French Guiana Travel Guide
Welcome to our travel guide for the enchanting French Guiana! A land where wilderness reigns supreme, French Guiana is a fusion of cultures, history, and pristine natural beauty.
This territory of France in South America promises adventurers a unique blend of the familiar and exotic. From space centers to tropical rainforests, golden beaches to Maroon villages, French Guiana is a treasure trove of unforgettable experiences.
Ready to embark on an unforgettable journey? Let's explore French Guiana together.
Capital city: Cayenne
Currency: Euro (EUR) 1 EUR = 1.10 USD.
Electricity: Power voltage is 220 Volts. Power sockets type C, D, and E.
Languages: French and the Guianese creole, but also other indigenous languages.
Fun fact: French Guiana is the only territory of the mainland Americas that is still officially part of a European country and the European Union. French Guiana is an overseas department and region of France!
10 Handpicked Highlights of French Guiana
Here is a list of amazing places to visit in French Guiana:
Space Center (Centre Spatial Guyanais)
Located in Kourou, the Guiana Space Center is the primary spaceport for the European Space Agency. Since 1968, this 850-square-km complex has been at the forefront of European space exploration, launching satellites for communication, weather observation, and scientific research.
The facility’s unique location near the equator allows rockets to harness the Earth’s rotation for extra speed. A guided tour here promises an informative and exciting look at space exploration, taking visitors through the Jupiter Control Centre, launch pads, and more. Watching a rocket launch from here is an unforgettable experience.
Îles du Salut (Salvation Islands)
A short boat trip off the coast of Kourou lies the archipelago of the Salvation Islands, once home to one of history’s most notorious penal colonies. From 1852 to 1953, convicts from France, including the infamous Henri “Papillon” Charrière, were sent to these islands.
The ruins of the prisons on Île Royale and Île Saint-Joseph offer a grim contrast to the islands’ natural beauty, which includes palm-lined beaches and clear, azure waters. Guided tours provide insight into the harsh conditions prisoners endured, while free-roaming peacocks and agoutis add a surreal touch to the visit.
The Tumuc-Humac mountains, located in French Guiana’s far south, offer a raw and unspoiled journey into the heart of the Amazon Rainforest. This vast, sparsely populated area is covered in dense forest, cut by rivers, and populated by rare animal species such as jaguars and tapirs.
Local indigenous communities live harmoniously with nature, practicing traditional subsistence farming. Visits usually involve multi-day expeditions, led by local guides, and provide a fascinating insight into the rainforest’s complex ecosystem and indigenous ways of life.
The Maroni River forms a natural border with Suriname, flowing through the heart of French Guiana’s lush rainforests. Boat trips down this river offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of the Maroon communities, descendants of escaped African slaves who’ve retained their unique cultural heritage.
The villages along the riverbanks feature distinctive wooden houses adorned with intricate carvings. The surrounding rainforests are home to diverse fauna, including monkeys, birds, and the elusive jaguar, making for an enriching cultural and natural adventure.
The village of Cacao is a vibrant hub of Hmong culture. Having resettled from Laos after the Vietnam War, the Hmong community has transformed this settlement into a thriving agrarian locale known for its traditional Sunday market.
Here, you can shop for locally grown produce, exquisite embroidery, and traditional Hmong clothing. The local insect museum, housing a vast array of South American insect species, and the Hmong cultural center provide enriching insights into this resilient community and its traditions.
Situated on the Maroni River’s banks, Maripasoula is an exceptional place to encounter French Guiana’s indigenous Amerindian and Maroon cultures. It holds the title as France’s largest commune by land area and is accessible only by river or air.
Guided tours provide a unique chance to discover the customs of the local communities, such as traditional music and dance, storytelling, and artisanal crafts. The Musée de Maripasoula offers a more in-depth understanding of these communities and their relationship with the surrounding rainforest.
Awala-Yalimapo is a coastal community inhabited by the Kali’na people, French Guiana’s largest Amerindian group. Here, you can explore the intricate mangrove ecosystems and visit the Plage des Hattes, a significant nesting ground for leatherback turtles.
From April to July, these giant sea creatures crawl ashore to lay their eggs under the cover of darkness. Local tour operators offer night-time beach excursions, providing an unmissable chance to witness this natural spectacle while contributing to local conservation efforts.
Réserve Naturelle Trésor & Kaw Marshland Reserve
A short drive from Cayenne takes you to these neighboring reserves, both of which are havens for nature lovers. The Réserve Naturelle Trésor is home to over 400 species of trees, countless insects, and iconic bird species such as the vibrant Guianan cock-of-the-rock. Self-guided trails wind through the forest, revealing its biodiversity.
Adjacent to it is the Kaw Marshland Reserve, one of French Guiana’s largest protected areas, famous for its diverse aquatic birdlife, black caimans, and a high concentration of electric eels. Canoe tours provide the best way to explore these freshwater wetlands and their fascinating inhabitants.
Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, reflects a rich blend of Creole, Chinese, Hmong, and indigenous cultures. Its vibrant markets offer a sensory feast of tropical fruits, spices, and handicrafts, while the colonial architecture narrates tales of the past.
The Musée Départemental Alexandre-Franconie is a must-visit for insights into the region’s diverse natural and cultural history. Street art enthusiasts will enjoy exploring murals that add color to the cityscape. No visit to Cayenne would be complete without savoring its Creole cuisine, an appetizing fusion of French, African, and Amerindian flavors.
Just a stone’s throw from Cayenne, Remire-Montjoly beach is a favorite among locals for its golden sand and calm, warm waters. During the months of March to July, the beach transforms into a magical spectacle with sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.
The sight of these gentle creatures under the moonlight against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean is truly unforgettable. Local eco-friendly tours offer guided visits, focusing on the observation and conservation of these endangered species.
French Guiana's Geography & Landscapes
French Guiana, an overseas department and region of France, is located on the Northeastern coast of South America. It’s geography and landscapes can be broadly divided into three zones:
Coastal Plains: Stretching along the Atlantic Ocean, these low-lying coastal plains host the majority of the population, including the capital city, Cayenne. This region is characterized by mangroves, sandy beaches, and palm-fringed coastal savannahs.
Inland Hills: As you move inland from the coastal plains, the terrain begins to rise into small, rolling hills known as the “Petite Montagne”. These hills are home to forests, streams, and savannas, with diverse wildlife.
Southern Rainforests and Tumuc-Humac mountains: The vast majority of French Guiana’s interior is covered by some of the most pristine and bio-diverse rainforests in the world, forming part of the Amazon Rainforest. Further south, the terrain elevates into the Tumuc-Humac mountain range, creating an undulating landscape of hills, mountains, and dense forest.
Best Time To Go To French Guiana
French Guiana experiences a tropical climate with two distinct seasons:
Rainy Season (January to June): This period sees heavy, frequent rain showers, particularly from April to June. Although the heavy rains can make some outdoor activities challenging, this period also offers unique experiences. The blooming of flora during this season attracts a myriad of wildlife, and the turtle nesting season, particularly from April to July, is a must-see.
Dry Season (July to December): The dry season is the most popular time to visit, with July to November being the driest months. Outdoor activities and exploration are more accessible during this period, and there’s a lower risk of rain interrupting your plans. The dry season is a great time to visit the inland rainforests and southern mountains.
Traveling in French Guiana
Health Precautions: Prior to traveling, ensure you’re up to date with routine vaccinations, including Hepatitis A and Typhoid, due to potential risks from food and water. Yellow fever vaccination is mandatory.
Mosquito Protection: Due to the risk of diseases like Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya carried by mosquitoes, it’s advisable to use insect repellent and wear protective clothing, especially in rural and forested areas.
Sun Protection: The sun in French Guiana can be intense. Apply sunscreen regularly and wear hats and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes.
Stay Hydrated: With the tropical climate, it’s essential to stay hydrated. Only drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes made from tap water.
Security: While French Guiana is relatively safe, exercise caution in urban areas, especially at night. Keep your belongings secure and avoid displaying valuable items.
Respect Wildlife: When in natural parks or reserves, maintain a safe distance from wildlife and never feed animals.
Check Travel Advisories: Stay updated with the latest travel advisories from your country’s foreign office or department.
Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with the local laws and customs to avoid any inadvertent offense or legal issues.
Travel Insurance: Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical expenses and evacuation.
Emergency Numbers: Know the local emergency numbers. In French Guiana, dial 15 for medical emergencies, 17 for police, and 18 for fire emergencies.
Getting to & Around French Guiana
French Guiana is primarily accessed by air. The main international airport is Félix Eboué Airport, located near Cayenne. There are regular flights from France and neighboring South American countries.
Once in French Guiana, the main mode of transportation is by car. Roads are generally in good condition, especially the main coastal road N1. Car rental services are available at the airport and major towns. Public transportation is limited to a few bus routes in urban areas.
For more remote areas, river transport is often the only option. There are regular riverboat services on the Maroni and Oyapock Rivers. Always use licensed operators for safety and reliability.
Accommodation options in French Guiana range from upscale hotels in cities like Cayenne and Kourou to more rustic lodges and guesthouses in the rainforest. Prices vary, with a mid-range hotel costing around €80-€120 per night.
For a more immersive experience, consider eco-lodges located in or near nature reserves, which offer guided tours and activities. There are also campsites in some national parks for the more adventurous travelers.
Booking in advance is recommended, especially during the peak travel season. Be sure to check reviews and choose accommodations with mosquito nets or air conditioning due to the tropical climate.