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French Guiana guide
Off the beaten track, yet still accessible, the sights of French Guiana can be covered in just a few days and the country is easily combined with a trip to neighbouring Suriname or Guyana.
The capital, Cayenne, lies between the estuaries of the Cayenne and Mahury rivers, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and is home to around half the population of French Guiana, some 50,000 people. This small, colourful and laid-back creole town can be easily explored on foot. Further inland lies the jungle town of Cacao, home to a community of H’mong immigrants from Laos, where one can find a fascinating Sunday market.
Just one hour from Cayenne is the coastal town of Kourou. A relatively modern town, it is closely linked to the nearby Guiana Space Centre, a major commercial satellite construction facility and rocket launch pad. It is also the departure point for catamaran trips to the Iles du Salut. These beautiful little tropical islands, famously featured in the novel Papillon, once served as French penal colonies and the ruined and overgrown prison buildings can be explored on a day trip.
On the Maroni river border with Suriname is the town of St Laurent du Maroni, which can be visited when arriving from or departing to Suriname. A site of note is the historic ruined transportation centre, a processing facility for slaves and, later, European convicts.
A typical creole town and home to around half the population of French Guiana, some 50,000 people, Cayenne is the administrative and commercial centre of the country.
Built in 1965 as a space port for the Ariane and Soyuz satellites, this vast site now also features a space museum and visitors can view the launch pads. Satellite launch schedules are a closely guarded secret, but viewing tickets may be obtainable locally should a visit happen to coincide with a launch.
These three islands lie 7kms off the coast of Kourou. Take a catamaran trip to Ile Saint Joseph and Ile Royal to explore the atmospheric and overgrown ruined buildings of this historic penal colony, where many political prisoners were incarcerated. Enjoy lunch with views of Devils Island (inaccessible to visitors due to its dangerous coastline), made famous in ‘Papillon’ the semi-autobiographical novel by Henri Charriere, and whose most famous prisoner was Alfred Dreyfus.
St Laurent du Maroni on the Maroni River is home to a sobering memorial, the well-preserved ruins of the slave transportation centre, which served as a transit point for newly arrived slaves destined for plantations in Caribbean and South America. Nearby is the coastal town of Awala Yalimapo home to the Kali’na indigenous people and an important sea turtle nesting site (March - August).
This small farming community in the jungle to south of Cayenne was founded by H’mong immigrants from Laos. There is an interesting Sunday market selling traditional local produce and handicrafts, while visits can also be made to explore the settlement and local plantations.
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