French Guiana - Amazonia: what to do, what to see…

French Guiana and its share of Amazonia offer the universe to discover. Visitors fascinated by the mysteries of space need to witness a Soyuz or Vega launch. Nature lovers will be marveled by the sight of leatherback sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach. And all party animals will want to be part of French Guiana's Carnival, the longest of its kind in the world! And that’s just for starters...come see what French Guiana has to offer.

Not to miss sights in French Guiana

• The historic center of Cayenne

Every visit to Cayenne begins by exploring the symbols of the historical, cultural and natural heritage of this city. Cayenne has inherited a particularly valuable architectural and natural domain, like the elegant Creole houses that dot the city center.

• The town of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni and its unique architecture

This Guyanese city lies on the edge of Maroni river, on the border with Suriname. Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni's former penal colonial history is told at the "Museum of Transportation," inaugurated in 1958. This is where the author of Papillon, Henri Charriere, was reportedly detained.

• The botanic gardens of French Guiana

Located in the town of Macouria, this botanical garden covers sprawls over 3 hectares (7.5 acres), home to more than 4,500 plant species and a vast collection of 750 species of orchids.

• The Maroni river

Forming a natural border with Suriname, the Maroni is the longest river of French Guiana. Traversing part of the Maroni when you're here is a must, as it's an essential communication route to the villages of French Guiana. Several islands and 90 rapids punctuate its course, creating a stunning setting!

• The beaches of Montjoly

Near Cayenne, the long expanses of sand at Remire-Montjoly encourage relaxation in a wild and preserved setting, under the shade of coconut trees. Ideal for swimming or for water sports like sailing or surfing, these beachs are also a nesting site for turtles.

• The French Guiana zoo

French Guiana's zoo, which boasts species unique to French Guiana and those from around the world, is home to more than 450 animals of about 75 different species. The visit can be done in two hours on a forest path (open even in case of rain), snaking through the heart of French Guiana's flora.

• The Salvation Islands

Fifteen kilometers (9.32 miles) off Kourou, the archipelago of the Salvation Islands is made up of Île Royale, Île Saint Joseph and Île du Diable, feared names of the penal colony. On Île Royale, there are many vestiges of the penitentiary administration, ghosts of French Guiana's past: the hospital, the church, the cure-center, the madhouse, the lighthouse, or the death row quarters...

• The French Guiana Amazonian Park

Numbering among the 10 national parks of France, the Amazonian Park of French Guiana was created in 2007, on 34,000 km² (13127 mi²). The park includes five municipalities, making it the largest national park in the European Union. It preserves a forest area with exceptional biodiversity and celebrates the cultural heritage of the Amerindian, Bushinengue and Creole populations living there.

• The Kaw Swamp nature reserve

The Kaw Marsh site is the largest wetland in France. With its 94,700 hectares (234,008 acres), it is the third nature reserve in the country, after that of the French Southern Territories (2,270,000 hectares or 5,609,292 acres) and that of Nouragues (100,000 hectares or 247,105 acres).

• The colonial style church of Iracoubo

Classified as a historical monument, the church of Bourg Iracoubo bursts in color with its interior frescoes by Bagnard Huguet. These works attract thousands of visitors each year, but many ignore the unusual history of this building, which dates from the end of the 19th century. Come find out what we mean for yourself!

Things to do in French Guiana

• Watch leatherback sea turtles as they lay their eggs on the beaches of Amana

Located between the Organabo River and the Maroni River, this reserve is one of the world's most important sites for four species of sea turtles to lay their eggs: the leatherback turtle, the green turtle, the olive turtle and, rarely, the hawksbill turtle. It is also home to 286 bird species and many mammals.

• Join the Touloulous of the Guianan carnival in Cayenne

Each year on the Epiphany, the carnival of Cayenne beings, lasting six to ten weeks. The stars of this carnival are the "Touloulous" women disguised from head to toe, in petticoats, hoods, masks and long gloves, so that we cannot see a centimeter of their skin, walking through the parade totally unrecognizable!

• Shiver with fright on Devil's Island 

This 14 hectare (25 acre) piece of land off Kourou covered with palm trees, once housed a leprosarium before serving as a "political" prison under Napoleon III. Devil's Island hosted some celebrity inmates, like Guillaume Seznec and the anarchist Marius Jacob, who inspired the character of Arsène Lupin. But the most famous of the convicts was Alfred Dreyfus, whose namesake affair divided France.

• Grab the chance of a front row seat for an Ariane launch at Kourou

Following Ariane, Soyouz or Vega's takeoff from an observation site at the French Guiana Space Center, 7 (4), 15 (9), or 20 kilometers (12.42 miles) from the launch point will undoubtedly be the apogee of your trip to French Guiana. Follow all the phases of the flight through to the orbit of the satellites on giant screen.

• Watch the rainforest breathe from the top of an inselberg

The inselbergs are small granite mountains, reminiscent of islands, emerging from the forest line. There are about 200 in French Guyana and the highest culminates at 740 meters (2427 feet). From the top, you'll take in a fantastic panorama of the surrounding forest.

• Cool off in the Fourgasier waterfalls 

Beloved by nature lovers or those seeking family-friendly getaways in the shade, the Cascades de Fourgassier are easy to reach, about 15 kilometers (9.32 miles) from the village of Roura.

• Spend a night in a hammock in a traditional Amazonian carbet hut

A beautiful carbet is made of the Amazon: Toulouri leaves for the roof, tree branches for poles, and wooden slats for the floor. They're found throughout different regions of French Guiana, in the middle of nature, sometimes perched in trees. Spend the night suspended in a hammock, lulled to sleep by the chirps and croaks of the rainforest.

• Swim in Toussaint Creek

In some spots of this clear water creek, it's truly deep enough to swim. Spend a beautiful day of relaxation and swimming by the water, without missing a comfort—Toussaint Creek is equipped with hammocks, barbecue, toilets and garbage. It's the ideal setting for a rainforest picnic!

• Savour Chinese soup in a Hmong village

Refugees from Laos after the Vietnam War, the Hmongs settled in Cacao (1 hour from Cayenne) in the 1970s. The village is the market garden of French Guiana, whose inhabitants mastered the art of cultivating fruits and vegetables. It's best to visit on Sunday, the traditional market day.

• Buy fruits and vegetables in Cayenne market

The Cayenne market is also not to be missed! Housed in a big hall in the city center, you can enjoy local Ti'punchs (a rum and fruit drink) and all sorts of specialties, such as Laotian soups. Dew fruit, spices and colorful vegetables, in a mix of cultures—it's Guiana set up in stalls!

Getting to French Guiana