French Guiana

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French Guiana
Département de la Guyane
Territorial Collectivity of French Guiana
Collectivité territoriale de Guyane  (French)
Fert Aurum Industria
Anthem: "La Marseillaise"
French Guiana in France 2016.svg
Coordinates: 4°N 53°W / 4°N 53°W / 4; -53Coordinates: 4°N 53°W / 4°N 53°W / 4; -53
Country France
Departments1 (every overseas region consists of a department in itself)
 • PrefectThierry Queffelec[1]
 • President of the AssemblyGabriel Serville (Guyane Kontré pour avancer)
 • Total91,000 km2 (35,000 sq mi)
 • Land91,000 km2 (35,000 sq mi)
Area rank2nd region and 1st department
 (January 2021)[2]
 • Total294,071
 • Density3.2/km2 (8.4/sq mi)
Demonym(s)French Guianan
French Guianese
Time zoneUTC−03:00 (GFT)
ISO 3166 code
GDP (2019)[3]Ranked 17th
Total€4.35 billion (US$4.87 billion)
Per capita€15,270 (US$17,100)
WebsiteTerritorial Collectivity

French Guiana (/ɡiˈɑːnə/ or /ɡiˈænə/; French: Guyane [ɡɥijan]) is an overseas department/region and single territorial collectivity of France on the northern Atlantic coast of South America in the Guianas. It borders Brazil to the east and south and Suriname to the west.

With a land area of 91,000 km2 (35,000 sq mi), French Guiana is the second-largest region of France (more than one-seventh the size of Metropolitan France) and the largest outermost region within the European Union. It has very low population density, with only 3.5 inhabitants per square kilometre (9.1/sq mi). (Its population is less than 1200 that of Metropolitan France.) Half of its 294,071 inhabitants in 2021 lived in the metropolitan area of Cayenne, its capital. 98.9% of the land territory of French Guiana is covered by forests,[4] a large part of which is primeval rainforest. The Guiana Amazonian Park, which is the largest national park in the European Union,[5] covers 41% of French Guiana's territory.

Since December 2015, both the region and department have been ruled by a single assembly within the framework of a new territorial collectivity, the French Guiana Territorial Collectivity (French: collectivité territoriale de Guyane). This assembly, the French Guiana Assembly (French: assemblée de Guyane), replaced the former regional council and departmental council, which were disbanded. The French Guiana Assembly is in charge of regional and departmental government. Its president is Gabriel Serville.

Fully integrated in the French Republic since 1946, French Guiana is a part of the European Union, and its official currency is the euro. A large part of French Guiana's economy depends on jobs and businesses associated with the presence of the Guiana Space Centre, now the European Space Agency's primary launch site near the equator. As elsewhere in France, the official language is standard French, but each ethnic community has its own language, of which French Guianese Creole, a French-based creole language, is the most widely spoken.


Map of northern South America showing the extent of the Guyanas region.

The addition of the adjective "French" in most languages other than French is rooted in colonial times, when five such colonies (The Guianas) had been named along the coast, subject to differing powers: namely (from west to east) Spanish Guiana (now Guayana Region in Venezuela, British Guiana (now Guyana), Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), French Guiana, and Portuguese Guiana (now Amapá in Brazil). French Guiana and the two larger countries to the north and west, Guyana and Suriname, are still often collectively referred to as "the Guianas" and constitute one large landmass known as the Guiana Shield.


French Guiana was originally inhabited by indigenous people: Kalina, Arawak, Galibi, Palikur, Teko, Wayampi and Wayana. The French attempted to create a colony there in the 16th century in conjunction with its settlement of some Caribbean islands, such as Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue.

Prior to European colonization, the territory was originally inhabited by Native Americans, most speaking the Arawak language, of the Arawakan language family. The people identified as Lokono. The first French establishment is recorded in 1503, but France did not establish a durable presence until colonists founded Cayenne in 1643. Guiana was developed as a slave society, where planters imported Africans as enslaved labourers on large sugar and other plantations in such number as to increase the population. The system of slavery in French Guiana continued until the French Revolution, when the National Convention voted to abolish the French slave trade and slavery in France's overseas colonies in February 1794, months after enslaved Haitians had started a slave rebellion in the colony of Saint-Domingue. However, the 1794 decree was only implemented in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and French Guiana, while the colonies of Senegal, Mauritius, Réunion and Martinique and French India resisted the imposition of these laws.[6]

Bill Marshall, Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Stirling[7] wrote of French Guiana's origins:

The first French effort to colonize Guiana, in 1763, failed utterly, as settlers were subject to high mortality given the numerous tropical diseases and harsh climate: all but 2,000 of the initial 12,000 settlers died.

After France ceded Louisiana to the United States in 1804, it developed Guiana as a penal colony, establishing a network of camps and penitentiaries along the coast where prisoners from metropolitan France were sentenced to forced labour.[not verified in body]

During operations as a penal colony beginning in the mid-19th century, the French government transported approximately 56,000 prisoners to Devil's Island. Fewer than 10% survived their sentence.[8]

Île du Diable (Devil's Island) was the site of a small prison facility, part of a larger penal system by the same name, which consisted of prisons on three islands and three larger prisons on the mainland. This was operated from 1852 to 1953.

