Somewhere deep into the Amazon rainforest, in the Potaro-Siparuni region of Guyana, Nature offers us one of its most striking sights.
Kaieteur Falls, on the Potaro River, is one of the most majestic waterfalls on Earth, yet one of the least known. The Potaro River originates in the Pakaraima Mountains, and it is a tributary to the mighty Essequibo River (Guyana’s largest River), after a 225-km / 140-mile course.
This whole area is part of the Guyana Shield, a huge region encompassing French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, large parts of Venezuela, and a small part of northern Brazil. It is home to the world’s oldest rock formations, such as the 2-billion year-old Roraima Tepuy in Venezuela.
This article will be more factual, aiming to introduce you to this majestic waterfall and the national park that surrounds it. If you wish to learn more about my visit to Kaieteur Falls instead, you can take a look at my very detailed itinerary from Georgetown to Kaieteur Falls and read my article about how much it costs to visit the falls.
Kaieteur Falls Facts – One of the Most Impressive Waterfalls in the World
The falls are 226 m / 741 ft high, plunging from a huge sandstone plateau – ending in an elegant horseshoe shape, into the gorge of the Potaro River. That’s the height of a 50-story skyscraper and five times the height of Niagara Falls.
On average, its flow rate is 660 cubic meter / 23,400 cubic feet of water per second. At this rate, it would take less than 4 seconds to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.
It is often said that Kaieteur Falls is the world’s largest single-drop waterfall – no other waterfall in the world has more volume of water flowing in a single fall.
On average, Kaieteur Falls has a width of 113 m / 371 ft – reaching 150 m / 500 ft during the rainy season.
It is this combination of impressive height, width, and flow rate that makes Kaieteur Falls one of the most powerful waterfalls on the planet, and one of the most spectacular.
Kaieteur Falls is Guyana’s main tourist attraction, but it is visited by only a few thousand visitors per year.
Apart from the airstrip and a few small wooden buildings (including the Kaieteur Guesthouse), the environment around the falls is still largely untouched. Such a world-class waterfall in such pristine wilderness is exceptionally rare to find today in the 21st century.
The Discovery of the Falls by Europeans
In 1967, British geologists Charles Barrington Brown and James Sawkins were sent on a mission to survey the colony of British Guiana.
As Sawkins’ mission came to an end, Brown ventured further inland without him, exploring and mapping the colony’s interior and rivers.
On April 24, 1870, accompanied by local Amerindians, Charles Barrington Brown “discovered” Kaieteur Falls, and thus became the first European to see it.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to map the falls properly right after discovering them. He returned to Kaieteur Falls the following year to measure it in greater detail.
Following his adventures, Charles Barrington Brown published a first book, Canoe and Camp Life in British Guiana in 1876; and a second one, Fifteen Thousand Miles on The Amazon and Its Tributaries in 1878.
It’s amazing to think that such a major waterfall was unknown to the world until such a recent date. And again, it is maybe even more amazing that today you can still admire Kaieteur Falls surrounded by the same wilderness as Charles Barrington Brown did.
How Did Kaieteur Falls Get Its Name?
Most major waterfalls have a legend (such as the legend of Iguaçu Falls for example). After all, it’s human nature to seek to explain the existence of impressive phenomena by telling stories. Kaieteur Falls also has its legend, and it comes from the local Patamona Amerindians.
Kaieteur Falls was named after Kai, the chief (or Toshao) of an Amerindian tribe that was constantly under attack from another tribe. It appeared that in order for his people to live in peace, Kai had to sacrifice himself to Makonaima, the Great Spirit.
According to the legend, Kai got in his canoe and paddled over the falls to save his people. In the memory of this heroic act, the waterfall was named after him: “Kaieteur”, meaning “Kai’s Fall”.
There is another legend brought to us by Charles Barrington Brown from his 1870 expedition. This legend says that the falls were named after an old man who was really annoying and hated by everyone. One day, the old man was put in a canoe and was pushed into the current to get rid of him. “Kaieteur” would then be translated by “Old Man Fall”.
Either way, it means that when we say “Kaieteur Falls”, “Falls” is actually redundant.
Kaieteur National Park – A Biodiversity Hotspot in South America
Kaieteur Falls is the masterpiece of Kaieteur National Park.
Kaieteur National Park is Guyana’s first (and only) national park and was established in 1929 to protect the pristine environment around the spectacular Kaieteur Falls. It was also the first national park to be created in the Amazon region.
Kaieteur National Park is exceptional in its biodiversity, but also in the fact that it is one of the very few last intact rainforests in the world. As a visitor, it is an opportunity to experience a genuine, pristine environment that has long been a distant memory in many other parts of the Amazon basin.
Originally a very small area around the falls, Kaieteur National Park has been largely expanded in 1999 to 63,000 hectares / 242 square miles.
The park is home to some flagship and threatened plant and animal species, such as the giant tank bromeliad (Brocchinia micrantha), the Guianan cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola), the Kaieteur sundew – a carnivorous plant (Drosera kaieteurensis), or the golden dart frog (Anomaloglossus beebei) – an endangered endemic species, spending its life in the giant tank bromeliads. The tadpoles grow in the small accumulation of water trapped at the base of the leaves.
Of course, these are only a tiny fraction of what lives in Kaieteur National Park, but they are among the species you absolutely need to see when you visit!
How to Visit Kaieteur Falls
This waterfall is one of the most amazing trips you can make! The most common way of visiting Kaieteur Falls is by far the day trip from Georgetown, by plane. After a 45-minute scenic flight from Georgetown over the undisturbed rainforests of Guyana, you land at the Kaieteur Airstrip. You are then guided on the trails to view the waterfall from a few beautiful viewpoints, and then you conveniently fly back to Georgetown.
It is also possible to do a 5-day overland trek to Kaieteur Falls and return by plane. It is the opportunity to enjoy more time at the waterfall and get to spend the night at the Kaieteur Guesthouse. Tour operators usually need a minimum of 3 persons for this tour.
Here is a page listing reliable tour operators in Guyana, if you want to learn more about these tours.
If you are feeling more adventurous and independent, you can also reach Kaieteur Falls by yourself from Georgetown, via the town of Mahdia and the Potaro River. Sounds cool? Have a look at our detailed itinerary from Georgetown to Kaieteur Falls!
This is a short video presenting my visit to Kaieteur Falls, following an overland itinerary without any travel agency.
Kaieteur Falls may well be one of the most overlooked and little-known destinations in the world, but those who have visited it know that it deserves way more attention than it currently gets. That being said, even though I am contributing to “promoting” Kaieteur Falls through this website, I think that this place should remain as remote as it is now, so it doesn’t turn into yet another touristy Disneyland.
Kaieteur Falls is such an incredible experience precisely because of its remoteness, its unspoiled environment, and the fact that it was not developed into a mass tourism hot spot. And I am hoping that it will stay this way.