French Guiana

The only non-independent portion of South America, French Guiana, or as it is locally known, Guyane, is also the only French-speaking nation in South America. This tiny country in the northeast corner of South America bordered by Atlantic Ocean to the east and north, Suriname to the west and Brazil to the south, consists mostly of unsettled wilderness. Despite the fact that French Guiana has 378 km (235 miles) of coastline, it has practically no beaches. The coastline is dominated by marshland and muddy spots of shore where river, ocean and land intersect.

A majority of the population has African ancestry and the culture is a rich mixture of African, French and Caribbean traditions. Although French Guiana is heavily supported by Mother France, the country still struggles economically and a majority of the population, especially in rural areas, lives in poverty. Despite this, the country has one of the highest standards of living in South America and tourism is quite expensive. The currency is the euro.

The weather is hot and tropical with heavy rainfall about six months out of the year, mostly from November – May. There is a short dry spell in February and March, but the best time to visit is from August – October.

Some destinations not to miss in French Guiana:

The capital and chief port city, Cayenne (population: 60,050), is easy to see in a day or two as most of the attractions are centered around the Place des Palmistes, including a nice museum; city hall and the main cathedral are just a couple of blocks away.

The coastal town of Kourou, just north of Cayenne, is home to the European Ariane Space Program, which employs over 20,000 foreigners and launches over half of the world’s satellites.

The French formerly used French Guiana as a dumping grounds for prisoners. The ruins of some of the prisons can still be visited today, although there really isn’t much to see. Devil’s Island and the Iles du Salut are often visited by cruise ships and feature nice beaches which aren’t incredibly enticing to swim in as sharks constantly circle the area.