Following the Portuguese conquest of French Guiana in 1809, João Severiano Maciel da Costa served as its only governor until 1817.

In addition, in the late nineteenth century, France began requiring forced residencies by prisoners who survived their hard labour.[9] A Portuguese-British naval squadron took French Guiana for the Portuguese Empire in 1809. It was returned to France with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Though Portugal returned the region to France, it kept a military presence until 1817.

After French Guiana was established as a penal colony, officials sometimes used convicts to catch butterflies. The sentences of the convicts were often long, and the prospect of employment very weak, so the convicts caught butterflies to sell in the international market, both for scientific purposes as well as general collecting.[10]

A border dispute with Brazil arose in the late 19th century over a vast area of jungle, resulting in the short-lived, pro-French, independent state of Counani in the disputed territory. There was some fighting among settlers. The dispute was resolved largely in favour of Brazil by the arbitration of the Swiss government.[11]

The territory of Inini consisted of most of the interior of French Guiana when it was created in 1930.[12] It was abolished in 1946, the year that French Guiana as a whole was formally established as an overseas department of France.[13] In 1936, Félix Éboué from Cayenne became the first black man to serve as governor in a French colony.[14][15]

French Guiana, c. 1930

During World War II and the fall of France to Nazi German forces, French Guiana became part of Vichy France. Guiana officially rallied to Free France on 16 March 1943.[16] It abandoned its colony status and once again became a French department on 19 March 1946.[13]

Following the French withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1950s and subsequent warfare conducted in the region by the United States, France helped resettle several hundred Hmong refugees from Laos to French Guiana during the 1970s and 80s, who were fleeing displacement after the communist takeover of Laos by Pathet Lao in 1975.[17][18]

In the late 1980s, more than 10,000 Surinamese refugees, mostly Maroons, arrived in French Guiana, fleeing the Surinamese Civil War.[17]

More recently, French Guiana has received large numbers of Brazilian and Haitian economic migrants.[17] Illegal and ecologically destructive gold mining by Brazilian garimpeiros is a chronic issue in the remote interior rain forest of French Guiana.[19][20] The region still faces such problems as illegal immigration, poorer infrastructure than mainland France, higher costs of living, higher levels of crime and more common social unrest.[21]

In 1964, French president Charles de Gaulle decided to construct a space-travel base in French Guiana. It was intended to replace the Sahara base in Algeria and stimulate economic growth in French Guiana. The department was considered suitable for the purpose because it is near the equator and has extensive access to the ocean as a buffer zone. The Guiana Space Centre, located a short distance along the coast from Kourou, has grown considerably since the initial launches of the Véronique rockets. It is now part of the European space industry and has had commercial success with such launches as the Ariane 4 and Ariane 5.

The Guianese General Council officially adopted a departmental flag in 2010.[22] In a referendum that same year, French Guiana voted against autonomy.[23]

On March 20, 2017, French Guianese workers began going on strike and demonstrating for more resources and infrastructure.[24] March 28, 2017 was the day of the largest demonstration ever held in French Guiana.[25]

French Guiana has been impacted severely by the COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 1% of French Guianese testing positive by the end of June 2020.[26]


Geographic map of French Guiana

French Guiana lies between latitudes and N, and longitudes 51° and 55° W. It consists of two main geographical regions: a coastal strip where the majority of the people live, and dense, near-inaccessible rainforest which gradually rises to the modest peaks of the Tumuc-Humac mountains along the Brazilian frontier. French Guiana's highest peak is Bellevue de l'Inini in Maripasoula (851 m, 2,792 ft). Other mountains include Mont Itoupé (826 m, 2,710 ft), Cottica Mountain (744 m, 2,441 ft), Pic Coudreau (711 m, 2,333 ft), and Kaw Mountain (337 m, 1,106 ft).

Several small islands are found off the coast, the three Salvation's Islands which include Devil's Island, and the isolated Îles du Connétable bird sanctuary further along the coast towards Brazil.

The Petit-Saut Dam, a hydroelectric dam in the north of French Guiana forms an artificial lake and provides hydroelectricity. There are many rivers in French Guiana, including the Waki River.

As of 2007, the Amazonian forest, located in the most remote part of the department, is protected as the Guiana Amazonian Park, one of the ten national parks of France. The territory of the park covers some 33,900 km2 (13,090 sq mi) upon the communes of Camopi, Maripasoula, Papaïchton, Saint-Élie and Saül.


Köppen climate classification of French Guiana

French Guiana has a tropical rainforest climate predominant.[27] Located within six degrees of the Equator and rising only to modest elevations, French Guiana is hot and oppressively humid all year round. During most of the year, rainfall across the country is heavy due to the presence of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and its powerful thunderstorm cells. In most parts of French Guiana, rainfall is always heavy especially from December to July – typically over 330 millimetres or 13 inches can be expected each month during this period throughout the department. Between August and November, the eastern half experiences a "hot and dry" season with rainfall below 60 millimetres or 2.36 inches and average high temperatures above 30 °C (86 °F) occurring in September and October, causing eastern French Guiana to be classified as a tropical monsoon climate (Köppen Am); Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni in the west has a tropical rainforest climate (Af).

