Books about Guyana are fairly thin on the ground, but there are a couple of classics that make for great companions on any journey. Tracing the country's history with a modern-day voyage, The Wild Coast by John Gimlette is a must-read for any visitor to the region. It also includes shorter chapters on Suriname and French Guiana. Ninety-Two Days by Evelyn Waugh describes a rugged trip from Georgetown across the Rupununi Savanna. Journey to Nowhere: A New World Tragedy by Shiva Naipaul is a moving account of the Jonestown tragedy.
Guyana's culture is a reflection of its colonialist plantation past. African slaves lived under severe conditions that destroyed much – but not all – of their culture. East Indian laborers, while still suffering horrendous treatment, managed to keep much of their heritage intact. The main groups of Amerindians, who reside in scattered interior settlements – Arawak, Carib, Makushi and Wapishana – still live significantly off the land. Ethnic discord comes out during election times and there's increasing distrust of Brazilians, who are perceived to want access to Guyana's natural resources. According to the country's last census, 40% of the population is Indo-Guyanese, 29% Afro-Guyanese, 20% mixed heritage, 10.5% Amerindian and 0.5% have other heritage.
Some 500,000 Guyanese live abroad, mostly in Canada, the UK, USA, and Trinidad and Tobago. Some Guyanese are concerned, and probably justifiably so, about 'brain drain,' as the country loses skilled workers overseas.
Most Afro-Guyanese are Christian, usually Anglican, but a handful are Muslim. The Indo-Guyanese population is mostly Hindu, with a sizable Muslim minority, but Hindu-Muslim friction is uncommon. Since independence, efforts have been made to recognize all relevant religions in national holidays.
Guyana is awash with rivers, including its three principal waterways (listed east to west): the Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo. The narrow strip of coastal lowland (with almost no sandy beaches) is 460km long and comprises 4% of the total land area, but is home to 90% of the population. The Dutch, using a system of drainage canals and seawalls, reclaimed much of the marshy coastal land from the Atlantic and made it available for agriculture.
Tropical rainforest covers most of the interior, though southwestern Guyana features extensive savannas between the Rupununi River and the Brazilian border.
Guyana is home to over 2000 animal species and the likelihood of seeing some of the bigger and more famous ones – such as the black caiman, giant anteater, howler monkey, peccary, capybara, giant river otter and tapir – are high. You'll probably see a slew of monkeys and, if you're lucky, spot a jaguar or harpy eagle.