French Guiana

French Guiana is a French overseas department in northeastern South America. French Guiana is the only one of the three Guianas that is not yet independent. This will probably never happen either, as the inhabitants benefit from the highest standard of living in South America, so that less than 10 percent of the population support secession from France.

The area borders Brazil and Suriname and is mostly covered by tropical jungle. It is still extremely sparsely populated, but a large crowd of immigrants from neighboring countries and from Asia is slowly changing this and contributing to a multicultural flair. The Kourou spaceport and the capital Cayenne with the former penal colony on the Îles du Salut archipelago are of interest to travelers.

French Guiana is 90% covered with jungle. Apart from a few towns and villages in the center of the country (e.g. Saul), only the coast is populated. Besides a few smaller streams and watercourses, there are two major rivers, the Maroni, which marks the western border with Suriname, and the Oyapock, which forms the eastern border with Brazil.

In addition to the Devil's Islands, there are also some small islands off Rémire.

The population is made up of different ethnic groups. These include around 40 different indigenous peoples, Créolen and Noirs Marrons - the descendants of abducted slaves at the time of colonization -, French, Hmongs from Laos, Brazilians, Surinamese and Antillais, the immigrants from the Caribbean Antilles. Immigration from nearby Brazil in particular has led to high population growth since the end of the 20th century.



The country is divided into two arrondissements (Cayenne and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni) and 22 communes. The cantons have been abolished since 2016.



1 Cayenne – 65000 inhabitants, the prefecture. It is located on the Atlantic in the central part.
2 Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni – 20,000 inhabitants. Sub-prefecture, border town to Suriname, on the Maroni River.
3 Kourou – Population 20,000, known for the Center Spatiale Guyannais Cosmodrome.
4 Saint-Georges-de-l'Oyapock - 4,000 inhabitants, until 2004 isolated border town to Brazil, slightly inland on the Oyapock River in the east.
5 Maripasoula – Population 5,000, largest inland community located on the Suriname border in the southwest.


Other destinations

Îles du Salut (Salvation Islands) . Until 1951, France maintained a prison for up to 2,000 prisoners on the entire archipelago. On the Île Royale were the administration, the hospital and the death row. However, most of the prisoners were housed in solitary cells on Île Saint-Joseph. The prison conditions were inhuman. There were cells without a roof, leaving the inmates exposed to the tropical sun and rain. One of the most prominent prisoners on the Île du Diable was Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Today the islands are a popular tourist destination. In addition to the ruins of the penal colony, the fauna is also worth a visit. Squirrel monkeys and macaws are used to visitors and can be hand-fed. There are also iguanas and caimans.
Center Spatial Guyanais. European Spaceport Kourou.



French Guiana has a checkered history that has been marked by many setbacks from a European point of view. The area was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, including the Arawak, the Caribs and the Wayana, after whom the area was named; these still settle in the interior of the country and live in the field of tension between nature and modernity. The members of an expedition by Columbus in 1498 were probably the first Europeans to set foot in the area. In 1604 the first French settlers arrived in the region, but they were driven out by the competing Portuguese, and in 1643 another attempt was aborted after attacks by the natives. In 1658, the Dutch tried to colonize the Cayenne area, followed again in 1665 by the French, who finally took over control.

The area became known through a tragedy: After France had lost almost all areas in America after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Louis XV. 12,000 settlers for the region, over 7,000 of whom died from tropical diseases in the following two years. About 3,000 returned to their old homeland and spread the reputation of the colony as the "Green Hell".

