French Guiana is located in the north Atlantic coast of South America in the Guyanas. To the southeast it borders Brazil and to the west Suriname. As a French overseas department, and a region of the French Republic, French Guiana has been the only territory of a European country to be located in the mainland Americas since Belize gained independence in 1981.
French Guiana is the second largest, and largest outermost region within the European Union, however with only 9.3 residents per square mile, it has a very low population density. As of 2019, around 50% of its 297,000 inhabitants live in the capital city of Cayenne. Forests cover 98.9% of the country, of that 41% is the Guiana Amazonian Park.
The name Guiana comes from an Amerindian language, meaning “land of many waters.” The addition of the “French” adjective harkens back to colonial times, and the existence of Portuguese Guiana (now Ampá, Brazil), Spanish Guiana (now Guiana Esequiba and Guiana Region in Venezuela), Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) and British Guiana (now Guyana).
High fertility rates in French Guiana have led to a very young population. 44% of the country is below the age of 20, and a mere 1.7% is recorded as 75 or older.
The breakdown of nationality was recorded in 2010 as:
- 64.5% French
- 13.8% Surinamese
- 8.8% Haitian
- 8.7% Brazilian
- 1.7% Guyanese
- 1% Colombian
- 0.5% Chinese
- 0.4% Dominican
- 0.1% Peruvian
European ancestry accounts for about 14% of the population. The majority of people with European ancestry are French, however there are also people of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and British heritage.
The French first attempted to colonize Guiana in 1763, failing totally in part due to the harsh climate and tropical diseases. Of the initial 12,000 settlers only 2,000 survived.
In the mid 19th century, France set up prisons on three of the islands and on the mainland as a penal colony. Approximately 56,000 prisoners were transported to “Devil’s Island” during this time, and fewer than 10% would survive their sentence in its operation between 1852 and 1953.
French president Charles de Gaulle in 1964 selected Guiana to be the location of a new spaceport. The Guiana Space Centre became operational in 1968, and has grown considerably since it’s initial launches in the 1970s.
A 2010 referendum saw the people of French Guiana voting against independence, continuing its rule under the French Republic.
It's estimated that, after the first failed colonies in 1763, the population of French Guiana rose to around 14,520 by 1790. By 1891, 100 years later, this had more than doubled to 33,500.
It's believed that today there are 297,000 people living in the country today, an increase more than tenfold than the population in the 1950s. A similar increase is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
French Guiana is overseas departments of France. It is located in the Guyanas along the coast of South America. French Guiana has the distinction of being the only territory on the mainland of America that is part of a country in Europe.
French Guiana has a total area of 32,253 square miles. Because the population is 296,711, this leaves the region with a very low population density of just over 9 people per square mile. Its total area makes it the second largest region of France.
Cayenne is the capital – or prefecture – of French Guiana. The population of Cayenne is 60,580. However, its urban area is home to about half of the inhabitants of French Guiana. This is because nearly 99% of the region is covered by forests, including rainforests. The largest park in the EU, Guiana Amazonian Park, takes up over 40% of the department’s land area.
French Guiana’s population has grown steading since the late 18th century. Not only has the population grown in size, but it has also grown in diversity. While over half of the inhabitants were born in French Guiana, there are also immigrants from places including Metropolitan France, Saint Martin, Suriname, Haiti, and Brazil.
The largest ethnic group in French Guiana are Mulattoes, which are of French and African ancestry. There are also Haitians, Europeans, and Asians calling this area home.
It should come as no surprise that the official language of French Guiana is French. It is spoken by most residents and is used by the government. However, there are other languages spoken throughout the region, including French Guianese Creole, Amerindian languages, Dutch, Spanish, and English. Most people in French Guiana practice Roman Catholicism, although other minority religions are practiced.