French Guiana

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Introduction to French Guiana

Modern French Guiana is a land of idiosyncrasies, where European Space Agency satellite launches rattle the market gardens of displaced Hmong farmers from Laos and thinly populated rainforests swallow nearly all but the country's coastline.

Highly subsidized by Mother France, it boasts the highest standard of living of any 'country' in South America, but look beyond the capital city and you'll still find backwoods settlements of Maroons and Amerindians barely eking out a living.

In the mid-19th century, the French government set out to reduce prison costs at home by sloughing off undesirables onto their colonies. Searching for their most forsaken frontier outpost to drop the luckless convicts, they came up with Guiana. Though its last penal colony closed in 1953, this tropical pocket of ooh-la-la now takes prisoners of another variety. Budget travellers beware: French Guiana is among South America's costliest destinations.

Travelling in French Guiana isn't easy, but it is part of the adventure. And if you have Francophile leanings, live in the Americas and enjoy roughing it in the rainforest; it's one place where you can have your canapé under the canopy.

Full country name: Guyane Française

Area: 91,250 sq km

Population: 182,400

Capital City: Cayenne

People: 70% Creole (African/Afro-European descent), 10% European, 8% Asian, 8% Brazilian, 4% Amerindian

Language: French

Religion: Predominantly Catholic

Government: overseas department of France

Head of State: Prefect Ange Mancini (represented by Jacques Chirac)

Head of Government: President of the General Council Pierre Désert

GDP: US$1 billion

GDP per capita: US$6,000

Inflation: 2.5%

Major Industries: Shrimp, forest products, mining, satellite launching.

Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. France, Germany)

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All visitors except EU nationals and citizens of Switzerland and the USA require a visa.

Health risks: cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, typhoid, yellow fever

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -3

Dialling Code: 594

Electricity: 220/127V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Festive Carnaval is the highlight of the calendar, as outrageous Caribbean-style parades and parties are fused with a certain French savoir faire. Usually held in late February, Carnaval features festivities every weekend from Epiphany and for four days solid before Ash Wednesday. The best place to experience the events of Carnaval is Cayenne.

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Best time to Visit

French Guiana is a tropical country with a serious rainy season. While the July to December 'dry' period may be the most comfortable time to go, Carnaval - usually held in late February - is French Guiana's greatest cultural attraction. August to November is the best time for jaunts into the jungle. The leatherback turtles come out near Mana between April and September.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Euro


Budget: €2-6

Mid-range: €6-12

High: €12-16

Deluxe: €16+


Budget: €20-40

Mid-range: €40-55

High: €55-80

Deluxe: €80+

French Guiana is expensive, with costs comparable to those in France; even diehard budget travelers will have a tough time getting by on less than US$45 per day. If restaurant meals and the occasional warm shower fit into your plan, count on spending close to US$100 per day. Transportation, especially to Guiana's interior, is very expensive.

It's easy to change US dollars in either cash or travellers' cheques in Cayenne, but the rates are about 5% lower than official published rates, so bring some euros with you. Major credit cards are widely accepted, and cash advances are easy to get at an ATM (guichet automatique) - the ATMs at post offices are on the Plus and Cirrus networks.

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Ethnic diversity, tropical ambience, gorgeous streetscapes and Creole cuisine - Cayenne is one of South America's most charming cities. Though it lacks the soaring grandeur of Buenos Aires, its French Colonial architecture gives it a charm reminiscent of New Orleans' French Quarter.

Between superb meals, don't forget to check out Cayenne's (mostly free!) attractions – mainly its lively squares, colonial architecture, local museums, and main market. In the heat of the day, people-watch from the shady refuge of palm trees in the manicured Place des Palmistes.


Situated on the west bank of the Kourou River, Kourou used to be little more than a moribund penal settlement. These days, thanks to the influence of the European space program, it has rocketed from the 19th century straight into the 21st. Touring the Centre Spatial Guyanais is a collision of worlds.

Currently, three separate organizations operate here - the Agence Spatiale Européenne (European Space Agency), the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (French Space Agency) and Arianespace (a private commercial enterprise developing the Ariane rocket). Around eight or nine launches occur per year

St Laurent du Maroni

Once a reception camp for newly arrived convicts, St Laurent retains some picturesque colonial buildings and a certain backwater charm. The Camp de la Transportation has grim reminders of the harshness of life in the penal colony, including cells and shackles.

Îles du Salut

Notorious for the brutal penal colony on Devil's Island, the Îles du Salut (Salvation Islands) lie in the choppy, shark-infested waters, north of Kourou. Ironically, 18th-century colonists from the fever-decimated mainland regarded the breezy mosquito-free islands as a haven from disease.

Today, the tiny Île du Diable (Devil's Island), an islet now covered with coconut palms and atmospheric ruins, is the islands' main attraction. Besides the macabre value, the abundant wildlife, including macaws, agoutis and sea turtles, provides another fine reason to visit.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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