After the French Revolution, starting in 1795, a few hundred opponents of the revolution were deported to this area, which had made a very bad impression on France. After Napoleon revoked the abolition of slavery in 1802, which had been proclaimed in 1794 but not enforced in all colonies, people in Africa were again kidnapped and sold as slaves in the region. This was the beginning of a first permanent establishment. At the beginning of the 19th century, the area came under Portuguese rule for a short time until 1814. Gold was found for the first time in 1853. A year earlier, French Guiana's notorious history as a penal colony (bagne) began with the systematic establishment of penal camps. Two goals were pursued: on the one hand, criminals and repeat offenders were to be removed from society and "improved" through work, on the other hand, after the definitive abolition of slavery in 1848, they were to serve as cheap labor and populate the colony. Those sentenced to imprisonment in the "Bagne" had to remain in Guyana for the same period of time, or for the rest of their lives in the case of sentences of more than eight years, as "freedmen" (redoublage) after they had served their sentence, in order to give them an incentive to settle down in the colony give. The experiment failed because many convicts did not survive the very harsh prison conditions and the others after their release mostly had neither the means nor the opportunity to build up a middle-class existence in the colony, let alone were wealthy enough to return to France at their own expense. Most of them eked out their existence in "freedom" as beggars, petty criminals or, in the best case, as domestic servants.

Sensational reports, including those by Albert Londres, drew the attention of the French public to the conditions in the "Bagnes" between the wars, so that from 1938 no more prisoners were deported to French Guiana. However, those who had already been imprisoned had to continue serving their sentences, so that it was not until 1953 that the last convicts were released and the camps closed.

Since 1946, French Guiana is no longer a colony, but an overseas department. An era of stabilization, growth and immigration began that continues to this day. The founding of the Space Center (Centre Spatial Guyanais, CSG) in 1964 in Kourou further promoted economic development. In the 1990s, the CSG contributed about 25% of French Guiana's GDP. Since the end of the 20th century, after the decline of countries like Argentina, the overseas department has been the most prosperous area in South America and a magnet for people from neighboring countries, many of whom immigrate to search for gold, mostly illegally.



As an overseas department of France, French Guiana is a French territory that has partly adopted the culture of the mother country. Most of the population is Catholic and the holidays are the same as for Catholics and the French in general.

The country's carnival showcases this mix of traditions. It originally goes back to a Creole festival that was adopted from France. Since the beginning of the massive immigration, Brazilian dance groups can be found in the parades alongside the traditional groups, and residents of Asian origin also take part in them with dragon costumes.


Getting here

French Guiana is part of the European Union but not part of the Schengen area. EU citizens can therefore freely reside in the territory and also look for work, but their passport or identity card will be checked upon entry.

Cayenne Airport (Aéroport international Félix Éboué, CAY) is located south of the capital Cayenne in the suburb of Matoury. It is served from France (Paris-Orly), Brazil (Belém, Macapá, São Luiz, Fortaleza, Recife) as well as Fort-de-France, Pointe-à-Pitre, Santo Domingo, Port-au-Prince and Miami. Airlines are Air France, Air Caribe and TAF.

Domestic connections are available to Maripasoula and Saul with Air Guyane Express.

There are no rail connections in and to French Guiana.

The border towns to Brazil (Saint-Georges-de-l'Oyapock / Oiapoque) and Suriname (Saint-Laurent du Maroni / Albina) are served by "Taxi-Co" (shared taxis), which are significantly cheaper than regular taxis but more expensive than buses are. However, there are no direct connections to these countries yet.

From Brazil by public transport overland: The only good starting point is Macapá (the capital of Amapá), which can be reached by ferry from Belém (and by plane from other cities). From Macapá there are afternoon buses to Oiapoque, arriving in the morning. Otherwise, there is the option of renting an off-road vehicle with a driver (also at the bus station) as an "unofficial shared taxi", which is a bit more expensive but also faster. In Oiapoque you take a passenger boat to cross to French Guiana. If you are not an EU citizen and need a stamp or visa, you have to report to the immigration authorities yourself, as there are no border controls. Then take a Taxi-Co to Cayenne (see above).

By car, entry is best possible from Suriname via a ferry from Albina to St. Laurent-du-Maroni. Getting there by car from Brazil is still cumbersome.