Climate data for Cayenne, French Guiana
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 32
Average high °C (°F) 27
Average low °C (°F) 23
Record low °C (°F) 19
Average rainfall mm (inches) 380
Average rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm) 20 16 22 21 26 23 18 9 4 4 11 18 192
Average relative humidity (%) 82 80 82 84 85 82 78 74 71 71 76 81 79
Mean monthly sunshine hours 155 113 124 120 124 180 217 248 270 279 240 186 2,256
Source: BBC Weather[28]


French Guiana is home to many different ecosystems: tropical rainforests, coastal mangroves, savannahs, inselbergs and many types of wetlands. It lies within three ecoregions: Guayanan Highlands moist forests, Guianan moist forests, and Guianan mangroves.[29] French Guiana has a high level of biodiversity of both flora and fauna. This is due to the presence of old-growth forests (i.e., ancient/primary forests), which are biodiversity hotspots. The rainforests of French Guiana provide shelter for many species during dry periods and terrestrial glaciation.[30] These forests are protected by a national park (the Guiana Amazonian Park), seven additional nature reserves, and 17 protected sites.[31] The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Union (EU) have recommended special efforts to protect these areas.[30]

Following the Grenelle Environment Round Table of 2007, the Grenelle Law II was proposed in 2009, under law number 2010–788. Article 49 of the law proposed the creation of a single organization responsible for environmental conservation in French Guiana. Article 64 proposes a "departmental plan of mining orientation" for French Guiana, which would promote mining (specifically of gold) that is compatible with requirements for environmental protection.[32] The coastal environment along the RN1 has historically experienced the most changes, but development is occurring locally along the RN2, and also in western French Guiana due to gold mining.

The grey-winged trumpeter, a species of bird commonly found in the region

5,500 plant species have been recorded, including more than a thousand trees, along with 700 species of birds, 177 species of mammals, over 500 species of fish including 45% of which are endemic and 109 species of amphibians. The micro-organisms would be much more numerous, especially in the north, which competes with the Brazilian Amazon, Borneo and Sumatra.

Threats to the ecosystem are: habitat fragmentation from roads, which remains very limited compared to other forests of South America; immediate and deferred impacts of EDF's Petit-Saut Dam; gold mining; poor control of hunting and poaching, facilitated by the creation of many tracks; and the introduction of all-terrain vehicles. Logging remains moderate due to the lack of roads, difficult climate, and difficult terrain. The Forest Code of French Guiana was modified by ordinance on 28 July 2005. Logging concessions or free transfers are sometimes granted by local authorities to persons traditionally deriving their livelihood from the forest.

The beaches of the Amana Nature Reserve are an exceptional marine turtle nesting site. This is one of the largest worldwide for the leatherback turtle.[33][34]


French Guiana has some of the poorest soils in the world. The soil is low in nutrients (e.g., nitrogen, potassium) and organic matter. Soil acidity is another cause of the poor soils, and it requires farmers to add lime to their fields. The soil characteristics have led to the use of slash and burn agriculture. The resulting ashes elevate soil pH (i.e., lower soil acidity), and contribute minerals and other nutrients to the soil. Sites of Terra preta (anthropogenic soils) have been discovered in French Guiana, particularly near the border with Brazil. Research is being actively pursued in multiple fields to determine how these enriched soils were historically created, and how this can be done in modern times.


An Ariane 5 rocket being processed at the Guiana Space Centre; the launch site is estimated to account for as much as 16% of French Guiana's GDP

As a part of France, French Guiana is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; its currency is the euro. The country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for French Guiana is .gf, but .fr is generally used instead.[35]

In 2019, the GDP of French Guiana at market exchange rates was US$4.87 billion (€4.35 billion),[3] ranking as the 2nd largest economy in the Guianas after Guyana (which discovered large oil fields in 2015 and 2018), and the 12th largest in South America.[36]

French Guiana is heavily dependent on mainland France for subsidies, trade, and goods.[citation needed] The main traditional industries are fishing (accounting for 5% of exports in 2012), gold mining (accounting for 32% of exports in 2012) and timber (accounting for 1% of exports in 2012).[37] In addition, the Guiana Space Centre has played a significant role in the local economy since it was established in Kourou in 1964: it accounted directly and indirectly for 16% of French Guiana's GDP in 2002 (down from 26% in 1994, as the French Guianese economy is becoming increasingly diversified).[38] The Guiana Space Centre employed 1,659 people in 2012.[39]

There is very little manufacturing. Agriculture is largely undeveloped and is mainly confined to the area near the coast and along the Maroni River. Sugar and bananas were traditionally two of the main cash crops grown for export but have almost completely disappeared. Today they have been replaced by livestock raising (essentially beef cattle and pigs) in the coastal savannas between Cayenne and the second-largest town, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, and market gardening (fruits and vegetables) developed by the Hmong communities settled in French Guiana in the 1970s, both destined to the local market. A thriving rice production, developed on polders near Mana from the early 1980s to the late 2000s, has almost completely disappeared since 2011 due to marine erosion and new EU plant health rules which forbid the use of many pesticides and fertilizers. Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is growing. Unemployment has been persistently high in the last few decades: 20% to 25% (22.3% in 2012).[40]

