Facts & Figures
President: Mohamed Irfaan Ali (2020)
Prime Minister: Mark Anthony Phillips (2020)
Land area: 76,004 sq mi (196,850 sq km); Total area: 83,000 sq mi (214,970 sq km)
Population (2022 est.): 795,550 (growth rate: –0.11%); birth rate: 19.069/1000; infant mortality rate: 25.120/1000; life expectancy: 70.15 years
Capital and largest city (2022 est.): Georgetown, 240,000
Monetary unit: Guyanese dollar (GYD)
Languages: English (official), Amerindian dialects, Creole, Caribbean Hindustani (a dialect of Hindi), Urdu
Ethnicity/race: East Indian 40%, black (African) 29.5%, 10.5% Indigenous, mixed 19.5%, other 0.5% (2002 census)
Religions: Christianity 66%, Hinduism 24.9%, Islam 6.4%, Unaffiliated 2.0%, Other 0.5%, Folk/traditional 0.2% (2022 estimate)
National Holiday: Republic Day, February 23
Literacy rate: 87.54% (2015)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2022 est.): $30.287 billion; per capita $38,258. Real growth rate: 4.1%. Inflation: 1.8%. Unemployment: 16.43% (2020). Arable land: 2.3%. Labor force: 299,147 (2021 est.); agriculture n.a., industry n.a., services n.a. Agriculture: sugarcane, rice, wheat, vegetable oils; beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; fish, shrimp. Industries: bauxite, sugar, rice milling, timber, textiles, gold mining. Natural resources: bauxite, gold, diamonds, hardwood timber, shrimp, fish. Exports: $4.25 billion (2021): sugar, gold, bauxite/alumina, rice, shrimp, molasses, rum, timber. Imports: $4.15 billion (2021): manufactures, machinery, petroleum, food. Major trading partners: Canada, U.S., UK, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname (2021).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 130,487 (2021); mobile cellular: 658,000 (2021). Broadcast media: government-dominated broadcast media; the National Communications Network (NCN) TV is state-owned; a few private TV stations relay satellite services; the state owns and operates 2 radio stations broadcasting on multiple frequencies capable of reaching the entire country; government limits on licensing of new private radio stations constrains competition in broadcast media (2022). Internet users: 294,300 (2021).
Transportation: Highways: total: 3,995 km; paved: 799 km; unpaved: 3,196 km (2019). Waterways: 330 km (the Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo rivers are navigable by oceangoing vessels for 150 km, 100 km, and 80 km respectively) (2022). Ports and terminals: Georgetown. Airports: 2 main), 7 local (2022)
Guyana is the size of Idaho and is situated on the northern coast of South America, east of Venezuela, west of Suriname, and north of Brazil. A tropical forest covers more than 80% of the country. The Amazon rainforest is to the south of Guyana with Guyana’s rainforest region known as Iwokrama.
In 2011, the Kanuki Mountains in the Upper Takut-Upper Essequibo area were designated as a National Protected Area and is home to around 20 different indigenous communities made from the Macushi and Wapishana people who retain a subsistence way of life.
The country has three main geographical zones: the coastal plain, white sand belt, and interior highlands.
Coastal plain: This represents only around 5% of the county’s territory but contains 90% of the population. The coastal plain follows along the east coast of the Correntyne River and consists of rich and fertile clay.
White sand belt: An area to the south of the coastal zone which consists mainly of low sandy hills and outcrops of rock. Hardwood forests can be found in this area as well as many of Guyana’s reserves such as gold, bauxite, and diamonds.
Interior highlands: The interior region that’s dominated by grassland and flat-topped mountains with the Pacaraima Mountains along the western part of the interior. Other prominent features include Mount Roraima on the border with Venezuela and the Acarai Mountains along the southern border.
Georgetown is the capital city of Guyana and is by far the largest city in the country with a population of around 235,00 (2021). The next largest city is New Amsterdam with a population of 44,690 (2021). Georgetown is home to the National Assembly of Guyana and all of the main gov and court buildings.
The city also features the National Cultural Centre, the University of Guyana, and Guyana National Park which includes the Guyana Zoo.
New Amsterdam has developed as a prominent port with its name and architecture deriving from the time of Dutch colonization. The other main Guyanese towns are Linden, Anna Regina, Princetown, Bartica, and Rose Hall.
Highest Single-Drop Waterfall
‘Guyana’ is an indigenous word that translates as ‘Land of Many Waters’ with waterfalls being a particular feature of Guyana’s landscape. This includes the world’s longest single-drop waterfall which is found on the Potaro River in the Kaieteur National Park. At a height of 251 meters (822 feet), Kaieteur Falls is four times the height of Niagara Falls.
Guyana has a tropical climate with two wet seasons that take place from December to February and April to August. Temperatures are warm and remain fairly consistent throughout the year, ranging between 60°F and 93°F. The northwest of the country experiences the highest rainfall with the lowest levels in the southeast.
Guyana is a republic with the official title of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. The country operates a parliamentary democracy with the President of Guyana fulfilling the dual role of head of state and head of government. Executive power is held by the president and government with legislative power shared with the National Assembly of Guyana.
