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Map of French Guiana

Holiday Guides for South America - French Guiana

French Guiana Holiday

French Guiana - surprisingly part of the EU - is a colourful, bustling haven with a vibrant eco-tourism industry.

The tiny nation of French Guiana is a charming blend of lush rainforests and picturesque beaches, with a friendly, multicultural population.

Also known as Guyane Francaise, the country is located on the northern coast of South America, and covers just 91,250 sq km (35,232 sq miles), with a population of less than 200,000.

The vast majority of people live along the nation's coastline, while the interior rainforests are dense and, in many places, impenetrable.

French Guiana is part of the European Union and the smallest political entity on the South American mainland, with borders on the Atlantic Ocean, Brazil and Suriname.

Originally inhabited by Carib and Arawak Indians, the territory was first visited by Christopher Columbus in 1498. Settled by the Dutch, British and French during the 17th century, the French took control of the region in 1817.

The small territory's economy has been built on sugar and timber and it was a penal colony from 1852 until after WWII, when it became a department of France. In the years since 1946, Guiana has seen its politicians gain greater autonomy and has started pressing for independence from Paris.

The settlement now enjoys relative prosperity and receives large subsidies from the French government, with a hi-tech European Space Centre at Kourou and a large expatriate population.

The capital city Cayenne is busy and colourful, with a vibrant Creole feel, attractive French Colonial architecture. Situated on the a small peninsula on the Atlantic coast, it has a bustling main street, the Avenue General de Gaulle, a pretty cathedral and some interesting museums.

The settlement of Kourou on the Kourou River was a penal colony, but now houses part of the European space programme and visitors can tour the Centre Spatial Guyanais.

French Guiana has a growing eco-tourism industry and many travellers now head out of the cities to explore the Tumac-Humac mountains along the Brazilian border, the Reserve Animaliere Macourienne along the Montsinery River, with its hoards of wildlife such as spectacled caimans, jaguars, anteaters, toucans and anacondas, and the rainforest Tresor Nature Reserve.

A number of small islands lie off the coast of French Guiana, with the Salvation Islands (Iles du Salut) home to the Ile de Connetable bird sanctuary and the famous prison at Devil's Island (Ile du Diable).

The official language is French, with a number of dialects, Amerindian languages and a form of Creole all spoken, and the official currency of the territory the euro. Restaurants serve excellent Creole cuisine in attractive surroundings, while accommodation ranges from hostels, to beachside huts and luxury chain hotels in and around Kourou and Cayenne.

French Guiana is very humid, with the heaviest rain in the tropical rainforests between January and June each year. The country has good air links with Europe, South America and the United States.