Entry via the eastern border (via Oiapoque) takes a long time and is also quite expensive. One must first drive to Macapá, which can only be reached from Belem by ferry, which takes a full day to cross the Amazon estuary (departures are usually in the morning). Then take the BR-156 to Oiapoque (about 500 km) which is paved - certain sections may become impassable during rainy weather, nor should you ever stop outside of built-up areas as car thefts by armed gangs are common on this route. In Belem (cheaper) and Macapá you should definitely fill up, as there is no petrol station on the entire route. The border river between Oiapoque in the Brazilian state of Amapá and Saint-Georges in French Guiana has been accessible via a bridge since March 2017.
The route over the Transamazónica (BR-230 and BR-319, via Manaus and Boa Vista (Roraima)) is currently almost impassable, especially in the rainy season. The problem is the BR-319, which has not been maintained. Few adventurers venture on the route in off-road vehicles or motorbikes - a BBC team took six days to complete the 600km a few years ago.
If you accept the hardships despite everything, you can easily get to French Guiana from Manaus via Suriname. While the BR-319 is currently undergoing refurbishment, there is no guarantee that the entire route will actually be paved as planned.

There is a car ferry on the western border to Suriname.


Getting around

Unfortunately, there is hardly any public transport in French Guiana.

Regular buses only operate in Cayenne, but it is not recommended to rely on the bus being on time. The price is a standard €1.10.

Medium-distance transport is handled exclusively by shared taxis ("taxi-co"). These are minibuses with up to 10 seats that run on the coast road without a timetable. The buses only leave when they are full - so you have to plan quite a bit of time. Prices are moderate, for example Cayenne-Kourou costs €10, Cayenne - Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni €35 and Cayenne - Saint-Georges de l'Oyapock €40.

Most places in the rainforest can only be reached by plane with the regional airline Air Guyane, as there are no roads yet. The cities of Saul and Maripasoula are served.

Taxi boats operate between Saint-Laurent and Apatou.

The main roads around Cayenne and Kourou, which have been developed and signposted according to French standards, are easy to drive on with a rental car. Due to the heavy rainfall, however, the roads can have large potholes, and deer crossing is to be expected. At night, the streets outside of town are unlit. Outside the cities, the condition of the roads, especially after rain, can be quite "adventurous".



The official language in French Guiana is French. The second most important language is Creole. It is spoken mainly by the Creole part of the population, but also by others. Créole is very common among young people. You also hear a lot of Portuguese.

English doesn't get you very far in Guiana. It is recommended to have at least a basic knowledge of French.



There is a "Hypermarché" just outside of Cayenne. This is a shopping center which, in addition to a large supermarket (Hypermarché), also has smaller shops such as a supermarket. B. jewelers or mobile phone shops. The supermarket stocks everything from books to clothes and a wide range of groceries.

In the city you will find other small supermarkets and also opportunities for shopping. There is also a large number of "Épiceries" (sort of like a corner shop). There you will mainly find groceries, but also other everyday necessities such as anti-mosquito spray, toothpaste and other hygiene items, stationery, etc. While supermarkets usually close at 7 or 8 p.m., the shops, which are often run by Asians, are also open in the evenings.

Most goods, including food, come from the European continent. Branded articles and hygiene products in particular are therefore expensive. As in all of France, electronic goods are subject to a kind of "luxury tax". Regionally produced fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, are inexpensive, as is the rum produced in the country and in the French Antilles.

Similar to e.g. the Canary Islands, French Guiana is part of the customs area, but not the tax area of the EU. Accordingly, customs levies import sales tax and excise duties (e.g. spirits tax) on souvenirs if the (narrow) exemption limits are exceeded.



The Guayanese cuisine is very exotic for Europeans. There is a lot of fish and meat from animals from the jungle. Some restaurants also offer protected animal species (e.g. green turtles or caiman). One should think twice before ordering one of these exotic dishes.

A typical Guayanese dish consists of fish and other seafood or game served with rice, red beans or couac (flour made from dried cassava) and can be quite spicy as generous amounts of spices are often used. What do you expect from a region whose capital gave the cayenne pepper its name? Of course, it is always possible to ask the chef to make the dish less spicy.

