Want to visit Guiana? Interested to know about the most visited French Guiana tourist attractions?
Between an Equatorial forest populated by extraordinary animals, a rich history influenced by colonization, and rocket launches from the Kourou space center, there are many French Guiana Tourist Attractions To Visit!
French Guiana is both a region and a French overseas department in the North-East of South America, nestled between Brazil, Suriname, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Covered 98% by a dense equatorial forest – one of the least ecologically fragmented globally – Guiana is home to rich and diverse fauna and flora.
Ariane rockets are launched regularly from the Guiana Space Center, one of the largest French and European aerospace bases, on this lush land rich in paradoxes.
Covering an area of 83,846 km² for a population of only 259,865 inhabitants (2015), French Guiana is the second least populated region in France after Mayotte.
Best French Guiana Tourist Attractions To Visit
Key Takeaways: - French Guiana is a French overseas department in the North-East of South America. - The region is 98% covered by a dense equatorial forest, which is one of the least ecologically fragmented in the world. - Guiana is home to rich and diverse fauna and flora, including many endemic species. - There are many tourist attractions in French Guiana, such as the Zoo of Guyana, the Islands of Salvation, the Guiana Space Center, and the Treasury and Kaw Nature Reserves. - French Guiana is also known for its rivers, which are the main routes of circulation in the territory and are great for exploring the wilderness. - Les Hattes Beach is the world's most crucial giant leatherback turtle spawning site, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. - Other popular tourist attractions include the Carnival of Guiana, Camp de la Transportation, and the Musée Départemental De Franconie. - Visitors can also stay in guest cottages that correspond to traditional habitats, such as those found in the forest, Native American villages, savannahs, or on the beach. - The best time to visit French Guiana is from mid-August to mid-November, during the dry season. - To get to French Guiana, visitors can take a flight from Paris Orly with Air Caraïbes or Air France. - While there are no youth hostels or campsites, there are homestay rentals via Airbnb and classic hotels in major cities like Cayenne, Kourou, and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni.
So, what are the best things to do in Guiana? Here are the 10 French Guiana Tourist Attractions to visit.
1. The Zoo of Guyana
As an introduction to Guiana’s incredible endemic wildlife, who says better than visiting Guiana Zoo? This zoological park is home to nearly 450 animals, including jaguars, sloths, agoutis, crocodiles, howler monkeys, anteaters, and many birds, including toucans and aras.
The zoo is home to a 1,000 m² tropical greenhouse whose landscaped route allows visitors of all ages to discover the emblematic species of French Guiana, such as the red ibis, as well as a myriad of unique and sometimes unique rare species.
The zoo also offers themed areas, including the ponds of the caimans, the Island of Ateles, and the lair of felines … One of the best tourist attractions in French Guiana.
2. The Islands of Salvation
Located fourteen kilometers off the coast of Kourou, the Salvation Islands form an archipelago of three islets of volcanic origin.
Only the Royale and Saint-Joseph islands are accessible. Devil’s Island, the northernmost, is strictly forbidden, especially because of the strong currents.
It was here that more than 2,000 convicts had been imprisoned in terrible and humiliating conditions of detention in the past. Formerly closed in the middle of the twentieth century, the prisons are now open to visitors.
Île Royale, the largest of the three islands and the former administrative seat of the colony, is the busiest.
Explore the restored prison buildings or stroll along an island covered with plants and populated by maces, monkeys, and agoutis.
To get to the Salvation Islands, you must board a catamaran at the fishermen’s wharf at Avenue General De Gaulle. The journey takes about 90 minutes.
3. Cayenne – A Famous Place in French Guiana
Located on the Guianese Atlantic coast, the city of Cayenne is the most populous in French Guiana. Despite poorly maintained historic buildings, Cayenne is worth a visit.
Several mountains overlook the city, and the peaks along the shore offer lovely views.
If you visit French Guiana for its beaches, however, it is not in Cayenne that you have to go since the mangrove invades them.
