Republic of Guyana and previously known as British Guiana, is the only state of the Commonwealth of Nations on mainland South America. On the northern coast of the continent, it is bordered to the east by Suriname, to the south and southwest by Brazil, to the west by Venezuela, and on the north by the Atlantic Ocean. At 215,000 km2, it is the third smallest state on the mainland of South America (after Suriname and French Guiana). Its population is approximately 860,000. It is one of the four non-Spanish-speaking territories on the continent, along with the states of Brazil (Portuguese) and Suriname (Dutch), and the French overseas region of French Guiana (French). Culturally, Guyana associates primarily with the English-speaking Caribbean states, such as Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
Guyana 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 rainforests (Forested Highland Region) across the middle of the country; the grassy flat savannah in the south; and the larger interior highlands (interior savannah) consisting mostly of mountains that gradually rise to the Brazilian border.
Guyana's main mountains are Mount Ayanganna (6,699 ft (2,042 m)) and Mount Roraima (9,301 ft (2,835 m) — the highest mountain in Guyana) on the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela tripoint, part of the Pakaraima range. 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 steep escarpments and waterfalls, including Kaieteur Falls. Between the Rupununi River and the border with Brazil lies the Rupununi savannah, south of which lie the Kanuku Mountains.
The three main streams are the Essequibo, the Demerara, and the Berbice. The Courantyne River forms the border with Suriname. At the mouth of the Essequibo are several large islands. The 90-mile (145 km) Shell Beach lies along the northwest coast. Guyana is 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.
It has one of the largest unspoiled rainforests in South America, some parts of which are almost inaccessible by humans. In 2008, the BBC ran a four-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.
Countries interested in the conservation and protection of natural and cultural heritage sites of the world accede to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was adopted by UNESCO in 1972. Guyana signed the treaty in 1977. In fact, Guyana was the first Caribbean State Party to sign the treaty. In the mid-1990s, Guyana seriously began the process of selecting sites for World Heritage nomination, and three sites were considered: Kaieteur National Park, Shell Beach and Historic Georgetown. By 1997, work on Kaieteur National Park was started, and in 1998 work on Historic Georgetown was begun. To date, however, Guyana has not made a successful nomination.
Among many other mammals, Guyanese jungles are home to the jaguar.
Guyana submitted the Kaieteur National Park, including the Kaieteur Falls, to UNESCO as its first World Heritage Site nomination. The proposed area and surrounds have some of Guyana's most diversified life zones with one of the highest levels of endemic species found anywhere in South America. The Kaieteur Falls is the most spectacular feature of the park, falling a distance of 226 metres. The nomination of Kaieteur Park as a World Heritage Site was not successful, primarily because the area was seen by the evaluators as being too small, especially when compared with the Central Suriname Nature Reserve that had just been nominated as a World Heritage Site (2000). The dossier was thus returned to Guyana for revision.
Guyana continues in its bid for a World Heritage Site. Work continues, after a period of hiatus, on the nomination dossier for Historic Georgetown. A Tentative List indicating an intention to nominate Historic Georgetown was submitted to UNESCO in December 2004. There is now a small committee put together by the Guyana National Commission for UNESCO to complete the nomination dossier and the management plan for the site. In April 2005, two Dutch experts in conservation spent two weeks in Georgetown supervising architecture staff and students of the University of Guyana in a historic building survey of the selected area. This is part of the data collection for the nomination dossier.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Kaieteur National Park being considered too small, there is a proposal to prepare a nomination for a Cluster Site that will include the Kaieteur National Park, the Iwokrama Forest and the Kanuku Mountains. The Iwokrama Rain Forest, an area rich in biological diversity, has been described by Major General (Retired) Joseph Singh as “a flagship project for conservation.” The Kanuku Mountains area is in a pristine state and is home to more than four hundred species of birds and other animals.
There is much work to be done for the successful nomination of these sites to the World Heritage List. The state, the private sector and the ordinary Guyanese citizens each have a role to play in this process and in the later protection of the sites. Inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage will open Guyana to more serious tourists thereby assisting in its economic development.
Guyana exhibits two of the World Wildlife Fund's Global 200 eco-regions most crucial to the conservation of global biodiversity, Guianan moist forests and Guyana Highlands moist forests and is home to several endemic species including the tropical hardwood Greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiei).