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krisek Cayenne - A travel report by Krys
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Cayenne,  French Guiana - flag French Guiana -  French Guiana
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krisek's travel reports

French? Caribbean? South American? Cayenne.

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The capital of French Guiana, Cayenne, is probably more Caribbean than it is South American. It is all about the vibe, the colours, the spices. And yet, it also is now one of France's overseas departments, a converted colony.

The Townhall of Cayenne
The Townhall of Cayenne
Air Caraibes seemed a very relaxed airline. For most of the flight to Cayenne, the cockpit door was wide open, like in the old days before 11 September 2001. The pilots attended to themselves with coffee and snacks as the cabin crew attended to the passengers. That was such a refreshing sight. The onboard service for the 1h50' flight was not very sophisticated.. Water, orange juice and a simple bread roll was served. Yet, not much can really be done for such as short flight in such a long aircraft (Embraer 190 is longer than Boeing 737 series).

As usual, the aircraft got some turbulence upon the crossing from the southern hemisphere to the northern. I found this phenomenon on all flights crossing the Equator. Although this time it was only a slight bump or two. So in Cayenne, water was going to spin down the sink clockwise again...

The plane landed righ on time in Cayenne. I quickly reached for a taxi, which took about 20 minnutes and EUR30 to reach my hotel, right in the centre of the town, Hotel Central. I have to say that Cayenne impressed me a little, or should I say exceeded my expectations to be exact. For I did not expect much from Cayenne, having read several reports and stories on the net about it. I found it cute and very relaxed. But that would not be difficult after just being in Belem in Brazil.

Weather was great. A few clouds hang in the sky and light breeze occasionally messed what is left of my hair, which was a bliss as the thermometer showed 36C in shade. I snapped a few new photos of the Place des Palmistes, the Townhall, the Hotel de Prefecture, the House of the Academy, the entrance to the old fort, the cathedral, the museum, and a few other interesting wooden buildings. The centre was preparing for an event, the 30th (I think) anniversary of some battle. So regiments from the depertment as well as other French territories in the region presented themselves on the main square, the very pleasant and attractive Place des Palmistes.

Favourite spots:
Place des Palmistes
Place des Palmistes
Place des Palmistes was definitely my favourite area in town. It was a clean square (about 3ha) with palm trees planted neatly. Still new palm trees were being planted. The square was flanked by a few very nice colonial buildings, it had benches to sit down and relax (and many locals did) and provided plenty of shade. I also liked its location, right in the middle of the town, with easy access to restaurants, bars, the Townhall, post office and the main museum.

There was also another good little square, which appealed to me especially as three great buildings around it made it look really pretty; one was the Prefecture with its massive colonnade, the office of the Guiana Academy and the incredible palace of the Chamber of Commmerce and Industry of Guiana. The main post office buildings on the other side was not too shabby either.

What's really great:
The main post office building
The main post office building
For some reason, Cayenne had the least positive image amongst all three Guyana capitals. I am not sure why that was. The town was very pleasant, a very good number of colonial buildings were in generally very good condition, street were well lit at night and the town seemed safe. It was very pleasant to walk about and snap photos, day or night. The central area round the Plam square was positively lovely and felt very exotic and laid-back.

As in the rest of France, smoking in public places under a roof was illegal. This made the experience of dining and partying (if one wanted a roof and air conditioning) much more pleasant than in Suriname, for example, where smoking ban was less restrictive.

The entry to the Fort Ceperou
The entry to the Fort Ceperou
Very elegant Townhall painted in yolk yellow just across the main museum was a fantastic example of French colonial architecture for the tropics. It was a public building with free access.

Ruins of Fort Ceperou dating back to 1643 of which there is almost nothing left, and which is signposted as a military object with no access.

Hotel de la Prefecture with its string of columns looked a bit out of place, but it had a great character and was situated on a very pleasant square with a large (yet seemingly defunct) fountain. A very elegant office of the Cayenne University on one side and the incredibly stunning palace of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Guiana on the other side were its neighbours, making this little spot very interesting.

Cathedral of Saint Saviour did not look like much, and was hardly a classic 'sight', but it did have a classic shape and a very typical bell and clock tower.

Countless fantastic examples of colonial buildings, dotted this cute town.

Double room at the Hotel Central
Double room at the Hotel Central
It was not easy to find a decent hotel in Cayenne, which would be central and close to all the action. On the internet, I found that there was a Best Western hotel, which had a string of very bad reviews and a few more remote venues out of the entre. The odd looking Hotel Central flashed on a couple of websites. It had a couple of decent reviews and did not cost a fortune - EUR68 for a double room. I booked it via email, and received a confirmation email, after I gave them them details of my credit card.

The hotel was clean (if a bit dated, although it was being refurbished), my room (no.208) was well air-conditioned. It also had a balcony. The bathroom was clean but it was old, as the refurbishing had not reached the second floor yet, by the time I was staying there.

The venue had an excellent location, better than I thought - only about 150 yards from the main Palms square and about 200 yards from the bus station. The staff were very helpful, although some spoke only French.

By this palmtree, the night snack-mobiles are parked and form one of the nightlife spots.
By this palmtree, the night snack-mobiles are parked and form one of the nightlife spots.
Cayenne's nightlilfe kept a very low profile. It seemed that absolutely nothing was going on. I tried a number of night spots featured in guidebooks, but none of them was operating. Actually, I could not locate any of them in fact, assuming that they all went out of business. There were indeed a few bars open late at night, and at the central Hipopotamus discotheque, bar and lounge (and cinema), where I spotted some action.

The other, more obvious, concentration of night activity was a string of snack-mobiles parked at the end of the Palmistes square, where people sipped their beverages, scoffed massive burgers, listened to music playing from large speakers and chatted, as if this was just an open-air club with no cover or door policy. It was happening on every night and attracted considerable crowd.

The square near the Guiana Councel.
The square near the Guiana Councel.
For the locals, it seemed that the fountain and the square in front of the Guiana Councel (some sort of local parliament) was the place to hang out. A few benches scattered around the colourful bushes offered good spots to sit down, hold hands, kiss. And that was what the people did. During the day and in the evenings.

The main avenue, General Charles de Gaulle, and a couple side streets, had a few cafes good for sipping ice-cold beverages, scoop some ice-cream, sit down over coffee and wait out the mid day heat. And that was for those, who did not participate in the afternoon siesta between 13:30 and 15:30, when everything slowed down, even traffic, and only a handfull of cafes remained open and the Chinese fast food units.

Pizza and French tequila flavoured lager!
Pizza and French tequila flavoured lager!
La Perle d'Asie was the first restaurant, which I tried in Cayenne. They opened after 7pm. I fancied Chinese food that night for some reason, probably because I missed my Thai food. I ordered prawns in spicy sause (which came with rice), a bottle of TsingTao lager and the punch de coco, the Guyanas signature drink. I paid EUR18 for all, half of which was the cost of drinks.

Les Palmistes had mainly pizzas on offer, but the kitchen was open on seemingly random times, as every time I stepped in, no food was available. I did try one of their deserts, though - a cup of ice-cream with rum, which did not come cheap - EUR9! The location and their shaded terrace overlooking the palm trees and the Townhall was superb.

Pizza Toscana offering various pizzas in 28cm and 33cm in size from EUR9 and EUR10, respectively. Lager was EUR3. The place was clean, but despite great location by the Place Les Palmistes, it was not terribly popular at lunch. This restaurant treated me with free cup of coffee.

Other recommendations:
The central church in Cayenne
The central church in Cayenne
Regular metered taxi from the airport to the Place des Palmistes was EUR30 on 1 September 2011, on the 'C' tariff with little traffic, and at 5pm. The 16kms took about half an hour to make. There appeared to be no taxi scam at the airport.

Cayenne was served by Air France and Air Caraiabes from Paris, Air Caraibes from Belem, and few other destinations. Guyana Express, the local airlines did mainly domestic flights.

Several minibuses a day zoomed passengers between Cayenne and the border with Suriname on the Maroni river (EUR35, ligne 9) taking about 3 hours, at least one of which departed at night in time for the first ferry across the border. There was also at leat one vehicle leaving in the early afternoon, at about 2pm. And one could still cross over to Suriname with one of countless pirogues (EUR5).

Published on Thursday September 22th, 2011

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Sat, Sep 24 2011 - 08:23 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Great, great, great report !

Thu, Sep 22 2011 - 12:01 PM rating by porto

Inspiring Krys as per usual :) Turbulence my pet hate, the most scary flight I was on was with Air Berlin on a very windy day when the plane bounced on one wheel but managed to land safely I happened to be looking out of the window at the time and the wing only missed the ground by inches. Scary!

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