Essequibo River

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Essequibo River
Río Esequibo
Essequibo River.jpg
The Essequibo River in Guyana
Map of the Essequibo drainage basin
Country Guyana and Venezuela
Physical characteristics
Mouth Atlantic Ocean
0 ft (0 m)
Length1,014 km (630 mi)
Basin size151,000 km2 (58,000 sq mi)
  average4,500–6,430 m3/s (159,000–227,000 cu ft/s) [1]

The Essequibo River (Spanish: Río Esequibo originally called by Alonso de Ojeda Río Dulce) [2] [3] is the largest river in Guyana, and the largest river between the Orinoco and Amazon. Rising in the Acarai Mountains near the Brazil–Guyana border, the Essequibo flows to the north for 1,014 kilometres (630 mi) through forest and savanna into the Atlantic Ocean. With a total drainage basin of 151,000 square kilometres (58,000 sq mi) and an average discharge of 4,531 cubic metres per second (160,000 cu ft/s).


Territory near the river is argued over by Venezuela and Guyana. [4] Venezuela considers that the natural border according to the divortium aquarum that delimits the eastern margin of that country with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana is "by law", although due to the territorial dispute between the two countries for the sovereignty of Guayana Esequiba, it is "De facto administered and occupied for the most part by the former English colony of British Guiana, present-day Guyana. [ citation needed ]


The river runs through the Guyana moist forests ecoregion. [5] There are many rapids and waterfalls (e.g., Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro River) along the route of the Essequibo, and its 20-kilometre (12 mi) wide estuary is dotted with numerous small islands. It enters the Atlantic 21 kilometres (13 mi) from Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana. The river features Murrays Fall, Pot Falls, Kumaka Falls, [6] and Waraputa Falls. [7]

Its many tributaries include the Rupununi, Potaro, Mazaruni, Siparuni, Kiyuwini, Konawaruk and Cuyuni rivers. For over 30 kilometres (19 mi) from its mouth, the river's channel is divided by the large flat and fertile islands of Leguan, about 28 square kilometres (11 sq mi), Wakenaam, about 44 square kilometres (17 sq mi), and Hogg Island, about 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi). Fort Island is off the eastern side of Hogg Island. Fort Island was the seat of government of the country during the Dutch colonial era.


The river has a very rich fauna. More than 300 fish species are known from the Essequibo basin, including almost 60 endemics. [8] This may be an underestimate of the true diversity, as parts of the basin are poorly known. For example, surveys of the upper Mazaruni River found 36–39 species (variation in number due to taxonomy), of which 13–25% still were undescribed in 2013. [9] At least 24 fish species are resticted to Mazaruni River alone. [9]

During floods the headwaters of the Branco River (a part of the Amazon basin) and those of the Essequibo are connected, allowing a level of exchange in the aquatic fauna such as fish between the two systems. [10]


15th century

The first European discovery was by the ships of Juan de Esquivel, deputy of Don Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus in 1498. [11] The Essequibo River is named after Esquivel. In 1499, Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda explored the mouths of the Orinoco and allegedly were the first Europeans to explore the Essequibo. [11] Alonso de Ojeda called it "Rio Dulce" [2] [12] which means Sweet River in Spanish.

16th century

In 1596 Lawrence Kemys, serving as second-in-command of Walter Raleigh's British expedition to Guiana, led a force inland along the banks of the Essequibo River, reaching what he wrongly believed to be Lake Parime. The next year Kemys, in command of the Darling, continued the exploration of the Guiana coast and the Essequibo River.[ citation needed ]

17th century

The first European settlement in Guyana was built by the Dutch along the lower part of the Essequibo in 1615. The Dutch colony of Essequibo was founded in 1616 and located in the region of the Essequibo River that later became part of British Guiana. [11]

The Dutch colonists remained on friendly terms with the Native American peoples of the area, establishing riverside sugarcane and tobacco plantations. [11] In a document detailing instructions for the Dutch Postholder in Cuyuni, it was mentioned that Indians (Venezuelan Amerindians) trading in Chinese slaves to sell to people who lived along the Essequibo river were to be allowed to conduct their business. [13] [14]

19th century

The Dutch deterred many attacks from the British, French and Spanish for nearly two centuries, though they would later cede their territory to the British in 1814. [11]

The Independence war of Venezuela beginning in the 19th century ended the missionary settlements. At this time, Britain needed to have a colony, besides Trinidad, to serve the large trade sailboats on their large travel trading route around South America. Venezuela claims that the Essequibo is the true border between it and Guyana, claiming all territory west of it. The boundary was set between Venezuela and Guyana's then colonial power, Great Britain in 1899 through an arbitration proceeding. A letter written by Venezuela's legal counsel, named partner Severo Mallet-Prevost of New York City law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle alleged that the Russian and British judges on the tribunal had acted improperly and granted the lion's share of the disputed territory to Britain due to a political deal between Russia and the United Kingdom. As a result, Venezuela has revived its claim to the disputed territory.

