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If you’ve never been to Kaieteur Falls before, you’re in for an amazing experience. This stunning landmark is not only one of Guyana’s best-kept secrets, it’s one of the most incredible natural wonders in all of South America. Read on for a look at some fascinating facts about Kaieteur Falls.
It’s really, really big.
It’s surprising that Kaieteur Falls is not more widely known, given that the massive waterfall is 741 feet tall. That’s roughly four times higher than Niagara Falls in Canada, and twice as high as Victoria Falls in southern Africa. In fact, Kaieteur Falls is considered to be the largest single drop waterfall in the world—“single drop” means that the water does flow over multiple tiers as it falls; in other words, there’s one huge drop from the top of the waterfall to the bottom. In addition, Kaieteur Falls is among the world’s most powerful waterfalls, with an average of 23,400 cubic feet of water rushing over the edge every second.
The remote location of Kaieteur Falls is perhaps the main reason why it is less well known than some of the world’s other major waterfalls. The waterfall is located in Guyana’s Potaro-Siparuni, which is part of the Guyana Shield, a huge geoformation that covers much of the country. Nestled in the Amazon rainforest and fed by the Potaro River, Kaieteur Falls is best reached by plane: a special airstrip was constructed a 15-minute walk away from the waterfall so that visitors are able to access the site more easily. Plane tours run from Ogle Airport and Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Georgetown’s two airports.
The area surrounding the waterfall is a national park.
The area in which Kaieteur Falls is located is part of Kaieteur National Park. This entire region, like much of Guyana, has been the subject of considerable interest from mining companies over the years due to its rich resource deposits. However, the British government that oversaw Guyana until 1966 recognized the region’s outstanding ecological value and made the area into a national park in 1929. Interestingly, this was one of the first acts of ecological conservation to take place in South America and the Caribbean. Today, Kaieteur National Park covers close to 63,000 hectares and is protected in order to keep it as unspoiled as possible. For example, only a limited number of tourists are allowed to visit the park and the waterfall every year; in 2017, only about 6,000 people made the trip. In addition, efforts are underway to have Kaieteur Falls declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although the nomination process has so far not been successful.
Its name is derived from an indigenous legend.
The name “Kaieteur” is derived from the language of the Patamona people, one of Guyana’s many indigenous groups. In this dialect, “Kayik Tuwuk” means old man and “teur” means fall or falls; thus, “Kaieteur” roughly translates as “Old Man’s Falls.” According to some legends, the name is meant as a tribute to Kai, a Patamona leader who saved his people from destruction by another tribe by paddling his canoe over the waterfall in an act of self-sacrifice to Makonaima, the Great Spirit. In recognition of their leader’s sacrifice that ensured their safety, Kai’s people named the waterfall after him.
You’ll see plenty of other wonders in the area besides the waterfall.
Although it might be hard to take your eyes off the stunning sight of Kaieteur Falls, the surrounding area is a great place for spotting amazing local wildlife and plants. Kaieteur National Park is a site of incredible biodiversity: some of the many wildlife species it is home to include the striking scarlet bird known as cock-of-the-rock, and minuscule golden frogs that are both highly endangered and highly poisonous. Some of the unique plant life that thrives in the park include the sundew, a type of carnivorous plant that is reputed to eat mosquitoes; the capadulla, a water vine; and the giant tongue bromeliad, a member of the pineapple family that boasts leaves up to two meters tall.
Summer is the best time to visit.
While it’s always challenging to predict the best time to visit a rainforest, Kaieteur Falls is usually at its most spectacular during the summer monsoon season, which typically lasts from April to September. Tours to the waterfall are available during other months as well, though it’s always important to check the weather forecast, as sudden fog can frequently obscure visibility in the region.