When one thinks of the French overseas departments in the Caribbean; Martinique and Guadeloupe and its dependencies of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy seem to be the first to come to mind. Apart from Guadeloupe’s other three dependencies Les Saintes, Marie-Galante, Desirade, there is also a very rich part of France in this part of the globe. It is French Guiana which forms part of the north eastern coast of South America.
A Little Bit of History and Geography
Cayenne is the capital of this gem of France. The cayenne pepper is named after it. The first French settlers are said to have arrived in French Guiana in 1604, just over 100 years after it was sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1498. Arawak Indians and Caribs were at the time living there. While Cayenne is the town that first comes to mind, other important towns are Kourou, Matoury and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni.
The British, Dutch, English and Portuguese later also settled in French Guiana, and African slaves were brought in to work on the sugar plantations. French Guiana was established as a French colony after the Napoleonic wars and became an overseas department of France in 1946. As such, it forms part of the European Union, and has the euro as its currency. This tropical department of France is bordered by Brazil, Suriname and the North Atlantic Ocean.
A large portion of French Guiana like its neighboring British Guiana (now called Guiana) and Suriname are covered with lush equatorial forest.
People, Language and Culture
In 2008, French Guiana’s population was estimated at 221, 500. Some people have the luxury of living in traditional colonial architectural style homes with verandahs, particularly in the capital where a great deal of colonial architecture can be seen.
French is the official language, but Creole and native dialects are also spoken. Roman Catholicism is the main religion. The people here celebrate Carnival in the month of February or March, two days before Ash Wednesday, like they do in the French West Indian islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. All religious holidays are celebrated. The French National Day, Bastille Day is celebrated like in France on July 14th.
Football is a very popular sport in French Guiana; so too are water skiing and sailing.
In French Guiana, the visitor will have the pleasure of enjoying French cuisine, in addition to the local creole cuisine. There is a rich variety of tropical fruit and vegetables including, bananas, coconuts, mangoes, papayas, cassava, green beans, potatoes and plantains among others.
It is not surprising that forestry and fishing are the major industries. Eco-tourism is a growing industry. An important landmark in Kourou, is that of the European Space Agency rocket launch site. This centre accounts for a great percentage of the department’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Air France, Air Caraibes and Surinam Airways and TAF (Linhas Aereas from Brazil) are among the airlines which can get you to the wonderful tropical part of France on the other side of the world.