The National Assembly has 65 members who are elected using proportional representation. Twenty-five members are elected to serve the ten geographic constituencies with 40 selected from a national block vote. The National Assembly meets at the Parliament Chambers within the Parliament Building in Georgetown.
Political support in Guyana tends to follow ethnic lines. The two main parties are the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR). Generally, support for the PPP/C is strongest among the Indo-Guyanese population while the PNCR is backed mainly by Afro-Guyanese.
The third largest group is the Alliance for Change (AFC) which was created by politicians disaffected with the two main parties and is regarded as a multiracial party.
Guyanese elections have often triggered disputes over alleged fraud and rigging. The 2020 election of President Ali only took place after multiple legal challenges had been resolved.
Guyana has been involved with several international situations that have drawn eyes from around the globe, including the following.
Guyana has adopted a general foreign affairs policy of remaining politically non-aligned but one area where they come into conflict with adjacent states is territorial integrity. The nation has had border disputes with both Suriname and Venezuela.
The Suriname claim was for rights to a sparsely populated territory to the east of the Correntyne River. A provisional border was created by British and Dutch colonial powers but no formal agreement had been made. The dispute was settled by a 2007 maritime arbitration which determined that the border follows the western coast of the Correntyne River.
The border dispute with Venezuela concerns the Guayana Esequiba region which covers around 158,500 km (61,600 sq mi) of land to the west of Guyana. This area often appears on maps with a dashed line border to denote the disputed nature of the territory.
The dispute has its roots in the 19th-century actions of colonial powers operating in the region with the influence of Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. In 1966, the area was made subject to the Geneva Agreement and a commitment to finding a peaceful resolution.
In December 2020, the International Court of Justice accepted a case submitted by Guyana to settle the dispute. Venezuela has opposed the legal case which aims to ratify the 1899 Arbitral Award which Guyana argue gives them rights to the land.
The culture of Guyana reflects the history of the land with a diverse mix of influences that include African, Amerindian, British, Portuguese, and Dutch cultures. It is the only South American country to have English as its official language but most people speak Guyanese Creole.
The varied mix that makes up Guyana culture is seen in the range of popular music with calypso, reggae, chutney, and Soca. Notable Guyanese performers include Eddy Grant, Aubrey Cummings, and Terry Gajraj.
Among the notable Guyanese painters are Aubrey Williams, Donald Locke, and Emerson Samuels. The literature of Guyana is heavily influenced by its colonial history and figured heavily in the work of novelist and essayist Wilson Harris who died in 2018. Other notable writers include Sharon Maas, Beryl Gilroy, and Wordsworth McAndrew.
The most popular sports for Guyanese people are cricket, football, and basketball. Cricket was brought to the country during the colonial era with Guyana regularly providing players for the West Indies international side. Notable players have included Clive Lloyd, Carl Hooper, and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
The Guyana national football team is nicknamed the Golden Jaguars and the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) National Super League is the top division in the nation’s domestic competition.
The Guyana national basketball team has a FIFA ranking of 111 (2022) with their greatest success being a silver medal at the 1994 Caribbean Basketball Championship.
Guyana has a particular track record of producing elite-level boxers such as the 2001 WBA welterweight champion Andrew Lewis and Wayne ‘Big Truck’ Braithwaite, winner of the WBC cruiserweight title in 2002.
The discovery of oil reserves in off-shore territories has given Guyana a fast-growing economy. It has changed the financial landscape for a country that has traditionally experienced high rates of debt and a nationalized industry sector.
The economy has become increasingly open to the markets in recent times as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have contributed to a recovery plan.
Many government-owned businesses have been privatized, including operations within the cellphone, timber, rice, and fishing-related industries.
Mining and agriculture remain Guyana’s most valuable source of export earnings with bauxite, rice, sugar, and gold making up around 75% of exports.
The first known inhabitants of Guyana were groups of distinct settlers known as the Warao (Warrau), Carib, and Arawak. These are believed to have migrated from Eurasia around 40,000 years ago.
The first documented contacts take place as Dutch, English, and French forces established colonies in what is now known as Guyana. During the early 17th century the majority of these settlements were Dutch.
During the Napoleonic wars, Britain took over the Dutch colonies of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo, which became British Guiana in 1831. Slavery was outlawed in 1834, and the great need for plantation workers led to a large wave of immigration, primarily of East Indians.
Today, about half of the population is of East Indian descent and about 36% are of African descent.
Population growth in Guyana was accelerated by the discovery of gold in the 1890s. The timber-rich Essequibo territory to the west of Guyana also attracts increasing interest and triggers a territorial dispute with Venezuela.
In 1889, Venezuela voiced its claim to the territory but ten years later an international tribunal ruled the land belonged to British Guiana. The 1899 award is still being contested in the international law courts by the two nations.
Guyana Gains Independence
British Guiana became a Crown colony in 1928, and in 1953 it was granted home rule. In 1950, Cheddi Jagan, who was Indian-Guyanese, and Forbes Burnham, who was Afro-Guyanese, created the colony's first political party, the Progressive People's Party (PPP), which was dedicated to gaining the colony's independence.
