Guyana (pronounced /ɡaɪˈɑːnə/ or /ɡaɪˈænə/), officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, is a sovereign state on the northern mainland of South America. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Suriname to the east and Venezuela to the west. With 215,000 square kilometres (83,000 sq mi), Guyana is the third-smallest country on mainland South America after Uruguay and Suriname.
The region known as “Guyana” comprised the large shield landmass north of the Amazon River and east of the Orinoco River known as the “Land of many waters”. Originally inhabited by several indigenous groups, Guyana was settled by the Dutch before coming under British control in the late 18th century. It was governed as the plantation economy of British Guiana until independence in 1966, and officially became a republic within the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. The legacy of British rule is reflected in the country’s diverse population, which includes Indian, African, Amerindian, and multiracial groups.
Guyana also has the distinction of being the only South American nation in which English is the official language. The majority of the population, however, speak Guyanese Creole, an English-based creole language with slight Dutch, Arawakan and Caribbean influences. In addition to being part of the Anglophone Caribbean, Guyana is one of the few Caribbean countries that is not an island in the West Indies. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Guyana is a member, is headquartered in Guyana’s capital and largest city, Georgetown. In 2008, the country joined the Union of South American Nations as a founding member.
The name “Guyana” is derived from Guiana, the original name for the region that formerly included Guyana (British Guiana), Suriname (Dutch Guiana), French Guiana, and parts of Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Guyana is derived from an Indigenous Amerindian language and means “land of many waters”.
The territory controlled by Guyana lies between latitudes 1° and 9°N, and longitudes 56° and 62°W.
The country can be divided into five natural regions; a narrow and fertile marshy plain along the Atlantic coast (low coastal plain) where most of the population lives; a white sand belt more inland (hilly sand and clay region), containing most of Guyana’s mineral deposits; the dense rain forests (Forested Highland Region) in the southern part of the country; the desert savannah in the southern west; and the smallest interior lowlands (interior savannah) consisting mostly of mountains that gradually rise to the Brazilian border.
Some of Guyana’s highest mountains are Mount Ayanganna (2,042 metres or 6,699 feet), Monte Caburaí (1,465 metres or 4,806 feet) and Mount Roraima (2,810 metres or 9,219 feet – the highest mountain in Guyana) on the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela tripoint border, part of the Pakaraima range. Mount Roraima and Guyana’s table-top mountains (tepuis) are said to have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World. There are also many volcanic escarpments and waterfalls, including Kaieteur Falls which is believed to be the largest water drop in the world. North of the Rupununi River lies the Rupununi savannah, south of which lie the Kanuku Mountains.
The four longest rivers are the Essequibo at 1,010 kilometres (628 mi) long, the Courantyne River at 724 kilometres (450 mi), the Berbice at 595 kilometres (370 mi), and the Demerara at 346 kilometres (215 mi). The Corentyne river forms the border with Suriname. At the mouth of the Essequibo are several large islands, including the 145 km (90 mi) wide Shell Beach lies along the northwest coast, which is also a major breeding area for sea turtles (mainly leatherbacks) and other wildlife.
The local climate is tropical and generally hot and humid, though moderated by northeast trade winds along the coast. There are two rainy seasons, the first from May to mid-August, the second from mid-November to mid-January.
Guyana has one of the largest unspoiled rainforests in South America, some parts of which are almost inaccessible by humans. The rich natural history of Guyana was described by early explorers Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles Waterton and later by naturalists Sir David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell. In 2008, the BBC ran a three-part programme called Lost Land of the Jaguar which highlighted the huge diversity of wildlife, including undiscovered species and rare species such as the giant otter and harpy eagle.
In 2012, Guyana received a $45 million reward from Norway for its rainforest protection efforts. This stems from a 2009 agreement between the nations for a total of $250 million for protecting and maintaining the natural habitat. Thus far, the country has received $115 million of the total grant.
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