French Guiana (French: Guyane or Guyane française) is an overseas French department and region in the Amazonia region of South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Brazil and Suriname. It is governed as an overseas department of France with the same rights and privileges granted to all other French departments, and it benefits financially from the arrangement.
- 1 Cayenne, the administrative capital of French Guiana
- 2 Kourou, the city which hosts the space centre and Arianespace
- 3 Saint-Laurent, on the Maroni River, which forms the natural border between Suriname and French Guyana.
- 4 Saint-Georges, on the Oyapock River, which is the natural border between Brazil and French Guyana.
- 1 Île du Diable (Devil's Island) — the ruins of the infamous offshore penal colony
- 2 Guiana Amazonian Park – the largest national park in the European Union making up for 41 per cent of French Guiana's land area
|Population||285.1 thousand (2020)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, Type E)|
|Emergencies||112, 15 (emergency medical services), 17 (police), 18 (fire department), 114 (deaf community)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Originally inhabited by various indigenous peoples (Kalina, Arawak, Galibi, Palikur, Teko, Wayampi and Wayana), French Guiana was colonised by the French during the seventeenth century in the face of opposition from the indigenous Amerindians as well as the Portuguese and English. French Guiana was the site of notorious penal settlements (collectively known as Devil's Island) until 1951. The European Space Agency launches its communication satellites from Kourou. It is the only portion of mainland South America still governed by an overseas nation.
Tropical; hot, humid; little seasonal temperature variation and heavy rainfall throughout most of the year.
Low-lying coastal plains rising to hills and small mountains, mostly an unsettled wilderness. It also consists of hill plateaus and the Tumuc-humac mountains.
French is the official language of French Guiana (as it's a part of France), although Creole is widely spoken. The majority of the population speaks French while few understand English. However, some officials, police, and gendarmes may speak English. Because of the presence of many Brazilians and Dominicans, lots of people understand basic Portuguese and basic Spanish. On the Maroni River, Sranan Tong (Taki-taki) is often used.
Concerning immigration, French Guiana has different laws. French Guiana is not part of the Schengen Area, and your passport or ID-card is checked upon arrival even if you're arriving from mainland or Caribbean France. However, the department is covered by the directive for Freedom of Movement, so EU-citizens have the right to stay indefinitely. For some neighboring countries (e.g. Brazil, Suriname) it is easier to go to Paris than it is to reach Cayenne.
In addition, holding a yellow fever vaccination certificate is mandatory, regardless of citizenship or where you've recently been. Be prepared to show this certificate before boarding a plane to French Guiana, or at the border if you are arriving overland.
Félix Eboué Airport[dead link] (CAY IATA) just outside Cayenne is the only international airport and the main point of entry to the territory. Air France and Air Caraibes each have a daily flight from Paris Orly Airport, so it's relatively easy to get in from Europe. Air France and Air Guyane Express also have flights to two major French outposts in the Caribbean, namely Martinique and Guadeloupe and this is probably the best way to get in from North America and the Caribbean. Suriname Airways connects to Paramaribo and Belém (in Brazil) with connections to other parts of South America. In addition there are a couple of seasonal charter flights from Miami Airport and various Brazilian cities. From other parts of the world, expect a complicated journey with three or four transfers.
From Brazil and Suriname, getting into French Guiana overland includes a 15-minute crossing by boat across Oyapoque (from Brazil) or Le Maroni (from Suriname). It's not very expensive, unless you want to take a car across, but you have to haggle.
French Guiana's main seaport is the port of Dégrad des Cannes, located on the estuary of the Mahury River, in the commune of Remire-Montjoly, a south-eastern suburb of Cayenne. However these days, freighter travel is the only possibility to get into French Guyana from further away by boat.
From Brazil you can take a private barge across the Oiapoque River. Its owner can be contacted in St Georges or in Oiapoque. From Suriname, there is a ferry to cross the Maroni River.
Oyapock River Bridge
The Oyapock River Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge. It spans the Oyapock River to link the cities of Oiapoque in Brazil and Saint-Georges de l'Oyapock in French Guiana. The two towers rise to a height of 83 meters, it's 378 meters long and it has two lanes of 3.50 m wide. The vertical clearance under the bridge is 15 metres. Construction was completed in August 2011, it didn't open to traffic until March 2017.
