Best Places to Visit in French Guiana

Christopher Columbus first sighted French
Guiana in 1498, deep in equatorial South America. French Guiana is a department of France bordering
Brazil, Suriname, and the Atlantic since they settled in the region in the 17th century. It
has few people, a vast amazon rainforest, savanna and a long coast along the Atlantic
Ocean.  Almost half of its inhabitants live in and around Cayenne, the capitol city; other
areas tend to be little developed, but ripe for ecotourism.
Except the coastal regions, most of French Guiana is a dense, tropical rain forest, including
the Guiana Amazonian Park. French Guiana has numerous coastal beaches
that are popular nesting sites for turtles. The Leatherback turtle in particular is very
fond of this region’s shoreline. It is one of the largest nesting sites for this turtle
anywhere in the world. While visiting the capital Cayenne, go to
the Chou Aï Rescue Center, where you can hold and play with sloths and learn all about them.
As French Guiana is a department of France, the local currency is the Euro. It is also
important to note that French is the official language and English is not widely spoken.  1. Iles du Salut  – The Iles du Salut,
also known as the Salvation Islands, are island group, comprising three main islands: Royale,
Saint-Joseph, and Diable, the site of the infamous “Devil’s Island” penal colony
from 1852 to 1953. They were chosen as the perfect prison grounds due to there strategic
location 10 miles (15km) off the coast of mainland French Guiana. Half day tours includes
the cell blocks, the guard housing, now a restaurant and the Director’s House.
The island was home to over 2,000 convicts imprisoned in inhumane conditions. The prisons,
which were closed in the mid-20th century, are now open to visitors. Explore the restored
penal buildings or wander around an island that has once again become rich with plant
growth and wildlife. To get to Iles du Salut, take a chartered catamaran from the fisherman’s
dock at the end of Avenue General De Gualle. The ride takes about 90 minutes each way. 2.Cayenne represents the crossroads of Europe,
the Caribbean and South America. The city of variegated cultures is home to vibrant
markets, Creole, Brazilian, Chinese and French restaurants and streets lined with colonial
homes painted in topical shades of turquoise, pinks and yellows. Pleasing to all the senses,
the capital of French Guiana is wonderfully quaint, welcoming and truly enticing. The
main market is a lively jumble of African-style paintings, Hmong handicrafts, exotic fruits
and spices galore. 3.Transportation Camp From 1852 to 1953, the French sent prisoners
to French Guiana, much as the British used Australia. The ruins of these prisons are
one of the country’s main tourist attractions. St. Laurent de Maroni is a border town in northwest
French Guiana, located on the Maroni River. Here, you can visit the former transportation
camp, through which all prisoners entered the country.  4.Guiana Space Centre – Enter a world of
space legends at Guiana Space Centre near Kourou. It is a French and European spaceport since
the 1980s. The Guyanais Space Center has launched over two-thirds of the worlds commercial satellite
into space. From Ariane to Soyuz or Vega, come and marvel at rockets more than 50 meters
(165 ft) high. Explore the space museum filled with interactive activities, allowing you
to further understand the history of space exploration or the first moon landing. 5.Plage Les Hattes
This long stretch of beach is a very important nesting ground for giant leatherback turtles,
which can grow up to 600kg. The females come ashore from April to July, and their young
hatch and make their way into the sea between July and September. In July through September,
visitors watch the eggs hatch and encourage the hatchlings on their adventure to the ocean. 6.Trésor & Kaw Nature Reserves
The Trésor Nature Reserve is one of French Guiana’s most accessible primary rainforest
areas, and wandering its 1.75km botanical trail is a great way to experience its rich
diversity and wildlife. Trésor borders the mysterious forests and swamps of the Kaw Nature
Reserve, an excellent place to observe caiman and spectacular waterbirds such as the scarlet
ibis. 7.Musée Départemental
The Musée Départemental features a frighteningly large stuffed black caiman, as well as other
preserved local critters, an ethno-botanical display and an air-conditioned butterfly and
insect room. The upstairs area recaptures life in the old penal colony and displays some Amerindian
handicrafts. Look out for the 22 paintings of convict life on display here by former
inmate, François Lagrange. 8.Pripri Yiyi Trail
This easy 3km walk takes you through forest, marshes and wetlands along a well-marked trail
from where you can spot some lovely birdlife. To get here, take the road to Iracoubo and
look for the trailhead at La Maison de la Nature, which has a permanent exhibition and
displays about the marsh ecosystem. 9.Grand Matoury Nature Reserve
This 234m hill rises steeply behind Matoury and is covered with thick primal forest. Two
well-marked walking routes take you up to the top and make for a pleasant way to explore
the hillside, which you’ll often have all to yourself, despite the large population
all around. There are some excellent views from the top and lots of birdlife to spot.
10.Fleuve de Maroni Explore the Amerindian and Maroon cultures
that inhabit the shores of this great river. You’ll usually also visit the island of an
old leper colony (mentioned in Papillon) and take a jungle stroll. The tourist office
will know which of the several local river-tour companies have scheduled trips and can direct
you to guides who speak English. Longer trips usually involve a night or more in a hammock
in a traditional Amerindian hut and a taste of local cuisine.

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