In 2019, the GDP per capita of French Guiana at market exchange rates, not at PPP, was US$17,099 (€15,272),[3][41] only 41.7% of metropolitan France's average GDP per capita that year, and 49.0% of the metropolitan French regions outside the Paris Region.[3]

Social unrest in 2017 paralyzed the economy for several weeks and led to an economic recession (−3.5% in real terms), which sunk the GDP per capita that year.[42] The economy rebounded in 2018 (+2.8%) and in 2019 (+4.1%).[42]

Regional GDP of French Guiana
(in euros, current prices)
 2015   2016   2017   2018   2019 
Nominal GDP (€ bn) 3.99 4.13 3.98 4.16 4.35
GDP per capita (euros) 15,090 15,355 14,603 14,918 15,272
GDP per capita as a %
of Metropolitan France's
45.0 45.2 41.9 41.8 41.7
Sources: Eurostat;[3] INSEE for the population.[2]


Historical population
14,520 20,940 25,561 33,500 37,005 28,506 25,459 27,863 33,505
44,392 55,125 73,022 114,678 156,790 219,266 244,118 276,128 294,071
Official figures from past censuses and INSEE estimates.
Carnival of Kourou

French Guiana's population of 294,071 (Jan. 2021 estimate[2]), most of whom live along the coast, is substantially ethnically diverse. At the 2014 census, 57.3% of the inhabitants of French Guiana were born in French Guiana, 9.3% were born in Metropolitan France, 3.0% were born in the French Caribbean departments and collectivities (Guadeloupe and Martinique etc.), and 30.2% were born in foreign countries (primarily Suriname, Brazil, and Haiti).[43]

Estimates of the percentages of French Guiana ethnic composition are difficult to produce due to the presence of a large proportion of immigrants. People of mixed African and French ancestry are the largest ethnic group, though estimates vary as to the exact percentage, depending upon whether the large Haitian community is included as well. Generally, the Creole population is judged to be about 60–70% of the total population if Haitians (comprising roughly one-third of Creoles) are included, and 30–50% otherwise. There are also smaller groups from various Caribbean islands, mainly Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Saint Lucia.

Roughly 14% of the population is of European ancestry. The vast majority of these are of French ancestry, though there are also people of Spanish and Portuguese ancestry.

Fresh market of Hmong Cacao village

The main Asian communities are the Chinese (about 3–4%, primarily from Zhejiang Province and Guangdong Province in mainland China) and Hmong from Laos (1–2%). Other groups from Asia include East Indians, Lebanese and Vietnamese.

The main groups living in the interior are the Maroons who are of African descent, and Amerindians. The Maroons, descendants of escaped African slaves, live primarily along the Maroni River. The main Maroon groups are the Saramaca, Aucan (both of whom also live in Suriname), and Boni (Aluku).

Daily life in the Wayana village of Antecume Pata

The main Amerindian groups (forming about 3–4% of the population) are the Arawak, Carib, Emerillon (now called the Teko), Galibi (now called the Kaliña), Palikur, Wayampi and Wayana. As of the late 1990s, there was evidence of an uncontacted group of Wayampi.


Place of birth of residents of French Guiana
(at the 1990, 1999, 2006, 2011, and 2014 censuses)
Census Born in
French Guiana
Born in
Metropolitan France
Born in the
French West Indies
Born in the
rest of Overseas France
Born in foreign
countries with French
citizenship at birth¹
2014 57.3% 9.3% 3.0% 0.3% 1.2% 29.0%
2011 56.5% 9.3% 3.4% 0.2% 1.3% 29.3%
2006 55.3% 9.6% 3.1% 0.2% 1.4% 30.4%
1999 54.4% 11.8% 4.9% 0.3% 2.0% 26.6%
1990 50.5% 11.7% 5.2% 0.3% 1.9% 30.4%
¹Persons born abroad of French parents, such as Pieds-Noirs and children of French expatriates.
²An immigrant is by French definition a person born in a foreign country and who didn't have French citizenship at birth. Note that an immigrant may have acquired French citizenship since moving to France, but is still listed as an immigrant in French statistics. On the other hand, persons born in France with foreign citizenship (the children of immigrants) are not listed as immigrants.
Source: INSEE[43]


Cayenne Cathedral. Most inhabitants of French Guiana are Catholic.

The dominant religion of French Guiana is Roman Catholicism; the Maroons and some Amerindian peoples maintain their own religions. The Hmong people are also largely Catholic owing to the influence of missionaries who helped bring them to French Guiana.[44] Guianan Catholics are part of the Diocese of Cayenne.


The total fertility rate in French Guiana has remained high and is today considerably higher than that of metropolitan France, as well as most of the other French overseas departments. It is largely responsible for the rapid population growth of French Guiana.

Total fertility rate
 1999   2000   2001   2002   2003   2004   2005   2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011   2012   2013   2014   2015   2016   2017   2018 
French Guiana 3.87 3.93 3.79 3.73 3.77 3.47 3.79 3.80 3.73 3.57 3.49 3.37 3.42 3.60 3.47 3.44 3.44 3.61 3.93 3.82
4 overseas departmentsA 2.32 2.45 2.42 2.35 2.38 2.40 2.46 2.48 2.48 2.46 2.42 2.39 2.40 2.48 2.44 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Metropolitan France 1.79 1.87 1.88 1.86 1.87 1.90 1.92 1.98 1.96 1.99 1.99 2.02 2.00 1.99 1.97 1.97 1.93 1.89 1.86 1.84
Source: INSEE[45]

A Data for the four overseas departments of French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Réunion, not including the new overseas department of Mayotte.


