French Guiana

Overview

Introduction

French Guiana (often referred to by its official French name, Guyane) is hot, steamy and insect-ridden—and it's expensive, without quality restaurants and hotels to justify the high prices. In short, it's far from being a top travel destination. But it has certainly undergone some major transformations, thanks mainly to France providing extensive economic assistance to its largest overseas territory.

The once-notorious Devil's Island held many prisoners in solitary confinement, including the famous Henri Charriere, better known to the world as Papillon. The island is off-limits to tourists, but the nearby Ile Royale has been converted to a bizarre combination of a coconut-palmed getaway for rocket scientists who work at the French aerospace complex on the mainland and a showcase of the former penal colony's horrors for tourists. The French space rocket base at Kourou—and the town it gave birth to—are equally bizarre finds in this sweltering French enclave. Meanwhile, Hmong villagers, exiled from Laos, have established villages and farms in the country's thick interior jungle.

For intrepid travelers interested in exploring jungle rivers in motorized canoes and staying in South American tribal villages, this may be just the destination. We would stress, however, that this is not mainstream ecotourism: This is adventure, and only those who are willing to spend a substantial amount in gear and guides, can put up with a lot of inconvenience and can endure the most basic conditions imaginable need apply.

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