On the French side, access is through a border checkpoint (FCP) which will present three government control: the Border Police, the Customs and the Directorate for Food, Agriculture and Forestry.
The bridge over the Oyapock is toll-free (the booths are control booths, not toll booths), and it's accessible to both vehicles and pedestrians.
Population and therefore transportation is mostly concentrated along a rather narrow sliver of land along the coast. Heading inland from there can be complicated. There are no passenger railways nor have there ever been serious plans for any.
3,400 km of French Guiana's waterways are navigable by native craft; 460 km navigable by small oceangoing vessels and coastal and river steamers.
There is limited public transportation throughout the territory. Transport Interurbain de la Guyane operates bus routes between major towns.
Minibuses go between major towns but there may only be a few per day. They leave when they are full. Fares are fixed per route; if only going partial distance to Cayenne you may have to pay the full fare. E.g. St. Laurent du Maroni to Kourou you may have to pay the full fare to Cayenne. Fare for St. Laurent to Cayenne is €25.
It's quite easy to find a taxi, but this is a very expensive way of getting around. The 15-minute ride from the airport to central Cayenne will cost €35, and to travel one way from Cayenne to Kourou, you'll have to fork out €85.
As the public transportation is limited, renting a car is also an option for getting around. Hitchhiking is a good and free alternative. A lot of locals do it as well.
An asphalted road from Régina to Saint-Georges de l'Oyapock (a town by the Brazilian border) was opened in 2004, completing the road from Cayenne to the Brazilian border. It is now possible to drive on a fully paved road from Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni on the Surinamese border to Saint-Georges de l'Oyapock on the Brazilian border.
There aren't really any roads in the inner parts of the country. If you don't want to travel by boat, Air Guyane Express has flights from Cayenne to major inland settlements.
- Guiana Space Centre close to Kourou. There is a free tour twice a day. And for a few euros you can visit a museum. Check the rocket launch schedule for a special experience.
- Cayenne, the capital, has some museums and colonial architecture.
- The Îles du salut and Kourou used to form a penal colony, colloquially known as the Devil's Island (although in reality that's the name of just one of the islands). From Kourou you can visit the islands by boat, however the Devil's Island proper isn't open for visitors.
- Plage les Hattes at Awala-Yalimapo in the northwest is the most important nesting site in the world for giant leatherback turtles.
- The Zoo Guyane, deep in the jungle near Macouria, is a wildlife sanctuary where animals native to French Guiana wander the grounds.
- Ilet la Mère is an uninhabited island a 30-minute boat trip from the marina at Dégrad des Cannes, just outside Cayenne, that is home to the gentle and gregarious squirrel monkeys.
- Shop Cayenne's main market in Place Victor Schoelcher for locally made handicrafts and souvenirs, tropical fruits, perfumes, fragrant spices, and Asian foods such as Vietnamese noodle soup, tropical juices.
- Take a guided tour to the inland rainforest.
- Take a river trip in a pirougue.
- The Tresór Nature Reserve encompasses a huge area of the Kaw ecosystem a 2-hour drive from Cayenne. Its marshes are home to black caimans, a smaller relative of the American alligator, and the scarlet ibis.
- Enjoy the beach at Remire-Montjoly near Cayenne.
- Like in many other Catholic countries, the carnival is celebrated early in the year. In French Guiana the festivities take place between the first Sunday in January and Ash Wednesday. During the carnival people put on masks and traditional dresses and go out dancing along the streets every Sunday in Cayenne, Kourou and St.Laurent. Visitors are also welcome to dress up and participate in the parades. During the carnival the festivities continue through the night in bars and nightclubs.
Exchange rates for euros
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The official currency is the euro just like in mainland France. Most purchases will be more expensive than you expect, as a lot of stuff has to be imported - even milk is flown in from metropolitan France. Things like electronics are really expensive. However the local rum and objects carved out of wood are great souvenirs and relatively affordable.
For daily purchases, there is a shopping centre outside Cayenne similar to the "hypermarkets" of metropolitan France. Smaller grocery and convenience stores are in the city selling not just food but other small things you might need like insect repellent, toothpaste and other hygiene articles.
