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Guyana: background information
Guyana: history & exploration
Guyana: ecology & wildlife

Guyana: background information

Guyana, officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, is situated on the northern coast of South America, and has an area of approximately 215,000 sq km (Land: 196,850 sq km, Water: 18,150 sq km).

It is the fourth smallest country in South America, after Suriname, French Guiana and Venezuela. The country has borders with Brazil to the South, Venezuela to the West and Suriname to the East. The name Guyana originates from the country’s indigenous Amerindians, translating as ‘the land of many waters’.

The country can be divided into three distinct geographical areas: a narrow, flat and fertile coastal belt alongside the Atlantic; the interior savannahs; and the forested highlands, which contain some of the world’s best preserved tropical forests. The forested highlands account for about 60% of the country’s land mass.

There are four major mountain ranges within Guyana: Kanuku, Pakaraima, Imataka and Acarai. Mount Roraima, on the Venezuelan border, is the highest of the tepuis, or tabletop mountains, in Guyana at 2,763m.

The unusual and unique ecosystem found on the top of Mount Roraima was thought to inspire Arthur Conan Doyle’s, The Lost World. Guyana’s savannah lands, known as the Rupununi, change dramatically through the seasons, from floodlands in the wet season to enduring severe drought in the dry season.

Within Guyana, numerous rivers flow north-wards into the Atlantic Ocean, the most important being the Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice. The Essequibo, the country’s largest river, runs from the Brazilian border to Georgetown on the coast. The most notable waterfall within Guyana is the Kaieteur Falls, on the Potaro River, which falls 226m.

The climate of Guyana is tropical, with high temperatures (between 24˚C and 31˚C), and little seasonal variation. Temperatures are moderated by northeast trade winds along the coast. Guyana has two distinct rainy seasons from May to mid-August and from mid-November to mid-January. Guyana has an average annual rainfall of 235mm.

Guyana has a population of approximately 800,000, comprising of five main ethnic groups: East Indian, African, Amerindian, Chinese and Portuguese.

Guyana is one of the four non-Hispanic speaking nations in the continent, and the only South American country with English as its official language. Most widely spoken is Guyanese English (Creolese by its speakers; also called Guyanese English or simply Guyanese), a creole language spoken by more than 700,000 people in Guyana. Other languages spoken across Guyana include many Amerindian dialects, Caribbean Hindustani and Urdu. Culturally, Guyana can be associated more with the Caribbean than South America.

The capital (and largest) city of Guyana is the port of Georgetown. The city is situated at the mouth of the Demerara River, on the Atlantic Ocean coast. The city lies below sea level and is protected from the Atlantic Ocean and the Demerara River by canals, dykes and kokers.

Guyana is divided into 10 administrative divisions, which are further divided into 27 neighbourhood councils. Ninety percent of the inhabitants live on the narrow strip of coastal lowland, where population density is more than 115 persons per square kilometre (380 per mile²), compared to the average population density across Guyana of 3.4 persons per square kilometre.

Agriculture and mining are the largest contributors to the country’s economy, with sugar, bauxite, rice and gold accounting for approximately 75% of Guyana’s export earnings. Other exports include: timber, shrimps, diamonds, molasses, rum and pharmaceuticals. The 300 year-old, state-controlled sugar company, Guysuco, employs more people than any other industry within the country. The Demerara River in Guyana has given its name to a type of raw cane sugar.

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