Devil’s Island, French Guiana JAN 9, 2024

After a nice day at sea, we arrived at Devil’s Island, French Guiana. It was raining hard with deep swells. By the time we finished breakfast, the sun was out and it was hot with high humidity. I get seasick easily so the thought of being in a rocking tender boat was not a good idea. There was also the promise of mosquitoes along with the heat and humidity. So, I chickened out and Bill went alone. He was able to get an early tender boat so hopefully the heat would be more tolerable. 

Lots of hard work for the ship’s crew to unload the tender boats and then reload them later in the afternoon.

Bill’s on his way with the French Guiana Navy standing guard.

Getting off the tender boat and heading on the island.

Devil’s Island was a French penal colony during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was created by order of Napoleon III to empty prisons in France. There are actually three islands where prisoners were kept. The prisoners were some of the worst offenders of heinous crimes, but also political prisoners were sent here. One of the most famous political prisoners was Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was accused of spying for Germany.

Steep Trails

Final Stairs to the Hilltop

In operation for 100 years, it officially opened in 1852 and was notorious for the hot tropical climate, disease, and harsh treatment of criminals. The penal colony had a death rate of 75%. It is said that the few survivors who made it home described the horrendous conditions which scared some criminals into going straight. Most of the estimated 80,000 prisoners never returned home. Most prisoners were allowed to walk freely around the island since there was almost no chance of escaping. Any prisoners who tried to escape or misbehaved were put on one of the three designated islands and were put in solitary confinement of silence and darkness. One of the other three islands, Ile Du Diable, or Devil’s Island, was reserved for political prisoners. The prisons were closed in 1953 and the islands’ ownership were transferred to the Guiana Space Center. Devil’s Island is closed to the public. Iles Du Salut, also called Ile Royale, is the island Bill visited. It was once the reception area for arriving prisoners and held the general prison population. 

The Guard Quarters buildings.

The remnants of the prisoner cells.

Hospital constructed in 1895.

The chapel was built in 1894.  Prisoners were required to attend mass until 1887.

Current lighthouse was built in 1934 with electricity added in 1982.

This is the semaphore building for island communications.

The 1973 movie, “Papillon”2, starring Steve McQueen was based on the Devil’s Island penal colony. Over the years, Devil’s Island has been mentioned in various movies and television shows.

After two hours on the island, Bill returned with his clothes wringing wet. He said the mosquitoes were not bad but the heat was horrible. The Cruise Director told us later that evening that several people had passed out from the heat. She cautioned everyone to drink lots of water and stay hydrated. And we haven’t even crossed the Equator yet!

Next up: Cruising the Amazon River, Crossing the Equator, and visiting Brazil

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