GDP per capita is around half that of mainland France and unemployment hovers around 20% which makes the economic situation pretty bad. The local economy largely depends on tourism and the spaceport but gold mining is another important factor. Sadly gold mining is often done illegally and in ways harmful to the environment.
A typical local dish includes fish and other seafood or game meat served with rice, red beans or couac (flour made out of dried cassava) and can be rather fierce, as they often use liberal amounts of spices. What else would you expect from a region whose capital has given name to the cayenne pepper? You can of course always ask the chef to make your dish less spicy. Guyanese specialties include:
- Bouillon d'Awara - broth of awara fruit (Astrocaryum vulgare)
- Colombo - a Creole dish with pork or chicken
- Red beans - served with game or fish
- Lentils - served with game or fish
- Kalou/Kalalou - a fish dish with spinach and okra
- Pimentade - peppered and lemon-seasoned fish in tomato sauce
- Blaf de poisson - fish prepared with court-bouillon
- Roti couniad - fish barbecued with its scale
In some restaurants you may find meat of threatened species (such as caiman and certain turtles) on the menu. Think twice before ordering any of those exotic dishes.
Tafia is a local hard liquor that is widely drunk and used for medical purposes. One can drink it with lime juice or with salt and it's used in a drink called Planter, excellent. Rum and ti-punch are also common.
Hotels are rather expensive in French Guiana: at many of them, you'll need to spend well over €100 for a night. For cheaper accommodation, there are also a couple of hostels; they don't have web pages.
The cheapest accommodation is also the most adventurous one. For a few euros you can sleep in a hammock in a traditional carbet, a shelter without walls. This is the only type of accommodation available in the rainforest.
For European people coming from an EU country, working in French Guiana is allowed without a problem. If you're from outside the EU, you will probably need a work permit - check with the French Embassy in your country. Do not forget though that the unemployment rate is high. But if you work in the health sector (doctor, nurse), it will be much easier. French proficiency is essential.
Voluntary service: Volontariat Civil à l'Aide Technique (VCAT) or French Civic Service. Conditions: you must be French or from another EU-member state or a country belonging to the European Economic Area. You must be over 18 and under 28 years old (inclusive). You must not have had your civic rights revoked by a court or have been convicted of certain offences.
It is advisable to pay extreme attention not to lose your passport: there are very few consulates in French Guiana as such services are provided by consulates in Paris, so you will be required to go to Paris in case you need your passport to be reissued if you are not an EU citizen.
Some parts of the department are patrolled by the French Foreign Legion, including the Kourou Space Centre and areas where illegal gold mining have occurred.
Vaccination against yellow fever is necessary; without a yellow fever vaccination certificate you are not allowed into French Guiana. Also two other tropical mosquito-borne diseases, namely malaria and dengue fever are endemic to the region. In other words, do protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks - long sleeved clothing and insect repellent are recommended. The risk is lower in the cities and towns. Swimming in still-standing water is not a good idea as it often contains parasites. This is less of a problem in rivers. However water in nature is not safe for drinking.
Poisonous snakes and spiders also pose a risk, and you should definitely wear boots in the rainforest and not "explore" hollow trees where these creatures often lurk. Remember that it can take a very long time to get to a hospital if you get bitten.
Other health risks include cholera, typhoid fever and rabies.
Healthcare is almost up to the same standards as in mainland France, although slightly more expensive. There are hospitals in Cayenne and Kourou. Concerning tropical diseases, they are better equipped and more experienced than mainland hospitals.
As in the rest of France, French and EU residents get most of their health care costs covered by the compulsory health insurance plan (sécurité sociale). This plan does not cover nonresidents, who will be expected to pay full price. Travel health insurance is thus advised.
Visitors from the European Union should bring an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) - obtained in their own country before departure. The E111 form is no longer valid. Ask for details at your local health care organisation.
The Creole culture is deeply rooted in French Guyana, but the population is still proud of being French. Hence insinuating they aren't really French is likely to cause offense. For example mainland France should be referred to as metropolitan/mainland France ("métropole"), not "France". The locals are happy to answer any questions about their culture, history and religion. However, slavery is a sensitive subject that should be avoided.
For cheaper local calls and calls to mainland France it's advisable to buy a local prepaid SIM card. The Alizé cards by France Telecom offer 13 hours of communication for €15.
There are three GSM operators: Orange Caraïbe, Digicel and Only.