Georgetown is the capital of Guyana, as well as the largest city and the country’s urban, cultural, commercial, and administrative heart.
Georgetown is famed for its unique British colonial architectural style, with its iconic wooden stave churches as testaments to this heritage. The city’s botanical gardens are renowned, adding to its charm. Further, the lively markets of Georgetown, abundant with local produce, handcrafted items, and diverse food options, offer a rich, sensory experience.
Where is Georgetown?
Georgetown is located on the northeast coast of South America, facing the Atlantic Ocean, near the mouth of the Demerara River. Specifically, it is situated in the Demerara-Mahaica region, one of Guyana‘s ten regions. Despite its coastal location, Georgetown is slightly below sea level, necessitating a system of sea walls to prevent flooding.
History of Georgetown
Georgetown, originally called Stabroek, was founded by the Dutch in 1782. It began as a small settlement, and over time, it became the capital of the Dutch colony of Demerara. The Dutch laid out the street grid that still characterizes much of the city and built several key buildings and fortifications.
In 1812, the British took over the Dutch colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice and renamed Stabroek to Georgetown after King George III. Georgetown then became the capital of the new colony, British Guiana. The British expanded the city and created much of the colonial architecture that gives Georgetown its unique character today.
One of the most significant events in Georgetown’s history was the great fire of 1945, which destroyed much of the city. However, the city was rebuilt, with many damaged wooden colonial buildings replaced with more modern and fire-resistant structures.
Georgetown remained the capital when British Guiana gained independence in 1966 and became the cooperative Republic of Guyana. Despite numerous political and economic challenges since independence, Georgetown has continued growing and is the country’s largest urban area and cultural, administrative, and financial center.
The historical periods that have shaped Georgetown, and indeed Guyana, include:
- The periods of Dutch and British colonial rule
- The struggle for independence
- The post-independence era
Each period has left its mark on the city, influencing its architecture, culture, and role in the country.
Features of Georgetown
Georgetown is a city teeming with life and presents a unique blend of colonial heritage, rich biodiversity, vibrant markets, and a thriving cultural scene.
Geography and Climate
Georgetown is situated on the Atlantic coast of Guyana. The city is largely flat and lies a little below sea level, necessitating a series of canals and sea walls for drainage and flood control. The city’s location on the northeastern coast of South America gives it a unique blend of coastal and rainforest characteristics.
Georgetown experiences a tropical rainforest climate with no true dry season. The city has two rainy seasons, the first from May to mid-August and the second from mid-November to mid-January. Despite the significant rainfall, temperatures are consistently high throughout the year, generally hovering between 24 and 31 degrees Celsius (75-88 degrees Fahrenheit).
Georgetown’s population is about 200,000, making it the largest city in Guyana. Georgetown is a multicultural city home to people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
The population is mainly comprised of Indo-Guyanese (descendants of indentured laborers from India) and Afro-Guyanese (descendants of enslaved Africans), but also includes significant numbers of people of mixed race, Amerindian, Chinese, and Portuguese descent. English is the official language, but Guyanese Creole is also widely spoken.
Georgetown serves as the economic hub of Guyana. The city’s port plays a crucial role in the country’s economy, handling most of Guyana’s trade. Key industries in and around Georgetown include sugar, rice, other agricultural products, and mining products like gold, diamond, and bauxite.
Georgetown is also an important service center, with many of the country’s businesses and government services headquartered there. Tourism is another important industry, with tourists drawn to the city’s colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and cultural institutions.
Things to Do and Places to See in Georgetown
1. Visit St. George’s Cathedral
The St. George’s Cathedral is an architectural marvel renowned as one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world. Its unique Gothic design sets it apart and is a testament to Georgetown’s British colonial history. The cathedral was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield and was completed in 1892.
It was consecrated on St. George’s Day, hence the name. The cathedral is adorned with beautiful stained glass windows, exquisite wooden benches, and a pulpit made from local greenheart wood. You can explore the historical and architectural exhibits inside and climb the tower for a spectacular view of Georgetown.
2. Explore the Stabroek Market
Stabroek Market, located in the heart of Georgetown, is a hub of activity and the city’s largest market. The Stabroek Market is housed in an iron-and-steel structure dating back to the 19th century, and it covers several city blocks. Vendors sell everything from fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood to clothing, jewelry, and handicrafts.
The energy in the market is infectious, and it offers an authentic taste of local life in Georgetown. It’s an excellent place to buy local spices, sample local cuisine, or enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
3. Enjoy the Botanical Gardens and Zoo
The Georgetown Botanical Gardens and Zoo are a green oasis within the bustling city. Spread across 185 acres, the gardens house an array of tropical flora and a beautiful collection of palm trees. The gardens are also home to a large population of Guyana’s national bird, the Canje Pheasant.
