The Essequibo River region - a premier tourism destination

Stabroek News
December 8, 2002

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The Essequibo river region, encompassing Regions Three, Seven and Ten, with its rich cultural and natural heritage, is home to various historical sites. Numerous inland beaches and the lush tropical rainforest have made the area one of Guyana's premier tourism destinations.

The Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, as part of activities to mark Tourism Awareness Month in November, organised a familiarisation trip for media personnel to the area.

The trip included stops at Fort Island, Saxacalli, Kykoveral, the Heritage Museum at Met-en-Meer-Zorg and a tour of the Bartica community, which coincided with the Bartica Town Day celebrations.

Fort Island

Fort Island, approximately 16 km from the mouth of the Essequibo River, is rich in Guyanese history. At an initial glance, the island appears deserted, almost forgotten, but on landing, the best preserved Dutch structures in the country loom into view.

The largest of these is Fort Zeelandia, which was designed by Laurens Storm van's Gravesande, who went on to become this country's longest serving Dutch governor. The red brick fort is in the shape of a lozenge, an architectural style common to some of the West African slave-forts of the period. It was completed around 1744.

Intended to serve both the purposes of internal control as well as external defence, the occupants of Zeelandia were never actually required to engage in active hostilities with invaders.

Once upon a time there were houses, a smithy and an inn along the pathway leading from the stelling to the fort, but these have all since disappeared. Not so the Court of Policy building, which served the multiple functions of church, consistory, government meeting house and vendue office. It is the oldest church-building in Guyana still standing.

Life in Fort Island centres around cattle-rearing and farming, and the produce is taken to Parika market. Most of the residents expressed their contentment with life on the island, saying that the place was quiet and crime-free. According to them, several tourists visit Fort Island because of its historical sites. However, they said, if government provided electricity and roads, tourism would get a tremendous boost.


Saxacalli is originally an Arawak community located on the left bank of the Essequibo River some 25 miles from Parika. Its sizeable population nowadays reflects Guyana's multi-ethnicity. Life in Saxacalli is based on small-scale logging, farming and some tourism, mainly from the use of the Saxacalli beach by day-tour operators. According to Pamela Keiser, headteacher of Saxacalli Primary School, the village is in need of electricity and roads if tourism is to improve. This community is reputed to have one of the best inland beaches in Guyana.


Kykoveral, an islet in the mouth of the Mazaruni is the cradle of Dutch occupation in Guyana. Today, all that remains of the early fort which has made it a tourist attraction, is an archway and the foundations of its outer defences. It derives its name from the Dutch for 'Look over all,' because of the commanding view it provided of the river. This view gave the defenders the advantage of spotting an enemy before the attackers could spot them. While it is known that this site was the location of the first permanent settlement of the Dutch in Guyana, no one really knows exactly when the fort whose ruins still survive, was actually built, except that it was some time in the seventeenth century.


Bartica, once known as the 'Gateway to the Interior' is a relatively small town with a population of about 14,000. According to Regional Chairman, Gordon Bradford, Bartica is gearing for tourism in a significant way. He said that some $212 million was sought from government but only $62 million had been received, a sum which he deemed inadequate. He said the community had been receiving financial assistance from a few companies such as Toolsie Persaud Limited and Mazda Mining Company (MMC). At present MMC is repairing the roads, Bradford said.

The trade and tourism expo', Bartica Town Day, was not a great success, and the regional chairman attributed this to the current crime situation, observing that both the pageant and the exhibition had been poorly attended.

According to Bradford, the activities for the Town Day were people- oriented with the aim of bringing together Barticians at home and abroad. In terms of development plans for tourism in Bartica, he pointed out that the water system needed to be upgraded and the environment made tidier.

Toucan Guest House and Museum

The Toucan Guest House & Heritage Museum is located at Met-en-Meer-Zorg, West Coast Demerara. With a rooftop view that spans the Uitvlugt sugar factory, the island of Leguan and the Atlantic ocean, the museum seeks to offer more than just aspects of the country's rich heritage. And the guest house/museum combination is said to be on offer at an affordable price. According to Gary Serrao, he bought the museum 28 years ago because of his love for Guyana and its heritage.

And he emphasises that the museum belongs to Guyanese, and humanity at large. "Though frequented by tourists the museum is in... need of Guyanese patrons, especially Guyanese youths," Serrao remarked.

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