Rice, red beans or couac (cooked cassava flour) are almost always served as side dishes. Lentilles (lentils) or haricots rouges (red beans) are often served with game or fish.

Bouillon d'Awara - the pulp of a palm tree (Astrocaryum vulgare) is fried with smoked chicken and fish
Colombo - a Creole dish with pork or chicken
Kalou, Kalalou, is a fish dish with spinach and okra
Pimentade is a peppered and lemon flavored fish in a tomato sauce
Blaff is a bouillon made from onions, garlic, celery and basil
Blaf de poisson is fish prepared with court bouillon
Roti couniad, fish is grilled with its scales
Poulet boucané is smoked chicken
Poisson boucané is smoked fish



During Carnival (from the 1st Sunday in January to Ash Wednesday) there is a lot of celebration. Every Sunday there are parades in Cayenne, Kourou and Saint Laurent.

In the evening you can go to the disco or a bar. In Cayenne "Le Soleil Levant" and "Chez Polina" are recommended for the carnival season, in Kourou "La Matadô". Outside the carnival period, you can go to the following discos and bars: "Petit Bar De L'ouest", "Bar des Palmistes", "Lido Night", "Loft" and "Acropolis".

There is also a bowling center in Rémire-Montjoly.



In Cayenne, the "Amazonia", the "Central Hotel" and the "Novotel" belong to the upper category. However, they are more geared towards business travelers than tourists. There are also small pensions, but these are often not listed on the internet.

There are two hotels in Kourou. Hotel Mercure Kourou Ariatel and Hotel Kourou Atlantis. Both are also in the upper price sector.

In addition, the hotel "Atlantis" which is used a lot by fitters and the relatively new "El Marina" on the outskirts of Kourou in the middle price sector.

If you want to spend the night in the forest, you should rent a "carbet" (a kind of spacious hut). There you can sleep in a hammock.


Learning and studying

EU citizens also benefit from free movement of workers and freedom of establishment in French Guiana. However, unemployment is very high at 29.5%, which is also due to the extreme population growth (from 1990 to 2009 the number of inhabitants doubled!). So if you want to emigrate to French Guiana, you are well advised to get plenty of information, good knowledge of French is a must. You are most likely to find what you are looking for in the medical field.



Parts of the country are patrolled by the French Foreign Legion (Légion Étrangère), which takes action against illegal gold prospectors there. The Foreign Legion also protects the spaceport and maintains a jungle combat training camp in the country.



The European health insurance card is recognized in all French overseas departments.

A yellow fever vaccination that is no more than 10 years old and documented in the vaccination card is mandatory for entry. Other vaccinations, e.g. B. against typhus and hepatitis, are recommended. Malaria and dengue fever are also common in French Guiana, and typhoid and cholera occur occasionally. Outside the cities, medical care can be patchy.

When handling food and water, the usual precautions for tropical regions should be observed.

In nature, long clothes and sturdy shoes protect against mosquitoes, ants and the extremely unpleasant Pou d'Agouti (a skin parasite related to the autumn mite). Mosquito repellent sprays also help to keep these animals away. Fair-skinned people should also think about adequate sun protection.


Rules and respect

Although Creole culture is very present in French Guiana, the Guianas are proud to be French and consider themselves French. Criticizing the behavior of the Guayanese or similar should be avoided. Another issue to be careful about is slavery.


Climate and travel time

French Guiana has a tropical climate. The temperature stays the same all year round, at around 26 °C. However, due to the high humidity, it feels warmer. It cools down at night, but wearing long pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt or light sweater is sufficient.

The rainy season is from December to May/June and the dry season is from June to December. During the rainy season, there are heavy rain showers or continuous rain every day. It is therefore somewhat cooler than during the dry season (approx. 25 °C). "Dry season" means that it only rains occasionally. The humidity is still very high.


Post and telecommunications

The EU roaming regulation applies in French Guiana, so there are no roaming fees for travelers from Germany and Austria.

