I am still not sure if I like Georgetown or not. It is a city that is very rough around the edges but it does have charm. During my three month stay in Guyana, I was able to visit Georgetown three times, beginning, middle, and end of the trip. Despite three separate occasions of being there, I really can’t decide. And looking back at the photos doesn’t help. But the sheer amount of mélange within in this city makes it intriguing enough that even though I don’t know if I liked the place, it interests me enough to still talk about it!
Georgetown is the capital city of Guyana and is also the largest city of Guyana. It has a population of about 750,000 people. Georgetown got its start in the 18th century, first created by the Dutch and then further developed by the French. Then it went back to Dutch hands. Then English hands, which is when it got its current name in 1812. I’ll give you one guess on who the city is named after.
Georgetown probably wouldn’t exist today if it hadn’t been founded by the Dutch. This is because the city is located on flat coastal plains, and is either surrounded by a flat cane fields, marshy swamps, or savannah lands. To make the location even more interesting, the elevation of this area is one metre below the high-tide level. To keep the city from eternally drowning, three things have been developed to keep it safe: canals with kokers that help drain the city of any excess water, a seawall along the ocean, and random canals/ditches within the city itself. So yes, packing mosquito spray is probably a good idea.
Georgetown architecture is a fun mix of cultures. Historically, it changed hands between the Dutch, the French, and the English – and this is reflected in street/neighbourhood names (ie. Land of Caanan, Vreed en Hoop, Le Repentir). It is also reflected in the architecture and city planning: laid out in a north-south/east-west grid, canals with kokers, wide boulevards, and numerous wooden colonial buildings.
Being in a post-colonial world means that other styles has since sprung up within Georgetown as well. Mosques and mandirs are plentiful as are the less-than graceful concrete buildings commonly found in tropical countries. There are outdoor markets, including the Stabroek Market built in 1792 with a pretty tall cast-iron clock tower almost choked by electrical/telephone wires. There are a billion and one Chinese restaurants. There is the rather randomly located Umana Yana, a cone-shaped thatched building built by the Wai-Wai (an Amerindian group) using traditional methods. And surprisingly enough, Georgetown has one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings: St. George’s Cathedral. Its spire reaches over 132 feet tall! Just outside the city, there is also the Demerara Harbour Bridge. It is a 6,074-foot long floating bridge making it one of the longest floating bridges in the world.
Georgetown is an interesting city – one minute it can feel rough and messy, but then you turn a corner and see restored buildings and tree-lined walkways. Either way, despite the colonial buildings, canals, and giant drooping leafy trees, this is not a quaint or romantic city. The people may stare at you totally stone-faced or they may be friendly and curious about you. Georgetown does get several hundred thousand visitors a year but most of them are there to visit family, not random tourists. So like it or not, as a random tourist, you’ll stand out!
Tip I: Take an early evening stroll along the seawall – many areas along it gets pretty lively once the sun starts to set. Lots of food for sale, families and limin’ (hanging out), and football (soccer) being played on the beach.
Tip II: If you’re feeling the need for an expat community, check out Oasis Café. Good North American style food (you pay expat prices, though) and computer/internet access.