Outside Cayenne

The European space centre at Kourou is one of the main attractions, especially when a rocket is being launched. In stark contrast are the abandoned penal settlements. Beyond is largely unexplored jungle. Also in this section are the routes to Suriname and Brazil.

West to Suriname


This is where the main French space centre (Centre Spatial Guyanais), used for the European Space Agency's Ariane programme, is located. It will soon also be used by the Russians to launch Soyuz. It is referred to by the Guyanais as 'white city' because of the number of French families living there. Tourist attractions include bathing, fishing, sporting and a variety of organized excursions.

space centre
occupies an area of about 750 sq km along 50 km of coast, bisected by the Kourou River. The
Musée de l'Espace
, can be visited without reservation. To watch a launch you must contact CNES, Alternatively, you can watch the launch for free, from 10 km, at Montagne Carapa at Pariacabo. Also see education and

Iles du Salut

The Iles du Salut (many visitors at weekends), opposite Kourou, include the Ile Royale, the Ile Saint-Joseph, and the Ile du Diable. They were the scene of the notorious convict settlement built in 1852; the last prisoners left in 1953. One of their most famous residents was Henri Charrière, who made a miraculous escape to Venezuela. He later recounted the horrors of the penal colony and his hair-raising escape attempts in his book
(some say Charrière's book is a compilation of prisoners' stories). There is a museum in the Commander's House on Ile Royale; brochures for sale. The Ile du Diable (Devil's Island), a rocky islet almost inaccessible from the sea, was where political prisoners, including Alfred Dreyfus, were held (access to this island is strictly forbidden). You can see monkeys, agoutis, turtles, hummingbirds and macaws, and there are many coconut palms. Paintings of prison life, by François Lagrange (the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman's character in the film
) are on show in the tiny church. Visit the children's graveyard, mental asylum and death cells. These are not always open, but the church is open daily. Conservation work is underway. Three guided tours in French are given weekly.

Sinnamary and St-Laurent du Maroni

Between Kourou and Iracoubo, on the road west to St-Laurent, is
(116 km from Cayenne), a pleasant town where Galibi Indians at a mission make artificial flowers, for sale to tourists. Carvings and jewellery are on sale here. There are three- to five-day excursions up the Sinnamary River. Scarlet ibis can be seen in numbers on the Sinnamary estuary at Iracoubo.

St-Laurent du Maroni
, formerly a penal transportation camp, is now a quiet colonial town 250 km from Cayenne on the river Maroni, bordering Suriname. It can be visited as a day tour from Cayenne if you hire a car, but note that everything closes for a long siesta. The old Camp de Transportation (the original penal centre) can be wandered round at will, but a guide is needed to enter the cells (an absolute must if visiting the country). Tourist office:
Office du Tourisme

Around St-Laurent

About 3 km from St-Laurent, along the Paul Isnard road, is Saint-Maurice, where the rum distillery of the same name can be visited, Monday to Friday 0730-1130. At Km 70 on the same dirt road is access to
Voltaire Falls
, 1½ hours walk from the road 7 km south of St-Laurent on the road to St-Jean du Maroni is the Amerindian village of
Terre Rouge
; canoes can be hired for day trips up the Maroni River .

Some 40 km north of St-Laurent du Maroni is
, a delightful town with rustic architecture near the coast (
Syndicat d'Initiatif
, T348304). 20 km west of Mana following the river along a single track access road is
Les Hattes
, or Yalimapo, an Amerindian village. About 4 km further on is Les Hattes beach where leatherback turtles lay their eggs at night; season April to August with May/June peak. No public transport to Les Hattes and its beach, but hitching possible at weekends; take food and water and mosquito repellent. The freshwater of the Maroni and Mana rivers makes sea bathing pleasant. It is very quiet during the week.

, or Awala, an Amerindian village with hammock places, is 16 km west of Les Hattes. It also has a beach where leatherback turtles lay their eggs; they take about three hours over it. Take mosquito nets, hammock and insect repellent.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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