May 02

Pedalling about French Guyana: Information for cycle tourists

by in French Guyana, South America

We cycled across French Guyana in April 2012. Below are details of the route we took as well as other information cyclists planning a trip may find useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to know please email us.

French Guyana was one of our favourite places on our trip around South America. Officially a department of France, into which everything is imported, French Guyana is a cyclist’s nightmare because everything is expensive. However, with some planning you can survive relatively cheaply and it’s well worth the effort for some incredible cycling and once-in-a-lifetime sightseeing opportunities.

You can download this information on pedalling about French Guyana as a PDF 

Our route


View French Guyana cycle map in a larger map

 

Distance (km)

Accommodation

Price (Euros)

Notes

St Laurent de Moroni Couchsurfing – Vanessa
Awala 60 Hammocks in youth hostel The youth hostel was deserted so we didn’t pay, but the normal price is 7E with hammock, 12E without

Mana

20 Shops to stock up on food

Picnic spot

7k before Iracoubo – you could camp here
Iracoubo 79 Hotel Floria 45 Very basic and very expensive!! There are shops in the village to stock up.

Sinnamary

30 Hotels in village and shops.

Picnic spots

There are a couple of picnic spots along the road to Kourou where you could camp.
Kourou 65 Couchsurfing – Vincent
Cayenne 65 Couchsurfing – Jean
Km 62, RN2 72 Auberge D’Orpailleurs 14 7E each to hang our hammocks (they wanted us to pay for food as well, but we managed to agree not to). Best to book at weekend.

Regina

48 Some shops, but all closed on Sunday. Is an auberge on the main road before you reach Regina, no accommodation in the town.
Km 144, RN2 41 Wild camping Camping in gravel pit beside road. Distance includes diversion into Regina.
St Georges 44

 

General Information

Money

The currency is Euros. We were able to withdraw cash from ATMs in St Laurent, Kourou and Cayenne.

There is a big business in changing Euros into Reals in Oiapoque, Brazil, but very little obvious in St Georges. In Albina, Suriname, you can change your Suriname Dollars into Euros but need t exercise caution as, apparently, it is illegal outside of official money exchanges in Paramaribo.

Costs

French Guyana is ridiculously expensive. Most items are imported from France and the rest of Europe so are very pricey. Accommodation is astronomical so you will be looking to Couchsurf or camp whenever you can. Prices are high as French-nationals from the mainland often work in French Guyana, earning inflated wages in the process, so the cost of items is set at their level of living.

Getting in and out of French Guyana

As this is France, European Union citizens don’t need a visa, they don’t even need an entry stamp, but you will probably be given one.

We left Suriname into French Guyana. There is a car ferry that crosses the river twice a day. However, you can also pay a water taxi to take you across. You can either organise with somebody in town to pick you up from immigration, or there were also people hanging around the immigration office. It cost 20SD per person (with bike) for the ride. Crossing from Suriname, immigration is in the south of Saint Laurent de Maroni.

We left French Guyana from St Georges into Brazil. Immigration is in the police station. As you enter the town along the main road you need to turn off left towards the football field – best to ask for directions. They may not want to stamp you out even if you have an entry stamp, but eventually they will. The offices are closed during lunch hours.

The Brazilians have just built a bridge connecting the two countries, which is a slightly south of St Georges. Even though it looked finished it wasn’t open when we were there and instead we took a water taxi, which cost 5Euros each, including our bikes.

Security

French Guyana was a friendly place to cycle through and we felt safe around the country. It’s safe to walk around the towns and cities after dark.

Food and drink

This is France, so you’ll find some excellent food. However, it’s so expensive that you’ll only be eating out in the cities’ market stalls, unless you have a huge budget.

The best thing to do is to get your fix of cheese and wine from the supermarkets which stock all things French. They are normal European prices but you can find some good bargains and they do decent discount lines on a wide range of groceries. In Saint Laurent, Kourou and Cayenne there are Super-U stores and also a big Carrefour in Cayenne.

In the small towns you will always find 8-a Huit shop, which are good convenience stores (think 7 Eleven), that sell a wide range of basic groceries. It’s wise to stock up on food and water whenever you see one of these as there is nothing on the roads in French Guyana. You’ll need to carry water to make it from one town to the next, as even though there are often villages marked on the map they are tiny and there are no services. You also won’t find any roadside food stalls. The Huit a 8 stores sometimes have a café and normally bakery items.

