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Devil's Islands French Guiana Photos

map of french guiana

Devil's Islands, French Guiana

The Devil's Islands archipelago consists of three small islands, located just a few miles off the coast of French Guiana. The group includes Ile du Diable (Devil's Island), Ile Ste-Joseph and Ile Royale.

devils islands map

Their original name was the Triangle Islands, but after decades of proving hazardous to shipping, their name was appropriately changed to the Devil's Islands, and how prophetic that name would later become.

Known throughout the modern world by the brutal history of the 19th century French penal settlement that was located here, it was Ile du Diable (or Devil's Island itself) that perpetuated that story across the planet, especially with the release of a novel and movie called Papillon. Although a fictional tale, it contained accounts of the difficult daily life gathered from actual surviving prisoners.

The island's most famous prisoner, Captain Dreyfuss, a French army officer falsely accused of espionage, spent over 5 years on Devil's Island itself. He was finally pardoned and awarded the French Legion of Merit. Regardless, his years of imprisonment and the fate of thousands of others have made the Devil's Islands an unfortunate part of French history.

devils island scenery

This is a look at the infamous Devil's Island from high atop Ile Royale. Access to the island is not granted to tourists, and trying to get there is considered impossible as the current between the two island is very swift, and the channel is (supposedly) filled with sharks.

A larger look at the entire island

devils island, ile du diable prison
Even though Devil's Island (Ile du Diable) is famous around the world, the main prison within the Devil's Islands group was built at the highest point on Ile Royale and it housed 99% of all inmates. This is one of the rustic entrance doors to the complex.
devils island, french prisoners
It was here that prisoners from France (like the one shown above) were held. Conditions were brutal and harsh, and of the 80,000 criminals sent here, only 30,000 lived to tell about it.
devils island, solitary confinement
This is one of the haunting cell windows in the prison complex, behind which conditions were reportedly deplorable. Solitary confinement was often used, and men would spend 6 months to 5 years in a dark, closet size cell.

devils island, prison hospital remains

Most prisoners, and many of the prison guards, contracted Malaria and other aliments. This is all that remains of the large prison hospital.

devils island, island mortuary
Death was an everyday occurrence within the prison and this ugly (rather scary) building was used as the island mortuary.
devils island, ile royale cemetary

This cemetery on Ile Royale contained graves of non-prisoners, mostly children and those of early settlers. Prisoners that died were often (unceremoniously) throw into the sea.

devils island, tourists
Finally, after all of the doom and gloom, a cute and happy prisoner. She willingly broke out of jail and joined me on the ship.
devils island, coconut palm scenery

All three of the islands in the Devil's Islands archipeligo, Ile du Diable (Devil's Island), Ile Ste-Joseph and Ile Royale are ringed by swaying coconut palms.

devils island, paths and trails

This manmade, grass-covered path leads to the upper reaches of Ile Royale. According to the local guide, all paths and trails were built by prisoners.

devils island, coconut palms
The interior of Ile Royal was literally infected by coconut palms.
devils island, coconut husks
We walked around the entire shoreline of Ile Royale, and its beach areas were literally covered by thousands and thousands of coconuts.
devils island, flowers
Colorful flowers provided the few-and-far-between bright spots on Ile Royale.

devils island, colorful roosters
Another bright spot in this rather dreary place were the colorful, independent roosters that roamed the island at will, just like in Key West, Florid

devils island, postcards
In the local gift shop, postcards were popular purchases for ship passengers. This one illustrated the unfortunate souls that were imprisoned here.

About the Author

John Moen is a cartographer who along with his wife are the orignal founders of worldatlas.com. He and his wife, Chris Woolwine-Moen, produced thousands of award-winning maps that are used all over the world and content that aids students, teachers, travelers and parents with their geography and map questions. Today, it's one of the most popular educational sites on the web.

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This page was last updated on June 16, 2020.