What makes Guyana a unique country to travel to?
Guyana is a developing nation on the north coast of South America. Tourist facilities are generally not developed, except for a few hotels in the capital city of Georgetown and a limited number of eco-resorts. The vast majority of Guyanese nationals live along the coast, leaving the interior largely unpopulated and undeveloped. Travel in the interior of Guyana can be difficult; many interior regions can only be reached by plane or boat, and the limited roads are often impassable in the rainy seasons.
Serious crime, including murder and armed robbery, continues to be a major problem. The murder rate in Guyana is three times higher than the murder rate in the United States.
Armed robberies continue to occur intermittently, especially in major business and shopping districts. Hotel room strong-arm break-ins also occur; you should use caution when opening your hotel room doors and should safeguard any valuables left in hotel rooms. Criminals may act brazenly, and police officers themselves have been the victims of assaults and shootings. When traveling in a vehicle you should keep the doors locked and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Pick pocketing, purse snatching, assault, and robbery can occur in all areas of Georgetown. The sea wall, from east of the Pegasus Hotel extending to Sheriff Street and adjacent areas, has been the site of several crimes; you should avoid these areas after dark. As cars parked in Georgetown have been subject to theft, you are urged to avoid leaving any valuables in vehicles left unattended and are encouraged to lock your vehicles at all times (when in or out of the vehicle). The National Park in Georgetown and the seawall from Sheriff Road to UG Road are frequented by joggers, dog walkers, and families and are generally considered safe during daylight hours but are not recommended at all after dusk.
Petty crimes also occur in the general area of Stabroek Market and to a lesser extent in the area behind Bourda Market. Care should be taken to safeguard personal property when shopping in these markets. The area around St. George's cathedral is known for having pickpockets and should be avoided after dark. Guyana's commercial downtown between Main Street and Water Street from Lamaha Road to Stabroek Market, including "Tiger Bay," is largely deserted outside of business hours and should be avoided after dark. U.S. passports and permanent residency cards are prized by thieves, as they may be used for smuggling and identity theft.
You should avoid walking around Georgetown alone, even in the main areas and especially after dark. Although bandits have been known to attack taxis, they are generally safe and remain the safest means of getting around town and to and from the airport. Only use taxis that are connected to major hotels or are painted yellow. All yellow taxies are registered with the Government of Guyana's licensing office. Exercise constant vigilance, and prior to entering any taxi, make note of the vehicle's license plate. This can be used to track down the driver in the event of being overcharged or if luggage is lost. Do not dress ostentatiously, as there have also been reports of gold chains or other jewelry being snatched off of pedestrians.
Local law-enforcement authorities are generally cooperative but lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Nevertheless, if you are a victim of crime you are encouraged to contact the police as well as the American Citizens Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Guyana, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In Guyana you may be taken in for questioning if you don't have your passport with you. It is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings, especially government buildings. Repercussions for driving under the influence result in a fine for the initial offense, a suspension of your license for the second offence and a jail term for succeeding offenses. It's very important to know what's legal and what's not where you are going.
Criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
If you break local laws in Guyana, your U.S. passport won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution. Persons violating Guyanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guyana are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Incarceration time prior to conviction and sentencing does not count toward time served.
If you are arrested in Guyana, Guyanese authorities are required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Notification to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request that police or prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care in Guyana does not meet U.S. standards. Care is available for minor medical conditions, although quality is very inconsistent. Emergency care and hospitalization for major medical illnesses or surgery are very limited, due to a lack of appropriately trained specialists, below standard in-hospital care, and poor sanitation. There are very few ambulances in Guyana. Ambulance service is limited to transportation without any medical care and is frequently not available for emergencies. An MRI (linked to the United States for interpretation) has been installed and is operational, but results may take up to 4 days. It is located on the compound of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, immediately behind the Embassy on Parade Street.
In the event of an emergency, the number for an ambulance is 913, but this number is not always operational and an ambulance may not be available. You are advised to bring prescription medicine sufficient for your length of stay and should be aware that Guyana's humid climate may affect some medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic rather than name-brand) are available.
Special attention should be paid to HIV/AIDS in Guyana. In addition to elevated infection rates among high-risk populations, such as commercial sex workers, and mobile populations such as miners or loggers, data from the World Health Organization estimate that Guyana has among the highest prevalence rates in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Insect borne illnesses are common and include malaria, dengue, Leishmaniasis, and Chagas disease.
Safety and Security
Demonstrations and protests are rare in Georgetown. Past demonstrations have not been directed at U.S. citizens, and violence against U.S. citizens in general is not common. You should nevertheless remain alert and take prudent personal security measures to deal with the unexpected while in Guyana. It is advisable to avoid areas where crowds have congregated and to maintain a low profile when moving about Georgetown and other Guyanese locales. As with any elections, demonstrations and protests can occur. The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens to be cautious and vigilant, particularly near any sites associated with political activity.
Most major eco-tourist resorts and hotels in Guyana do not have written emergency plans in place, and many of them have safety deficiencies, including a lack of easily identifiable lifeguards, or none at all. Many of these resorts also do not have adequately stocked first aid supplies.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a Guyana, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Guyana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Guyana can be potentially very hazardous. The rate of traffic accident fatalities in Guyana is higher than in the United States. Cars, large commercial vehicles, horse drawn carts, bicyclists, motorcycles, free range livestock, stray dogs, pedestrians, aggressive "mini-buses" and sleeping animals all share narrow, poorly maintained roads. Aggressive, speeding vehicles on the same roads with slow-moving vehicles makes driving in Guyana especially dangerous. Driving at unsafe speeds, reckless driving, tail-gating, quick stops without signaling, passing at intersections, and passing on crowded streets is commonplace. Driving at night poses additional concerns as many roads are not lit, some drivers do not lower high beam lights, livestock sleep on the road and many pedestrians congregate by the roadside. You should exercise caution at all times while driving and avoid driving outside of Georgetown at night when possible.
The Traffic Division of Guyana's National Police Force is responsible for road safety but is ill-trained and ill-equipped. The Department of State recommends that Embassy staff travel in groups of two or more vehicles when traveling outside Georgetown.
You are advised to use caution traveling to and from Cheddi Jagan International Airport, especially at night. The Embassy requires its staff to use official vehicles when traveling this route between dusk and dawn due to a combination of most of the aforementioned characteristics of driving in Guyana.
Penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death are severe, including life imprisonment. If involved in an accident, call 911 for police and 913 for an ambulance. Please note that these numbers are not always operational, police may be slow to respond and an ambulance may not be available.
Drivers use the left side of the road in Guyana. Seatbelt use is required by law and is enforced; failure to use a seatbelt when riding in the front seat of any vehicle can result in a fine. There presently are no laws in Guyana concerning use of child car seats, but the use of age-appropriate seats is strongly recommended for child passengers. Both drivers of and passengers on motorcycles must wear protective helmets that meet certain specifications. Talking on cellular telephones while driving is illegal; however, it is legal if a driver uses a hands free set. Mini-buses (small 12- to 15-passenger vans) ply various routes both within and between cities. Mini-bus drivers have come under severe criticism from the government, press, and private citizens for speeding, aggressive and reckless driving, overloading of vehicles, poor vehicle maintenance and repair, and offensive remarks directed at passengers, but little change in their driving behavior has been noted. Mini-buses have been involved in the majority of fatal vehicular accidents in recent years, and official Americans are barred from using them. You should use taxis for transportation.