French Guiana never cease to surprise you! When you think you saw all the amazing landscapes and diversity this land has, you still manage to find something different. And that’s the case for Petit Saut Dam. Following the growing need of energy in the region, in 1994 the dam was built on the Sinnamary river. The reservoir, that covers a surface of 365 km², about 3 times the size of Paris, has created an unique landscape where small islands alternates with the “skeletons” of the submerged forest.
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How to get to Petit Saut
The site is between Kourou and Sinnamary, and it will take you about 1 hour to get to the pier from Kourou. The road to get there is paved, but due to the torrential precipitations of the rainy season often it becomes bumpy.
Best time to visit
There are no doubts that during the dry season you will have less chances to get caught in the bad weather. There is less water and you will find occasionally golden sand beaches. The access to some points by kayak or pirogue is not possible anymore because of the scarcity of the water.
You may also test your luck and visit during March’s small summer that lasts about 2-3 weeks. If you are lucky enough you will have a lot of water but no precipitations making your navigation easier.
How can you navigate the lake?
It really depends on your equipment and the type of experience you are looking for. Essentially you have two options, very different from each other. Let’s see them!
Kayak is indeed a great solution to explore the submerged forest and small islands in the artificial lake. The animals are also less disturbed by the noise and you may see them more easily. On the other side you will be able to explore a smaller portion of the lake and canoeing all day can also be tiring let’s be honest!
How can you get a kayak?
If you are based in French Guiana and have the right car to carry your own kayak or rent it. But I’d recommend this option only if you are familiar with kayak/canoeing and you have previous experiences. For rentals (kayak only) you can check out Camp Maripa nearby Kourou, see location des canoes, or loca pirogue nearby Matoury.
Otherwise there are guided kayak tours, which are great for observing animals that may be hidden to the non-trained eyes. For rentals (onsite + guided tours) check out Baakaboto, Aud’ à la Guyane, and Kano Dilo.
One of the best alternative you have is Oumar Village. It rent huts with private toilets, water, and an oven (hammocks in case you don’t have them) where you can spend the night. But also kayaks that are on a small branch of the artificial lake. In case you pick this solution, in the weekends of the dry season you should make a reservation at the number +594 594 36 72 93.
Very different from the kayak, pirogue excursions are an awesome and more relaxing way to explore Petit Saut. Their only inconvenience is the engine noise, you may see less animals. Although that’s not always true! I know of people seeing jaguars at dawn during their pirogue excursions. It’s also based on luck.
How to reserve my pirogue excursion?
There are several operators which organizes day trips on the lake. If you have enough time check out 2 or 3 days excursions to fully appreciate the ambience. And honestly sleeping in the Amazonian Forest is one of the best experiences you could do in French Guiana.
- Atmosphere d’Amazonie is great for those who wants to test their fishing skills. They also have an excursion purely focused on animals observation.
- Nature de Guyane focuses on birds and animals watching. And exploring the lake onboard of the pirogue.
- Peyi a bel has fishing sessions to catch the famous Aimara, called water tiger.
- Guyane Evasion has a camp at Saut Lucifer, a beautiful rapid among the rocks. The camp is very large and has also a football/volleyball small terrain. They propose fishing activities.
What to expect from an excursion to Petit Saut?
The submerged forest
The landscape is absolutely unique, with the submerged forest looking like a tree cemetery in the middle of the water. Since the inundation of the forest many hectares of forest were submerged by the waters and killed mostly of the vegetation that wasn’t high enough to survive. Even after all these years the tallest trees stand still.
That’s partly explained because of the mineralization process that let the wood lose its organic properties, thus making it inert and resistant. Even so, don’t trust the trees stability, due to the strong rains and winds some trees may still fall.
If you have the chance to navigate nearby the trees you may see small parasitic plants, birds, spiders, insects, and even snakes. Despite being dead the trees are still home to many different forms of life.
There is a large variety of animals that can be observed while navigating the lake. An incredible variety of birds like toucans, parrots, kingfishers, and woodpeckers are among the most beautiful. And how not to mention the recurring sound of the paypayo, the screaming piha.
On the mammals side you may see spider monkeys and howler monkeys, tapirs and otters. Be careful to the last ones, they are cute but aggressive if there are baby otters nearby. Jaguars are also present but very rare to spot.
If you booked an experience on more days you may navigate at night and that’s when reptilians are out, especially caimans. Snakes are more difficult to spot but in some cases you may see them also with the daylight.
The ruins of ancient prisons
Before the water covered everything, along the river there was once an ancient complex, un bagne des Annamites, which served as one of the many other prisons in French Guiana.
Nowadays you can safely explore the ruins comfortably sit in your kayak or pirogue or even venture inside the building. Just like any other abandoned structure at your own risk, be careful to the collapsing risks or poisonous animals.
This photo, as well as the one on the cover were taken by Servane and Vincent, our co-adventurers. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely experience with us! You can find Servane’s beautiful pictures from French Guiana’s fauna and flora on her Instagram page.
Embark on an unforgettable adventure at Petit Saut
If you like kayaking or are intrigued by the submerged forest, don’t skip the chance to explore Petit Saut. It’s indeed a great experience! Are you planning to visit French Guiana soon? Great you are in the right place! In our dedicated section you will find many guides, day trips and inspiration to explore France’s wildest region.
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