4. Pirogue River Trip
You can have an exciting adventure exploring the wilderness of French Guiana by paddling along a river in a local boat. The rivers run through the steamy jungle and are the best way to travel between remote villages and see animals like capybaras, caimans, and monkeys. Guides usually offer rides on pirogues and dugout canoes made from local wood.
The Maroni River, located on the border of French Guiana and Suriname, is one of the most popular rivers to paddle. It is the country’s longest and most populated waterway and allows you to meet Amerindians and Maroons and learn about their culture.
The Sinnamary River is 263 kilometers long and cuts through the Amazon rainforest. It has peaceful pools and swirling rapids for a great wild adventure.
Another river to explore is the Oyapock River. It has a rich history of gold mining and offers a chance to meet Amerindians and Brazilians who live along its banks. On the Approuague River, you’ll find the highest rapids in French Guiana and pristine forests.
5. The Guiana Space Center
It is impossible to visit Guyana without taking a tour of the Guiana Space Center, one of the flagship attractions of this overseas territory.
The Center organizes about twelve rocket launches per year, offering tourists the opportunity to reserve their place to live an unforgettable moment: the launch of an Ariane rocket!
Discover the Space Museum, retracing the epic of Man in Space, the conquest of the moon, and European space programs. The opportunity to make a real journey in space and time through 7 thematic modules, including the Universe, crewed flights, satellites, and the future. It is a great place to visit in French Guiana.
6. Treasury and Kaw Nature Reserves
French Guiana is worth visiting if you like natural reserves and beauty. Located on the southwestern flank of Kaw Mountain and spanning a relatively limited area of 2,500 hectares, the Trésor Regional Nature Reserve offers an environment of staggering biodiversity.
Several of the reserve’s animal and plant species are endemic due to its topography and geographical location.
Much larger in comparison but less easily accessible than the Treasury, the nearby Reserve of the Kaw Roura Marshes extends over more than 90,000 hectares.
It is only accessible by river, and it is mainly marshes sheltering mangrove ecosystems, flood savannah, and tropical rainforest. Treasury and Kaw Nature Reserves are two of the best French Guiana tourist attractions to explore.
Visitable with the help of canoes or floating carbets, the reserve is home to an exceptional fauna of rare species such as the black caiman, from the same family as the American alligator, as well as a rich diversity of birds, including the splendid red ibis.
7. A Boat Ride in French Guiana
Navigation is one of the best means of transport to discover the beauties of French Guiana. And it is not necessarily a question of sailing on the ocean but of sailing to discover the great Amazon rainforest. Rivers are indeed the main routes of circulation of the territory.
Therefore, it would be a shame not to rent a boat in French Guiana and thus miss discovering this magnificent setting!
8. The Beach of Les Hattes
Located in Awala-Yalimapo, on the edge of northwestern French Guiana, Les Hattes Beach is the world’s most crucial giant leatherback turtle spawning site.
During the high season, from April to July, hundreds of leatherback turtles follow one another on the beach to lay their eggs that hatch between July and September.
Five kilometers long, this beach is also an important nesting site for green turtles and, occasionally, olive and hawksbill turtles.
The beach offers a relaxing setting and tables to eat, and you can even hang your hammock between two palm trees—one of the most pleasant beaches in French Guiana and also the best places to see in French Guiana.
9. Camp de la Transportation
In Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, you can visit Camp de la Transportation, where prisoners were processed and sent to penal colonies. Alfred Dreyfus and Papillon were among the inmates here. You can see old shackles and cells with small windows for solitary confinement. Although the surrounding foliage has softened some histories, the memory of past cruelty remains.
You can explore on your own for free or pay for a guided tour in French. Bring water and sun protection as it can be hot when walking around in the sun. Be sure to look for Papillon’s name engraved in one of the cells.
10. The Carnival of Guiana
What are the best things to do in French Guiana? One of the significant events that punctuate Guianese life, the Carnival of Guiana, takes place in Cayenne between the Epiphany around the end of January and Ash Wednesday in February or March.
