Ready for a unique South American travel experience?
Boasting a rich French Creole culture, French Guiana offers a totally different way to experience South America. The nation, rich in both natural and man-made scenery, is home to a diverse population and incredible sites that you simply can’t get anywhere else. It’s no wonder, then, that you’re considering French Guiana for your next family vacation!
This guide seeks to give you all the information you need to make the necessary preparations for your trip. Specifically, we’ll run through some relevant information regarding basic French Guiana facts and must-know travel tips and will also introduce ten of the best places and activities for family travel while you’re there!
If you’re ready to start making that itinerary, keep reading to find out more!
Where Is French Guiana Located?
Don’t let the name fool you—French Guiana is located over 7,000km away from mainland France. French efforts to colonize the nation, which was originally populated by indigenous peoples, began as early as 1673, with French influence spreading over the country in the centuries to come. Today, French Guiana is an oversees collectivity of France, sharing borders with Suriname to the west, Brazil to the south and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. A quick look at a map of French Guiana can give you a better idea of where the nation sits in regard to other South American nations.
As an overseas of territory of France, the flag of French Guiana is the tricolor (blue, white, and red) flag of France. The nation follows French Guiana Time, which stays three hours behind Universal Coordinated Time year-round.
What Is the Capital of French Guiana?
With a population of nearly 139,000, Cayenne is the capital and largest city of French Guiana. What’s more, the city represents a large portion of the nation’s overall population, which rests at about 291,000 people. Outside of the capital, Matoury (population roughly 26,000) and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni (population roughly 24,000) are the next largest cities.
What Language Is Spoken in French Guiana?
As the name suggests, the official language of French Guiana is French, though there are a number of indigenous languages spoken throughout the country. You can expect most businesses and restaurants to conduct their business in French, so brushing up on that old high school textbook could be of some help while you’re there.
How to get to French Guiana
The most popular way to get to French Guiana is by air. The following airlines service international flights to the territory from Paris: Air France, Air Antilles, and Surinam Airways. All flights come to the Cayenne Felix Eboue Airport (CAY) located 15km outside of Cayenne.
Flights from places such as New York (JFK) and London (Heathrow) stopover in Paris. Those flying out of New York can expect flights between thirteen and fourteen hours, while flights from London typically take substantially longer (around twenty-three hours).
How to Get Around French Guiana
There are multiple modes of transportation that you’ll likely need to take when in French Guiana. If you plan on visiting remote jungle destinations, planes that fly out of Cayenne are the best option. Other tours can be undertaken by riding riverboats that ship travelers from one fantastic destination to another.
Unlike some of its neighbors, French Guiana boasts serviceable main roads (though some tertiary roads are to be avoided, especially at night), though you’ll still want to be careful when driving so as to avoid the car accidents that are common in the country.
What Is the Currency Used in French Guiana?
Because French Guiana is an overseas territory of France, the country uses the euro as its official currency. In 2020, the euro has the following exchange rates with other major currencies:
- 1 euro equals approximately 1.08 USD
- 1 euro equals approximately .92 pounds
- 1 euro equals approximately 1.55 CAD
Major credit cards are widely accepted in French Guiana, including MasterCard, Visa, Carte Bleu, and Eurocard.
Best Time to Travel to French Guiana
For those seeking fair weather, the best time to visit the country is between mid-August to mid-November, when the heavy rainy season gives way to warm weather and clear skies.
French Guiana in January , February, March, and April sees the heaviest rainfall; still, this is also the time of the famed Cayenne Easter festivals, which travelers from around the world come to see. The time best for you depend on what you are looking for in your vacation.
Is French Guiana Safe to Travel?
Superseding all this is the safety of French Guiana. Is the nation safe enough for you and your family? Fortunately, the answer is yes. While the nation has a comparatively low score on the UL Safety Index (54), French Guiana is safe to travel with the right precautions. This puts in conversation with neighboring countries such as Guyana (53) and Suriname (56) who have similar levels of safety.
What can you do to stay safe while you’re there? For starters, the State Department recommends traveling only during the daytime and being extra vigilant when visiting banks or ATMS. Pick-pocketing is common in French Guiana, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for your stuff when in heavily crowded areas. The State Department further advises against wearing jewelry or other displays of wealth and insists that doors and windows be locked during travel by motor vehicle.
If you are traveling into the interior of the company, make sure to use a well-established and extensively vetted tour company so that you can maximize your safety odds.
10 Best Things to Do in French Guiana
Now that these basics have been covered, it’s time to explore ten of the best things to do and see in French Guiana with your kids. As you’ll find out, French Guiana is a culturally rich and diverse territory, with tons to offer both you and your family!
What do we recommend? Let’s see:
1) Guiana Amazonian Park
It’s not hard to see why a trip to Guiana Amazonian Park should be at the top of your itinerary: the park covers an astounding 40% of French Guiana, making it the largest park in France and the European Union. The park is also one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet and serves as a sanctuary for several indigenous species. Many native tribes also call the park home, including the Apalai and the Wayana.
The most common way to get to the park is by plane. Make sure to pack lightly and go with a reputable guide to maximize your fun and sfety!
