Date of Visit: January 2015
Carnival in French Guiana takes place each year between Epiphany in early January and Ash Wednesday in February or March. Every Sunday during this period, there is a parade on the streets of Cayenne, making this the longest running of any carnival in the Caribbean region.
Carnival à la Cayenne is a cultural tradition of the French Guianese Creole, its origin traced to carnival customs long practiced in Europe. It debuted during the beginning of colonization when settlers took part in carnival, forbidding the slaves from participating. Defying the ban, the slaves practiced carnival in clandestine ways, seeing it as a way to regain some freedom.
The ornate handmade masks continue being/ are an integral part of Mardi Gras culture. To this day they symbolise the notion of freedom, of escaping class constraints and social demands. Wearing masks during the festivities lets us all become equal, individuals can mingle with the masses and ultimately everyone can be whoever they’d like, at least for a few weeks.
Hotels are in short supply in Cayenne (and elsewhere in the territory). It’s always best to book in advance using an online agent such as booking.com
I stayed downtown at Hotel Le Dronmi, which I would recommend. The hotel is conveniently located to everything of interest plus it’s on the parade route.
This is a former French colony – need I say more. Lots of good food available in this town.
A great place to chill out and people watch is the terrace at Les Palmistes. This is the quintessential bar/restaurant in Cayenne. Located across from the square of the same name.
Some nationalities require visas for French Guiana – check your requirements prior to arrival.
French Guiana’s main international airport is Cayenne – Félix Eboué Airport, located south of the city centre. There are two flights a day to Paris served by Air France and Air Caraïbes. There are also services to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Paramaribo (Suriname) and Belém (Brazil).
There are no buses to the airport, so your alternatives are to rent a car or take a taxi (€35 to central Cayenne).
From both neighboring countries (Brazil and Suriname), you will need to cross a river by ferry into French Guiana. The border crossings are easy and straight-forward.
From Brazil, you will arrive in Saint-Georges de l’Oyapock from where you can travel by bus to Cayenne. In 2011, a newly built bridge was completed (at a cost of $33 million) linking Brazil and French Guiana, but it is still yet to be opened.
From Suriname you will step off the ferry in Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni from where you can take a bus to Iracoubo and transfer to another going to Cayenne.
Public transport is sporadic throughout the country. The best option is to hire a car. This is a French territory so roads are in excellent condition.
Author: Darren McLean
Author of taste2travel.com and an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer, diver and adventurer.