Explore the penal colony of Devil's Island

A Princess ship cruising from the island
A Princess ship cruising from the island

Located off the northern coast of French Guiana, Devil's Island has an eerie reputation earned over the course of 100 years, when it served as a penal colony for the government of France. If you want to learn about extreme history during a South American cruise, this is a destination you won't want to miss.

Devil's Island was first used as a prison in 1852, when Emperor Napoleon II chose the isle as the site of a new penal colony intended to house hardened criminals and political prisoners. Over time, the island held as many as 80,000 people, who were fed minimal amounts of food and subjected to hard labor during their prison terms before the prison closed in the middle of the 20th century. In particular, the prison is famous for holding Alfred Dreyfuss, a French military officer whose Judaism led him to be falsely accused of treason, and Henri Charriere, a thief who wrote a famous book about his escape from the craggy outcropping.

During your cruise, you can enjoy several South American shore excursions on Devil's Island. At the prison headquarters on Ile Royale (an isle near Devil's Island), you can explore prison cells and haunting artifacts - not to mention the rock swimming pool the warden built using convict labor. The prison director's house offers a stark contrast to the meager conditions in the cells. The luxurious structure is perched on top of a hill, providing visitors with gorgeous views of the surrounding area. Today, the house serves as a museum about the history of the penal colony.

When you take a boat to Devil's Island itself, you will marvel at the cliffs that rise 131 feet above sea level. After you disembark from your launch ship, you can walk through the abandoned prison and spot the turtles, monkeys, agoutis and birds that now make their homes there.