Modern French Guiana is a land of idiosyncrasies, where European Space Agency satellite launches rattle the market gardens of displaced Hmong farmers from Laos and thinly populated rainforests swallow nearly all but the country's coastline.
Highly subsidized by Mother France, it boasts the highest standard of living of any 'country' in South America, but look beyond the capital city and you'll still find backwoods settlements of Maroons and Amerindians barely eking out a living.
In the mid-19th century, the French government set out to reduce prison costs at home by sloughing off undesirables onto their colonies. Searching for their most forsaken frontier outpost to drop the luckless convicts, they came up with Guiana. Though its last penal colony closed in 1953, this tropical pocket of ooh-la-la now takes prisoners of another variety. Budget travellers beware: French Guiana is among South America's costliest destinations.
Travelling in French Guiana isn't easy, but it is part of the adventure. And if you have Francophile leanings, live in the Americas and enjoy roughing it in the rainforest; it's one place where you can have your canapé under the canopy.
Facts for the traveller
Money & Costs
Off the beaten track