Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni is a commune of French Guiana, an overseas région and département of France located in South America. Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni is one of the two sous-préfectures of French Guiana, being the seat of the Arrondissement of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. It is the second most populated city of French Guiana with a population of approximately 25,000.
The ethnic composition of the town is, as everywhere in French Guiana, diverse : Taki-Taki-speaking Maroons are today the largest ethnic group, followed by Creoles, Amerindians, Haitians, métropolitains and Brazilians.
Maroons will mostly be found in the neighbourhoods called la Charbonnière (Djukas, Samarakas and Paramaccans), les Vampires and les Sables Blancs. Amerindians are located in a few villages on the ouskirts of town : Balaté (Arawaks), Paddock, Prospérité, Terre Rouge, Espérance, Village Pierre (Kalinas).
Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni can be accessed chiefly by road, the Route Nationale 1, from Cayenne. A new port was recently built on the Maroni, but currently lacks proper wharf infrastructure and sufficient river depth. The Saint-Maurice airfield is no longer in use by commercial flights. The Saint-Jean road links Saint-Laurent to Saint-Jean-du-Maroni and the military base there.
A new road, starting from the Plateau des Mines, is currently under construction to link St Laurent to Apatou, further south on the Maroni. Road work is due to be completed by 2008.
On the road to Saint-Jean-du-Maroni (about 17 km south of St-Laurent, home of the former penal Camp de la Rélégation), one can find many small shops owned by Saramakas selling the woodwork for which they are famous - especially chairs and tables. There is also a village of Maroon artisans on the road to Javouhey.
Two military units are stationed at St-Jean's Camp Némo: the Groupement du service militaire adapté (GSMA), which is part of the Ministry of Overseas France and is in charge of professional job reinsertion in the west of French Guiana; and the Maroni detachment of the 9th Marine Infantry Regiment whose job it is to patrol the river border and the jungles of the west of the département.
The town is also an important port of departure for those going inland via pirogue or to Albina in Suriname by ferry or pirogue.
It is also the point of departure for several ecotourism circuits, most notably journeys upriver to explore the many creeks as well as the Amazonian rainforest; tourists can spend a night in the jungle in huts or tents. Another possibility is visiting the Voltaire Falls, situated 70 km upriver.
Industrial activities, slowly increasing urban density and its accompanying shantytowns as well as poaching have damaged the surrounding area, but a few years ago, a species theretofore unknown to man was discovered in town.
Some of the main buildings in the old administrative district, locally called Le Petit Paris for its alleged reminiscence of a 19th century French architecture:
Most of these buildings are located on Avenue De Gaulle, Avenue Lieutenant-Colonel Tourtet and the Boulevard Mallouet. After the jailhouse was closed and the penal authority left in the early 50s, these buildings suffered from lack of maintenance and interest, and were much damaged due to the harsh weather conditions in western French Guiana. Close to a state of total ruin, they underwent a major restoration in the early 80s, after the city council and French Minister of Culture realized that the old penitentiary and administrative district was of high cultural and historical interest. It soon became a major tourist attraction, with the Camp de la Transportation its star.
Other notable sights from the penitentiary years include Saint-Jean-du-Maroni, formerly the Camp de la Relégation and today's main military HQ for western French Guiana. There is also a small island in the middle of the Maroni River which used to house the prisoners affected with leprosy. Papillon wrote about hiding there during one of his daring escapes.
Notable sights not related to the prisons:
There are many hotels in St Laurent, including the Auberge Bois Diable, Chez Julienne, Hôtel la Tentiaire, Le Relais des 3 Lacs and Star Hôtel.