French Guiana

French Guiana is a tropical backwater with intriguing highlights to satisfy the curious traveller: from rich wildlife encounters to cultural curiosities including the launch site of the European Space Programme and isolated indigenous communities.

French Guiana is an intriguing and extremely remote outpost of France in the north east corner of South America bordered by Brazil, Suriname and the Atlantic Ocean. Largely covered by pristine, dense equatorial rainforest, here you’ll find some of the world’s most diverse animal, bird and plant life. You’ll also find some wonderfully atmospheric French colonial architecture, often crumbling, and some oddities like abandoned prison camps. French Guiana is a country of the most striking contrasts, where space travel, with rockets being launched from the Guiana Space Center at Kourou, lives hand-in-glove with centuries-old indigenous Amerindian villages hidden in the depths of the jungle.

The capital, Cayenne, is overlooked by the ruins of 17th-century Fort Cépérou. Cayenne has lots of characterful street markets and colourful Creole houses, and Francophile cafes and shops edge the main square, Place des Palmistes, named for the palms which surround it. This is a real melting pot of French, Asian, African, and Brazilian cultures, and should you be lucky enough to visit during the annual Carnival, between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, you will find parades taking place every weekend. Out in the suburb of Rémire-Montjoly the Atlantic coast offers lots of attractive beach options.

It can be challenging to access more than a few destinations along the coast due to the lack of good roads and infrastructure. Despite French Guiana, as a region of France, being one of the wealthiest countries in South America, even quite newly built roads soon sprout abundant weeds and potholes. Without a decent transport system in place for those adventurous enough to visit, travelling through this pricey French outpost throws up plenty of obstacles, especially if you don’t speak French.

Most of those who do make it to French Guiana come for the world-class eco-tourism on offer in the country’s largely unspoiled prime rainforest where there is an enormous diversity of wildlife. You’ll find rivers pushing their way to the sea through the humid jungle. Along the Atlantic coastline there are marshes full of birds to explore, turtles nesting on the beaches and inland, expansive savanna reaching all the way to forested mountains. This terrain is for the most intrepid travelers who will savour an adventure with a difference in French Guiana.

The Guiana Space Centre conducts space launches up to ten times a year so if you plan on going you may well want to time this to coincide with one of these. You can view this amazing spectacle from the jungle by reserving a free ticket in advance. Alternatively, just go to the beach and view it from there. Also at the Space Centre is a Museum which takes you through the history of space travel, including the preparation and launch of Ariane from the Space Centre.

Popular stops in this remote French territory include the picturesque capital, Cayenne, and the Center Spatial Guyanais (Space Centre) in the city of Kourou.

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