In the 1953 elections, Cheddi Jagan was elected chief minister. The British, however, alarmed by Jagan's Marxist views, suspended the constitution and government within months and installed an interim government. In 1955, the PPP split, with Burnham breaking off to create the People's National Congress (PNC).
The leftist Jagan of the PPP and the more moderate Burnham of the PNC were to dominate Guyanan politics for decades to come. In 1961, Britain granted the colony autonomy, and Jagan became prime minister (1961–1964). Strikes and rioting weakened Jagan's rule, much of it believed to be the result of covert CIA operations. In 1964, Burnham succeeded Jagan as prime minister, a position he retained after the country gained full independence on May 26, 1966. With independence, the country returned to its traditional name, Guyana.
Jonestown Mass Suicide
In 1978, the country gained worldwide attention when American religious cult leader Jim Jones and 900 of his followers committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. The cult relocated to Guyana in 1974 after having attracted support in the U.S. cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The establishment of a constitution in 1980 identifies the President as the Head of State and the Supreme Executive Authority. It replaced the British Monarchy with a ceremonial president.
Forbes Burnham became the first Executive President when he was elected as a representative of the People's National Congress Reform party. He rules Guyana until his death in 1985. Guyana's first independent decades were marked by continued racial unrest between Indian-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese as well as economic malaise.
Desmond Hoyte of the PNC became president in 1985, but in 1992 the PPP reemerged, winning a majority in the general election. Jagan became president, and the former Marxist succeeded in reviving the economy. After his death in 1997, his wife, Janet Jagan, was elected president. Former finance minister Bharrat Jagdeo assumed the presidency in 1999.
News and Current Events
Get caught up with the most important historic and current events in Guyana.
Ali Becomes First Muslim Head of State
In 2020, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) wins 33 of the 64 seats in the National Assembly, allowing it to form a government with Irfaan Ali becoming the President of Guyana. Ali becomes the first Muslim head of state in Guyana and only the second in the Americas.
The election victory came amidst rising tensions as party support followed an ethnic divide with support for the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) coming mainly from the Afro-Guyanese community while backing for the rival PPP/C came from mostly Indo-Guyanese.
Major Oilfield Discovery in Offshore Waters
In 2015, ExxonMobil announced that significant amounts of oil had been found at an off-shore site in the North Atlantic Ocean, around 193 km from the coast of Guyana. It’s estimated that the site provides access to around 11 billion barrels of oil.
It represents the 17th largest oil reserve in the world and has had an impact on the nation’s politics and international relations. Plans on how to use the prospective wealth played a significant part in the 2020 presidential elections.
The oil discoveries have also heightened the tensions with Venezuela over Guyana's Essequibo region and the potential for lucrative oil finds in the disputed offshore waters.
Opposition Wins by Narrow Margin in 2015 Elections
In the 2015 elections, the opposition party, A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change, won by a narrow margin, taking 50% of the vote. President Ramotar's party, the People's Progressive Party, received 49%. Leader of the opposition, David Granger, became president, which ended the People's Progressive Party's 23-year rule.
A military officer, Granger became Commander of the Guyana Defense Force in 1979. He retired from the military in 1992, and founded a news magazine, the Guyana Review, that same year. He served as the magazine's managing editor. Afro-Guyanese, Granger has vowed to ease racial tensions in the country.
Ramotar Elected President, But His Party Fails to Win Majority
In Nov. 2011, Donald Ramotar, the General Secretary of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), was elected president. Ramotar was the PPP's unanimous choice as the party's presidential candidate. Ramotar was elected by a slim margin while his party fell one seat short of a parliamentary majority, which means two opposition parties would now hold a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
The opposition parties said that the presidential election had been tampered with. However, Guyana's electoral authority reported that the election was fair.
Flooding Devastates Guyana’s Capital
Heavy rainfall during January and February of 2005 led to flooding which affected more than a third of Guyana’s population. The majority of the disruption and damage is experienced in Grangetown with flood defenses failing to stop thousands of properties from being flooded.
Around 120,000 are affected in the capital with six deaths. It’s estimated that around 40% of the country’s population lost some or all of their possessions as a result of the devastation. The total number of fatalities across the country was 34.
In March 2001, Bharrat Jagdeo won a second term in elections that underscored Guyana's bitter racial tensions. The reelection of Jagdeo, an ethnic East Indian, caused rioting among Afro-Guyanese, who claimed widespread election fraud.
Racial Disputes, Border Disputes Hinder Progress
Guyana's potential economic development was hurt in 2000 as border disputes with both Venezuela to the west and Suriname to the east heated up. Suriname and Guyana had been unable to resolve the border dispute in an oil-rich coastal area. Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez has revived the 19th-century claim to more than half of Guyana's territory.
Test Your Geography Skills Beyond Guyana
Now that you know all about Guyana, what about testing your knowledge of some other parts of the world? Flex your globe-trotting credentials by taking the ‘What Country Are You In?’ challenge with a timer counting down as you try to figure out the location from the landmarks.