DAYS 148 – 169: FRENCH GUIANA, SURINAME, GUYANA & BRAZIL
Oiapoque is the gateway to French Guiana. A bridge across the Oyapock River was completed in 2011, but has still not been opened! We therefore may have to go looking for a barge to take us across to our destination of Saint George.
Once in French Guiana, you will find yourselves in Europe! On completion of the immigration and customs duties, you continue on to the Capital of Cayenne where you will apply for your Suriname visas.
Cayenne is full of colonial architecture that just has to be explored. The two most impressive are the town hall, built by the Jesuits in 1890, and St. Saviours Roman Catholic Cathedral. The city’s botanical gardens are also worth a look, or just chill out on the mail square with a beer, watch the world go by and try some of the fantastic street food.
Depending on the timing of your visa applications, and when you can collect your passports, the order of the following destinations may change around.
Kourou is a real highlight of your journey, as we visit the European Spaceport where we can take a tour of the site. A large percentage of the world’s satellites are launched from here aboard the famous Ariane rockets. More recently Russian Soyuz rockets have also used this facility and if you’re lucky you may even see a launch! Time allowing you will also visit Devil’s Island, former home to one of France’s most notorious prisons.
Nothing can compare coming up close and personal to a giant leatherback turtle. April is normally the start of nesting time, where turtles make the journey up the beach to deposit their eggs in the warm sand. You will head to an area on the coast which is a nesting site for four of the world’s most famous turtle species.
You will then return to Cayenne to collect your passports and spend another night in the vibrant city, before journeying back west to St Laurent.
Founded in 1880, the penal town of St. Laurent du Maroni was inhabited almost entirely with guards or liberated prisoners from the nearby Transportation Camp. Here the famous writer Henri Charriere, who went on to write Papillon, spent some of his days before being moved to the ‘inescapable’ Iles du Salut prison. An informative optional tour takes you into the camp and gives you a snapshot of quite how hard life would have been here.
Leaving French Guiana behind you take another ferry and cross into Suriname, where you will feel the atmosphere and culture palpably change from French to Dutch. Suriname was a colonial outpost of the Netherlands from the seventeenth century until it achieved full independence in 1975; the country retains much of its Dutch character, while also having the distinctly Caribbean and African feel that permeates the whole region. Throw in some indigenous cultures and you have a unique and intoxicating mix!
Following the road west and crossing the Suriname River on the Jules Wijdenboschbrug (bridge) you will arrive in Suriname’s capital, Paramaribo. Positioned where the Surname river meets the Atlantic Ocean, Paramaribo is a typically relaxed Caribbean city, with a long waterfront ideal for sitting back and relaxing in the cooling winds while watching local life go by.
The historic inner city of Paramaribo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and walking the streets here the fusion between colonial, Caribbean and local architecture is pronounced as European styles were combined with local materials to produce a style of construction that is only found in this city.
Throughout the city there are many signs hinting at Paramaribo’s multicultural history and present day, and it is possible to visit the Suriname Mosque, Neveh Shalom Synagogue, St Peter and St Paul Cathedral and Arya Dawaker Hindu Temple, as well as the grand presidential palace. In the evenings head for the river, and join a river cruise to hopefully spot rare freshwater dolphins.
You will have a few nights in Paramaribo to relax and recharge your batteries before your adventure continues – you have a busy couple of weeks ahead!
Following the coastal road west you reach the banks of the Courantyn River, which forms the (contested) border between Surname and Guyana. You will cross by ferry and continue to travel along the coast to Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.
As a former British colony, Guyana offers something different again to the previous countries you have visited so far, but still has a distinctly Afro-Caribbean feel; strolling around Georgetown you could be forgiven at times for thinking you were in one of the many other past British territories in the region, such as Jamaica or even Barbados!
Guyana, which was granted independence in 1966, is the only English-speaking country in South America, and is to many an unknown entity, relatively untouched by mass tourism. For a small and often forgotten country, however, it punches well above its weight, offering some of the most pristine and ecologically diverse and plentiful rainforest found anywhere, the world’s highest single drop waterfall, and a rich and established cultural history, with many noted poets, musicians and literary figures coming from its small population. Rhianna is half-Guyanese, too, should that be of any interest…
You will spend a few nights in Georgetown, from where it is possible to take an optional overnight excursion to visit Kaieteur Falls in Kaieteur National Park in the Amazon rainforest. At 221 metres, Kaieteur Falls is the world’s highest single drop waterfall (Angel Falls is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall at over 900 metres, but contains a number of ‘drops’).
Set in a stunning location, the falls and surrounding area are for many visitors to Guyana the highlight of their travels, as their remoteness and obscurity make you feel that you are really visiting a part of the world that very few people have ever been to.
After free time in Georgetown, you then head south, away from the coast, and into the dense rainforest of Guyana. The main road has been massively improved in recent years following investment provided by the Brazilian government, but the itinerary allows for four days to fully explore the area and if the opportunity presents itself take some ad hoc detours down jungle tracks to see what you can find and bush camp in the wilds of the jungle; the area is full of unique flora and fauna and travelling through is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so you won’t want to rush. This part of the trip is very exploratory in nature, and it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but the region has a reputation for being the best places to spot the elusive jaguar, so if we keep our eyes peeled you may be lucky!
You will also spend one night in a comfortable jungle lodge, nestled in the rainforest, and visit a high canopy walkway to view the rainforest from an elevated perspective and come eye-to-eye with some of the plentiful tropical bird life.
After an unforgettable few days travelling through the Guyanese Amazon you will reach the border and re-enter Brazil.
Boa Vista is your overnight stop back in Brazil, where you can take a well earned shower and enjoy some some locally caught fish in one of the riverside restaurants.
From Boa Vista you will drive southwards through an Indigineous Wairmiri Reserve to rejoin the Amazon River at Manaus.
From Manaus you will return north to Boa Vista and have a spare day to enjoy in the vast grounds of Parque Anaua, or take a day trip out on the Rio Branco to Serra Grande and go hiking. The refurbished waterfront (Orla Taumanan) is also a great place to grab a Caipirinha (local cocktail made from sugar cane spirit) and relax.