Traveling overland to Guyana's Kaieteur Falls is not a relaxing trip. Deep in the almost entirely unpaved country's near impenetrable jungle, the 741-foot cascade explodes out of the piranha-infested Potaro River and into the thick jungle air. The site's majesty is enhanced by what it lacks: There are no tourist shops or hotels, no safety rails or guards telling where you can and can't go. Visitors see few, if any, other travelers.
The typical trip is a four- or five-day slog from Georgetown, Guyana's capital, led by a local Amerindian guide. After two hours on the country's only paved highway, it's another six on a gravel and dirt road to a rickety ferry that creeps across a river to a waiting 4x4. Another bone-jarring hour later and it's time to crawl into a dugout canoe for an hour-and-a-half paddle upriver to a camp where exhausted travelers dine and take a quick look at nearby Amatuk Falls before passing out in their mosquito net-draped hammocks.
That's just day one. The following days are spent motorboating and hiking through thick forest, watching out for biting bullet ants, golden frogs, and the telltale signs (freshly cut trees) of probably illegal diamond- and gold-mining operations. On the final day, after a minimum of three nights without a bed, visitors have to complete a steep and wet three- to four-hour hike before taking in that first view of the falls.
From the overlook – nearly a half-mile away – Kaieteur is mesmerizing. But the better view lies ahead. Carefully, tired travelers ease up to the edge of a rocky outcropping not 50 feet from the falls, dangling their tired legs over a 700-foot drop as they stare slack-jawed at the white water and a deep green forest. After putting on so many miles, adventurers might be tempted to relax, but when a slip of the boot means instant death, relaxation becomes a hard state to achieve. Wonder is easier.
More information: Rainforest Tours offers overland trips to Kaietur from Georgetown. Caribbean Airlines flies regularly to the capital from Miami. Anyone not interested in making a big production of their falls visit, can board an airplane in Georgetown and make the visit a day trip.