10 Fun Facts about French Guiana you didn’t know!

We have a saying in French Guiana that perfectly illustrates France’s wildest region: “La Guyane, personne ne vous croira“. Launched by French Guiana’s tourism board at the beginning of 2000, it translates as “French Guiana, nobody will believe you”. This short but effective motto resumes the region’s uniqueness, incredible biodiversity, and history that are the base for exciting adventures in the Amazonian Forest. But is French Guiana truly unique? I will let you judge yourself with these surprising fun facts about French Guiana.

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Table of Contents

10 French Guiana Fun Facts

1. It’s a European region

Say what? Yes! As weird as that may sound, French Guiana is one of France’s 5 overseas departments, making it effectively part of Europe. And all that comes with that: currency is Euro and laws are from France.

Also a small precision as in French it says Guyane, remember not to confuse it with Guyana. An ancient English colony, and now one of South America’s independent countries. Together with Suriname, the territories are known as the three Guyanas. From awarak, the land of the many waters, because of the Amazon river.

Petit Saut artificial archipelago in French Guiana.

2. It’s WAY larger than you think

Being next to Brazil doesn’t help, as French Guiana is a hundredth of the 5th largest country in the world. But the territory is pretty large itself.

In fact, it’s France’s second largest region and it’s almost the same size as Austria, 83.846 km2 versus 83,858 km². I bet you wouldn’t guess it by looking at a world map!

3. Europe’s space dreams take off from there

If you are a space geek you may already know this, Europe’s spaceport is situated there! Following Algeria’s independence in 1962, French Guiana’s ideal geographical and climate conditions made it the best candidate to become France’s new launching site.

In operation since 1968, it has been the launch base for a wide range of rockets, from sounding rockets to heavy-lift space launch vehicles. Without forgetting the satellites: you have probably heard of Webb or JuIce right? They both took off from Kourou’s spaceport.

Would you like to know more about Europe Spaceport and how you can visit it? This Centre Spatial Guyanais guide is perfect for you. And If you want to attend a rocket launch, check this out!

ariane 5 epc in french guiana space center

4. You have to cross its borders… by canoe!

Wedged between Brazil and Suriname, getting out from French Guiana is an adventure in itself! In addition to Cayenne’s airport, which serves almost exclusively Paris, the only way to get away is by crossing the borders on a motorized canoe.

Even if most recently a bridge was built on the Oyapock river connecting Brazil and France, the only way to reach Suriname is still via one of the motorized canoes that cross daily the Maroni river. Remember that if you want to get to Paramaribo from there!

5. It’s one of the largest sea turtles nesting sites in the world

From its west coast (Awala Yalimapo) to the center (Cayenne) its beaches are renowned worldwide as some of the largest sea turtle nesting sites in the world. Every year three types of sea turtles make a thousand kilometers to rejoin this beach and lay their precious eggs.

If you have the chance that’s an amazing experience to witness by the way! And one of my personal favorite reasons to visit French Guiana.

6. You probably have a “piece” of French Guiana in your kitchen

Have you ever used cayenne pepper? This very strong variety of pepper has probably given its name to the region’s largest city, Cayenne.

The etymology of the word cayenne derives from the ancient Tupi language and means capsicum. Although, the origin of the name Cayenne isn’t sure. As some historians say the name may come from the Wayanas (an Amerindian people) who called the river Kalani or Caiane.

7. It was one of the most infamous prisons in the world

After France sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803, the government needed a new location to “stock” its prisoners. French Guiana’s coast seemed ideal. It was the beginning of a project that made proliferate multiple prison camps, many stayed active for over a century.

Soon the prison camps became famous for their atrocious living conditions. The tropical climate and diseases killed many prisoners through the years.

Among the most famous prison camps today you can still visit the ones of the Salvation Islands, Saint Laurent, or the Annamites Prisons nearby Macouria.

Salvation Islands nearby Kourou. Iles du Salut, French Guiana

8. French is not the only language spoken

Besides French being the official language, French Guianese creole is widely spoken, they even teach it in schools. Together with these also Amerindian languages, Maroon creole, Hmong, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Haitian are widely spoken.

There are so many different cultures in French Guiana that you may definitely be surprised!

9. It has the highest percentage of forest area in the world

According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), French Guiana is the region that has the highest percentage of forest area in the world, 98,3%. Although, as it’s not an independent country, Suriname is the country with the highest percentage of forest 97,4% in 2020.

Can you imagine how rich their ecosystem is? Nature is definitely one of the main reasons to explore this territory. The adventures are endless for those who dare to enter its green gates!

10. It used to be one of France’s biggest rice producers

At the peak of their production, Mana, a small village nearby Awala Yalimapo produced 16% of France’s total rice production and exported more than half of it.

The thriving production lasted about 30 years, from the 80s to 2011. Unfortunately, the coast’s erosion caused the interruption of every activity. And the area was almost completely abandoned after 2011.

If you liked this trivia, there is so much more to learn about French Guiana!

There are a few places in the world that can give you that “getting away” feeling. And French Guiana is definitely on top of that list! If you want to have a peek at all the experiences you can have there, check out our French Guiana section.

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