Hike to the World’s Largest Single Drop Waterfall

I’ll confess that the heading was a blatant lie. Contrary to popular opinion, Kaieteur Falls isn’t the World’s largest single drop waterfall. It’s the ‘single-drop’ tag that confounds the occasional well-read tourist. There is no such thing as the World’s largest single drop waterfall. Most of us are aware that the world’s largest waterfall is Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and world’s highest waterfall is Venezuela’s Angel falls. Kaieteur may not be the largest or the highest but nevertheless is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the World (not to mention beautiful) owing to an extraordinary mix of height and volume of water. Quite complicated.

Day 1 – Georgetown to Amatuk Falls

As with most adventures from Georgetown, this one starts off with an indecent number of people being shoved into a tiny little mini van with barely enough room to breath, let alone move. Roads extend only up to 50km out of the city after which the minivan has no option but to plough through the mud. Fast-forward 8 hours and a frazzled bunch of hikers stepping out of a minivan in Mahdia doesn’t make a pretty sight.4x4 from Mahdia to the Potaro River

Mahdia is a tiny little mining town with populations varying between 3,000 and 10,000 (depending on gold rush season). As with most mining towns, its quite difficult to find a building that’s not a bar. A beer later, we get our first glimpse of the beautiful Guyanese rainforest from the back of a 4×4 that takes us to the Potaro River. Cruising the peaceful river at dusk is amazing. Thousands of fireflies dotting the banks add to the experience. Foam on the river tells us that we’ve reached Amatuk falls and we put up our hammocks (with much difficulty) to camp for day one. A bottle of El Dorado rum provides liquid courage before round 2 of the hammock battle commences. Finding the sweet spot of a hammock is tricky business. Don’t believe me? Try spending a night in a hammock.

Day 2 – Amatuk Falls to Tukeit

The morning brings a heavy downpour. Did we really expect to get through the rainforest without getting wet?  We finally give up and head out in the rain to visit a diamond mine on Amatuk Island. Loading our stuff onto another boat (on the other side of Amatuk falls – smart eh?) we get back on the river. A pit stop at a river dredge provides momentary respite from the rain.

Boat from Amatuk to Tukeit

Rivers are one of the most erosive forces on this planet especially in early stages when they’re mountain streams full of energy (potential). As a result, they end up eroding rocks and dragging the gravel along as silt. River dredges operate by scraping the bottom of a river and sucking up all the loose gravel. This gravel is then flushed through a sifting machine that gets rid of lighter rocks and retains the heavier ones. These heavy rocks and then taken to a plant for gold to be extracted. The only flaw with this mechanism is that when you filter out lighter materials, diamonds get thrown away as well. This gives rise to a secondary industry. Lacking proper diving equipment, locals use tubes attached to an air pump to dive to the bottom of the river. Having no training or knowledge of diving safety procedures, they often fall victim to the bends.

Somewhere along the way we get our first glimpse of Kaieteur. Our guide explains that the next time we see the falls; we’ll standing right beside it. Our boat drops us off and we scramble along the rocks to visit Big Stone Waterfall but this being the monsoon season, our hike quickly turns into a swim. Fortunately at the time we didn’t know that we were swimming through electric eel infested waters and we happily swam to camp. Our hammock skills were noticeably better.

Day 3 – Tukeit to Kaieteur

Hike up 'Oh My God' MountaintThe trek from Tukeit to Kaieteur involves hiking past “Oh My God” mountain named for its steep slopes. The hike through this rainforest constantly reminds us that we’re in the middle of nowhere. Although Kaieteur is the top tourist attraction in Guyana, we hadn’t bumped into a single tourist this far. Hiking through pristine forest abruptly gives way to a clearing on the top of the mountain and in the distance we hear the roar of Kaieteur. Our first view of Kaieteur Falls up close triggered a photo frenzy that lasted 10 mins before we realized that we had a day to get to know this waterfall better.

Most tourists to Kaieteur take the easy way out and fly to the falls. A park guide ushers them around for 45 mins before bundling them back into the plane. This doesn’t do the falls any justice. The magnificence of the falls strikes you at first sight, but spending an hour alone at the waterfalls observing the forces of nature at their mightiest is a chance that rarely comes our way. The sheer size and raw power of this waterfall makes you question your significance on this planet.

Day 4 – Kaieteur to Georgetown

Kaieteur FallsBullfrogs are found (and heard) everywhere though they’re nowhere as good looking as their distant cousins – the golden frog. Bromeliads grow in abundance here (pineapple is part of this family) and store water by using their leaves as a catchment. The golden frog lays its eggs between the leaves of these huge bromeliads. These small frogs are quite jumpy and we weren’t able to find a photogenic one.

