TRAVEL: Discovering the Three Guianas: French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana


Imagine three sisters. All have similar features and a common history, but one speaks French, one Dutch, and the third English.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of The Three Guianas: French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana. The three countries are located side by side in the northeast corner of South America, all have the Caribbean Sea as a border, and all are part of the Guiana Shield, one of the only four pristine tropical forests remaining in the world. The Guiana Shield covers an area of 1.2 million square miles and also includes parts of Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.           


French Guiana, the eastern most of the Three Guianas–is an overseas department of France, meaning it has exactly the same status as a department in France itself. The country is part of the European Union. Its currency is the euro, and the official language is, not surprisingly, French.

One of French Guiana’s most popular attractions is The Guiana Space Centre, which was established by French president Charles de Gaulle in 1965. Located near the town of Kourou, it’s now the European Space Agency’s primary launch site near the equator.

Island where French prisoners were held

Some of the country’s other popular, albeit darker, attractions are the sites of former French prisons. In 1803, France began using Guiana as a penal colony, building a network of penitentiaries and camps along the coast, where European prisoners were sentenced to hard labor. The brutal conditions of these camps were documented in the book PAPPILION by French prisoner, Henri Charriere in 1969, and later adapted to a film of the same title starring Steve McQueen.

Like the other two Guianas, French Guiana is mostly covered by forest, which makes for spectacular nature-based experiences and adventures. The Guiana Amazonian Park covers 41% of the country’s territory and is the largest national park in the European Union.


The second of The Three Guianas, the Republic of Suriname, is the smallest sovereign state in South America.

Suriname’s Dutch roots go back to 1683 when the Society of Suriname was founded by an Amsterdam family and the Dutch West India Company. The society was created to manage and defend the colony, which produced commodity crops of cocoa, coffee, cotton and sugar cane, most at the hands of enslaved Africans.

Suriname: Eco-tourism buildings in the forest

Suriname became a constituent country of the Netherlands in 1954, and just over 20 years later became an independent state. Its ties to the Netherlands are still strong, however. Dutch, for example, is the official language.

The capital city of Paramaribo is located on the banks of the Suriname River, and is home to 240,000 people, approximately half the Suriname population. The city’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, a sprawling, 6,200 square miles area that includes tropical forest and sections of the Guiana Highlands, and is popular with nature lovers.

Visitors to Suriname also have the opportunity to visit indigenous and Maroon villages, several of which have their own reserves that are open to visitors.


Rounding out The Three Guianas is, of course, Guyana. The influence here is British. In fact, Guyana is the only country in South America, where English is the primary language. Ironically, Guyana was first colonized by the Dutch. It came under British control in 1796, and ultimately became known as British Guiana. The country gained independence in 1966 and was recognized as a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970.

Kaieteur Falls – Guyana

90% of Guyana’s approximate 750,000 people live along the coast, including the capital city of Georgetown. This leaves the country’s lush interior untouched, and ripe for exploration.

Approximately 80% of Guyana’s territory is pristine forest brimming with biodiversity, making it a haven for nature lovers, wildlife spotters and bird watchers. Many come here to seek out some of Guyana’s “giants,” including jaguar, giant anteater, giant river otter, Harpy eagle,  black caiman, anaconda and arapaima.

Visitors to Guyana also have the opportunity to visit several indigenous community-owned and operated eco-lodges, including the Iwokrama River Lodge; Atta Lodge, which includes a spectacular jungle canopy walk; Sumara Eco-Lodge; Caiman House; Rewa Eco-Lodge and others. Staying at these lodges not only brings travellers closer to all the nature-based attractions, but provides a first-hand insight into the daily livesand cultural traditions of some of Guyana’s Indigenous People.

The Three Guianas offer breathtaking natural attractions, plus a colorful variety of cultural heritages that make visits here truly unforgettable.

Discovering The Hidden Guianas – Video

Want a closer look at The Three Guianas? Check out this short video, “Discovering The Hidden Guianas” from Wilderness Explorers. The video tour begins in Suriname and its eco-lodges, then makes its way into French Guiana with looks at the Guiana Space Center and prison islands, before finally sweeping into Guyana with beautiful views of Kaieteur Falls, Bourda Market and the pristine wilderness surrounding a couple of Guyanese eco-lodges. Enjoy the trip!

SOURCE: The Guyana Tourism Authority 


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  • Ian Wishart  On 05/08/2021 at 6:18 pm

    For “Caribbean Sea” read “Atlantic Ocean”. The author needs to brush up on his/her Geography.

    • Chris  On 05/08/2021 at 6:41 pm

      By the same logic, the Caribbean Sea doesn’t really exist as it’s merely an extension of the Atlantic Ocean.

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