The official language of French Guiana is French, and it is the predominant language of the department, spoken by most residents as a first or second language. In addition, a number of other local languages exist. Regional languages include French Guianese Creole (not to be confused with Guyanese Creole), six Amerindian languages (Arawak, Palijur, Kali'na, Wayana, Wayampi, Emerillon), four Maroon creole languages (Saramaka, Paramaccan, Aluku, Ndyuka), as well as Hmong Njua.[46] Other languages spoken include English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Haitian Creole and Spanish.


Map of the European Union in the world with overseas countries and territories and outermost regions, as of 2019

French Guiana, as part of France, forms part of the European Union – the largest landmass for an area outside of Europe (since Greenland left the European Community in 1985), with one of the longest EU external boundaries. It is one of only three European Union territories outside Europe that is not an island (the others being the Spanish Autonomous Cities in Africa, Ceuta and Melilla). As an integral part of France, its head of state is the President of the French Republic, and its head of government is the Prime Minister of France. The French Government and its agencies have responsibility for a wide range of issues that are reserved to the national executive power, such as defense and external relations.

Cayenne City Hall

The President of France appoints a prefect (resident at the prefecture building in Cayenne) as his representative to head the local government of French Guiana. There is one elected, local executive body, the Assemblée de Guyane.[47]

French Guiana sends two deputies to the French National Assembly, one representing the commune (municipality) of Cayenne and the commune of Macouria, and the other representing the rest of French Guiana. This latter constituency is the largest in the French Republic by land area. French Guiana also sends two senators to the French Senate.

The Guianese Socialist Party dominated politics in French Guiana until 2010.

A chronic issue affecting French Guiana is the influx of illegal immigrants and clandestine gold prospectors from Brazil and Suriname. The border between the department and Suriname, the Maroni River, flows through rain forest and is difficult for the Gendarmerie and the French Foreign Legion to patrol. There have been several phases launched by the French government to combat illegal gold mining in French Guiana, beginning with Operation Anaconda beginning in 2003, followed by Operation Harpie in 2008 and 2009 and Operation Harpie Reinforce in 2010. Colonel François Müller, the commander of French Guiana's gendarmes, believes these operations have been successful. However, after each operation ends, Brazilian miners, garimpeiros [fr], return.[48] Soon after Operation Harpie Reinforce began, an altercation took place between French authorities and Brazilian miners. On 12 March 2010 a team of French soldiers and border police were attacked while returning from a successful operation, during which "the soldiers had arrested 15 miners, confiscated three boats, and seized 617 grams of gold... currently worth about $22,317". Garimpeiros returned to retrieve their lost loot and colleagues. The soldiers fired warning shots and rubber "flash balls", but the miners managed to retake one of their boats and about 500 grams of gold. "The violent reaction by the garimpeiros can be explained by the exceptional take of 617 grams of gold, about 20 percent of the quantity seized in 2009 during the battle against illegal mining", said Phillipe Duporge, the director of French Guiana's border police, at a press conference the next day.[49]

Administrative divisions[edit]

French Guiana is divided into 2 arrondissements and 22 communes:

Number Name Area (km2) Population Individual Map Arrondisement Labelled Map
1 Awala-Yalimapo 187.4 1,430 Locator map of Awala-Yalimapo 2018.png Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni Guyane administrative.PNG
2 Mana 6,333 11,234 Locator map of Mana 2018.png
3 Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni 4,830 45,576 Locator map of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni 2018.png
4 Apatou 2,020 9,381 Locator map of Apatou 2018.png
5 Grand-Santi 2,112 8,698 Locator map of Grand-Santi 2018.png
6 Papaïchton 2,628 6,212 Locator map of Papaichton 2018.png
7 Saül 4,475 152 Locator map of Saül 2018.png
8 Maripasoula 18,360 11,994 Locator map of Maripasoula 2018.png
9 Camopi 10,030 1,834 Locator map of Camopi 2018.png Cayenne
10 Saint-Georges 2,320 4,188 Locator map of Saint-Georges 2018.png
11 Ouanary 1,080 220 Locator map of Ouanary 2018.png
12 Régina 12,130 865 Locator map of Régina 2018.png
13 Roura 3,902.5 3,390 Locator map of Roura 2018.png
14 Saint-Élie 5,680 216 Locator map of Saint-Élie 2018.png
15 Iracoubo 2,762 1,773 Locator map of Iracoubo 2018.png
16 Sinnamary 1,340 2,895 Locator map of Sinnamary 2018.png
17 Kourou 2,160 24,659 Locator map of Kourou 2018.png
18 Macouria 377.5 15,602 Locator map of Macouria 2018.png
19 Montsinéry-Tonnegrande 634 2,772 Locator map of Montsinéry-Tonnegrande 2018.png
20 Matoury 137.19 32,942 Locator map of Matoury 2018.png
21 Cayenne 23.6 63,652 Locator map of Cayenne 2018.png
22 Remire-Montjoly 46.11 26,143 Locator map of Remire-Montjoly 2018.png


Oyapock River Bridge

The transportation system in French Guiana is deficient compared to Metropolitan France, being concentrated in the coastal zone of the territory, while the inland municipalities are poorly connected and often difficult to access.