In August 1995, there was an acid spill in the river by the Canadian mining company Cambior. An estimated 4 million cubic metres (140,000,000 cu ft) of waste laced with cyanide was released into the river causing much destruction.



Sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society the German researcher Robert Hermann Schomburgk (1804-1865) investigated the river Essequibo and followed its course to the south-west, while Sipu River flows to a westerly direction. He specified the coordinates of the source at 0°41`northern latitude, while not giving a longitude. [15]


In 1908 the German-American ichthyologist Carl H. Eigenmann traveled on river Essequibo and confluent Potaro. He described 336 fish species in these rivers. [16]


Hauling canoe up the headwaters of the Essequibo River Operation El Dorado.jpg
Hauling canoe up the headwaters of the Essequibo River

As part of a British Technical Assistance project "Operation El Dorado", geologists Dr. Jevan P. Berrangé and Dr. Richard L. Johnson made the first topographic and geological maps of Guyana south of latitude 4 degrees north. They examined 1:60,000 scale panchromatic aerial photos with a stereoscope to interpret the physical features and the geology of the region prior to making four expeditions into the field to check their observations. On Expedition III they explored the entire Essequibo basin. They travelled separately in two outboard-powered canoes, each team comprising a geologist and five Amerindians. Starting at Kanashen, they canoed up all the major eastward flowing tributaries: the Kuyuwini, Kassikaityu, Kamoa and Sipu rivers, as well as the Chadikar River which on the basis of its north-south trend and a larger flow of water is considered to be the source of the Essiquibo rather than the eastward flowing Sipu River. In his memoirs Richard Johnson records how he had a line cut through the forest to a small hill near the Chodikar headwaters so that he could stand on the border defined by the watershed, and when he told his line-cutting team that they were looking south across the forest into Brazil his foreman disagreed on the basis that "there are lots of nightclubs in Brazil." After mapping the tributaries the two teams joined forces and travelled down the Essequibo to its confluence with the Rupununi river at Apoteri. [17] [18] [19]


CushionCraft CC7 hovercraft in North Savannas of Guyana during the filming of "The World About Us: The Forbidden Route". CushionCraft CC7 hovercraft.jpg
CushionCraft CC7 hovercraft in North Savannas of Guyana during the filming of "The World About Us: The Forbidden Route".

On February 26, 1971, an expedition set off by hovercraft from Manaus in Brazil where the Amazon River is joined by the Rio Negro. They followed the Negro upstream to where it is joined by the Rio Ireng that forms the border between Brazil and Guyana. After following the Ireng for a few tens of kilometers they hovered about 40 miles across the North Savannas of Guyana to the Rupununi River which they followed to it confluence with the Essequibo River at Apoteri. The Essequibo was then traversed down to its mouth near Georgetown. The primary purpose of the expedition was filming for the BBC series "The World About Us" with the episode "The Forbidden Route" broadcast in November 1971. The secondary purpose was to demonstrate the abilities of a new type of small hovercraft, the Cushioncraft CC7, thereby promoting sales of this British invention. The expedition team comprised Bob Saunders (BBC producer and team leader), Tommy Tomlinson (CC7 pilot), Jevan Berrangé (navigator and logistics consultant), Len Chrisophers (hovercraft engineer), Peter Smith (sound recordist, and Tony Morrison (cameraman). Fuel dumps for the hovercraft were laid down at intervals ahead of the expedition, by boat on the Rio Negro, by plane in the North Savannas and by float-plane on the Essequibo. As there were no reliable maps of the route, navigation in Guyana was done by 1:60,000 scale aerial photographs and by scouting rapids in a motorised inflatable dingy ahead of the CC7. This is the first expedition to travel by river, land, and sea from Manaus to Georgetown. A total distance of about 1,000 miles (1,600 km). [20]


Leaving Gunns to the unexplored wilderness Leaving Gunns.jpg
Leaving Gunns to the unexplored wilderness
The Expedition team at the source of Sipu river At the source of Essequibo.jpg
The Expedition team at the source of Sipu river

A Guyanese-German expedition in Guyana in April and May 2013 followed the course of the Sipu River to detect the still unknown headwaters of the Essequibo. It was sponsored by the French-German TV Company ARTE and was organized by Duane De Freitas (Rupununi Trails) and the film production team of Marion Pöllmann and Rainer Bergomaz (Blue Paw Artists). The responsible scientist for remote sensing, geodesy and mapping was Prof. Dr. Martin Oczipka from the University of Applied Sciences Dresden (HTW Dresden). The expedition was only realizable with the support of the Guyanese government and the indigenous tribe of Wai-Wai-Amerindian settling in the very south of Guyana.

