Though annexed by Louis XIII in 1630, it was the decision under Napoleon III to transform French Guiana into a penal colony that has provided its most famous image. Between 1852 and 1953, over 70,000 inmates were housed in the infamous penitentiary centers, many never to survive their sentence. Today, the region is known for the Guiana Space Center, which is the home base for the launching of the Ariane satellites.
Seen from above, French Guiana is an extraordinary carpet of green that stretches across 8 million hectares as part of one of the world’s last remaining intact tropical forests. Due to the dense forestation, the population—comprised largely of Creoles, Amerindians, and Noir-Marrons (descendants of escaped slaves from nearby Surinam)—lives mainly along the coast or the rivers that serve as the territory’s main source of transportation.