Road system[edit]

French Guiana has about 2,200 km of roads,[50] which are divided into:

  • National roads (440 km), divided into RN1, RN2, RN3 and RN4 (the last two downgraded to departmental roads during Raffarin's tenure), which connect the main coastal towns, forming a corridor that crosses the coastal strip from the border with Suriname to that of Brazil: RN1, completed in the 1990s, links Cayenne to Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, crossing the municipalities of Macouria, Kourou, Sinnamary (the stretch of road between Kourou and Sinnamary is locally called Route de l'espace, "space road") and Iracoubo, while RN2 runs from Cayenne to Saint-Georges-de-l'Oyapock, where it continues on BR-156 across the bridge over the Oyapock. Today, all rivers are crossed by road by bridges, some of them quite long (e.g. the bridge over the Cayenne River is 1225 m long), whereas until 2004 (the year of completion and inauguration of the Approuague bridge) many rivers were crossed by canoes and barges. Transport on national roads is restricted during the rainy season (from 48 to a maximum of 32 tons), while the maximum speed (monitored by the National Gendarmerie posts at Régina and Iracoubo, which are also in charge of controlling the possible flow of illegal traffic and irregular immigrants) is 90 km/h;
  • Departmental roads (408 km), subdivided into urban and rural departmental roads (rural roads), which serve the coastal villages, 90% of which have no street lighting;
  • Communal roads or forest tracks (1. 311 km), most of which are closed to ordinary traffic and reserved for authorized personnel (employees of authorized mining or logging companies, forest rangers): the longest tracks are the Bélizon track in the commune of Saül (Guiana) (150 km), the Saint-Élie-diga track in Petit-Saut (26 km), the Coralie track (the oldest in the department, created to reach the Boulanger mine) and the Maripasoula-Papaïchton track. The communal roads are not usually paved and often go into the forest from the departmental roads;

Despite the existence of numerous projects to upgrade and asphalt some roads (such as the Bélizon road mentioned above or the Apatou-Maripasoula-Saül axis), these projects are often opposed, Despite the existence of numerous projects to upgrade and asphalt roads (such as the Bélizon road or the Apatou-Maripasoula-Saül axis), which are often opposed by environmental movements because of environmental fragmentation and problems for Amerindian and Maroon communities, several French Guiana municipalities (Ouanary, Camopi, Saül, Saint-Élie, Grand-Santi, Papaïchton, Maripasoula, Apatou) still do not have road access.

Following a treaty between France and Brazil signed in July 2005, the Oyapock River Bridge over the Oyapock River was built and completed in 2011, becoming the first land crossing ever between French Guiana and the rest of the world (there exists no other bridge crossing the Oyapock River, and no bridge crossing the Maroni River marking the border with Suriname, although there is a ferry crossing to Albina, Suriname). The bridge was officially opened on 18 March 2017, however the border post introduction on the Brazilian caused additional delays.[51] As of 2020, it possible to drive uninterrupted from Cayenne to Macapá, the capital of the state of Amapá in Brazil.[52]

Railway system[edit]

The Railway section of the Tiger Camp. Saint-Laurent to Saint-Jean-du-Maroni Railway (Prison Administration circa 1905).

At present, French Guiana does not have a railway system, with the exception of a small section in the Centre Spatial Guyanais used for the transport of components: when the territory was a penal colony, there were some railroad lines built by the prisoners themselves to connect the various baths with each other, the remains of which (now disused and mostly engulfed by the jungle) are still visible in some areas. These lines include the section from Montsinéry-Tonnegrande to the so-called bagne des Annamites, the section from Saint-Élie to the Saut du Tigre labor camp (now submerged by the artificial lake created by the Petit-Saut dam) and the section from Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni-Mana-Saint-Jean-du-Maroni.


Transportation by boat is quite widespread in French Guiana: among the most important ports are the port of Dégrad-Des-Cannes, located at the mouth of the Mahury River, in the commune of Rémire-Montjoly, through which most of the imported or exported goods of the territory pass and where the local detachment of the Marine nationale is housed, and the port of Larivot, located in Matoury, where the Guyanese fishing fleet is concentrated.

The port of Dégrad-Des-Cannes, built in 1969 to cope with the impossibility of the former port of Cayenne to decongest the growing maritime traffic, has a rather limited draft, and larger ships often prefer to dock at Ile du Salut to unload people and goods (which are then transported to the mainland by smaller ships) to avoid running aground. The port of Pariacabo in Kourou is home to the Colibri and Toucan ships, which carry components for Ariane missiles.

The inland rivers are heavily traversed by canoes and other small boats, linking the villages on the Marowijne, Oyapock and Approuague rivers, which often cannot be reached in any other way; the lake created by the Petit-Saut dam is also frequently crossed, although it is officially forbidden to cross the body of water.

In the department, 460 km of aquatic environment are considered navigable.


