Iguazu Falls, Victoria Falls, Niagara Falls, Angel Falls. Some of the big names among waterfalls, and then there's Kaieteur Falls. Although the name is probably not as immediately recognizable, it has to be one of the very best in the world. Waterfalls have always captivated me, drawn to the beauty, grace and sheer power of them, and after having seen a few pictures of this place, I knew I had to one day come to see it for myself. We saved the falls for the end of the trip, which could be a great culmination, but it also worried me because if something went wrong or the weather was bad, we wouldn't have any time left to change around plans to accommodate it. Nevertheless, it was fantastic, mind-blowing and awe-inspiring.
After our arduous hike up to the falls, our fatigue was quickly forgotten as we saw the Potaro River fall 741 feet off a sheer cliff to the valley below. Rainbows came and went in the mist, and we marveled from every angle. The amazing thing is that despite it being one of the more impressive natural sights in the world, its isolation (and the general isolation of Guyana itself) keeps it fairly quiet. Tourism figures put the number of visitors per year at around 5,000-6,000 people. To give you some perspective, Niagara Falls estimates around 22 MILLION visitors per year. Unlike most developed attractions, there are absolutely no fences, no vendors, no crowds. A small lodge and tiny visitor's center at the airstrip are the extent of the development. Oh, and a sign wisely warning you to stay at least 8 feet back from the edge.
Needless to say, I had high expectations for the falls, and they did not disappoint. When we arrived, we saw a few guests waiting for an afternoon flight with the park ranger, but we literally had the entire run of the falls to ourselves. For me, there is something magical about being able to experience such a natural wonder all by yourself. We walked up to the edge of the falls, inching forward with tiny steps as we got closer and closer, watching the water plummet off the sheer drop to the misty pool below. There are a few lookout points and one extremely scary perch. We each inched out on the perch for pictures on the precipice of the platform, hanging like an extended walkway out over the edge of the falls. Looking down, you get a feel for the immense size and power of the falls, though after a minute or so, my better judgement convinced me to slowly back away to a safer viewing point.
I've been lucky enough to visit many of the mighty waterfalls in the world, and Kaieteur definitely has to be near the top of the list. (I'd probably rank it as #2 behind Iguazu.) The power, isolation and natural beauty here are an incredible combination, and it's still hard to believe that something this amazing remains mostly unchanged and unvisited. We spent the afternoon walking around the various viewpoints, taking way too many pictures and marvelling at each and every view.
Late in the afternoon, we headed to the top of the falls again to watch the nightly migration of swifts (birds) that come in at dusk and leave at dawn, passing through/around the waterfall to their nests behind the falls. We had read that it was a magical site, so we took our shoes off and waded into the river just above the falls to rest our feet and watch the action. Clouds shrouded the view, and a light rain started to fall as the darkness began to set in. We saw a few of the groups of birds, but we may have missed a larger migration, if that does occur. As the rain came down harder, we ran back to the guesthouse and got in just as the skies opened up. Much of the night continued with rain pattering down on the tin roof of the spacious lodge, consisting of a large open dining (where hammocks are sometimes strung for guests), a kitchen and two small guestrooms - one occupied by us, the other occupied by one of the workers at the park.
After our long day of hiking and with very little to do when the sun goes down in a place like this, we fell asleep early, anxious for our next day of exploring the area.