Are you looking for an adventure of a lifetime? Then overlanding the Guianas is exactly what you are looking for.
I’ve always been curious to know what lies in those three countries (well, two countries and one overseas territory) in the Guianas. Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana seems like such a mystery to me and many people. Most people I’ve met who travelled through South America never bothered to visit these three “countries”. Quite honestly, I don’t blame them. The countries in the Guianas are really out of the way and they’re not famous for any particular sights.
So you might ask yourself… what is the attraction or the lure to go to the Guianas? My answer to you would be: the overland journey through all three “countries” is the main attraction.
In this article, you will learn how to travel by land through all three “countries” starting from Brazil (because that’s where I started from) going to Guyana. You can of course go the other direction and start at French Guiana first. There’s no right and wrong way to achieve this overland trip. Simply do what works best for you and have the adventure of the lifetime!
Segments when overlanding the Guianas:
Boa Vista to Bonfim, Brazil and Lethem, Guyana
If you’re starting your trip from Boa Vista, Brazil, then the first thing you need to do is arrange a shared taxi ride from your accommodation. There are many shared taxis that will pick you up from your accommodation and take you all the way to the Brazilian town of Bonfim which borders Guyana.
Once you reach Bonfim, you’re going to need to get an exit stamp at the Brazilian side before heading over to the Guyanese town of Lethem. There, you need to get an entry stamp into the country before you can proceed to the next step. One side note: I found the Guyanese immigration to be very friendly here and one of the more pleasant border crossing experience during my one year trip around the world.
Lethem to Georgetown, Guyana
As soon as you clear immigration in Guyana, you’re going to need to enter town. Many taxi drivers here might try and scam you. There are two ways you can get around the scams:
- The first method is to go back to immigration and ask the officers if the taxi drivers outside are legitimate. You’ll be surprised how friendly the immigration officers are. They actually went out of the office and took a look for me and confirmed which taxi drivers are honest.
- The second method is to get lucky and find a van driver that is going to take you to Georgetown waiting outside the immigration office. However, read the next part of this tutorial before boarding any vans.
I was extremely unlucky when I booked a mini-van that would take me to Georgetown. Our driver was caught smuggling alcohol in the middle of the jungle causing all of the passengers to get stranded at 2am with no place to sleep and no hope of getting out. You can read more about it here.
I made the mistake of getting in a van that promised a faster arrival time at Georgetown. Don’t fall for this promise because the driver might be doing something sketchy. Instead, book a van ride from a trusted company such as P&A Bus Service and Guest House. My friends who I met while hiking Mount Roraima went with that company and they had little issues reaching Georgetown.
The company is owned by an Indian-Canadian couple and their guest house can also arrange your ride to Paramaribo. Highly recommended.
Anyways, regardless of which company you go with, they all charge the same price which is 10,000 Guyanese dollars. They also let you pay in Brazilian Reals which is roughly 158 Reals.
Before boarding, many of them will say the ride will take about 13-14 hours to complete but realistically, it’s more like 24 hours.
The ride will is very bumpy and uncomfortable because the driving path is not paved. Don’t expect to get any sleep at all. The vans also don’t have any aircon and you’ll definitely be sweating from the boiling hot temperature.
There’s a section of the van ride where you have to cross the river. If you book through P&A, you’ll need to sleep overnight in a hammock near the ferry terminal. I would advise having mosquito repellent and taking anti-malaria medication because this area is a malaria zone.
If you go with the company I went with, then they will cross on the same day without needing to sleep overnight. However, this promise is not to be trusted as my group still got stranded in the middle of the jungle thanks to our smuggling driver.
After roughly 24 hours of very uncomfortable mini-van ride, you have reached your destination: Georgetown, Guyana.
Georgetown to Molsen Creek, Guyana
The next part of your adventure is to cross from Guyana to Suriname. Before leaving Georgetown, make sure you visit the Suriname embassy first and get yourself a tourist card (valid for some countries and costs $35 USD) or tourist visa. The processing time for both the tourist card takes about 24 hours. Sometimes, if you go very early, they can process it same day but it depends on how many people is applying for the tourist card/visa at the time of your visit.
One strange rule they have is they will not serve you if you are wearing shorts or flip flops. Make sure to wear pants and shoes before applying for your tourist card or visa. (On a weird side note: they let one guy apply with flip flops on cause they liked his flip flops).
A quick tip before you board any taxis: prices are typically 500 Guyanese dollars per one way. If you take long, then they might charge you 1000 Guyanese dollars.
Outside the Suriname embassy
Once you’ve acquired your tourist card or visa, it’s time to book your ride to Suriname. I personally booked my van ride through P&A Bus and Guest House since I stayed in their accommodation over night (the cheapest accommodation available in Georgetown). The fare costed me 8000 Guyanese dollars and it includes accommodation pickup and van transfer once you’re in Suriname. Once you’re at Suriname, they’ll drive you all the way to Paramaribo and drop you off at your accommodation.
One bad thing about these van rides is that they are boiling hot. Not only is it super hot and stuffy, they also refuse to open any windows. Be prepared to survive through at least 12 hours of uncomfortable ride.
It was me and 18 Africans in this van
Once your van reaches Moleson Creek, I highly recommend you change all your leftover Guyanese dollars to Suriname dollars as the exchange rate is better on this side. From here, you will need to clear immigration before boarding the ferry that will take you across the river and into Suriname.
