Guyana (French Guiana)

Driving Directions Guiana

Guiana, FRENCH GUIANA, or GUYANE, as the name suggests, remains an overseas department of France, and the mother country heavily subsidizes its economy. It is bounded to the south and east by Brazil and the west by Suriname. The coastal belt is a narrow strip of marshy mangrove swamps, but the land gradually rises inland towards the Tumac-Humac Mountains. These straddle the Brazilian border but are of modest height by South American standards.

Behind the coast, there is some savannah, but 90 percent of French Guiana covered with hot, humid, tropical forests that are thinly populated by people but inhabited by South American jungle animals such as tapirs, monkeys, anteaters, jaguars, ocelots, caimans and exotic birds.

Off the coast, lie the lies de Salut (Salvation Islands) and Devil’s Island, the latter having a particularly noto­rious place in the country’s history as a prison settlement.

The climate is tropical, with heavy rainfall.

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French Guiana originally inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indian peoples, but Europeans – French, Dutch and British – arrived from the mid-17th century onwards and struggled to establish colonies. Their efforts to survive severely limited by the natural forces of tropical diseases, difficult terrain, and climate.

Google maps™ Guiana


The country came under French control in 1817 and, from 1852 to 1949, France decided that this was an ideal place to send its convicts. Penal settlements established, both on the coast and Devil’s Island. The prisons finally closed after the Second World War, and, since that time, the country’s inhabitants have enjoyed a relatively high standard of living thanks to support from France.

Most of the population live either in the capital, Cayenne, or in the coastal belt and are engaged in limited agriculture, fishing, forestry, or mining.

Recently the French have tried to develop the tourist industry and exploit the extensive reserves of hardwood in the jungle interior. This has led to a growing sawmill industry and the export of logs. Natural resources, in addition to timber, include bauxite, cinnabar (mercury ore), and some gold.

French Guiana has one extremely modern development – the satellite launch base at Kourou, jointly run by the European Space Agency, the French Space Agency, and Arianespace, the company responsible for the Ariane rocket.

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