In Kourou and Cayenne you will find lots of different restaurants, including McDonalds. Cayenne also has a good market three days a week with sit-down, lunchtime stalls, which are great value and serve fantastic food.

  • Croque monsieur (Huit-a-8) – 3E
  • Croissant – 1E
  • Pizza – from 9E

Drink

Tap water in potable. Soft drinks/sodas are popular throughout the country. You get all the usual suspects from Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Heineken and Bavaria are the most popular beers.  There is apparently a local beer but we didn’t find it.

  • Water (1.5ltr) – 1.50E
  • Soft drink (can) – 1E
  • Beer (can) – 1.50E
  • Bottle of decent French wine (from a supermarket – 4E

Accommodation

Accommodation in French Guyana is ludicrously expensive. When you see hotel signs saying ‘Rooms beginning at 60E’ as if that is a good thing. Fortunately, there are lots of Couchsurfers in the department. They get lots of requests so it’s best to ask more than one person per place and as far in advance as is possible. Everybody we stayed with was lovely and it was a great way to learn more about the place as well.

In Awala there are lots of carbets to hang your hammocks, prices start from 7E each with your own hammock at the youth hostel, which is the cheapest place. You can hire a hammock from 12E, but the youth hostel was deserted when we were there, so we didn’t pay at all. You’ll need a mosquito net as the mosquitos there are notorious and can carry dengue fever.

Along the road from Awala to Kourou there are picnic spots along creeks where you could camp. The water isn’t good for drinking, so carry your own supplies.

On the road from Cayenne to St Georges there are a number of auberges and carbet spots around the 60km mark. There is a walking trail near there so they cater for tourists and may want you to eat in the hostel as well.

There are also lots of camping opportunities when you get into the jungle where the road has been cleared. The gravel pits along the side of the road are often well-hidden and level.

There is accommodation in St Georges, but we didn’t use it. From the outside they looked very tired and the guidebook said they were expensive – best to stay in Brazil if you can.

Maps

We used the Nelles map to Venezuela and the Guyanas at a scale of 1:2,500,000. Overall we were happy with the details the map showed, although it did miss off some of the smaller villages.

Roads

Drivers are fairly courteous and it didn’t feel unsafe at any point cycling around French Guyana. It’s right-hand drive here.

St Laurent de Moroni to Awala – the road is in good condition. You come off the main road after a few kms and the road to Awala is fairly quiet.

Awala to Iracoubo – the road is in fairly good condition. You join back up with the main road, which is busier but not too bad. The road is fairly flat.

Iracoubo to Kourou – the road is in good condition. The road detours around the space centre, the roads running through it are restricted. There are a few small hills. The village of Sinnamary is well-stocked.

Kourou to Cayenne – the road is in good condition. Traffic gets a bit busier as you get closer to Cayenne, but it is not a busy capital to cycle into. The dual carriageway into town has a dedicated cycle lane.

Cayenne to Regina– the road is in good condition. This is a hilly stretch with some crazy climbs. Regina is 3km off the main road. There isn’t much in the town, but you can stock up on water and get a few supplies,

Regina to St Georges– the road is in good condition. It is still very hilly, but the climbs are less steep than the stretch to Regina.

Bike maintenance

People cycle throughout the country so there are no problems finding general repair places. There were good bike shops in St Laurent, Kourou and Cayenne.

Off the bike

  • Turtle spotting – from April to July giant, leatherback turtles come onshore to lay their eggs. From July to September the eggs hatch and thousands of turtles escape to the sea. It’s an incredible sight to see. We visited Awala, the place you’re most likely to see them. We also came across a turtle laying her eggs on a beach east of Cayenne around midday too.
  • Prison camps – French Guyana has a fascinating history as a penal colony. The guided tour of the Transportation Camp in St Laurent de Moroni is very good. The Iles de Salut are definitely worth a visit for the day at least.
  • Space Centre – the free tour of the Centre Spatial Guyanais is a must. It’s in French, but even if you don’t understand much, the drive around the centre is lots of fun. The films in English and French at the end at the mission control centre are excellent.  Make sure you try to book at least a week in advance as it gets booked up quickly.

Other stuff

Language – the official language is French. Many people spoke English as well.

Guide books – we used the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guides to South America, which had enough information in on the places we wanted to visit.

Other sites

We found the following sites usual for planning a cycle tour in French Guyana:

Other Pedalling About posts on French Guyana

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