Coordinates: 5.1734 N 59.4812 W
No:82        (list of all attractions)
Category:Waterfalls
Values:Geology, Visual
Rank:2
Address:South America, Guyana, Potaro-Siparuni, Potaro River
Alternate names:Kaieteur Falls
Height:251 m in total, 226 m - highest plunge
Width:113 m
Volume:663 m3/s
Kaieteur, Guyana
Kaieteur.
sorenriise, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Kaieteur
Kaieteur. Well visible how the rim of falls has retreated, leaving a gorge behind.
Ian Mackenzie, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Kaieteur from airplane
Kaieteur from airplane.
David Morimoto, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Potaro canyon with Kaieteur in forefront
Potaro canyon with Kaieteur in forefront.
David Morimoto, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Kaieteur at low water
Kaieteur at low water, February 2007. Visible the enormous cave - habitat of swifts.
Wikimedia Commons, Bill Cameron / CC BY-SA 3.0
Sample of potarite from Kaieteur
Sample of potarite found near Kaieteur. Each grain - circa 2 mm large.
Wikimedia Commons, Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com/ CC BY-SA 3.0
Golden dart-poison frog Colostethus beebei near Kaieteur
The small Golden dart-poison frog Colostethus beebei near Kaieteur, in tank bromelia.
Ian Mackenzie, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

There is little doubt that Kaieteur is one of the most impressive waterfalls on Earth. This fall has got all what an impressive fall needs - enormous height, width, free fall of big amounts of water and - beautiful scenery around it. Big part of the impression is created by the fact that the surroundings of this beautiful monument of nature have not been commercialised.

Most exclusive waterfall in the world!

Kaieteur waterfall is very special due to the combination of several factors:

  • Large height (251 m) - it is five times higher than Niagara Falls;
  • Large width and large water volume - average width is 113 m and average volume - 663 m3 per second. Kaieteur is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world - and bear in mind that most other contenders are lower and without tall plunge.
  • Impressive free fall of water. Main plunge is 226 m high. Most waterfalls do not have such a high free fall of water.
  • Beautiful scenery - primeval tropical forest around the falls. Many of the great falls of the world have altered landscape what decreases their impresiveness.
  • Feeling of exclusiveness. While most large waterfalls of the world are surrounded by crowds of tourists, Kaieteur is comparatively desolate. General tourists come here only by plane and when they arrive, they are left in private (especially in weekdays) with one of the most impressive sights in the world.

Description of falls

Kaieteur is located in the central part of Guyana Highlands, consisting of several billion years old rocks. This part of Guyana Highlands contains higher ridge named - Pakaraima Mountains, consisting of plateaus with steep sides.

Guyana is rich with waterfalls but this region is superior in this respect. Numerous powerful rivers fall here over the edges of plateaus.

Geology

Kaieteur falls over a 6 - 10 m thick layer of conglomerate which overlies softer layer of sandstone. Rebounding water is eroding the softer sandstone thus creating an overhang. Over the time overhang falls down - thus the front of the waterfall is slowly retreating. Major part of the enormous escarpment has been created by this process - it is possible that waterfall has retreated in such a way for several kilometres.

After the fall Potaro River flows through a deep, 32 km long canyon until it leaves the escarpment.

Size

Width of the river above the falls is approximately 120 - 130 metres. Stream is slow until a few hundred metres before the precipice water starts flowing faster and faster. Depth of the river close before the falls reaches 4 - 5 m or, at flood time, even 6 metres. Volume of water is 663 m3 per second.

Waterfall itself is approximately 113 m wide, in flood time - up to 120 m. Basic part of fall is 226 m tall plunge.

As the dark reddish-brown water of tropical jungle river falls down the precipice, it turns into bright white foam and mist. Water disappears into roaring basin, hidden into eternal cloud of mist.

Basin is approximately 200 m wide and 100 m long.

At the base of Kaieteur the force of the falling water creates weird phenomenon - constant hurricane. There are constant waves in the small pond, air is full with fleeces of foam gyrating chaotically. Wind is pulling the visitors and it seems that the day is grey and stormy. But - as one leaves the base of falls - it turns out that the sun is shining and all trees stand calm.

As the water leaves the basin, it gradually falls 25 metres in short distance. Thus the full height of falls is 251 m.

Potarite

In 1924, while looking for diamonds (with some success!) there was discovered a new mineral in canyon below the falls - potarite. This is extremely rare and unusual mineral - natural alloy of two metals - mercurium and palladium (PdHg). Potarite is unsighty - small, heavy brittle grains, consisting of metallic, opaque silver colored mass. Later this mineral was found in some more locations around the world.

Another exciting discovery is one of world's smallest ferns - Hecistopteris kaieteurensis. This 2 cm long fern was discovered on the edge of Kaieteur in 1997.

Discovery by Europeans

In late 19th century British Empire had increased interest in the research of the mineral wealth of its posessions. Thus it was decided to investigate closer the little known British Guiana as well - with attention on research of rivers as natural waterways.

British geologists Charles Barrington Brown and James Sawkins were appointed to make these investigations in 1867. Sawkins did much work and retired somewhat earlier (in summer 1870).

Brown continued his work with excellence. Over six years period he travelled some 3,500 kilometres by feet and some 13,000 kilometres in boat, in rivers. Tireless exploreer travelled nearly all the rivers of Gyuana, made geological reconnaisance and discovered numerous beautiful landmarks.

