French Guiana (France)

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 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'll need a car to explore this territory as some cool attractions lie outside of Cayenne. The Guiana Space Center (GSC), located in Kourou, is ESA's space launch facility and my main reason for visiting French Guiana. When I visited GSC was used to launch three (non-crewed) types of rockets into space: Vega, Soyuz (bough from Russia) and Ariane 5; these were to be followed by Ariane 6, under design and development at that moment.

Visiting the space center was a fascinating experience. I watched a live launch of an Ariane 5 rocket which placed four Galileo positioning satellites in orbit (mission VA240). The viewing platform was located in the middle of the rainforest, which was a neat experience. I also did a tour of GSC 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 an edge-of-the-world SciFi feel. The GSC also includes the Musee de l'Espace, which features a full-scale Ariane 5 model, but the exhibits and information are unfortunately dated and don't include ESA's more recent accomplishments.

Another reason you visit French Guiana is 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, features some nice paths full of local wildlife and a couple of cool suspended bridges. Walking through the rainforest was fascinating and you'll see lots of colorful birds, lizards, butterflies and insects; I especially liked 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 splendid red ibis).

The Jardin Botanique de Cayenne and the Jardin Botanique de Guiane (the latter also located in the rainforest) are two additional options for enjoying local plants and animals. Cayenne has a nice beach as well - Plage de Montjoly, which features a hike through a nature 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.

It will rain a lot in French Guiana, so keep an umbrella handy (but this makes moments when the sun comes out even more delightful). You will also want to avoid mosquito bites due to a number of nasty diseases 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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