BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS

Carbet, French Guiana

Accommodation

Hotels are expensive; expect to pay at least €35-50 for a basic double room. Or, follow the local example and bring or buy a hammock (preferably with mosquito netting to protect against malaria and dengue).

Many jungle lodges and youth hostels have carbets, open-air huts, where you can hang your hammock for €5-10/night. Many, but not all, rent hammocks for €5-7.

Some carbets are even free of charge, such as the one on the St. Elie in Sinnemary trail (120km west of Cayenne along RN1). This carbet is situated in the rainforest, near a stream to freshen up and a good place to watch frogs and butterflies. We loved the 2.5-hour hike through bird and monkey habitat.

Another great carbet-stay is Auberge de Jeunesse de Simili, Awala’s youth hostel (€7), next to the beach where turtles come to lay their eggs.

La Maison de la Randonnée et de l’Hébergement Rural in Cayenne can provide you with a list of all hammock-ready accommodations (31, rue François Arago, open Mon-Fri, 8am-1pm). Note that in the office next door you’ll find La Compagnie des Guides de Guyane, with info on French Guiana’s guides and the services they offer.

In country, prices for hammocks vary from €20 for a heavy cotton one to €80 for a lightweight military-issue model (try Dundee Shop at 3 Rue Mentel, Cayenne), which comes with mosquito netting. Separate mosquito nets are for sale in all Chinese-run stores for a couple of euros.

Beach

It’s also possible to camp along the coast, in the jungle, or in the park at village’s main square. This option is free of charge. Just be aware that crime is not completely unheard of in French Guiana, which lies on the drug route between Suriname and Brazil.

We rough-camped in the countryside and found other solutions for the cities:

  • Kourou: parking lot of Hotel des Roches, which offers some security and views of the beach. You’ll need to sleep in your car.
  • Cayenne: the harbour of Cayenne (Degrad de Cannes), which is a safe area. There’s enough grass to put up a tent.

More info

  • Carbets d’Hôtes include breakfast.
  • Gîtes Panda Tropiques Label: a designation bestowed by the WWF to accommodations that operate according to their ecotourism criteria. Thus far, three lodges in French Guiana have obtained the label.
Food

Considering the quality (this is France, after all), the typical three-course meal offered by restaurants in French Guiana probably isn’t a bad deal for €12,50-15. However, this was way out of budget for us, so we found some alternatives.

French Guiana market food

Chinese buffet restaurants serve a variety of noodle and rice dishes for €6-8. At night, food minivans park downtown (Note: there are no regular street food stalls in French Guiana). They serve similar Chinese food, as well as thick baguettes with steak frites for €5,50 or a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for €2,50.

We enjoyed picnicking, whether on the beach or a park bench. Leaderprice is the cheapest supermarket to buy a baguette, vache qui rit (sure, there is real cheese as well at ‘real’ prices), or a can of corned beef and a bottle of red wine. A decent lunch for next to nothing.

But the best deal by far are the local markets. What can beat a gargantuan bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup for €3,50-5? These markets are also the place for fresh fruit, from French apples to durian.

Buying groceries at local markets and asking vendors for recipes still offers plenty of opportunities to experience local dishes. My best purchase was a kilo of dark red groseilles. “Just boil them in water for a couple minutes and add a spoon of sugar,” the Creole vendor instructed me. A liter of fresh fruit juice for 50 eurocent.

Cooking in public is a great way to meet locals and practice your French. We were surprised how many friends we made this way in French Guiana.

Produce market

Following these tips, we spent about €15 per day on food for the two of us. This included cups of coffee at a cafe when we were downtown, or at times eating at the above mentioned restaurants.

Local markets

  • Cayenne: Place du Coq, on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday
  • Kourou: Place du Marché, on Tuesday and Friday
  • Cacao: Central market place on Sunday. Many tourists come on day trips because of the Hmong refugees from Laos that sell here. Truth be told, the market in Cayenne is larger, livelier, and more diverse.
Transportation

In Cayenne we walked everywhere, never bothering to work out where and when the city’s five bus lines ran (€1,10 per ride).

Public transportation between towns is by minivan. A trip from Cayenne to the airport costs €3,30, to Kourou €14, and St. Laurent de Maroni €35,50. The consulate general website has timetables and prices for all inter-city lines (French only).

Camping out, French Guiana

Yet, to get to the numerous hiking trails in the forest, you’ll either need to hitchhike, which is common here, or rent a car.

Car rental costs about €40/day and can be arranged in downtown Cayenne, Kourou, and at the airport. Deals differ greatly between rental agencies, so check around. Here are some other points to keep in mind:

  • Your home-country driver’s license is always required. Some agencies additionally demand an International Driver’s License. To play it safe, bring both.
  • Minimum rental age varies between 21 and 25 years, and 1-3 years of having a driver’s license.
  • A credit card is mandatory.
  • Car rental companies include, among others, Europcar, Avis, and Hertz.
  • Roads are tarmac and in good condition. Unless you want to do serious off-roading in the jungle, no 4WD is required.