His greatest and best known discovery took place on 24th April 1870. Brown together with seven local men heard the fall already in 23rd April. 24th April was a grey day and, as Brown reached the rim of precipice, he thought at first that the mist is coming from the rain. There though opened a view on one of the most unbelievable sights on the globe - waterfall of gargantuan size falling deep down the precipice.

There was issued scientific report "Report on the Kaieteur Waterfall", published in the "Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London", Vol.15., No.2. (1870-1871). He wrote in this scientific paper: "I was much struck with the beauty and grandeur of this fall, and regretted extremely that I could not remain longer to make proper observations of its height, width etc."

He returned at the waterfall next year and made the necessary measurements.

Later Brown wrote several books, including "Canoe and Camp Life in British Guiana", 1876.

Falls of sacrifice or betrayal?

Beautiful natural attractions for most part take important role in culture of local people. Kaieteur is not an exception - it is important site for Patamona Amerindians. Indians do not want to approach the base of the falls.

There are several stories about the origin of the name of fall. Here will be given two very diverse ones.

Story of betrayal

This story was reported by C. Barrington Brown himself. When Brown after the discovery of the fall spent the night on escarpment, Indian interpreter told the following story at the fireplace:

"Once upon a time there lived an old Indian at a village above the fall, an exceedingly feeble old man, whose feet became infested with chigoa fleas to such an extent that he gave his friends and relatives an immense amount of trouble in picking them out for him every morning.

So they determined to rid themselves of the nuisance, and accordingly placed the old man in a woodskin just above the edge of the fall, and shoved it out into the stream. The strong current hurried him to the brink and swept him over its foaming water, and he was seen no more.

But not long after, strange to relate, his woodskin appeared at the end of a small island, in the smooth stream just below our camp, in the form of a long slab of rock; while on a slope on the right hand side of the fall, a large square rock represents his canister similarly petrified.
After this tragedy had been enacted, the Indians named the fall Kaieteur, which means "old-man-fall"." (2)

Story of sacrifice

Previous story is not very well suited to boost national self-confidence. But - there is another one, with more noble events described:

People of Toshao were endangered by raiding party of the savage Caribs. There was needed a sacrifice to appease the Great Spirit Makonaima. The old and revered chief Kai sacrificed himself - he took his canoe and paddled over the falls.

Old man and his canoe were immortalised by the nature - there is a cliff formation near the falls formed like a man in the boat.

Thus falls got their name - "Kai-fall".

Biodiversity and protection

Surroundings of waterfall are teeming with life. Here can be met numerous beautiful and rare plants, birds, insects and other forms of life.

Especially abundant life is seen below the falls, where eternal mist has been present for many thousands of years. Valley is covered with cloud forest containing numerous species which thrive in very moist climate. Trees here are covered with thick carpet of mosses, lichens, orchids and bromeliads. Especially impressive is tank bromeliad Brocchinia micrantha, which grows up to 4 m high. Several endemic species of plants have been found here including a fern Hecistopteris kaieturensis. Most likely there are numerous plant and animal species which are not discovered yet.

One can marvel at giant bromeliads with water held permanently between their leaves. There is even a frog living in these bromelias - tiny golden dart-poison frog (Colostethus beebei).

White-chinned swifts (Cypseloides cryptus) live in the enormous escarpment and even behind the waterfall. During their flight these birds even dive directly through the waterfall. Behind the falls the force of water has formed enormous, inaccessible cave - thousands of swifts live in this safe habitat.

Only in recent decades there is conceived the diversity of life in Kaieteur National Park and the research in the park is ongoing and constantly bringing new discoveries.

British Colonial Administration designated a National Park here in 1929 in order to preserve the natural beauty and rare species of plants and animals in the area. This is one of the oldest national parks in South America and Caribbean. Initially the area of national park was 117 km².

After the pressure of mining industry the park was downsized to mere 19 km² in 1970ies but then expanded again in 1990ies to protect the watershed and to decrease the impact of mining. Now the park covers approximately 627 km² area. Administration of the park is located in Mahdia town. Most of park is intact - nearly all tourists are seen only in few square kilometres around the falls.

Tourism

Kaieteur might be the most recognizable landmark of Guyana. Happily since the time of discovery the surroundings of this waterfall have not changed.

Kaeiteur is located in the middle of true wilderness, without roads, luxury hotels. The high cliff has no guarding rails.

Waterfall can be reached by feet or by airplane.

The walk from Mahdia town lasts three days - and those who did it, often consider this to be their lifetime adventure. When the tourists reach the bottom of falls, they make strenuous ascent and are awarded by incredible sight. There is possibility to stay in guest house near the falls.

There is tiny airstrip near the top of the falls as well - and most tourists come here by air. Tour operators often offer two beautiful falls per day with airplane - Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls.

Number of visitors differs - but in general here come only some 200 people per month.

Map

See Kaieteur Falls on the map of Guyana!

References

  1. Kaieteur National Park Accessed on 29 May 2010
  2. Charles B.Brown. Report on the Kaieteur Waterfall in British Guiana. Journal of the Geographical Society of London, Vol.41, (1871).

10 major waterfalls in Guyana

10 major waterfalls in Guyana, map

 

Waterfalls in Guyana - the list

Waterfalls in Guyana - the list

Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 29 May 2010 Gatis Pāvils

About this website