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General Information

"Welcome to the penal colony at Devil's Island, whose prisoners you are, and from which there is no escape." So went the announcement to the new prisoners in the movie Papillon. Only nowadays, Devil's Island is the escape.

How things have changed.

Originally a leper colony, the Īles du Salut archipelago (literally "Safety Islands," formerly known as the Īles du Diable, or "Devil's Islands"), is comprised of three islands — Īle Royale, Saint-Joseph, and the Īle du Diable itself. These islands became the destination for transported prisoners from France, the last of whom left only fifty years ago, and now they are a must-see stop on South American coastal tours. For the prisoners (the most famous of whom was Alfred Dreyfus, the French Army officer falsely convicted of treason) it was "a true excursion into hell," as one writer has it. For you and your fellow travelers, it is a quite pleasant, half-day, civilized excursion into a lovely tropical island resort.

The islands themselves have always served as a deepwater outport for Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, whose harbor cannot accommodate large ships. Most likely, yours qualifies, so you'll anchor and come ashore on launches. Once there, your time is basically spent on a long lunch and a tour taking several hours. Lunch will be good; French cooking is the norm, and the mother country sends all the necessary ingredients for high quality dishes.

It's likely that your tour will be confined to Īle Royale, where the administrative buildings of the prison camp have been converted to hotels and tourist facilities. Īle du Diable is approached only with difficulty due to its rocky shore, but you'll see it across the 200-yard-wide channel. You'll be guided through a lush and green landscape, where tropical foliage has grown over the old prison buildings and softened their aspect from forbidding to quaint. Where prisoners would suffer solitary confinement are now sweet smelling frangipani and creepers winding around the bars. Steps cut into the stone lead you down slopes that provide views of the beautiful blue sea. Leatherback turtles swim in the channel, instead of the sharks that would feed on prisoners who had died.

Devil's Island is a real museum piece, and you'll have to give your imagination a workout to get a sense of how badly the prisoners would have wanted to escape from this place that invites you to stay.

General Information


Only facility staff.


Deep-water anchorage with shore service by launch.


Tropical and humid. High temperatures are in the high 80 and 90 degree range, year-round.




French franc, but the tourist facilities take US dollars, so it's not necessary to exchange currency in advance.

Devil's Island
Port Overview
General Information