South America
South America Destination Guide

French Guiana

French Guiana French Guiana French Guyane Francaise Overseas department (pop., 2002 est.: 172,000) of France, northeastern coast of South America. It has an area of 33,399 sq mi (86,504 sq km) and is bounded by Brazil to the south and east, by Suriname to the west, and by the Atlantic Ocean the out to the northeast. The capital is CAYENNE. Most of French Guiana is low-lying, with mountains in the south and a swampy coastal plain.


The Maroni River forms the border with Suriname. French Guiana's population is Mostly CREOLE. The principal languages are French (official) and creole; nine-tenths of the people are Roman Catholic. Originally settled by the Spanish, French, and Dutch, the territory of French Guiana was awarded to France in 1667, and the inhabitants were made French Citizens after 1877. By 1852, the French began using the territory for penal settlements; the penal colony at Devils Island was notorious. French Guiana became a department of France in 1946; the penal colonies were closed by 1953.

The smallest of the Guianas, French Guiana is a former French colony now administered as an overseas department of France. Officially, it is a part of France and therefore a member of the EU. The urban areas of Cayenne and Kourou have excellent facilities and an infrastructure comparable to rural France, but the hinterland is sparsely populated and little developed. Historically Guiana is best known as the penal colony where Captain Alfred Dreyfus (a french army officer wrongfully convicted of treason in 1894) and Position (see Book under Facts for the Visitor, later) were in, prisoned, but today it's famous as the home of the Centre Spatial Guyanais, the launch site for the Ariane rockets of the European Space Agency.

The most unforgettable experience is a rip to the pristine rain forests of the interior, although the lack of infrastructure makes this a difficult undertaking without the assistance of a local guide or tour company. Visiting the beach at Les Hattes to watch the spectacular giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs is also a highly recommended trip.

The space center and the Iles du Saint are well worth a visit. Carnaval in Cayenne is a highlight for anyone.


The dry season, from July to December, may be the most comfortable time to visit, but Carnaval, usually in February, is a great attraction.

France's Institut Geographique National publishes a superb 1:500,000 map of French Guiana, with fine city maps of Cayenne and Kourou (US$8 in Cayenne), as well as more detailed maps of the populated coastal areas. There are also 1:25,000 topographic maps available. Both can also be purchased at Le Pou d'Agouti, 11 Rue Victor Hugo in St Laurent.

Travel with light clothing and a poncho. Bring fishhooks and knives as trade goods if visiting the interior.

St Laurent Du Maroni

Falkland Islands
French Guiana (Fr.)
Trinidad and Tobago
Amazon Rainforest
Amazon River
Angel Falls
Easter Island
Nazca Lines
Lake Titicaca
Iguazu Falls
Machu Picchu
Petrohue Falls
South America History
Inca Civilization
Travel Warnings
Travel Tips