Our World South America's top end to star in new tour

Scarlet ibis

A new tour, tailor-made by an experienced itinerary designer, is set to visit the north of South America.

Tony Evans, a tour leader and tour designer from Travel Directors in West Leederville, visited the top end of South America to research a new itinerary. It will visit parts of what is his favourite continent. Here he shares his experiences.

It is rare for me to research a tour almost exactly a year ahead of departure but with our new South America: The Top End adventure I have been able to do just that.

I landed in Cayenne in French Guiana. This is not actually a country but it must be one of the most remarkable French territories in the world. Cayenne, the capital, contains some classic Creole architecture, as well as the Ariane Space Centre. Deep inside the rainforest, Amerindians — many of whom have never seen a white person — watch as satellites are propelled into orbit. It is a place of extraordinary incongruities.

I then ventured to Devil’s Island, the notorious prison immortalised in Henri Charriere’s classic novel Papillon and the subsequent movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen. Unspeakable atrocities occurred here. Walking through the cells — now overgrown with foliage — sent a chill down my spine. It’s said that when the French set foot in South America they found paradise and turned it into hell. But today, thanks to the billions of euros generated by the satellite launches, French Guiana is the most affluent enclave on the continent.

Next I took a ferry across the mighty Maroni River to Suriname and the capital, Paramaribo. I had high expectations from South America’s smallest country and it didn’t fail to deliver. Here, an astonishing array of races and religions co-exist peacefully. Mosques, synagogues and Christian churches sit side by side amid centuries-old timber architecture. 

I arrived in Georgetown, Guyana, just as Prince Harry was leaving. I was unaware of how many British royals have visited the former British Guyana until I found myself in the same bedroom at the glorious Cara Lodge where Prince Charles recently stayed. 

This was my introduction to Guyana, a country of few roads, where nature has seemingly triumphed over humans. The Amazon jungle still rules here and communication is reliant on the rivers and skilled light-aircraft pilots.

One such pilot took me deep into the rainforest to the Iwokrama River Lodge for an  Amazon adventure. I saw the Kaieteur Falls, the world’s biggest largest single-drop waterfall by volume, along with an extraordinary array of wildlife. Howler monkeys were my alarm clock at the lodge, a charming, rustic building run by gentle, welcoming staff. Imagine my astonishment then, to discover the lodge has wi-fi.

Next stop was Trinidad, a gorgeous island that provided two big highlights. The first was watching thousands of scarlet ibis, the national bird, spreading their wings at sunset and turning the island into a giant Christmas tree. 

The second highlight was Tobago. My local guide told me that if we did not visit Tobago we would not turn the page on the islands. He was right. 

A short flight from Trinidad took me to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, and I was reminded of Rio de Janeiro. I explored downtown and, contrary to media reports, discovered a city full of friendly, elegant, well-dressed people. I found some great restaurants and our hotel, the Renaissance, was brilliantly located with views to the sea and mountains.

I took a charter flight to Canaima National Park, my base for exploring Angel Falls. I stayed at the wonderful Waku Lodge, which is on a lagoon, with waterfalls to lull guests to sleep. Add to that the sounds of the lodge’s toucans, parrots and macaws and you have a little paradise.

Then there were the Angel Falls themselves. The great cascade combines with unearthly rock formations and isolation to produce a true wonder of nature. It takes a lot to impress this old traveller but my jaw is still agape.  

(Picture at top: The stunning scarlet ibis, Trinidad's national bird.)

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