Guyana boasts a remarkably rich ecology, but also has one of South America's poorest economies.
Tropical rainforests - filled with distinctive plants and trees, teeming with exotic birds, insects and mammals - are a big draw for eco-tourists. But political troubles, ethnic tension and economic mismanagement have left the former British colony with serious economic problems.
The only English-speaking country in South America, Guyana became independent in 1966.
A third of its population is descended from African slaves, imported by the Dutch to work on sugar plantations. Around half are the descendants of indentured Indian agricultural workers brought in by the British after slavery was abolished.
Persistent tension between these two groups has fuelled political instability and is reflected in hostility between the two main parties, which are ethnically-based.
Until the 1990s more than 80% of Guyana's industries were state-owned. Mismanagement, falling commodity prices and high fuel costs created serious economic problems and led to a fall in an already-low living standard.
Since the late 1990s the government has divested itself of many industries, but it now faces problems which include environmental threats to the coastal strip and rainforest, poverty and violent crime - the latter fuelled by the drugs trade.
The sugar industry - a key source of foreign exchange and Guyana's main employer - has been hit by the loss of preferential access to EU markets and a cut in European sugar subsidies.
Many Guyanese seek their fortunes outside the country; the exodus of skilled migrants is among the highest in the region.
A long-running dispute with neighbouring Suriname over the ownership of a potentially oil-rich offshore area was settled in 2007 by a UN tribunal that redrew the maritime boundary and gave both countries a share of the basin. The ruling could bring a surge of exploration by major oil companies.
The issue came to a head in 2000 when Surinamese patrol boats evicted a Canadian-owned rig from a concession awarded by Guyana.
The demarcation of the Guyana-Venezuela border is also disputed, with both countries claiming the mineral and timber-rich Essequibo region.
- Full name: Co-operative Republic of Guyana
- Population: 756,000 (UN, 2011)
- Capital: Georgetown
- Area: 214,969 sq km (83,000 sq miles)
- Major languages: English, indigenous languages, Creole, Hindi, Urdu
- Major religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam
- Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 73 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Guyanese dollar (G$) = 100 cents
- Main exports: Bauxite and alumina, sugar, gold, rice, shrimp, molasses, rum, timber
- GNI per capita: US$2,900 (World Bank, 2011)
- Internet domain: .gy
- International dialling code: +592
President: Donald Ramotar
Donald Ramotar, of the ruling People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), was elected president in November 2011.
Mr Ramotar has urged the Guyanese to set aside ethnic differences
Mr Ramotar's election represented his party's fifth straight victory, though it lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 19 years, winning 32 out of 65 seats.
Mr Ramotar has been the General Secretary of the PPP/C since 1997 and was a political adviser to outgoing President Bharrat Jagdeo, who had held the post since 1999.
The PPP/C minority administration means that there could be problems in store for Mr Ramotar if the opposition parties form a united bloc against the government.
One analyst said a hung parliament was a good thing as it would prevent one race group dominating others.
The PPP/C gets most of its support from the Indo-Guyanese community, while the main opposition party, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), is backed mainly by Afro-Guyanese voters.
On being sworn in, Mr Ramotar said that having a minority government - the first time that this has happened since the country gained independence in 1966 - would test the maturity of Guyana's leaders, and he called on his fellow politicians to set aside partisanship and put the interests of the country as a whole first.
Mr Ramotar has pledged to continue his predecessor's policies, with their emphasis on improving social conditions and government services, especially in the fields of housing, education, health and energy security.
An economist by training, he is married, with three children.
Guyanese newspapers are free to criticise the government, although journalists are apt to exercise self-censorship.
The government operates radio services and a TV channel. Private TV stations freely criticise the government.
Former President Bharrat Jagdeo was known for his "fraught relations" with certain journalists and news media, Reporters Without Borders observed in 2011.
There were 226,000 internet users by December 2011 (via Internetworldstats).