Prepaid cards can be bought on site without any problems.



The department covers an area of about 83,534 km² and is almost as big as Austria. It has 378 km of Atlantic coastline, a 730 km[4] border with Brazil and 510 km with Suriname. The border with Brazil is thus the longest border between France and another country.

The area is part of the Guayan Highlands, which stretches over 1.5 million km² in the north-east of the South American continent. Due to its climatic isolation from the rainforest, this highland has an endemic flora and fauna.

The highest elevation is the Bellevue de l'Inini at 851 m above sea level. In the south of the country there is a smaller low mountain range with maximum elevations of around 800 m, the Massif Tabulaire. The most important rivers are, from west to east, the Maroni, which forms the border with Suriname, the Sinnamary, the Approuague and the Oyapock, which is also the border with Brazil. On the position map shown here, French Guiana, which is disputed with Suriname in the south of the country, is included.

French Guiana has the largest contiguous forest area in France and the European Union. 90% of the country is covered with tropical rainforests. The vast majority of the population lives on the coast, where the largest cities are located. These are:
Cayenne, 65,956 inhabitants (2020), capital
Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, 49,173 inhabitants (2020)
Kourou, 24,805 inhabitants (2020)
Matoury, 34,474 inhabitants (2020), belongs to the Cayenne agglomeration
Remire-Montjoly, 25,793 inhabitants (2020), belongs to the Cayenne agglomeration



The climate is tropical. Temperatures are constant throughout the year, averaging around 28°C. The dry season is from August to December, while the rest of the year is the rainy season. The average relative humidity is between 80 and 90%. The coastal region benefits from the Atlantic trade winds and the coolness of the rainforest to the south and west. Due to the proximity to the equator and the prevailing air currents, the occurrence of tropical cyclones is practically impossible, unlike over the Caribbean Sea.




As of January 1, 2020, French Guiana had a population of 285,133. The population is growing very quickly due to the high birth rate. In 1999, the Overseas Department still had 157,000 inhabitants. French Guiana is the French department with the highest birth rate. In addition, the population is very young with an average age of 28.6 years. Population growth is 3.3%, almost as high as that of New Caledonia.

The population is also growing due to immigration. Most immigrants come from nearby states such as Guyana, Suriname, Brazil and Haiti. Significant immigration is also recorded from South Asia. On September 6, 1977, the first of 2,100 Hmong people who had fled China and Laos arrived. They were settled in the villages of Cacao and Javouhey (Municipality of Mana). Within a few decades, they achieved some prosperity, and as early as the 2010s were harvesting up to 90% of the fruit and vegetables sold in the country.



The population is ethnically very mixed. The majority of the population is made up of Creoles and Afroguyans, whose ancestors were shipped from West Africa to French Guiana as slaves during the colonial period. The descendants of European immigrants make up 12% of the population. Other important minorities are the indigenous peoples with about 5-10% and the Southeast Asians, there are mainly Laotians and Vietnamese from the former French colony of Indochina.

A special feature are the descendants of escaped African slaves, known as Maroons or Bushinengue, who have been living isolated in the riparian forests of the Maroni for centuries. There are four ethnic groups that make up the majority of the population along the Maroni: Alukus (or Bonis), Ndyukas, Paramaccanians and the Saramaccanians. Most of the latter group live in Suriname, but some fled to Guyana to escape the ruling military dictatorship during the civil war there in the 1980s. The escaped slaves found almost the same living conditions in the primeval forests as in their original homeland, the rainforests of Central and West Africa, from where they had previously been abducted. They were therefore able to continue their original way of life more or less unchanged on the new continent, even though the new home was thousands of kilometers away from their country of origin. They mostly live in subsistence farming from hunting and fishing, others work as gold panners or in tourism. They are significantly poorer than the average population of Guyana and are greatly underrepresented in political bodies.



