Coat of Arms
President of Regional Council
Overseas Region of France
» French Guiana
»Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
»83,534 km2 (32,253 sq mi)
»€3.81 billion (US$4.90 bn)27th
» Per capita -€15,416 (US$19,828)
French Guiana officially called simply Guiana (French: Guyane), is an overseas department and region of France, on the north Atlantic coast of South America. It borders Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west. Its 83,534 km2 (32,253 sq mi) area has a very low population density of only 3 inhabitants per km2, with half of its 250,109 inhabitants in 2013 living in the metropolitan area of Cayenne, its capital. By land area, it is by far the largest overseas region of France. As an overseas region, it is inside the European Union, and its official currency is-the euro.
The addition of-the adjective “French” in English comes from colonial times when five such colonies existed (The Guianas), namely from west to east: Spanish Guiana (now Guayana Region in Venezuela), British Guiana (nowGuyana), Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), French-Guiana, and Portuguese Guiana (now Amapá, a state in far-northern Brazil). French Guiana and the two larger countries to-the north and west, Guyana and Suriname, are still often collectively referred-to as the Guianas and constitute one large shield landmass.
A large part of the department’s economy derives from the presence of the Guiana Space Centre, now the European Space Agency’s primary launch site near the equator.
As an integral part of France, French Guiana is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; its currency is the euro. The country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for French Guiana is .gf, but .fr is generally used instead.
In 2012, the GDP of French Guiana at market exchange rates was US$4.90 billion (€3.81 billion), ranking as the largest economy in the Guiana’s, and the 11th largest in South America.
French Guiana is heavily dependent on mainland France for subsidies, trade, and goods.
The main traditional industries are fishing (accounting for 5% exports in 2012), gold mining (accounting for 32% of exports in 2012) and timber (accounting for 1% of exports in 2012).
In addition, the Guiana Space Centre has played a significant role in the local economy since it was established in Kourou in 1964: it accounted directly and indirectly for 16% of French Guiana’s GDP in 2002 (down from 26% in 1994, as the French Guianese economy is becoming increasingly diversified). The Guiana Space Centre employed 1,659 people in 2012.
There is very little manufacturing. Agriculture is largely undeveloped and is mainly confined to the area-near the coast and along the Maroni River. Sugar and bananas were traditionally two of the main cash crops grown for export but have almost completely disappeared. Today they have been replaced by livestock raising (essentially beef cattle and pigs) in the coastal savannas between Cayenne and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, and market gardening (fruits and vegetables) developed by the Hmong communities settled in French Guiana in the 1970s, both destined to the local market.
A thriving rice production, developed on polders near Mana from the early 1980s to the late 2000s, has almost completely disappeared since 2011 due to marine erosion and new EU plant health rules which forbid the use of many pesticides and fertilizers.
Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is growing. Unemployment has been persistently high in the last few decades: 20% to 25% (22.3% in 2012).
In 2012, the GDP per capita of French Guiana at market exchange rates, not at PPP, was US$19,828 (€15,416), the highest in South America, but only 49% of metropolitan France’s average GDP per capita that year, and 57.5% of the metropolitan French regions outside the Paris Region.
French Guiana is a tiny country of cleaned-up colonial architecture, eerie prison-camp history and some of the world’s most diverse plant and animal life.
It’s a strange mix of French law and rainforest humidity where only a few destinations along the coast are easily accessed and travel can be frustratingly difficult as well as expensive.
As a department of France, it’s one of South America’s wealthiest corners, with funds pouring in to ensure a stable base for the satellite launcher.
But not even a European superpower can tame this vast, pristine jungle: you’ll find potholes in newly paved roads, and ferns sprouting between bricks while Amerindians, Maroons and Hmong refugees live traditional lifestyles so far from la vie Metropole that it’s hard to believe they’re connected at all.
- Guiana Space centre close to Kourou. There is a free tour twice a day. And for a few euros you can visit a museum.
- Check the rocket launch schedule for a special experience.
- The capital of Cayenne has some museums and colonial architecture.
- The Îles du salut and Kourou used to form a penal colony, colloquially known as the Devil’s Island (although in reality that’s the name of just one of the islands).
- From Kourou you can visit the islands by boat, however, the Devil’s Island proper isn’t open for visitors.