2) Devil’s Island
Once a penal colony for the French government, Devil’s Island is one of a collection of small islands belonging to French Guiana where political prisoners and exiles were held from 1852 to 1853. As the name implies, the prisons were known for their incredibly harsh treatment of prisoners, with death rates sometimes as high as 75%.
Today, the island no longer bears witness to the brutality for which it got their namesake, instead forming a popular tourist destination for French Guiana travelers. A great spot to learn the history of the nation with older kids, the island is also beautiful and may offer you a glimpse of a wild species of monkey and other animals, as well.
3) Kourou Space Centre
For kids of any age, few things are cooler than blasting off into space. And while actually doing it may not be possible, Kourou Space Centre offers the next best option. This government center serves as a launching pad for the French government, who uses the location as a place to send their satellites into space. Kourou Space Centre offers three-hour bus tours (in French) and allows guests to watch as their satellites take off to infinity and beyond.
While the tour itself is in French, questions may be answered in English. Additionally, an on-site gift shop makes the location a great place for souvenirs.
4) Salvation’s Islands
Along with the aforementioned Devil’s Island, Royale Island and Saint-Joseph Island make up the Salvation’s Islands, a cluster of volcanic mass off the coast of French Guiana that once served as a refugee location for those escaping the plague.
Over time, each of the islands became home to the notorious prisons that today serve as the area’s main tourism drivers. Though Devil’s Island, which was used for political prisoners, gets a bad rap, the worst of the islands was Saint-Joseph, where prisoners would go in solitary confinement with no contact with the outside world. Royale Island, for its part, housed the worst of the general population’s criminals.
Already decided on a trip to Devil’s Island? Make the other two options part of your list as well!
5) Marshes of Caw
Home to several species of bird, caiman, and other fantastic animals, Marshes of Caw has cemented itself as one of the best nature reserves in the region. The area is unique in that it boasts a marshy climate, which may be oddly refreshing for travelers weary of the typical beach vacation. Visitors can go on a boat tour while there (though the crew may not speak English), making for a great photo opportunity and a chance to see wildlife like never before.
Marshes of Caw is recommended for families with older kids and teenagers.
6) Cacao Village
Cacao Village is one of the most unique places anywhere in South America. Home to Laotian refugees who resettled to the area in the 1970s, this Hmong village boasts a distinctly Asian culture that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Visit the local insect museum or go to the market to see the traditional weaving and embroidering done by Hmong women.
A number of quality restaurants are also in the area, making this a great spot for those who are looking for foodies on the lookout for stellar cuisine.
7) Place des Palmistes
Get away from the hustle and bustle of the main city with a trip to Place des Palmistes. At first glance, this quiet location may not look like much (just a few palm trees and statues set off by historic buildings in the background), but it’s actually a great place for a family walk or incredible vacation photos. For this reason, it has remained a popular vacation spot for decades.
8) Remire-Montjoly Beach
Of course, any trip to French Guiana needs to have at least one visit to the beach. Of all the splendid options out there, Remire-Montjoly Beach rears its head as the finest.
Home to beautiful Atlantic coastline, the beach also contains the picturesque ruins of an old sugar mill and other antique locations. Kids of all ages will appreciate this stunning beach!
9) Jardin Botanique de Guyane
Jardin Botanique de Guyane is one of the most breathtaking gardens anywhere on the continent. Home to diverse fauna and flora, this location is a great place to simply sit back and enjoy the wonder of nature. It’s also a fantastic spot to learn more about the plants that call the jungle home!
10) Zoo de Guyane
What’s better than a sprawling zoo in the middle of the jungle? Zoo de Guyane is located in a remote Macarou junle and offers visitors a chance to get up close and personal with a variety of amazon fauna, flora, and wildlife. The zoo itself is nearly a sanctuary—in fact, it’s not uncommon to see a species of monkey wander onto the grounds at a time for a little friendly fun.
Other animals such as sloths, exotic birds, and even black jaguars call Zoo de Guyane home. One thing’s certain: this isn’t your ordinary zoo. If you’re looking to see some of the most fantastic animals, the world has to offer, Zoo de Guyane should rank toward the top of your list.
Expert Tips for Traveling French Guiana
Want to get the most out of your trip? Take these tips into account:
1) Prepare for Incredible Diversity
French Guiana may be an overseas territory of the French, but it’s surprisingly diverse in both people and language. Enclaves of Indonesians, Hmong, and various indigenous groups populate the country outside of the main city of Cayenne, with dialects such as French Creole being widely spoken. In short, it may be difficult to anticipate the full range of culture the nation has to provide, particularly given the nation’s Caribbean flair.
2) Know What You’re Getting Into
French Guiana is one of the wealthiest locations in the region, due in large part to the amount of money pumped into the territory by the French government. Still, you can expect potholes in the road and other lagging infrastructure, particularly as you move away from the capital. For this reason, be prepared to lower your standard of living a bit—especially if you plan on going to the heart of the jungle.
These tips can help you know what to expect and navigate French Guiana like a seasoned expert! So don’t wait! It’s time to start planning your trip today!