Cayenne Airport

French Guiana is served by Cayenne-Rochambeau Airport, located in Matoury: there are also several airstrips in the department, located in Camopi, Maripasoula, Ouanary, Saint-Georges-de-l'Oyapock, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni and Saül, for a total of eleven hubs (four paved and seven unpaved).

From the main airport, there are two daily direct flights to Paris (Paris Orly airport, with an average flight time of about 8 hours and 25 minutes from Guyana to the capital and 9 hours and 10 minutes vice versa), offered by Air France and Air Caraïbes, as well as other flights to Fort-de-France, Pointe-à-Pitre, Port-au-Prince, Miami and Belém: The regional carrier Air Guyane Express also offers daily flights to Maripasoula and Saül, as well as more sporadic flights (mainly related to postal deliveries) to Saint-Georges-de-l'Oyapock and Camopi.

Public transportation[edit]

An Agglo bus, public transport, in the city of Cayenne, French Guiana

There is a public bus service that currently only covers the municipality of Cayenne and is run by the SMTC (Syndicat Mixte de Transport en Commun, now changed to Régie Communautaire des Transports - RCT) and consists of seven lines.

For connections between the coastal towns (except Montsinéry-Tonnegrande), the "collective cab" (Taxis Co) method is quite widespread, which are minibuses with a capacity of about ten people that leave as soon as there is a certain number of users on board. In 2010, the general council reached an agreement with some of the operators of this service to make it at least partially public under the name of TIG (Transporte Interurbano de la Guiana), with fixed departure times and predefined stops.

On the main rivers (Marowijne and Oyapock), there are pirogue services (called pirogues cabs), which go both to inland centers and across the border (such as Albina in Suriname or Oiapoque in Brazil).

Main settlements[edit]

Population figures are those recorded in the 2018 census.[53]

Military, police and security forces[edit]

The commander of the French armed forces in French Guiana since July 2009 has been General Jean-Pierre Hestin. The military there is currently 1,900 strong, expected to increase enrollment in 2014–2015.[54]

Among the military, police and security forces in French Guiana, are the following:



Subprefecture of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni.
Thémire house, Creole style, in Cayenne.

The local architecture is characterized by its Creole, Amerindian and Bushinenge influences. The main towns contain predominantly Creole-style architecture, with some Western-style buildings and forts. In the communes with the black maroon populations one can see houses of bushinengue styles. And the Amerindian communes are recognized for their pre-colonial type carbets. Most of these buildings were designed with local materials, such as wood from the Amazonian forests and bricks made on site. These local architectures blend with contemporary style buildings.


Group parades during the Great Night Parade of Cayenne.
Horses of air and light at the Big Parade of the Litoral, in Kourou.

The Carnival is one of the major events in French Guiana. Considered the longest in the world, it takes place on afternoon of Sunday, between Epiphany at the beginning of January and Ash Wednesday in February or March. Groups disguised according to the theme of the year parade around decorated floats to the rhythm of percussion and brass. The preparation of the groups starts months before the carnival. The groups parade in front of thousands of spectators who gather on the sidewalks and bleachers arranged for the occasion.

Touloulous in Cayenne streets in 2007.

Brazilian groups identical to those in the Rio carnival are also appreciated for their rhythms and their alluring costumes. The Chinese community of Cayenne also participates in the parades, bringing its characteristic touch, dragons.

At the start of the evening, the Touloulous, typical characters of the Guianan carnival, go to the dancings to participate in the famous paré-masked balls.


Atipa in coconut milk, typical dish of Guiana cuisine.
Bottle of Belle Cabresse 50°(rhum agricole)

Guianan cuisine is rich in the different cultures that mix in French Guiana. Creole restaurants rub shoulders with Chinese restaurants in large cities such as Cayenne, Kourou and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. The local culinary art originally brought together Guianan Creole, Bushinengue and Native American cuisines.

All of these cuisines have several ingredients in common:

  • Manioc;
  • Smoked meats and fish.

At Easter, Guianan people eat a traditional dish called Awara broth.

This southern Caribbean territory has many typical dishes, such as Awara broth, Creole galette, Dizé milé, Countess, Cramanioc pudding, Kalawanng, Couac gratin and salad, Fricasse of iguana or its famous Pimentade (fish or chicken court-bouillon).


French Guiana literature includes all works written by local authors or persons related to French Guiana. It is expressed both in French and in Guianan Creole.

Local literature is a literature closely related to that of the French West Indies: especially the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. For some, it is an Antillean-Guyanese literature in relation to the themes addressed, which are mainly related to slavery and other social problems. Thus, this literature takes several forms. First, orality, because it is a characteristic element of Guianan literature, as in many countries of Black America. In this connection, we can consider tales, legends, fables and, in another form, novels.[56]

Nineteenth century French Guiana is marked by a weak presence of writers. At that time, writers only published a few scattered poems in local newspapers. Today, however, it is difficult to trace the writings of some French Guianan poets: Ho-A-Sim-Elosem, Munian, R. Octaville, etc. Two Guianan poets are the exception. According to Ndagano (1996), Ismaÿl Urbain[57] and Fabien Flavien would be considered the first French Guianan poets.[58] However, Alfred Parépou is a writer who marked his era with his work Atipa (1885).