Having had our fill of Kaieteur, we catch a little plane back to Georgetown. Although this plane is quite old, the style of flying is probably where air travel could get to 50 years down the road. People hop into the plane as though it were the local shuttle bus and the pilot proceeds to take off without much ado. He silently fills in his forms and pretty much ignores me in the co-pilot seat. Having watched the plane make 2 stops, I’m convinced that I could fly one of those. Fortunately it didn’t come to that and we arrive safe and sound back to Georgetown.

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18 Comments on “Hike to the World’s Largest Single Drop Waterfall

  1. Sounds like an awesome experience. I’m actually in the midst of planning the exact same trip. I was wondering who you used as a guide/tour operator?? Thanks in advance.

    • Hey man…colleague of mine had an Amerindian friend who organizes these tours. Give me your email by dropping me a note here and I can send across more details to you.

      • Thanks for the article. Can you send me the tour operators info?

      • Innes – for an awesome time….give Tony a call at 6770902. Make sure you carry enough El Dorado..

  2. Planning a Guyana trip late March, 2012. Will be at Kaieteur, Amatuk, Iwokrama, Surama and Carahaa. Using a customized tour with Adventure Guianas. Any tips on clothing, photo equipment (I have a Canon 5D), footwear. What to and not to bring?

    • March 2012 definitely means you’ll just about miss the rains (but don’t count on it). Unless you’re going trekking in the bush, pack light and carry boxes of mosquito repellent – those little guys are vicious. Drop me a note if you have any questions..

  3. I’m planning to go in May 2012…(though not sure I’ll get to the waterfalls). I’m hearing this can be a really heavy rain time and the Lethem to Georgetown road might be…erm….tricky?

    • The Lethem to Georgetown road should still be open in May (if you’re lucky), though I would highly recommend flying. I took a bus on that road last May and it took us 30 hours to travel approximately 500kms from Georgetown to Lethem.

  4. 30 hours…Mmm! I guess it would be an adventure. Are the planes pricey/available?

    Thanks for the blog by the way, it’s so hard to get info on Guyana and Suriname!

    • The bus ride is definitely an adventure. The flight would cost you around USD 250 for a return trip to Lethem.

  5. My sister and I are planning on going there this summer (we are 20 and 24). I have heard mixed things about the safety… Any thoughts?

  6. Kaieteur Falls is said to be the highest naturally occurring, single drop waterfall. It is this un-manipulated virgin beauty that sets it apart from others. Many tour guides leave out the “purely natural formation” part, either by mistake, because its too wordy, or because they believe that claiming it is simply “the largest” garners more interest. In addition to this, it is indeed one of the most powerful.
    I must say that as a Guyanese I’m happy to see this blog giving us a bit more international visibility. Safe and happy travels good man 🙂

  7. I volunteered with a development organization back in the early 1990s for 2 summers in Guyana and was fortunate to spend over 2 weeks around the falls over the 2 summers. Mahdia back then was much much smaller, definetly was on the frontier but nowhere near the size it is now. There was a big government house to stay in also at the top of the falls, which I believe was taken down a number of years ago. We used to climb down to the side ledge of the falls to take showers. Good memories!

    • wow – that sounds awesome. its probably very different now..

  8. Hi,
    my wife and I are planning to go do the trek to Kaieteur around December 7. We will cross the border from Brasil to Lethem and then plan to go via Annai to Mahdia where we’d try to start the trek. Can anybody help with answers to the following questions:
    1. Is there minibus transport from Annai up the Rupununi Road directly to Potaro Landing?
    2. Is it easy to hire a guide and a porter in Mahdia or Potaro Landing to go up to Kaieteur? Does anybody have recommendations here? How much would they charge for this?
    Thanks for your comments!

    • Hi,

      Did you complete your trek to Kaieteur last December? If so, how easy / challenging was it to arrange transport, guide, porter, etc?

      I was raised on stories of the Kaieteur Falls – but, my grandparents counselled against us trekking there as we were teenagers when we last visited Guyana. But, I’d love to organise a trip with my brother – both as a homage to our parents who have both since passed and, as a life-time experience for myself. So, any pointers / contacts you can share will be most welcome. Thanks.

  9. 1. There were no mini buses when I was there. The roads were very rough
    2. Hiring a guide should be no problem. We hired one from around Potaro Landing. Once at the bottom of the flls the trail is easy to navigate

    Take my answers with a grain of salt, it was 20+ years ago when I was there. Mahdia was like the Wild West back then. Would love to see what the area is like now and how it’s changed. You’ll love the falls!

  10. Hi. Really appreciate this post. Won’t be making it to Guyana soon but it’s high up on my bucket list. I’ll ensure I hike instead of taking the easy way out 🙂

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