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 complexes 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.