains largely pristine, unlogged jungle populated by protected Amerindian tribes.
Bandits used to be the scourge of roads in the Guianas, but like Colombia, the worst seems to have passed [or moved to Venezuela] so now only the usual vigilance is required, especially in the cities. Rain and muddy roads will be much more significant impediments to travel.
In the Guianas and Venezuela, two rainy seasons prevail: one from October to February with a peak from December onwards, the other April to July. However, with August to October even hotter than the rest of the year, the best travel window is February and March.
There’s no road link between [inaccessible] Venezuela and Guyana. Access from the west is via the sealed road from Boa Vista in Brazil, itself some 200km south of the Venezuelan border. Here head northwest 140km to Lethem (hotels) on the Guyanese border at the bridge on the Takutu River. Coming from Guyana, Brazilian immigration can be slow. As you cross the bridge start riding on the left and speaking English. An IDP may not be accepted, so along with insurance, you may need to acquire a local driving permit if you’re here, as well as in Suriname, for more than a month. Note that if coming from Suriname to Guyana at Moleson Creek (see below), you’ll have to get insurance at Corriverton, 12km up the road. Note also that some toll fees can be very expensive: the ferry toll to Mahdia can cost the exorbitant amount of $100 US per bike.
Still known as ’The Trail’, the once-notorious dirt road 460km to Georgetown is OK even during the rainy season, with a few mudholes on the northern section. Improvements on this road were due to begin in 2020. Note that maps of this route are inaccurate – not least Google. Realistically, it’s a two-day ride so take a break halfway at somewhere like the Iwokrama Lodge just before the Essequibo ferry crossing. Full board is pricey but this area is famous for jaguar sightings so you may get lucky.
Guyana’s government runs more red tape than the infant Khrushchev’s birthday presents; as in India, another legacy left by the Brits. In Georgetown ordinary folks are friendly, polite, helpful, though at night a cautious person might not stagger around drunk with pocketfuls of cash. Scotia Bank’s offices have possibly the only international ATM in the land, but be aware that it may not accept EU cards. Food, lodging and services are a notch or two below Suriname, but so are prices.
Suriname has an odd mixture of British and Dutch names befitting its colonial origins. Towns called Glasgow or Manchester are a few kilometres from Europlodder, while Bombay is just down the road and Hindu temples dot the countryside. It’s also one of the few South American countries where you’ll need an e-visa in advance costing from $15 for a 3-day transit visa.
There’s a daily vehicle ferry around 11am from Moleson Creek, some 12km south of Corriverton over the Corentyne River to South Drain. Note that in 2019 this ferry was out of action for several months. If that happens again, with a bike you may be able to organise an informal motorboat. Once over, you’re 40km south of Nieuw Nickerie where you’ll need to buy insurance.
Riding is still on the left and it’s a rough metalled road from Nieuw Nickerie 230km to Paramaribo which is said to be less edgy after dark than Georgetown or Cayenne. Suriname does have a few roads which penetrate the interior, offering glimpses of primeval forest without resorting to river or air travel. Try the Brownsberg Nature Reserve, 130km south of Paramaribo. You may also visit Pokigron Village, at Bokopondo Reservoir, populated by Maroons, descendants of African slaves. Take the ferry at Maroni River if you are coming from French Guyana.
Freighting bikes by air or sea to the Netherlands used to be surprisingly cheap with quotes of €500 for shipping without crating. Track down Surinam Air Cargo at the airport 50km south of town. From Paramaribo the road runs in good shape through uncut jungle some 140km to Albina on the Maroni River to St Laurent with several daily ferry runs to French Guiana.
French Guiana is a former penal colony that’s still an overseas province or département of France, just like Hawaii is a US state. As such, EU nationals can scoot right on in. Others (including presumably, Brits) have to do the usual trampolining between police and customs. Just as in France you ride on the right, the currency is the euro, the food ought to be to your liking, but the prices probably won’t be. French is the dominant language, Portuguese may see you through but Spanish is rarely spoken. Customs will hint that you need insurance (your EU insurance or a Green Card are valid), but coming from Brazil you can’t buy it until Cayenne, 200km away. In Paramaribo, buy from Assuria at a hefty €175 a month minimum (or at the St Georges bridge if coming from Brazil). Often enough, insurance papers aren’t checked until you leave, but at that point they seem to be essential. Fuel is among the most expensive in South America, though at 450km border-to-border, you won’t need much more than a tank’s worth, and some of this expense is reflected in roads which you could happily take home to meet the parents.
With 5.5 million square kilometres of jungle at your disposal in the Amazon basin, most take more notice of Guiana’s man-made attractions, namely the space centre at Kourou, located here not because the labour’s cheap, but because gravity is moderately less strong near the equator and, as with Cape Canaveral in Florida, an aborted launch can fall harmlessly into the Caribbean, not the middle of Lyon. The other attraction is the former prison at Devil’s Island just off the coast, made famous in the book and film, Papillon.
On to northeast Brazil
The good road continues to the border with Brazil at St Georges. The suspension bridge connecting St-Georges to Oiapoque is open every day, from 8am to 6pm, with aduana (customs) ready to issue your TIP.
From here to Macapá is nearly 600km, but 60km out of town the tarmac may well desert you, leaving around 150km of dirt and possibly mud until Calcoene, 290km from Macapá. Fill up before you leave since fuel stations get stretched out in the middle.
Located on the 400km-wide Amazon estuary and strung across the equator, expect to perspire somewhat in Macapá. To get the pontoon ferry to Belém, track down Sanave. by the river in Porto Santana, west of Macapá. Expect a daily barge pulled by a tug and a bill of a couple of hundred dollars for the 36-hour trip. There are other ships sailing to Belem. Both charge 170 Real for a hammock on the deck or 550 for a 2-person cabin, and the trip takes 24 to 28 hours. They operate only some days a week, so check in advance.