French Guiana


French Guiana destination

about French Guiana is a remote region of France covered in thick jungle and wilderness, although you'll also find colonial architecture, eerie prison-camp history and some of the world's most diverse plant and animal life here. It's a strange mix of French law and rainforest humidity where only a few destinations along the coast are easily accessed and travel can be frustratingly difficult as well as expensive.

As a department of France, it's one of South America's wealthiest corners, with funds pouring in to ensure the smooth working of the Guiana Space Center at Kourou. But not even a European superpower can tame this vast, pristine jungle: you'll find potholes in newly paved roads, and ferns sprouting between bricks, while Amerindians, Maroons and Hmong refugees live traditional lifestyles so far from la vie métropole that it's hard to believe they're connected at all.

Destination Today

Developments at the Centre Spatial Guyanais (Guyanese Space Center) in Kourou tend to dominate the news in French Guiana, not least when the entire complex was taken over by a group of protestors in 2017 and a rocket launch was delayed. The group, calling itself 500 Frères (500 Brothers), was protesting both the low quality and the high cost of life in the overseas department, under the slogan 'pou lagwiyann dekole' (Creole for 'let Guiana take off'). Many locals feel that despite huge sums of money going into the space center here, there's very little concern for the average inhabitant of French Guiana, something made awkwardly apparent when President Emmanuel Macron referred to the region as an island, a gaffe that astonished and angered locals.

In a referendum in 2010, the population voted against increased autonomy from France, confirming French Guiana's long-term status as an overseas department. While this meant that European funds continued to flood in and that the region's position as the wealthiest and best developed of the Guianas was cemented, this was in stark contradiction to how many locals saw the situation. Industrial relations in French Guiana have been fraught ever since, with intermittent strikes, demonstrations and protests against social exclusion, poor education and joblessness.

Gold mining has become more prevalent around the country, particularly along the eastern Brazilian border. The government has been battling a massive illegal gold-mining industry – which involves the dumping of tons of polluting mercury into French Guiana's once-pristine rivers – with some success, but the logistics of managing so much jungle and the long, lonely borders of Suriname and Brazil make it an extremely challenging task.
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A crossroads of the Caribbean, South America and Europe, Cayenne is a city of myriad cultures surrounded on all sides by the sounds, smells and colors of the tropics. The streets of the town center are lined with colonial wrought-iron balconies with louvered shutters painted in now-faded tropical pinks, yellows and turquoises. Above it all sits the town's old fortress, an atmospheric wind-whipped ruin that looks down onto the palm trees of the town's elegant main square.

While undeniably run down and visibly poor in many parts, Cayenne is home to vibrant markets and excellent Brazilian, Creole, French and Chinese restaurants. Outside the city center, however, highways and urban sprawl remind you that you're still very much in the 21st century, and the encroachment of la France métropolitaine is never far away.

Sights

Cayenne is easy to see on foot in one day. The center of the action is the Place des Palmistes, lined with colonial timber-fronted buildings and full of palm trees. To its west, Place Léopold Héder (aka Place Grenoble) is the oldest part of the city. After a siesta, cruise Av du Général de Gaulle, the main commercial street, to experience Cayenne at its bustling peak. La Place des Amandiers near the coast is the place to go to relax with pétanque (bowling) and dominoes.

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Sleeping

In terms of accommodations, there is almost nothing on offer for the budget traveller in Cayenne. Midrange options start at €90 per night for anything decent.

Eating

For the best bang for your buck, you can slurp delicious noodles at Cayenne's Central Market or browse the nighttime food stalls around Place des Palmistes. Small Chinese takeout joints and grocery shops make self-catering a breeze. The sit-down options in Cayenne can be outstanding, though they often come with a hefty price tag.

Drinking & Nightlife

Live music, beer and rum punch flow freely in bars and clubs throughout Cayenne. Reggae music rocks small clubs in Village Chinois, and a few Brazilian and Dominican bars dot Av de la Liberté.

Shopping

Cayenne's Central Market is the most lively place to shop. Elsewhere you'll find several tourist-oriented outlets around Place des Palmistes, including Galerie des 3 Fontaines, the best place to buy souvenirs in town.

Arriving in Destination

Félix Eboué International Airport is 13km southwest of downtown Cayenne. The fastest and most convenient way to or from the airport is by taxi (€35 to €50, 20 minutes), as there is no public transport serving the route. However, during the day you can save money by taking a taxi to the nearby town of Matoury and then taking a taxi collectif to Cayenne from there (€2, 10km, 15 minutes).

Getting Around

Taxis charge a hiring fee of €2, plus €0.85 per kilometer; the per-kilometer charge increases to €1 from 7pm to 6am and on Sundays and holidays. There's a taxi stand on the southeast corner of Place des Palmistes.

Formalities

Visas

Not needed for 90 days for most nationalities.

Passports

Passports are obligatory for all visitors except those from France, who may travel on their national identity cards. Visitors must also have a yellow-fever vaccination certificate. Australian, New Zealand, Japanese, EU and US nationals, among others, do not need a visa for stays up to 90 days.

Those who need visas should apply with two passport photos at a French embassy and be prepared to show an onward or return ticket. Officially, all visitors, even French citizens, should have either onward or return tickets, but this is rarely enforced.

Visas for Onward Travel

Visas are required for nationals of many countries entering Brazil and Suriname, so check ahead of time.

What to do in Cayenne

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