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French Guiana: Overseas France Series

Updated on October 19, 2019

As mentioned in a previous article, France has many regions, most of which located in Europe, while some being overseas. French Guiana is the biggest overseas territory by size. It is the only department of France to be located in South America.

What makes this place special? Why visit this unpopular destination and what to expect from it?

Flag of French Guiana
Flag of French Guiana

While still not boasting itself for its tourism, French Guiana has some things to offer. It is fully located in the Amazon basin, close to the equator, making the climate very humid and hot. It is bordered by Brazil to the east and south, Suriname to the west, and by the Atlantic Ocean to the north.

This is a special place where European, Amerindian and Caribbean cultures mix, a place where you feel as if you are both in Europe, and in the wild jungle at the same time.

If ever deciding to travel to French Guiana, know that it is off the beaten path. Lush rainforests cover the whole land outside of the cities, which makes it difficult to build roads.

Also, make sure you protect yourself from some viruses present on the territory by vaccinating yourself against malaria, Zika and yellow fever.

Surely, this land, even if in a small package, has a lot to boast itself for. What makes French Guiana what it is? Where to go and what to for?

Rural French Guiana
Rural French Guiana

A Cultural Melting Pot

One of the things that makes French Guiana special is its ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity. It and two autonomous countries: bordering Suriname and Guyana, form the so-called group ‘the Guianas’, which share a lot of similarities. Generally, in all three territories it is common to find people of similar mixed ethnicities. The population of the Guianas ranges from native Amerindians, descendants of European colonizers and African slaves, Indians, Chinese, Southeast Asians, Haitians, etc.

Most Europeans in French Guiana are of French origin, for obvious reasons. There are many indigenous groups, some of which are the Kalina, Palikur and Wayana people. There are a lot of immigrants from Suriname, Brazil and Haiti.

Although the official language of the country is French, as in France, the common tongue is called French Guianese Creole, which shares many similarities with Antillean creole, spoken in some Caribbean islands. There are many other languages spoken, but not in big numbers, compared to French Guianese Creole. It is based on French and has some vocabulary from Amerindian and African languages. All this ethnic colorfulness is packed within a population of less than 300,000 inhabitants, which makes it very impressive for such a small region.

Touloulous, Cayenne Streets
Touloulous, Cayenne Streets

Places To Visit

There are mainly two big cities in French Guiana, which are Cayenne, the capital, and Kouru. The European space station is located in Kouru, which is what the city is known for. Another big attraction are the Salvation’s islands, which are around 11 kilometers offshore from Kouru. They are full of abundant wildlife, and it is the perfect place for nature lovers. If you love turtles, you can visit the Hattes beach, located northwest, very close to Suriname. It is the world’s most important nesting site for giant leatherback turtles.

Penal Colony Hospital, Isle Royal Island, Salvation Islands
Penal Colony Hospital, Isle Royal Island, Salvation Islands | Source

What is visiting French Guiana without entering the rainforest. It may not be among everyone’s preferences, but those who decide to take a trip South to the Guiana Amazonian park, can enjoy some amazing experiences, such as swimming with otters in Memora Creek, or for hiking lovers, visiting the remote Saül, and a lot more.

In Cayenne, you can see the Musée Départemental De Franconie, which is where you can get immersed into French Guianese history and get to know about the culture better. You can also go to the Place Victor Schoelcher, which is one of the biggest food markets in the country, offering a rich variety of different native fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and more, bringing us to the local cookery of the country…

The Local Cuisine

The cuisine is a great example of how the different cultures have mixed. It has influences from the French cuisine, but it is often based on indigenous ingredients and it shares similarities with other Amazonian, as well as Caribbean countries. But food is also influenced by Asian, African and Indian cuisines. Meats and seafood are often consumed. Another very common ingredient is cassava, which is typical for many other tropical countries. If you are a fan of spices, French Guiana has them, so you are not in danger of consuming plain and tasteless dishes.

Food Market, Cayenne
Food Market, Cayenne

Although not big in size, French Guiana has a lot packed within it, and a visit to this region with magnificent flora and fauna would not be a waste of time. It is a great way to appreciate a new culture, or more like, appreciating a lot of cultures all in one place, while tasting a new cuisine and diving into a new experience.

© 2019 Tory Peta

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    • Tory Peta profile imageAUTHOR

      Tory Peta 

      4 weeks ago

      Thanks, Matt. I believe most of us have not heard much of this place because it is not very popular.

    • Tory Peta profile imageAUTHOR

      Tory Peta 

      4 weeks ago

      Thank you, Liz. Yes, it is quite an overlooked area that does not get a lot of attention yet.

    • Iammattdoran profile image

      Matt Doran 

      4 weeks ago from Manchester, UK

      Very interesting. Other than knowing the name, it's a place that I know very little about.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 weeks ago from UK

      This is a fascinsting article about an often overlooked area.

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