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The smallest of the Guianas, politically part of metropolitan France, French Guiana has the region's best infrastructure, so that getting to sights beyond the palm-studded capital of Cayenne is easy. It's not inexpensive, as the euro is official and prices are at continental levels, but its French colonial architecture is an attraction and nearby Montjoly may be the best beach in the Guianas. About an hour west of Cayenne, the town of Kourou is home base for the European Space Agency, which is open for guided tours, but the most notorious site is the offshore Iles du Salut, the penal colony where both Dreyfus and Papillon rotted on Devil's ...

The smallest of the Guianas, politically part of metropolitan France, French Guiana has the region's best infrastructure, so that getting to sights beyond the palm-studded capital of Cayenne is easy. It's not inexpensive, as the euro is official and prices are at continental levels, but its French colonial architecture is an attraction and nearby Montjoly may be the best beach in the Guianas. About an hour west of Cayenne, the town of Kourou is home base for the European Space Agency, which is open for guided tours, but the most notorious site is the offshore Iles du Salut, the penal colony where both Dreyfus and Papillon rotted on Devil's Island (it's inaccessible, but the larger Ile Royale has become a modest resort in a beautiful setting). On the border with Suriname, St. Laurent du Maroni was the town where prisoners arrived, its grim installations mostly covered by lush tropical overgrowth. It's a departure point for trips up the Maroni river and to the coastal village of Mana, where leatherback turtles breed on nearby beaches. The interior village of Cacao, populated by Hmong refugees in the 1970s, has a spectacular Sunday market and exceptional Southeast Asian food at bargain prices.

Wayne Bernhardson
About the Expert

Wayne Bernhardson is the author of Moon Handbooks to Argentina, Buenos Aires (including coastal Uruguay), Chile (including Easter Island), and Patagonia (including the Falkland Islands).

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Wayne Bernhardson for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Avoid the rainy season, which ends in July, and begins again in December.