French Guiana Travel Guide
Of the three Guyanas, French Guiana is the smallest of them all. However, travelers should be mindful of their travel budget if heading here, as this overseas department of France is as (if not more) expensive than the European mainland.
Youth hostels are non-existent, and a simple meal at a cafe can easily cost more than 10 euros. However, those prepared to spend a lot more money than in other nations in Latin America will be able to have a series of authentic experiences that simply aren’t possible in more touristy destinations.
What To Do
Due to French Guiana’s location close to the equator, France and the European Union use the Guiana Space Centre as their preferred launch facility to shoot rockets and satellites into space. As such, it is one of the more interesting attractions to visit in this tiny corner of South America.
If you visit during a time when something isn’t being prepared to be put into outer space, there are guided tours of the launch site, and the control rooms that coordinate everything behind these operations.
Guided tours are usually provided in French, and depending on the guide, they might speak English as well, though it helps to have at least rudimentary knowledge in the first language of this country.
There’s also a museum to supplement what is offered on the guided tours, which explains the history of aerospace activities in this otherwise unknown nation in South America.
Another use of French Guiana over the years was that of a penal colony. One of the most notorious of these was known as Devil’s Island, which earned its name for the brutal treatment of prisoners by guards, the frequent and endemic outbreaks of tropical disease among the prison population, and the general feeling of malaise among those imprisoned here.
Worse yet, the majority of inmates here were sentenced for political crimes, the first of whom dared to cross Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
Serving as inspiration for countless novels and movies, The island today is home to ruins that exhibit varying levels of decay, as well as a thriving population of local wildlife.
During the height of the secret war that Afflicted the nation of Laos in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the French made an effort to relocate refugees from this country to France and its territories around the world.
French Guiana was one of those places, and today, there are 2,500 people of Laotian descent living in this country. The village of Cacao is home to 500 of them, as well as the nationally famous Hmong Market, which occurs here every Sunday.
At this time, produce, food, and handicrafts are sold, granting you the opportunity to have an authentic bowl of Pho in the middle of tropical South America.
While there are many great places in French Guiana to observe wildlife in unspoiled surroundings, the Marshes of Caw is generally considered to be the best place to do this for travelers on a tight schedule.
There are many bird species that can be found here, but keep your eyes open for the coq of the rock, which is a particularly rare variety of our feathered friends around these parts.
While French Guiana will never be mistaken for places like Thailand, the complete lack of foreign tourists here make spots like Remire Montjoly Beach much more special that would otherwise be warranted.
A brown to golden sand beach located within a short drive of Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, the wild and rough nature of some of the parts of this beach is overcome by the fact that you will likely have large portions of this tropical beach completely to yourself.
Another aspect of this place that is noteworthy is that sea turtles will often use this beach as a burial ground for their eggs in season, so be sure to ask the locals about this upon arrival.
What to Eat
If you are lucky enough to be visiting French Guiana during Easter, do everything you can to try some Bouillon d’Awara.
A Creole stew consisting of ham, bacon, beef, pork, seafood and a variety of vegetables, it is said that foreigners that taste this stew will be destined to return to this country at some point in their life.
Another dish that you should seek out when dining out in local restaurants in French Guiana is Pimentade. Consisting of fish simmered with tomato and bacon, and served on the side with white rice, is a great dish to have if you’re looking for a light lunch in Cayenne or anywhere else in French Guiana.
If you are looking for something just a bit simpler, but every bit as good, then going for some Roti Couniad will be more than enough to satisfy your hunger.
Consisting of grilled fish with chips on the side, this easy but lovely meal may actually be one of your top highlight of your visit to French Guiana.
Finally, have a taste of Laotian cuisine at the Hmong market. From noodles to a variety of soups, the meals that can be found here face completely in the face of what is usually found in South America or the Caribbean.