What makes French Guiana a unique country to travel to?
French Guiana is an overseas department of France. It is a sparsely populated tropical area located on the northeast coast of South America. French is the predominant language; English is not widely spoken. Tourist facilities are available, especially in the larger cities such as Cayenne and Kourou, but in some instances are not highly developed, and in the interior are almost non-existent.
An increase in criminal activity, such as assault, armed robbery, and theft, and in rare instances a stabbing or shooting, has been reported by Americans traveling in French Guiana, particularly in its major cities. Petty street crime occurs throughout the major cities. Individuals should make sure to keep valuables out of sight, especially if left unattended in an automobile. There have been occasional reports that the local police have not been responsive to U.S. citizen victims of crime.
Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. It is important to know that not only are bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in French Guiana, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don't have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. For example, one can be prosecuted under U.S. law for buying pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if arrested in French Guiana, U.S. citizens have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. Embassy, located in Paramaribo, Suriname, of your arrest. U.S. citizens arrested in French Guiana also may request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities forward communications from you to the nearest U.S. embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care within French Guiana is limited, and hospital facilities are available only in major urban areas. Patients' rooms in hospitals are primarily open-air facilities; instead of glass panes, hospital windows are fitted with wooden slats. The Centre Hospitalier de Cayenne Andrée Rosemon is the only full-service hospital in French Guyana. It has the only intensive care and trauma units in the country. Prescription and over the counter medicines can be purchased from pharmacies in the larger cities, however U.S. brands or names may not be available. Portions of French Guiana periodically experience outbreaks of malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. Appropriate precautions, including mosquito nets, are recommended outside of the major cities.
Safety and Security
The Government of France maintains a threat rating system known locally as "Vigipirate." This system is similar to the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory System. Under this plan, in times of heightened security concerns, the Government of France augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last year in France, there have been numerous arrests of suspected Islamic militants involved in various terrorist plots. France maintains open borders with its European neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity, including via air travel to French Guiana. Although Americans have not been specifically targeted in terrorist attacks in France within the past few years, travelers should maintain vigilance. They should immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities. French law enforcement authorities are proactive and will respond appropriately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.
Although violent civil disorder is rare in France, in the past, student demonstrations, labor protests, and other demonstrations have developed into violent confrontations between demonstrators and police. Although the distance of French Guiana from "la Métropole," the part of France located on the European continent, keeps it relatively isolated from civil disturbances and domestic issues, Americans are advised to avoid street demonstrations, particularly if riot police are on the scene.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in French Guiana, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning French Guiana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Primary roads in French Guiana are well paved and well maintained. Emergency call boxes are available at regular intervals on the main highways. Usually, lane markings and sign placements are not as clear as in the United States. Roads in rural areas are less developed. Roads leading to more remote regions in the interior are often improved dirt roads. French Guiana has a relatively moderate to high volume of traffic and police enforce traffic safety. Night driving can be dangerous, especially in the remote interior regions or on less-developed rural roads. Public transportation in the form of taxis and vans is relatively safe.