The period from 1900 to 1950 constitutes an important stage in local literature insofar as it gave birth to numerous writers who had a considerable impact, such as those of Negritude (Négritude). The Guianan of the 1950s and 1960s is notable for writing about the black cause. Serge Patient and Elie Stephenson did address this issue in their writings.

Since 1970 different generations of writers have become aware of the black cause or slavery. Whether through their writings or their political activities, they take into account this painful period that had serious consequences on the local society and on the black world in general. For this generation, Christiane Taubira remains the figurehead. Other writers are interested in other types of themes, such as regional nature, etc.


Sport in French Guiana dates back to long before the colonial period. Popularized since the 19th century, the first sports competition organized to commemorate July 14 was held in 1890. At that time, there were already physical activities favorable to the inhabitants of this Amazonian territory, but also sports coming from Europe, which favored the colonizers. There were: foot races, donkey races, canoe races, bicycle races, tricycle races, nautical regattas in the ports and traditional popular games.

The most popular sport in French Guiana today is soccer, followed by basketball, cycling, swimming and handball, although there are some canoeing, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, aikido, karate, fencing, horseback riding, rowing and volleyball clubs in the department.

As a French Overseas department, Guiana is not a member of the Pan American Sports Organization; rather, athletes compete within the French National Olympic and Sports Committee and are governed by the Ligue d'Athlétisme de la Guyane, a sub-unit of the Fédération française d'athlétisme.

Starting in 1960, the Tour of Guiana, an annual multiple stage bicycle race, is held.[59]


The territory has its own local team called the French Guiana national football team and has its own regional league called the French Guiana Football League. The French Guiana regional league was established in October 1962. It is currently not affiliated to FIFA, but has been affiliated to the FFF since 27 April 1963 and has been an associate member of CONCACAF (North, Central American and Caribbean League) since 1978.

Despite being geographically in the subcontinent of South America, the local sports authorities chose to participate in the competition where most of the countries and dependent territories of the Caribbean area are located, and not in CONCACAF as it would correspond to it in terms of Geography.

In April 2013, the LFG became a full member of CONCACAF. The French Guiana Football Team, also known as Yana Dòkò, is a selection of the best local players under the auspices of the Guiana Football League. It is not recognised by FIFA, but participates in CONCACAF competitions. It played its first match against Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) in 1936 losing 1 to 3.[60] It had its biggest victory on 26 September 2012 against the St. Pierre and Miquelon team (11 to 1) and its biggest defeat was also against Dutch Guiana losing 9 to 0 on 2 March 1947.

The home team has participated in events such as the CONCACAF Nations Cup / Gold Cup, Caribbean Nations Cup (between 1978-2017), CONCACAF Nations League, Overseas Cup (Coupe de l'Outre-Mer, 2008-2012) and the Tournament of 4 (Tournoi des 4).

Georges-Chaumet Stadium, French Guiana


The Tour of Guiana (locally: Tour de Guyane), formerly known as "Le Tour du Littoral" (the Littoral Tour) or more rarely as "La Grande Boucle Guayanaise", is a cycling stage race that takes place mainly in French Guiana each year, although it occasionally crosses neighbouring countries.

It takes place in nine stages, with a route linking the main towns of the department: Cayenne, Kourou, and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. It was created in 1950 and is organised by the Comité Régional de Cyclisme de la Guyane (French Guiana Cycling Committee).

The tour has been international since 1978. Over the years it has gained in importance and popularity and its duration has increased. The participation has grown from a mostly French Guianan group in the first editions to editions with more than 10 different nationalities. The 2020 edition of the Tour could not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is also the case for the Tour in 2021.[61]

Kevin Séraphin, ex NBA player.

In popular culture[edit]

The novel Papillon, by the French convict Henri Charrière, is set in French Guiana. It was first published in France in 1969, describing his escape from a penal colony there. Becoming an instant bestseller, it was translated into English from the original French by June P. Wilson and Walter B. Michaels for a 1970 edition, and by author Patrick O'Brian. Soon afterward the book was adapted for a Hollywood film of the same name. Charrière stated that all events in the book are truthful and accurate, allowing for minor lapses in memory. Since its publication there has been controversy over its accuracy.[62][63]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Aldrich and John Connell. France's Overseas Frontier : Départements et territoires d'outre-mer Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-521-03036-6.
  • René Belbenoit. Dry guillotine: Fifteen years among the living dead 1938, Reprint: Berkley (1975). ISBN 0-425-02950-6.
  • René Belbenoit. Hell on Trial 1940, translated from the original French manuscript by Preston Rambo. E. P Dutton & Co. Reprint by Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 194 p. Reprint: Bantam Books, 1971.
  • Henri Charrière. Papillon Reprints: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon Ltd. 1970. ISBN 0-246-63987-3 (hbk); Perennial, 2001. ISBN 0-06-093479-4 (sbk).
  • John Gimlette, Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge 2011
  • Joshua R. Hyles (2013). Guiana and the Shadows of Empire: Colonial and Cultural Negotiations at the Edge of the World. Lexington Books. ISBN 9780739187807.
  • Peter Redfield. Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana ISBN 0-520-21985-6.
  • Miranda Frances Spieler. Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana (Harvard University Press; 2012) studies slaves, criminals, indentured workers, and other marginalized people from 1789 to 1870.

External links[edit]