According to a French census of December 31, 2007, 84.4% of the inhabitants are Christians, of whom over 90% are Catholics. 3.6% support Chinese universism. 3.3% are attributed to spiritualism and 2.9% are agnostics. Between a quarter and a half of the country's indigenous people also adhere to traditional religions; the census indicates 2.2% of the total population.



Like all other departments, French Guiana is also represented in the French legislature by representatives of the people and municipalities: it has two mandates each in the National Assembly and in the Senate.

All French laws apply in French Guiana. However, according to Article 73 of the French Constitution, local peculiarities can be taken into account.

Since the decentralization laws of 1982, French Guiana has formed both a department and a region of France. Guiana is divided into two arrondissements, one around Cayenne, the other with the sub-prefecture of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. The area is further divided into 22 municipalities. The cantons have been dissolved since 2016 (see: administrative structure).

Every six years, citizens elect the Conseil général (for the department) with 19 members and the Conseil régional (for the region) with 31 members. Martin Jaeger is the prefect (as of January 2017).

In a referendum initiated by the French state on January 10, 2010 on more autonomy for the department, 69.8 percent of those voting against voted with a turnout of 55 percent. In another vote on January 24, 2010, a majority of 57.58% voted in favor of merging the department and region. However, turnout was only 27.44%.

French Guiana is part of the European Union. Therefore, the borders with Suriname and Brazil are also EU external borders.


Public facilities

There are approximately 920 French Gendarmerie officers in the Guyana Gendarmerie Command (COMGEND). Customs has around 200 employees.

The University of French Guiana offers 31 degree programs at two locations. It covers five areas of study, namely art, literature and languages, health sciences, science and technology as well as law and economics.



The French army maintains in Rochambeau u. a. an Air Force military base. A unit of the Foreign Legion, the 3rd Infantry Foreign Regiment (French 3° REI), is stationed in Kourou. Their primary tasks include securing the border and the spaceport in Kourou. Soldiers of the Foreign Legion came from there in March 2004 for a deployment in Haiti. In Régina, about 70 km south of Cayenne, is the "jungle combat school" (Centre d'entraînement à la forêt équatoriale, CEFE) of the Foreign Legion, in which special units from other countries (e.g. KSK, Navy Seals) also take part in short training be formed.



ESA operates the Center Spatial Guyanais spaceport in Kourou together with the French space agency CNES. There Arianespace launches the Ariane-type carrier rockets with communication satellites and other payloads, there are also launch facilities for Soyuz and Vega rockets. Due to its proximity to the equator, the rockets need less fuel when launched from here than from Europa in order to carry a payload to a certain orbital altitude.

The Cosmodrome is the mainstay of French Guiana's economy. In the meantime, the aerospace site in Kourou has also become a tourist motor for the domestic economy.

Forestry is an important industry in the country due to the tropical rainforest. Agriculture is practiced only near the coast. The only other industries worth mentioning are crab fishing and gold mining.

The main trading partners are metropolitan France, Trinidad and Tobago and Italy. The main exports are fish, rice and gold, while the most important import products from French Guiana include machines and vehicles. The mercury used in the (usually illegal) gold mining gets into the water and is ingested by the fish. In those parts of the indigenous population that mainly eat fish, this leads to symptoms of illness similar to Minamata disease in Japan. French officials are stepping up action against the illegal prospectors by arresting them and deporting them to Brazil. However, the prospectors soon penetrated French-Guyanese territory again, since the rainforest is very difficult to control. In addition, the French military has little legal recourse against the smugglers and environmental criminals who work in mafia-like structures. The prospectors, who do the actual work and take great health and legal risks, are usually in an oppressive, slave-like working relationship with their donos (Portuguese for owners) in the background, who often do not shy away from violence. The rise in the price of gold in recent years further exacerbates the problem.

In comparison with the gross domestic product of the EU expressed in purchasing power standards, French Guiana has an index of 57.6 (EU-25: 100) (2003). This makes French Guiana the poorest region in France. However, the high rate of self-sufficiency must also be considered here, which is not taken into account when determining the GDP.

In 2017, the unemployment rate was 22.4%.