close to the source area of Sipu river Bamboo lake.jpg
close to the source area of Sipu river
The team at the furthest source of the Essequibo River aka the Sipu River Team at the furthest source of the Essequibo River aka Sipu River. .jpg
The team at the furthest source of the Essequibo River aka the Sipu River

With the support of the Wai-Wai, satellite maps, topographic maps, GPS and a small drone, the source valley was discovered in 2013. The coordinate determined by expedition teams in 2013 deviates by approximately 40`, which corresponds to a distance of at least 80 km north. This could be caused by calculation errors or other mistakes. Possibly he followed a different branch of the river more in the South of Guyana. To further investigate this, additional research is necessary, preferably in the original reports of Robert Hermann Schomburgk from his expedition in 1837/38. For the accurate determination of the headwaters and their proper classification, further extensive geological and hydrological studies are necessary.


In 2018, with the support of the First Lady, Sandra Granger, a group consisting of five Wai-wai, two English, one Iranian, and one South African located the furthest source of the Essequibo River. They built upon information and experience from the above 2013 Guyanese German expedition alongside topographical maps, local Wai Wai knowledge, GPS, and machetes to follow the Sipu River to its source. The multinational team 'Running the Essequibo' followed the main channel and investigated tributaries until they reached the watershed. There, 20 metres away from the Brazilian border, they logged what is now acknowledged to be the furthest source of the Essequibo River.

GPS co-ordinates: N1'24.5243, W59'16.5107

The team then began their world-first descent of the Essequibo River. The team of nine paddled back to Kanashan, aka Gunns Strip, where the Wai Wai members returned home and Romel Shoni and Anthony Shushu joined the expedition. This team, accompanied later further downriver by Fay James (Macushi people), then paddled remaining distance to the mouth of the Essequibo where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

This expedition lasted a total of 10 weeks.

Team members: Laura Bingham (expedition leader), Ness Knight, Pip Stewart, Peiman Zekavat (film director), Jon Williams (cameraman), Nereus Chekema, Nigel Isaacs, Jackson (Elijah) Marawanaru, Aron Marawanaru, James Suse, Fay James, Romel Shoni, and Anthony Shushu. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Geography of Guyana

The Geography of Guyana comprises the physical characteristics of the country in Northern South America and part of Caribbean South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Suriname and Venezuela, with a land area of approximately 214,969 square kilometres. The country is situated between 1 and 9 north latitude and between 56 and 62 west longitude. With a 459 km (285 mi)-long Atlantic coastline on the northeast, Guyana is bounded by Venezuela on the west, Brazil on the west and south, and Suriname on the east. The land comprises three main geographical zones: the coastal plain, the white sand belt and the interior highlands.

British Guiana British possession in the Guianas region between 1814–1966

British Guiana was a British colony, part of the mainland British West Indies, which resides on the northern coast of South America. Since 1966 it has been known as the independent nation of Guyana.

Regions of Guyana

Guyana is divided into 10 Regions:

The Guianas

The Guianas, sometimes called by the Spanish loan-word Guayanas, is a region in north-eastern South America which includes the following three territories:

Cuyuni River

The Cuyuni River is a South American river and a tributary of the Essequibo River. It rises in the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela, where it descends northward to El Dorado, and turns eastward to meander through the tropical rain forests of the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region of Guyana. It finally turns southeastward, flowing to its confluence with the Mazaruni River.

Rupununi River in Guyana

The Rupununi is a region in the south-west of Guyana, bordering the Brazilian Amazon. The Rupununi river, also known by the local indigenous peoples as Raponani, flows through the Rupununi region. The name Rupununi originates from the word rapon in the Makushi language, in which it means the black-bellied whistling duck found along the river.

Mazaruni River

The Mazaruni River is a tributary of the Essequibo River in northern Guyana. Its source is in the remote western forests of the Pakaraima Mountains and its confluence with the Cuyuni River is near Bartica. As it descends from the Guiana Highlands the river runs south-east, past Issano, then northward to Bartica. The river is a source of alluvial gold.

Rupununi savannah

The Rupununi savannah is a savanna plain in Guyana, in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo region. It is an ecoregion of the tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome.

Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region of Guyana

Upper Takutu-Upper Esequibo is a region of Guyana. Venezuela claims the territory as part of Esequiban Guyana.

Essequibo (colony)

Essequibo was a Dutch colony on the Essequibo River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America from 1616 to 1814. The colony formed a part of the colonies that are known under the collective name of Dutch Guiana.

Potaro River

The Potaro River is a river in Guyana that runs from Mount Ayanganna area of the Pakaraima Mountains for approximately 225 km (140 mi) before flowing into the Essequibo River, Guyana's largest river. The renown Kaieteur Falls is on the Potaro.