Moleson Creek to Paramaribo, Suriname
After taking the ferry across and clearing immigration, simply wave the “ticket” that the van driver gives you at the Guyana side. The driver working on the Suriname side will spot you and take you to the van. From there, it’s another long drive to reach Paramaribo, Suriname.
After enduring another long ride inside a burning hot van, you’ve reached Paramaribo! In my opinion, this city is the most beautiful in all of the three Guianas and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site! Go around and take pictures of the colonial buildings before heading off to French Guiana.
Paramaribo to Albina, Suriname
The next part of the journey will take you from Paramaribo to Albina, Suriname (the town bordering French Guiana). Before you exit the van from your trip from the Guyana/Suriname border to Paramaribo, make sure to ask your driver for the contact info of someone that services this route.
I paid 80 Suriname dollars for the shared ride that took me from Paramaribo to Albina. The price included accommodation pickup. Thankfully, this ride had aircon. The negative part is that we had to wait 3 hours before the driver found enough people in Paramaribo that needed a ride to Albina before we departed and arrived at the border.
Albina to Cayenne, French Guiana
Upon arriving at Albina, we cleared immigration in the Suriname side. Then, we headed for the docks and boarded a boat that is crossing the river. The cost of the boat ride crossing the river is 20 Suriname dollars per person or 5 Euros.
Once you reach the French Guiana side, you can arrange to take a shared taxi into town. The cost of the shared taxi is typically 40 Euros. Your shared taxi driver will also drop you off the French Guiana immigration to get your entry stamp before driving towards Cayenne.
After a lengthy drive, you will reach the capital city of French Guiana: Cayenne.
Options to exiting the Guianas (from French Guiana):
Flying out of French Guiana
After you’ve finished exploring French Guiana and you’re ready to move on, your first option of exiting the territory is by flying. I personally took this route because it seemed to me that the price of overlanding out to Brazil is the same as flying. It didn’t make sense to me to suffer more van rides if I’m not even going to save any money.
Most flight out of French Guiana will take you to either France or Belem, Brazil. I took a flight to Brazil and was happy with that decision.
Overlanding to Brazil
If you decide to overland your way out of French Guiana, then you will first need to take a taxi to reach the town of St. Georges which borders Brazil. From there, you will need to cross the river by boat to reach the Brazilian town of Oiapoque. (boat rides are reported to cost 5 Euros)
Afterwards, you will need to board a shared van that will take you all the way to Macapa, Brazil where your journey through the Guianas will end.
Tips to save money on food
Travelling through the Guianas is quite expensive and buying food is definitely not cheap. However, there are plenty of Chinese restaurants in all three “countries” in the Guianas that serve very delicious food for a cheap price. As a matter of fact, some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten came from this region!
Tips to save money on accommodation
Accommodations in the Guianas is very expensive. This is especially true in French Guiana where you won’t find a hotel room cheaper than $80 USD.
However, here are some tips to save money on accommodation:
- Guyana and Suriname has plenty of guest houses where you can get rooms for $25-$40 USD per night
- Recently, there are Air Bnbs available in French Guiana costing $30-$40 USD a night. Use this link to get $50 CAD off your next Airbnb stay.
If you live in Canada, USA, UK, and Australia, you can also implement travel hacking techniques and get nearly free night stays in the three countries.
Here is what you can do:
- Georgetown, Guyana has a Marriott property and for 15,000 points, you can get a free night stay. If you’re Canadian, you can find the link here where you can earn 50,000 Marriott hotel points through a special credit card signup bonus. If you’re American, then feel free to google online the Marriott Hotel VISA card. For those living in the UK or Australia, go ahead and get the Starwood American express card and transfer your points to Marriott so you can redeem your points.
- Paramaribo, Suriname also has a Marriott property and for 7,500 points, you can get a free night stay. Follow the instructions above based on which of the four countries you’re from. I personally used this strategy for Paramaribo and got myself two free nights at the Courtyard Paramaribo Marriott!
- Cayenne, French, Guiana doesn’t have a Marriott and the only hotel chain they have is Best Western. You can redeem a free night for 24,000 Best Western points. I don’t know if the UK or Australia can get these points. If you’re American, do a google search and there should be a credit card that can give you these points as a welcome bonus. For Canadians, use this link to get 40,000 points when you signup for the credit card. I personally used this strategy when I stayed in Cayenne because paying $80 USD for accommodation is too much.
This trip is definitely once in a lifetime. It was quite unpleasant but makes for good stories. Each “country” in the Guianas represents different European countries. Guyana is a former British colony and people spoke English here. Suriname is a former Dutch colony and people spoke Dutch or English here. French Guiana is a French territory and French is their primary language.
Being in Guyana felt like I was in Africa because the vast majority of the population are black people along with a strong Indian presence as well. Suriname is a weird hybrid of Africa and Asia because of the sheer amount of Chinese stores all over the place. The country of Suriname also has lots of Indonesians and Indian people making it the most diverse of the three “countries”. Finally, French Guiana is a good mix of Africans and French people and probably has the most developed infrastructure of the three countries.
I don’t regret visiting these three places but it’s definitely once in a life time. Should you attempt to overland these three places, get ready for one of the biggest adventure of your life!