French Guiana might be small, but it is brimming with amazing experiences. From pristine rainforests to beautiful beaches, it presents a vacation opportunity that is both exciting and exotic. Though geographically situated in Latin American, the territory is actually considered an overseas department of France. It therefore belongs to the European Union and its official currency is the Euro. It is by far France's largest overseas department, home to roughly a quarter of a million people.
Meander through Cayenne. Cayenne is a fascinating and eclectic place, a cross roads between Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. You will find colonial, wrought iron balconies, diverse markets, and bright buildings with tropical colored facades. You will definitely want to take a stroll through the infamous Central Market, brimming with a variety of treasures from Amerindian handicrafts, Africa-style artwork, exotic Caribbean spices, and soup stalls that serve up an impressive Vietnamese Pho. For excellent French-Caribbean cuisine be sure to eat a meal at Les Palmistes.
Pay a visit to Cacao: Situated a few hours from Cayenne, this village has a fascinating history. It became a home for the Hmong refugees, who fled Laos in the 1970's in the wake of the Vietnam War. A popular weekend getaway for residents of Cayenne there is beautiful embroidery and excellent Laotian food.
Check out the Guiana Space Center: Operational since 1968, the Guiana center is one of the most important in the world. Interestingly, the French chose to construct the center here for two reasons. First of all, it is close to the equator, meaning the spinning earth can give eastward launching rockets a bit of extra velocity.
The site is also surrounded by relatively uninhabited territory, meaning that a failed rocket launch won't do as much damage. Try to visit the center during a scheduled launch; you can view from one of the observation centers and the experience is truly exhilarating.
Explore Iles du Salut: Translated to "The Salvations Islands" in English, these islands were actually once an infamous French prison colony. Established by Emperor Napoleon III, roughly 80,000 prisoners died here between 1852 and 1947. Situated about 15 miles off the coast in rough, shark-infested waters, it was virtually impossible for prisoners to escape from the islands. However, don't let the islands morbid past deter you; today the islands are a quaint, tropical retreat.
There are white sand beaches, gorgeous swimming holes, and an abundance of natural wildlife. You will likely catch sight of green-winged Ara macaws, agoutis, capuchin monkeys and seat turtles. Of course, you will also want to check out the restored colonial prison structures on the islands. Restored prison buildings have been turned into restaurants and hotels. The former director's house is now a fascinating museum.
Hike through the Trésor & Kaw Nature Reserves: A pristine slice of rainforest, these reserves of French Guiana are both gorgeous and easily accessible. Be sure to trek Trésor's one mile botanical trail to catch a glimpse of the area's diverse fauna and wildlife.
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