Devil's Island - See Old French Penal Colony on South America Cruise

01 of 24

Devil's Island in the Salvation Isles of French Guiana

Devil's Island in South America
Devil's Island (c) Linda Garrison

Pictures from Famous Historic French Penal Colony in French Guiana

Devil's Island is one of three Salvation Islands used by the French as penal colonies from the mid-1800s until after World War II. Tourists are not allowed on Devil's Island, but instead can tour the old prison facilities on Isle Royale, which is just a short distance away.

Devil's Island may be an unusual port of call, but this old French penal colony is fascinating and was well-depicted in the Steve McQueen movie, "Papillon". Everyone on our South American cruise on the Seven Seas Mariner looked forward to our visit, and we were not disappointed. The day was very rainy, but that didn't stop many of us from taking the tender ashore to explore Isle Royale and get a close look at Devil's Island. Its look and history is as horrid as depicted in the movies.

Cruise ship passengers and other tourists are not allowed to visit Devil's Island, which is one of the three Salvation Islands, also known as Iles du Salut, of French Guiana off the coast of South America. The three Salvation Islands are named Devil's Island, St. Joseph Island, and Isle Royale, and are located about 10 miles from the mainland of South America.

Cruise ships sailing between the Caribbean and the Amazon River or between the Caribbean and Rio de Janeiro often stopover at the Salvation Islands so that their guests can learn about the history of the island group and see Devil's Island a short distance away.

It was a rainy morning when the Seven Seas Mariner anchored at Isle Royale in the Salvation Isles (Iles du Salut) off the coast of French Guiana. Devil's Island is just a short distance away.

02 of 24

Isle Royale Hotel near Devil's Island

Isle Royale Hotel - Auberge des Îles du Salut - Devil's Island
Devil's Island (c) Linda Garrison

Isle Royale is one of the three Salvation Islands, the most famous of which is Devil's Island.

Auberge des Îles du Salut is the Isle Royale Hotel.

03 of 24

Barracks Building near Devils Island

Isle Royale Barracks Building
Devil's Island (c) Linda Garrison

One of the barracks buildings on Isle Royale near Devil's Island.

04 of 24

Devils Island - South America Cruise Ship Port of Call

Devil's Island in South America
Devil's Island (c) Linda Garrison

A look at Devil's Island from Isle Royale. The two Salvation Islands had different types of prisoners and were connected with a basket on a pulley system.

Continue to 5 of 24 below.
05 of 24

Isle Royale in the Salvation Islands Off the Coast of South America

View of Devil's Island from Isle Royale
Devil's Island (c) Linda Garrison

The Salvation Islands are picturesque tropical islands today, but they were devoid of these lovely palm trees when the islands were used for prisoners.

06 of 24

Isle Royale - South America Cruise Ship Port of Call

Isle Royale - South America Cruise Ship Port of Call
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
07 of 24

Warden's Pool - Devils Island - South America Cruise Ship Port of Call

Warden's Pool on Devil's Island
Devil's Island (c) Linda Garrison

The waters surrounding the Devil's Island French penal colony are filled with sharks. The prison warden had the inmates dig this "swimming pool" near the shore so that his family could swim safely.

08 of 24

Isle Royale Swimming Pool and Devil's Island

Isle Royale Swimming Pool and Devil's Island
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
Continue to 9 of 24 below.
09 of 24

Isle Royale Water Reservoir - Devil's Island Port of Call

Isle Royale Water Reservoir - Devil's Island Port of Call
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison

This fresh water reservoir was dug by the prisoners using teaspoons. Yes, this large pool was dug one small spoonful at a time.

10 of 24

Iguanas on Devil Island

Iguanas on Devil Island
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison

For iguana lovers - here's another good iguana photo.

11 of 24

Devils Island Prison Cell

Devils Island Prison Cell
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison

In the 100+ years the Salvation Isles were used as a French penal colony, about 80,000 prisoners were sent to the islands. Only 30,000 lived to tell about it.

12 of 24

Devil's Island Prison Cell

Devil's Island Prison Cell
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
Continue to 13 of 24 below.
13 of 24

Devil's Island Prisoner Restraints

Devil's Island Prisoner Restraints
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison

Even the hospital had restraints to lock the prisoners down at night. This picture was particularly sobering for me.

14 of 24

Devils Island Hospital and Jail House

Devil's Island Hospital and Jail House
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
15 of 24

Devils Island - Prisoners' Toilets

Devils Island - Prisoners' Toilets
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison

These toilets certainly don't compare well with the bathrooms on the Seven Seas Mariner! We were happy to go back to the luxury of our cruise ship afterwards.

16 of 24

Devils Island Jail House

Devil's Island Jail House
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
Continue to 17 of 24 below.
17 of 24

Hotel Cottages on Isle Royale Near Devil's Island

Hotel Cottages on Isle Royale Near Devil's Island
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
18 of 24

Church on Isle Royale near Devils Island

Church on Isle Royale near Devils Island
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
19 of 24

Devil's Island Agouti

Devil's Island Agouti
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
20 of 24

Devil's Island - South America Cruise Ship Port of Call

Devil's Island - South America Cruise Ship Port of Call
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
Continue to 21 of 24 below.
21 of 24

Devil's Island Agouti

Devil's Island Agouti
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
22 of 24

St. Joseph's Island in the Salvation Islands

St. Joseph's Island in the Salvation Islands
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison
23 of 24

Rainy Day on Devil's Island

Rainy Day on Devils Island
Devil's Island Picture (c) Linda Garrison

It was a very rainy day when the Seven Seas Mariner visited Devil's Island. We all had to use our blue and white ship's umbrellas.

24 of 24

Seven Seas Mariner Off the Coast of Devils Island

Regent Seven Seas Mariner at Devil's Island
Devil's Island (c) Linda Garrison

Seven Seas Mariner Off the Coast of Devils Island

Was this page helpful?