The beaches near St Laurent, specifically the beach at Awala-Yalimapo are one of the best areas to sea giant leatherback turtles laying eggs, up to 50% of the worlds population uses the coastline of the Guyanas and the beach at Awal-Yalimapo at one time had up to 50,000 nests on it!!
There are three seasons to see all the turtles that come to the beaches of French Guyana, the first is for the Green Turtle, Chelania Mydas and is from January to May.
The second season is for the Leatherback Turtle, Dermochelys Canacea and is from March to June.
The third is for the Olive Turtle, Lephidochelys Olivacea from July to August.
Mostly the turtles come up to the beach at night, when there is a high tide, and any one female can return to this beach up to 7 times during the season. Incubation period is 90 days, so it is possible to see both Turtles laying eggs and eggs hatching at the same time.
Accommodation is taken care of either by huts next to the beach or by slinging your hammock in a carbet actually on the beach, costs about 15 euros. Or you can stay in St Laurent and drive out to the beach when the time is right!
Arche de Noe zoo is a family run zoo on the road to St Jean, you can only take guided tours, there are about 4 tours a day.
The 'Zoo' itself is in a fairly run down state, the animals aren't kept in very good conditions and the tourguide is strange at best, ín all honesty, if you don't like seeing animals kept in small cages, I wouldn't go. The chap locks the gate after you've gone in so unless you kick up a fuss, you can't walk off half way through the tour.
The guy giving the tour has a good relationship with many of the animals, he freely walks into their cages and interacts with Monkeys, Parrots etc, but the conditions the animals are kept in are still poor.
As I said in the Intro, St Laurent was the reception area for newly arrived prisoners to French Guyana.
It still has the original reception buildings standing but they have fallen into quite a bit of disrepair apart from some of the buildings where the farm working prisoners stayed, which have been turned into business buildings.
The tour is conducted in French, but if you know a little about the history of the place, it doesn't leave a lot to the imagination. Tours are 5 Euros a piece and start daily at around 10 or 11.
The prison is divided up to where the trusted prisoners stayed, and where prisoners condemned to death, and those who were waiting for transfer to the islands, and the free prisoners stayed.
One of the interesting things about the system is that whatever time the prisoners served in prison, they had to serve in French Guyana as free people after, as none or not many had accommodation, the prison had an open system so that the free prisoners could return at the end of the day working.
Situated off the road between St.Laurent and St.Jean, this restaurant is quite easy to pass!
As you enter the grounds you are confronted by a series of Carbets (they are available for rent at 15 euros a night) and to the side of the path, about 3 cages, which house monkeys, parrots, geese, caimans and a large meat eating bird that I don't know the name of, to the bag of the restaurant is another cage housing a Jaguar.
This then, is the setting for Créole food which is prepared and cooked to order, ensuring very fresh and gread tasting dishes. The chef is very friendly and is quite happy to talk about how he prepares the food, the animals and the restaurant and area in general, service is quick and everything is reasonably priced, it costs between 15-20 euros per person for an entrée and a main course, wine and deserts are extra.
The dessert is normally made up of ice cream of the country, which means ice cream made of local fruits and plants, I haven't found this anywhere else in French Guyana and it makes for an interesting end to the meal.
Favorite Dish: As with many créole restaurants, you usually get told what they have as opposed to asking for what you want, we ended up having a green papaya salad to start with and Maipouri with couscus for the main course, it was very well done and as I said, cooked to order.
This restaurant isn't open at lunch time, only for groups of 15 or more, at night time you have to make a reservation so that the chef knows how many people he has to get food for, plus it can get quite busy.
Chez Titi is located centrally in St. Laurent, basically it's a pizza place, but does a wide range of salads, local fish and occasionally things like Tournedos of Bison, St. Laurent has a few Chinese and Créole restaurants, but if you feel like giving it miss, this place isn't bad.
Favorite Dish: The pizzas are pretty good though sometimes can be a little hit and miss, the salads are generally very good and you do get value for money, well, as much as you can in La Guyane!
OK, there are 2 main points of exit to get to Suriname and one much quieter (and a lot more official) exit.
The main problem is, being surrounded by boatmen vying for your trade, having your bags pulled at and grabbed and being jostled by a million people for your business, such is life..
The exit by the port (closest the town) is like this most of the time, pain in the arse, however, if you take a walk further down the town (it is quite a bit further), you come to the 'Douanes' (customs) compound, the OFFICIAL exit point for St Laurent, where you get your passport stamped etc
NB getting your passport stamped isn't mandatory whilst leaving or returning, but if you make several trips into Suriname and you don't have your passport stamped with an FG stamp, the customs in Suriname will take note and disapprove, and it IS mandatory to get your passport stamped when entering Suriname. Also the exit point by the customs compound is A LOT quieter (duh) and therefore preferred.
The 2nd main exit point is in the village just outside of St Laurent, this is generally used by the locals and there is a lot less hustle and bustle here, but you aren't near town, its a good 20-25 minute walk to get to a taxi.
Top Tip, go via customs, do everything officially so you don't risk getting in the Poo in Suriname and its a lot nicer to get a boat from and too as well.
TOP TOP TIP, get your pirogue man to phone ahead and get you a taxi man whilst you are still in the boat on the river, when you get to the other side, people will start calling for you to go with them but your pirogue guy will tell them that you're already taken and they'll leave you alone, plus you'll have your cab squared away.
Prices 60 euros for a special cab i.e. you alone, up to 4 people.
5-10 euros for a minibus, lots of other people you may wait a long time and trip takes a while depending on how many stops they make
15 euros per person for a taxi, you will wait till its full but can be quicker than a minibus.
As St Laurent is on the border with Suriname and there are no real border controls to speak of, there has been a recent influx of Guyanese into St Laurent, unfortunately this has led to a sharp rise in violent crime, so much so that the last time I was there (Feb 2006), there was a demonstration taking place to protest the lack of security in the town.
SO..... its the usual ***e, just be careful not to look too well off, and try to know where you're going before you set off at night, wandering around looking lost will do you no good. Guyanese people speak English and may think that you are a normal French type, so listen out and see if you can hear whats going on.
On the plus side, a lot of the violence that takes place is inter-gang, and drug-related, so bear that in mind whilst walking around certain areas.....