Adjacent to the gardens, the Georgetown Zoo showcases the country’s diverse wildlife, including jaguars, manatees, and various species of monkeys and birds. It’s a beautiful place for families and anyone interested in Guyana’s biodiversity.
4. Stroll along the Sea Wall
The Georgetown sea wall, stretching several miles along the city’s coastline, offers beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean. The wall was built to protect the town from flooding, and it has become a popular recreational spot for locals and tourists.
It’s a perfect place for a stroll, especially at sunset when the ocean takes on a golden hue. The sea wall is also a popular gathering spot during holidays and festivals, becoming a venue for music, dance, and food stalls.
5. Guyana National Museum
The Guyana National Museum is a treasure trove of the country’s natural history and cultural heritage. The museum’s collections include indigenous artifacts, colonial-era items, and natural history specimens. Exhibits cover everything from Guyana’s geology and biodiversity to its indigenous cultures and colonial history.
The museum, founded in 1868, is housed in a colonial-style building committed to educating visitors about Guyana’s rich and diverse history and environment.
6. Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology
This museum is dedicated to studying and displaying Guyana’s Amerindian heritage. As the oldest social history museum in the English-speaking Caribbean, it contains a comprehensive collection of artifacts, including pottery, rock carvings, and tools, showcasing the rich history and culture of Guyana’s nine indigenous tribes.
The museum also conducts anthropological research and educational programs, making it an essential center for studying Amerindian cultures.
7. Promenade Gardens
These beautifully maintained gardens are a peaceful retreat in Georgetown. The Victorian-style gardens, full of vibrant flowers and shaded by sprawling trees, are perfect for a leisurely walk or a picnic.
At the center of the gardens is a charming bandstand that often hosts concerts and cultural events. The Promenade Gardens are also a popular venue for weddings and photo shoots due to their scenic beauty.
8. Essequibo River Ride
The Essequibo River, the longest river in Guyana, is a prominent geographical feature offering diverse experiences. The river’s vast expanse and numerous islands are home to unique wildlife, making it a paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers.
You can explore the historic Dutch forts, visit the Kyk-Over-Al ruins, or even kayak along its waters for a more adventurous experience. Numerous waterfalls along the river, many tucked away within the rainforest, provide breathtaking scenery. A trip on the Essequibo River offers a unique opportunity to explore the untouched beauty of Guyana’s interior.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Georgetown safe for tourists?
While Georgetown possesses its unique charm, it’s important to acknowledge that, like any city, certain safety precautions should be taken, particularly by tourists. It is advisable to refrain from wandering alone after dark and to remain within the confines of your lodging during the late hours. Areas of the city that may require extra vigilance include:
• South of Brickdam Street
• East Ruimveldt
• Tiger Bay
Moreover, venturing beyond the city limits of Georgetown can present additional safety risks due to violent crimes. In particular, avoiding late-night or pre-dawn trips to and from the Cheddi Jagan international airport is recommended. Reports suggest that erratic driving and incidents of violent theft are more common during these hours.
Instances have been reported where gangs follow cars departing from the airport and attack once they reach their destination. Therefore, it’s advisable to plan your travel schedule accordingly to ensure your safety.
What are the traditional foods in Georgetown?
Georgetown’s Traditional foods reflect its cultural diversity, with influences from African, Indian, Indigenous, and Creole cuisines. Typical dishes include:
• Pepperpot: a stew made with meat (usually beef)
• Cassareep: (a special sauce made from cassava root)
• Hot peppers; and cook-up rice: a one-pot dish with rice, black-eyed peas, and various meats.
What souvenirs can I bring home from Georgetown?
Local crafts can make unique souvenirs, such as handwoven baskets, wooden carvings, and jewelry from local materials like seeds and shells. Also, consider locally produced items like Demerara sugar, Guyanese rum, or local spices.
What is the best time to visit Georgetown?
The best time to visit Georgetown is in the drier months, outside the rainy seasons. This would typically be from January to early March and late August to mid-November. However, the weather can vary.
What is the currency in Georgetown?
The currency used in Georgetown, and all of Guyana, is the Guyanese dollar.
How can I get around Georgetown?
Georgetown is relatively small and can be explored on foot or by bicycle. Taxis and minibusses are also standard modes of transport within the city.
Georgetown offers a unique blend of South American and Caribbean charm and a touch of British colonial influence. Its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural surroundings make it a fascinating destination for travelers looking for off-the-beaten-track experiences.
From its distinctive architecture and bustling markets to its beautiful gardens and the breathtaking natural beauty surrounding the city, Georgetown holds plenty of rewards for those willing to explore.