French Guiana, France (new)

French Guiana, an overseas department of France located in South America, is an exotic and fascinating place. I loved the combination of South American nature and culture, French civillization and infrastructure, and the scifi feel of the Guiana Space Center.

Cayenne, the territory's capital, is a nice and relaxed town, with colourful colonial buildings and interesting people of many different races. Highlights of the town included Fort Ceperou, located on a hill with nice views all around, Cathedral Saint Sauveur, the centrally-located Place des Palmistes and a number of parks - Jardin Botanique de Cayenne, Place des Amandiers and Point Buzare.

You will need a car to explore this territory as some very interesting attractions lie outside of Cayenne. The Guiana Space Center (GSC), located in Kourou, is ESA's space launch facility and my main reason for going to this territory. GSC is used to launch three (non-crewed) types of rockets into space: Vega, Soyuz (bough from Russia) and Ariane 5; these will be followed by Ariane 6, currently being designed.

Visiting the center was a fascinating experience. I watched a live launch of an Ariane 5 rocket which placed four Galileo positioning satellites on orbit (mission VA240). I also did a tour of the center which included the launch pads for the Soyuz, Vega and Ariane 5 rockets, the control center for Ariane 5 and Vega, and the main Jupiter Control Center. The mix of hi-tech space infrastructure with rainforest flora and fauna was very interesting and gave the place a edge-of-the-world scifi feel. The GSC also includes the Musee de l'Espace, which features a full-scale Ariane 5 model and is well organized. But the exhibits and information are unfortunately dated and do not include ESA's more recent achievements.

Another reason you visit French Guiana is for its wildlife. The Zoo de Guyane included lots of local animals and was one of the coolest zoos I have ever seen. The zoo is located in the rainforest, includes some nice paths full of local wildlife and some cool suspended bridges at tree-level. The rainforest was fascinating itself with all of its birds, lizards, butterflies and insects; a special mention for the big Morpho Butterflies and their electric blue wings which seem to glow due to iridescence (very difficult to photograph, though). As for the animals of the zoo, these included cool collections of local felines (I loved the ocelots), iguanas, monkeys and birds (with the absolutely delightful toucans and the splenind red ibis). I also saw a wild capibara in the forest munching on a nut.

The Jardin Botanique de Cayenne and the Jardin Botanique the Guiane (the latter also located in the rainforest) are two additional options for enjoying local plants and animals. Cayenne also has a nice beach - Plage de Montjoly, and features a hike through a nice reserve called Salines de Montjoly. A drive along Route des Plages and a stop at Fort Diamant are also worth your while. Restaurant Paris in Cayenne was a good option for dining.

Kourou also has a nice beach - Plage des Roches, which features the gorgeous Dreyfus Tower; the tower, rocks, palm trees and the beach make for a picture-perfect location that was just beautiful.

It will rain a lot in French Guiana, so an umbrella should always be at your side; this makes the moments when the sun comes out even more delightful. You will also want to avoid mosquito bites due to a number of nasty diseas they carry around in this place; a yellow fever vaccine is mandatory for entering the territory.

Additional info:
- French Guiana entry on Wikipedia
- French Guiana profile on Wikivoyage

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French Guiana

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