Situated some 60 km northwest of the capital at Cayenne, Kourou sits at the mouth of the Kourou River on the Atlantic Coast. It is ringed by four hills: Carapa, Pariacabo, Café and Lombard, with the Singes and Condamine mountains not far behind. The Commune of Kourou is the administrative center of the Kourou Canton, which includes Kourou and the neighboring Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG).

The spaceport is the life blood of the city. All business either directly or indirectly is related to its operation. The influx of technology and capital has remade this small river village of simple wood houses into the model of a modern European city in less than 60 years. The once meager population of 600 has swelled to over 30,000.

Such rapid changes have made Kourou a study in contrasts. Traditional districts are interspersed with modern neighborhoods. The "Vieux Bourg" (old village), situated near the mouth of the river, has largely kept its creole character and rustic charm. Its simple French Colonial architecture is in stark contrast to the comfortable villas and residential c
omplexes which lay just a few blocks away. The hustle and noise of open air markets and food stalls of the Vieux Bourg give way to quite boulevards lined with stylish bistros and cafes. Even the large state of the art port shares its waters with native fishermen.

As with other destinations in French Guyana, prices in Kourou are generally on the expensive side.
Expect European pricing in the upscale sections of the city. There a bargains to be found in places such as Vieux Bourg if you know where and how to ask. Speaking French will be a big help. Kourou has also become more than just a transportation hub. It is becoming a vacation destination. With three lakes within the city limits, Lake Bois Diable, Lake Marie-Claire, and Lake Bois and the long white sand beaches of the Atlantic coastline water sports and beach front property are plentiful.

Rapid growth has not come without problems. Even as the largest employer in the area, CSG can not accommodate all those who have come to Kourou seeking work. For every resident of Kourou that is employed, there are at least two that are not. France still provides for the welfare of it’s under privileged citizens, but for those that are undocumented, there are few options.

The Centre Spatial Guyanais (Guiana Space Center) is located outside of Kourou and has been in operation since 1968. The site near Kourou was selected due to its proximity to the equator (approx 500 km north of the equator, at a latitude of 5°3'). At this latitude, the Earth's rotation gives an additional velocity of approximately 500 m/s, when the launch trajectory heads eastward. This slingshot effect provides a substantial savings on the cost of launches and allows for heavier payloads.

Security for the installation is maintained by the EDF with the assistance of the 3rd REI. Fire safety is ensured by a detachment of the Paris Fire Brigade. The Fire Brigade is part of the combat engineering forces attached to the EDF. A naval detachment based at the Space Centers dedicated port of Pariacabo, ensures coastal security.

The original ground facilities of the CSG included launcher and satellite preparation buildings, launch operation facilities and a solid propellant factory. An expansion of the installation began in 1978, funded jointly with the European Space Agency (ESA). This expansion would allow for manned missions to be launched from French Guayana. The Space Center has experience nearly continuous construction and expansion over the past fifty years. It now covers an area of roughly 80 hectares.

The Centre Spatial Guyanais may be the largest employer in the area, but even it can not accommodate all those who come to Kourou seeking work. For every resident of Kourou that is employed, there are probably at least two that are not. Most of this is not visible to those living in the better parts of town. Some of the older districts however have become little more than combat zones.

The influx of gangs from neighboring countries has lead to a rise in crime. Ransom kidnappings and home invasions have been become common occurrence. Most of the violence and crime at present has been aimed at local residents, however tourists are being targeted more and more frequently. This may have more to do with the growth of illicit trade and entertainment in poorer districts (which attract certain types of tourists) than an expansion of crime in other districts of the city. The government attempts to downplay such incidents.

(Written by Destecado)