French Guyana is too many times forgotten and abandoned by travelers. Yet, this unknown french region is full of beautiful surprises ready to be seen. First, the history of this region is very interesting but also its nature is so rich. There is so much to discover and to learn!
Step 1: Saint Georges de l’Oyapock
I came from Brazil, so it was logical to start my trip to the border. Saint Georges de l’Oyapock is a village very peaceful. We can still feel the influence of the Brazilian culture on the inhabitants. If you go to the market, you will see many Brazilians selling their own products. If you are visiting French Guyana and you want to discover a little bit Brazil, you can cross the river very easily in a few minutes later and visit Brazil for one day. Otherwise, this village is also a good place if you look for tranquility.
Step 2: Cayenne and the vicinity
Cayenne is the biggest city of French Guyana. It is also the capital of this region, but the first thing to see when you are in Cayenne is the city center. Despite the small size, the city center is full of old buildings and beautiful. We can see typical and colorful houses or magnificent historical buildings like the board of education or the Saint Sauveur church and if you like squares, you can go to Palmistes Square or Léopol Hédert square. From the Cépérou fort, you will have a panoramic overview of Cayenne. And for those who want to admire the sunset on Cayenne, a good spot is the pointe des amandiers.
Around Cayenne, there are also very interesting and many things to see and to do. The Rorota path is an easy and nice hike in the forest. It is a loop of 2h walk and if you are lucky you can see sloths. However, be careful if there was rained a few days before you want to hike, the path can be very muddy.
Just next to the Rorota path, there is the Road of the beaches. Like the name says, this road will drive you to beaches. During the high tides, you can even enjoy them and swim. The most famous beach in Cayenne is the Salines beach. It is not exactly on the beaches road but it’s the most beautiful one. It is also here that you might be able to see turtles and their eggs hatching if you are at the good season.
A little further of Cayenne, there is an island where you can see lots of small monkeys call Saïmiris. To access to this island, Ilet la mère, you have to go to the marina named “Dégrad de Cannes”, at the east of the city. There are few small boats thus I advise you to book days in advance the boat to reach the island. The journey until Ilet la Mère lasts around 1 hour. Once you arrived, the monkeys will welcome you everywhere on the island. There is a hike all around the island and you might see monkeys there too, but the place where you will see the most is the beach. However, don’t be too naive, monkeys are only interested in your food. Be careful if you bring food, monkeys can steal your food from your hands and look into your bag. But otherwise, they are pretty harmless.
Further of Cayenne, you will find the Annamites’ prison. The visit is completely free and the access is easy even if you have to walk a little. This prison was build in the middle of the jungle and nowadays, the ruins are invaded by nature. You will see lots of signs to explain the history of this place and describe the prisoners’ life. You can still see the cells, the bathrooms and the train rails to forward the train cars.
Step 3: Cacao
Cacao’s market takes place every Sundays morning. This market is famous for all the Asian food you will find there. The Hmongs community is much present in Cacao, this explains why the market is mainly composed of Asian specialties. And if there is one thing to do at this market, it is to eat lunch! I recommend you to try the soup for the main dishes and to drink a Nam Van as a dessert. This sweet and colorful drink could seem strange the first you see but it is delicious!
Step 4: Kaw’s wetlands
Kaw’s wetlands are one of the most touristic place and a must-see in French Guyana. To visit then, the guide is mandatory. Indeed, the visit to the wetlands is on a boat and thus you need to be with someone. So, I advise you to book the activity you want to do days in advance. You can spend half a day, a day or even a night in the wetlands. It depends on what you want, the animals you want to see and of course your budget. If you wish, you can also visit the village (Kaw). It is pretty small but it stayed authentic.
In the wetlands, you will see many different animals species (cows, turtles, fishes, birds, etc.) but also many plants. Personally, this is one of the most beautiful places I saw in French Guyana and I strongly recommend you to visit it.
Step 5: Kourou
Kourou is probably the most famous city in French Guyana and this is for one reason: the space center. This is where the rockets are launched with the Ariane, Vega and Soyuz launchers. If you want to see a rocket launch or visit the space center, I wrote an entire article about it.
