French Guiana is an overseas department of France, the Prime Minister of France is its head of state, its currency is the Euro and it is recognized as European Union soil. Yet, for all its affinity with Europe, French Guiana is nonetheless located a world away, in South America. The many attractions of French Guiana reflect the region's distinctive cross-cultural nature.
Cayenne is the capital and largest city of French Guiana, with a population of about 50,000. The city, a mixture of European, South American and Caribbean influences, reflects the cultural diversity of the country. The streets of Cayenne are lined with pink, yellow and turquoise buildings with wrought-iron balconies and restaurants offering Brazilian, French, Creole or Chinese cuisine. The best time to be there is during "Carnaval," a Mardi Gras celebration held in the days preceding Lent. In true Creole style, Carnaval is a big, wild party with live bands, dancing and parades.
Îles du Salut
The three Îles du Salut, or "Islands of Salvation"--Île Royale, Île St Joseph and Île du Diable--are located about 9 miles off the coast of Kourou, French Guiana's second largest city. From 1854 to 1939, these islands, located in shark-infested waters, housed the notorious prison colony that came to be known as "Devil's Island." Over the years some 80,000 criminals and political prisoners were transported from France to the colony, including its most famous prisoner, Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, who spent four years there in solitary confinement. Today, the remains of the prison are a popular tourist attraction.
Centre Spatial Guyanais
The French space agency Centre Spatial Guyanais has been based in Kourou since 1965. Over 500 rockets and satellites have been launched from this site. The facility offers tours of its grounds and has a museum that chronicles the history of space travel in general and of the French space program in particular.
Kaw-Roura National Nature Reserve
The Kaw-Roura National Nature Reserve is located some 55 miles from Cayenne and accessible only by boat. It is a large wetland consisting of marshes, mudflats filled with mangroves and swamp forests traversed by small rivers and pools. The area is home to many rare and endangered species, such as several varieties of caimans, or small crocodiles, ibises and the world's largest colony of Agami herons.
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images