French Guiana, a French possession on South America’s northeastern shore, is full of different cultures and traditions; and its proximity to the Amazon rainforest makes it an ideal destination for adventure and exploration.
French Guiana is a great starting point for exploring the rainforest, due to its many rivers that flow into the Amazon. Guided tours aboard locally made dugout canoes bring visitors to a paradise of flora and fauna and face to face with villagers. Guided, two- and three-day treks are another way to experience the jungle.
In contrast, a popular way to explore French Guiana’s coast, including the capital city of Cayenne, is by rental car. In Cayenne, visitors will find museums, traditional restaurants, sidewalk cafes, French colonial architecture and local markets. Attractions include the ruins of Fort Cépérou, offering views of the town; the Musée Départmental, with exhibits on the country’s natural history, archaeology and colonial era; and the Botanical Gardens, featuring tropical plants and foliage.
Nearby in Kourou, once the site of a penal colony, the Guiana Space Centre features modern buildings, contrasting sharply with Cayenne’s colonial ambience and with Kourou’s Old Town. Tours feature the control center and launch facilities. Other sites along the coast include Awala-Yalimapo, home of the leatherback turtles, the largest sea turtles in the world; and the Maroni River, French Guiana’s largest. Throughout French Guiana, visitors can shop for locally made items including embroidery, woodcarving, basket weaving, pottery and jewelry.
Creoles, the largest cultural group in French Guiana, are descendents of different ethnic groups who intermarried. They are known for their food, crafts and the annual Carnival.
French Guiana’s Creole cuisine is influenced by a mix of cultures, with an emphasis on spices like nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and chili peppers. Among the local specialties are blaff, a court-bouillon with onions, garlic, celery and basil; Colombo, a spicy meat, vegetable and curry stew; and rôti cougnade (broiled fish). Ethnic foods include Brazilian, Chinese and Javanese.
French Guiana’s main airport is Cayenne-Rochambeau Airport, which is served by three airlines, including Air France. Taxis and rental cars are available. In Cayenne, there is a network of regular buses run by SMTC, as well as service from Cayenne to St. Laurent du Maroni and along the coast. There is no bus service on Sundays.
French Guianahas a year-round tropical climate, due to its location just north of the equator, although trade winds help make the coastal areas more comfortable. The weather is a bit drier from July to December, making this an ideal time to visit. Average daytime temperatures range from 79 to 92.
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