The second reason why Kourou is famous is because of the access to the Salvation’s Islands. If you wish to go there, the boat leaves from Kourou. Here also, I advise you to book the boat in advance to be sure to have seats the day you plan to visit them.
Salvation’s Island is famous because of the prison which was on these islands. Some famous French prisoners stayed there and contributed to the islands to become famous. Nowadays, the prison is of course abandoned but you can still visit the ruins. You can see the hospital, the lighthouse, and some cells.
There are not many things to do or to see in the city, but Kourou offers some nice spots. The plage des cocoteraie and the plage des roches are nice beaches where you can walk along the ocean. You can also watch the Dreyfus Tower which is at the end of the Kourou River.
Step 6: Iracoubo
Iracoubo is a small village between Kourou and Saint Laurent du Maroni. There is not much to do, except one thing to see: The church. It is small but its specificity is that is was entirely painted by a prisoner. If you pass by this village, don’t miss it and stop a few minutes to admire the church. Moreover, if you go there a Sunday, there is a small market where you can eat delicious “boules de coco” (literally “coconut ball”).
Step 7: Awala Yalimapo
These two villages are perfect places to observe turtles on the beaches. You may be able to see turtles laying and eggs hatching depending on the season. Everything is during the night. Thus, you have to arrive between 7 pm and 10 pm to hope to see turtles. You will need repellent (lots of repellent) and a red light. I insist on the red light because normal light (like a flash lamp or your phone) scares and destabilizes turtles. The other rules are the same as when you observe wild animals: don’t make noise, don’t get to close, don’t touch them, don’t feed them, etc.
Step 8: Saint Laurent du Maroni
Saint Laurent du Maroni is the second biggest city in French Guyana. The city center is not very big but it is nice and pleasant to walk around. Every Wednesday and Saturday, there is a market where you can buy vegetables and eat Asian food.
The Transportation Camp is THE monument to see in Saint Laurent. Unfortunately, it is part of the testimony of the dark past of France. You can visit it and the tourist information center organizes guided tours several times per days (6€/pers.). The visit lasts 1h and you learn everything about the different types of prisoners and how they used to live in this prison.
The second main activity in Saint Laurent is the Maroni River. This river is the natural border between French Guyana and Suriname but it’s also the second touristic attraction. Several agencies offer tours on the river from half a day to 2-3 days. You can visit the vicinity: Leprous Island, Portals Islands, Amerindian villages, etc. or visit the other village higher on the Maroni River. It depends on your wishes and the time you have!
Public transport doesn’t exist in French Guyana except in big cities. Thus if you want to reach another city, you have two solutions: to rent a car or to hitchhike. If you have a small budget, note that hitchhiking is popular in French Guyana. In my case, I moved from one city to another only by hitchhiking. It takes more time of course, but you will meet many people!
The accommodation is expensive in French Guyana. The price of the cheapest hotel is around 50€ a room for one night. If this price is too high for your budget, you have another solution: the carbets. You need to bring your own hammock and for 10 to 15€, you can hang your hammock in a carbet. A carbet is more or less a shelter with a bathroom and sometimes the internet and a kitchen. During my travel, I chose this option each time because the hotels were to expensive for me. However, be aware that this solution isn’t the most comfortable and it can be hard to stay during all your trip to carbets.
You can find of course the traditional French food, but there are specialties of French Guyana that you shouldn’t miss. First, there is fish or chicken “boucané”. It is a special way to bake the fish or meat. Another popular meal is colombo. It is meat and vegetables (mostly potatoes) with delicious spices.
As French Guyana is a nice melting pot of several cultures, you can also try the Asian food (and more specifically the soup) or meals from Suriname: Bami or Nassi.
To be honest, French Guyana is an expensive country when you want to visit it. Even if you find cheap prices to eat or to sleep, the activities are expensive. It could be frustrating when you have to choose between two activities because of the price, which was the case for me several times. However, I enjoyed this region and I don’t regret anything there!
Aim budget: 50€/day/pers
Real Budget: 18€/day/pers.
That’s all for French Guyana! This little piece of France really surprised me with all the things you have to do and discover. Its history is fascinating and its culture so rich.
I hope you like this article and that now you want to discover French Guyana too! And if you like challenges, I offer you my bucket list for French Guyana!