Barima River

The Barima River is a tributary of the Orinoco River, entering 6 kilometres (4 mi) from the Atlantic Ocean. It originates from the Imataka Mountains in Guyana, flowing for approximately 340 kilometres (210 mi) before entering Venezuela about 80 kilometres (50 mi) from its mouth.

Guayana Esequiba Disputed territory in South America

Guayana Esequiba, sometimes also called Esequibo or Essequibo, is a disputed territory of 159,500 km2 (61,600 sq mi) west of the Essequibo River that is administered and controlled by Guyana but claimed by Venezuela. The boundary dispute was inherited from the colonial powers and has been complicated by the independence of Guyana from the United Kingdom in 1966.

Guyana Country in South America

Guyana, officially the Co‑operative Republic of Guyana, is a country on the northern mainland of South America and the capital city is Georgetown. Guyana is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Venezuela to the west, and Suriname to the east. With 215,000 square kilometres (83,000 sq mi), Guyana is the third-smallest sovereign state by area in mainland South America after Uruguay and Suriname; it is also the second-least populous sovereign state in South America after Suriname.

Lake Parime

Lake Parime or Lake Parima is a legendary lake located in South America. It was reputedly the location of the fabled city of El Dorado, also known as Manoa, much sought-after by European explorers. Repeated attempts to find the lake failed to confirm its existence, and it was dismissed as a myth along with the city. The search for Lake Parime led explorers to map the rivers and other features of southern Venezuela, northern Brazil, and southwestern Guyana before the lake's existence was definitively disproved in the early 19th century. Some explorers proposed that the seasonal flooding of the Rupununi savannah may have been misidentified as a lake. Recent geological investigations suggest that a lake may have existed in northern Brazil, but that it dried up some time in the 18th century. Both "Manoa" and "Parime" are believed to mean "big lake".

Kassikaityu River River in Guyana

The Kassikaityu River is a tributary of the Essequibo River of Guyana.

Venezuelan crisis of 1895

The Venezuelan crisis of 1895 occurred over Venezuela's longstanding dispute with the United Kingdom about the territory of Essequibo and Guayana Esequiba, which Britain claimed as part of British Guiana and Venezuela saw as Venezuelan territory. As the dispute became a crisis, the key issue became Britain's refusal to include in the proposed international arbitration the territory east of the "Schomburgk Line", which a surveyor had drawn half-a-century earlier as a boundary between Venezuela and the former Dutch territory of British Guiana. The crisis ultimately saw Britain accept the United States' intervention in the dispute to force arbitration of the entire dispute territory, and tacitly accept the US right to intervene under the Monroe Doctrine. A tribunal convened in Paris in 1898 to decide the matter, and in 1899 awarded the bulk of the disputed territory to British Guiana.

Pomeroon (colony)

Pomeroon is the name of a former Dutch plantation colony on the Pomeroon River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America. After early colonization attempts in the late 16th century were attacked by Spaniards and local Indians, the original inhabitants fled the interior of Guiana, founding the colony of Essequibo around Fort Kyk-Over-Al shortly after. A second, and more serious attempt at colonization started in 1650, but was ultimately unsuccessful, as French privateers destroyed the colony in 1689. In the late 18th century, a third attempt of colonization was started, this time under the jurisdiction of the Essequibo colony.

Guyana occurs within the northern part of the Guiana Shield. The Guiana Shield forms the northern part of the Amazonian Craton, the core of the South American continent.


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  3. Rojas, Juan Fernández de (1828). El Páxaro en La liga: epistola gratulatoria al traductor de La liga de la teologia moderna con la filosofia (in French). en la oficina de Don Benito Cano.
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  15. Schomburgk, Robert Hermann (1841). Robert Hermann Schomburgk's Reisen in Guiana und am Orinoko. Während der Jahre 1835-1839. Nach seinen Berichten und Mittheilungen an die geographische Gesellschaft in London. Leipzig: Otto Alfred Schomburgk. p. 317.
  16. Eigenmann, C. H.; Calvert, Philip P.; Carriker, M.A. Jr. (1910). Annals of the Carnegie Museum Volume VI. 1909-1910. Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Institute: Holland, W.J.
  17. Berrangé, J. P. & Johnson, R. L. 1972. A guide to the Essequibo River, Guyana. Geographical Journal, Vol. 138, Part 1, pp 41-52, map 1:700,00.
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  20. The World About Us: The Forbidden Route; BBC film archives; First broadcast November 21st, 1971
  21. Expedition website. Sidetracked article. The times article. LandRover article. The express article.

Coordinates: 7°02′N58°27′W / 7.033°N 58.450°W / 7.033; -58.450