Major Tourist Attractions: Maison de la Reserve Natural l'Amana, Remire-Montjoly, Cacao
A piece of Europe right in the middle of the South American rain forest? That is the reality with French Guiana. This remote corner of South America feels of both South America and strangely of Europe, since this is a territory administered by France, an entire ocean away. French Guiana is a South American oddity, a territory where you can buy fresh French baguettes paid with Euros, all while being close to outer space and impenetrable rain forests. Here you’ll come across some unique sites that feel strangely out of place, all the while you are just a short distance away from nature at its wildest.
French Guianese culture is the outcome of influences from almost all corners of the world, despite a small population not exceeding most mid-sized French towns. It is quiet here. This region hides a history that simultaneously feels fascinating, alarming and thought-provoking. Being a former overseas penitentiary for France over several centuries, this is a corner of the world where the worst criminals ended up being deported to, in large because it was so hard to live here. Consequently this historical past heavily influenced life until a fairly recent present.
As faith has it, these days this territory is again an important hub for France and even Europe: in the 1960s French Guiana replaced its penal colony past with a totally different sector, namely being the most important space center for Europe. The Guiana Space Center, located about an hour from the capital Cayenne, is one of the few places in the world where you can easily witness satellite launches and also visit the space center site extensively, a one-in-a-lifetime experience.
The capital Cayenne is where half of the population lives and this is a city where the feel of Caribbean life is mixed with some very specific French characteristics, creating a strange blend, with the Place des Palmistes at its core. The market is a lively focal point of the center, where certainly not only the famous cayenne pepper can be found, but also an eclectic mix of cultures surrounding the fresh produce.
For the ones interested in looking closer into French Guiana’s tormenting penal colony past there are two historically highly interesting spots to visit: the Devil’s Island outside the coast from Cayenne in the Îles du Salut archipelago and the town of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni at the border to Suriname. At both places you can walk in the footsteps of Henri Charriere’s Papillon and the other prisoners who had to survive the inhuman conditions of the French penal system.
With the exception of the coastal areas, French Guiana is mainly made up of impenetrable rain forest, most part of it difficult to visit independently. Eco-tourism is continuously growing and the options for the adventurous travelers keep on increasing, with guided treks and hikes in the rainforest becoming an attractive highlight. An alternative to the hikes are the river tours on some of the great rivers the territory offers, such as the Maroni, Cayenne or Oyapoque, where you penetrate this almost untouched green kingdom. On some tours you can even come in contact with indigenous tribes, among which the Wayana are the biggest.
- Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, the site of the European Space Agency.
- Cayenne, the capital, representing a varied ethnic diversity and a unique historic heritage.
- Place des Palmistes in Cayenne is a square lined by palms, where by sunset people gather for a snack and a chat.
- The market of Cayenne, filled with fresh produce and a microcosm of ethnic diversity.
- Îles du Salut, including Devil’s Island, is both a site of historical importance in regards to the penal colony past of the territory, but also an important bird sanctuary.
- Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni is the town which was the important arrival point for the deported prisoners, made famous by literature and cinema via the character of Papillon.
- The north-west area of the Awala-Yalimapo beaches is an exceptional marine turtle nesting site, the most important leatherback turtle conservation in the world.
- Visit the Hmong community of Cacao for a bowl of traditional Asian pho soup, a world away from their original places of birth.
- The beach of Remire-Montjoly, is one of the few decent beaches of the region generally characterized by an impenetrable, wild coastline.
- The Marshes of Caw nature reserve is a nature lover’s paradise with thousands of colorful birds, crocodiles and snakes in the marshlands and swamps.
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If calling from the United States,
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