It also takes place in Kourou and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, but Cayenne remains the best place to celebrate carnival.
Initially originating from Guianese Creole culture, carnival originates from the practices of a European carnival that was forbidden to enslaved people.
However, it was practiced clandestinely by the latter, who saw it as a way to regain some freedom and mock the settlers.
Today, participants include the metropolitan, Brazilian and Chinese communities, offering spectators a parade of costumes as colorful as it is parodic.
One of the must-see things in Guyana is if you have the opportunity to visit Guyana during this period. This makes French Guiana a worth visiting place for fun-loving people.
11. The Prison of Saint-Laurent-Du-Maroni
Located in the border town of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, the Transportation camp was once a prison intended to temporarily take care of prisoners as soon as they arrived in French Guiana before they were transferred to penal colonies throughout the country.
The prison housed famous former prisoners such as Alfred Dreyfus or Henri Charrière, known as “Papillon.”
If the lush nature seems to soothe the place today, the hints of its dark and brutal history continue to haunt the site.
Self-guided tours are free, and you can rent the services of French-speaking guides whose tours are more detailed. Look for the name of Butterfly engraved in one of the cells. It is a famous French Guiana landmark that you can go and visit.
12. Musée Départemental De Franconie, Cayenne
Close to Place de Palmistes, the busiest square in Cayenne, you can find Musée Départemental De Franconie. It is in a simple wooden house built by the Franconie family in the 19th century. The museum displays information about the country’s history, as well as its flora and fauna.
Exhibits include indigenous people, colonial history, and the penal colony, but the signs are only in French. You can see a large stuffed black caiman and the Butterfly Room there.
On the Comté River, Cacao is a famous day trip from Cayenne. The main ethnic group in this small Asian village is Hmong refugees, who arrived in the 1970s. Sunday is the ideal day to go because of the famous market featuring Hmong embroidery and weaving and local noodle soups.
A trip to Le Planeur Bleu insect museum is a must-see, with its diverse range of bug and butterfly exhibits and its collection of remarkable specimens of scorpions and spiders. Moreover, visitors to the village can go on a breathtaking hike through the misty jungle or take a leisurely canoe ride down the river.
14. The Beaches of Remire-Montjoly
French Guiana Sightseeing? If you are tempted by sunbathing on a sandy beach, look no further than the beaches of Remire-Montjoly.
These beaches are dotted with coconut trees and bordered by lush nature; these beaches offer a wild yet pleasant setting to relax on the sand.
Admittedly, the loamy waters are not ideal for swimming but are enough to cool off after a hike in the surrounding area, such as the beautiful Rorota Trail. You may even spot sea turtles during the laying season if you are lucky. It is a great vacation destination in French Guiana to go with family and spend quality time.
15. Visit an Amerindian Village
The Wayana people are among the few remaining Amerindian groups living on the North Coast of South America. Some still follow traditional ways of life and make money by selling crafts to tourists. You can go to their villages along the rivers in Haut-Maroni and Haut-Oyapoc, but visits are limited, and you need a permit from the Prefecture in Cayenne.
Is French Guiana worth visiting?
Undoubtedly, French Guiana is worth visiting. When you visit French Guiana, you’ll find breathtaking nature, a cosmopolitan culture, especially in Cayenne, the capital, and a rich history marked by colonization and the famous prisons where some prisoners became legends.
What is the best time to visit French Guiana?
The best time to visit French Guiana is from mid-August to mid-November and, in particular, September and October because these two months are the least rainy and the sunniest, especially in the eastern part of the country.
How to get to French Guiana?
Guyana is located on the American continent. During your stay in French Guiana, you will land at Félix Éboué Airport (CAY), the only airport in the territory.
You can go to French Guiana on a flight from Paris to Cayenne with Air Caraïbes. Flights depart from Paris Orly (ORY), and Air France also offers flights to French Guiana.
Daily connections exist. You can leave from Bordeaux, Lyon, or Marseille, with a stopover in Paris Orly before flying to the beaches of French Guiana.
