French Guiana is a tantalizing mélange of visible history, diverse cuisine and ingrained metropolitan French attitudes to how things are done, all set against the majestic canvas of the Amazon wilderness. Though Cayenne and Kourou enjoy somewhat-continental economies, the majority of the populace struggles financially and lives a modest lifestyle.
Guianese people take pride in their multicultural universe borne of multiregional influences. With 30 languages spoken in a region smaller than Iceland, around 38% of the population claims a mixed African (or Creole) heritage, 8% are French, 8% Haitian, 6% Surinamese, 5% are from the French Antilles, 5% are Chinese and 5% are Brazilian. The remainder is a smattering of Amerindian, Hmong and other South American ethnicities.
The country is predominantly Catholic, but Maroons and Amerindians follow their own religious traditions. The Hmong also tend to be Roman Catholic due to the influence of Sister Anne-Marie Javouhey, who brought them to French Guiana in the 1970s.
French Guiana borders Brazil to the east and south, while the Maroni and Litani Rivers form the border with Suriname to the west. The majority of the population lives in the Atlantic coastal zone, which has most of French Guiana's limited road network. The coast is mostly mangrove swamp with only a few sandy beaches, and the water along the coast tends to be an unappealing brown color, due to the vast number of huge rivers emptying into the Atlantic from the Amazon Basin. If that wasn't enough to keep you out of the water, in 2018 swimming was banned at beaches around Cayenne due to dangerous levels of unprocessed sewage. A beach destination this is not, though there's an active and well-protected turtle population that lays its eggs annually between April and July on the beaches around the town of Mana. The densely forested interior, the terrain of which rises gradually toward the Tumac-Humac Mountains on the Brazilian frontier, is largely unpopulated, and is home to incredible biodiversity that is nevertheless under threat from illegal gold mining and deforestation.
Essential Food & Drink
- Pho Vietnamese soup made with beef broth, rice noodles, many fragrant herbs and meat.
- Mie/nasi goreng Javanese-style fried rice/noodles.
- Gibier Bush meat like capybara, wild boar and agouti is legally hunted and found widely on restaurant menus.
- Pizza Find delicious thin-crust, French-style, wood-fired pizzas in most main towns.
- Jamais goûté A delicate freshwater fish that's best steamed in banana leaves.
- Ti'punch Literally a 'small punch' made with local rum, lime juice and sugarcane syrup – a Caribbean favorite.
- Fricassee Rice, beans and sautéed meat stewed in gravy – unlike French fricassee, the Caribbean style has a brown or red sauce with a kick of Cayenne pepper.