When to go to French Guiana? The best time to go to French Guiana is between August and November, during the dry season.
Where to stay in French Guiana?
Staying in French Guiana will not be as easy as when you book accommodation for Rome or Paris. For example, there are no youth hostels or even campsites.
Ideally, one should stay in a guest cottage that corresponds to a traditional habitat (palm leaf roofs, wood cottages, etc.).
Therefore, they are found in the forest (usually by the river and accessible only by the river), in a Native American village, in the savannah, or on the beach. It is usually individuals who manage the carbets of hosts.
There are also homestay rentals, via Airbnb, usually in major cities such as Cayenne, Kourou, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, and all coastal towns. Classic hotels also exist in these destinations.
What is French Guiana best known for?
French Guiana is best known for being an overseas territorial collectivity of France located on the northeastern coast of South America. It has a rich cultural and natural diversity, with a mix of Creole, indigenous, European, Asian, and African influences. Some of its main attractions include:
- The Guiana Space Centre, a major spaceport that launches rockets and satellites into orbit. It is open to visitors and offers guided tours and exhibitions.
- The Îles du Salut, a group of three islands that were once part of a notorious penal colony. The largest island, Île Royale, has a museum and some restored buildings, while the smallest island, Île du Diable (Devil’s Island), was the site of solitary confinement for political prisoners.
- The Tumuc-Humac National Park, a vast protected area that covers the southern part of French Guiana and borders Brazil. It is home to diverse wildlife, such as jaguars, monkeys, macaws, and giant otters, and has several hiking trails and waterfalls.
- The Kaw Swamp, a wetland reserve that hosts a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. It can be explored by boat or kayak, and offers opportunities for wildlife watching and fishing.
Do people vacation in French Guiana?
Yes, people do vacation in French Guiana, although it is not a very popular tourist destination compared to other countries in South America. According to the travel search result, French Guiana receives about 200,000 visitors annually, mostly from France and other European countries. Some of the reasons why people visit French Guiana are:
- To witness a rocket launch at the Guiana Space Centre, a major spaceport that offers guided tours and exhibitions.
- To explore the history and nature of the Îles du Salut, a group of three islands once part of a notorious penal colony and now home to wildlife and restored buildings.
- To experience the diversity of wildlife and culture in the rainforest, where you can find indigenous villages, waterfalls, rivers, and animals such as jaguars, monkeys, and macaws.
- To see the giant leatherback turtles nesting at Hattes Beach, one of the most important single nesting sites in the world for this endangered species.
Does French Guiana have good beaches?
Yes, French Guiana has some good beaches but they are not the typical white-sand and turquoise-water beaches you might expect from a tropical destination. Most beaches have brown or gray sand and muddy water due to river sediment. However, they also have some unique features that make them worth visiting, such as:
- Les Hattes Beach, near Awala-Yalimapo, is one of the largest nesting sites in the world for giant leatherback turtles. You can watch them lay their eggs or hatch between March and September.
- Montjoly Beach, in Remire-Montjoly, is a popular spot for locals and tourists to relax and swim. It has a long stretch of sand and some palm trees for shade.
- Gosselin Beach, near Remire-Montjoly, is a secluded beach that can only be accessed by boat or kayak. It has clear water and a coral reef that attracts snorkelers and divers.
- Saint Joseph Beach, on Île Saint-Joseph, is a beautiful white-sand beach with a view of Devil’s Island. It was once part of the penal colony, and you can still see some of the ruins.
- Rocks Beach, in Kourou, is a scenic beach with large rocks and a lighthouse. It offers a great view of the Îles du Salut, and the rocket launches from the space center.
- Pim Poum Beach, in Kourou, is a family-friendly beach with calm water and a playground. It also has a restaurant and a bar where you can enjoy local cuisine.
So, which French Guiana Tourist Attractions did you like the most and want to explore on your vacation to this beautiful region? What do you think is French Guiana worth visiting?