Alfred Dreyfus (1859 - 1935) was the most prominent prisoner of Devils Island he was sent there beeing totally unguilty after an intrigue. Dreyfuss was a French artillery officer and he had a Jewish background. In 1894 he was accused of treason (Hochverrat). His case in now known as the "Dreyfuss Affair" and it was one of the most tense political dramas in modern French history.
In the end the affair ended with Dreyfus's complete exoneration !
What is left from Dreyfuss on Devils Island is the small hut that he had overlooking the sea, it might be the one in my main picture here, but I am not sure !
According to the book "Papillon" he was the only prisoner, who ever was able to escaped the prison of Devils island: after various other attempts he finally had constructed a raft, built by coconuts that he put in a sack and he was able to be driven by the currants to the mainland that way, without beeing harmed by the sharks.
Some people say, that he mixed quite a lot of fiction with a bit of reality, but at least Henri Charrière, the author of this book was there in prison for some years, that is true !
In case that you watch now the famous film with Dustin Hoffmann, it might be interesting for you to know, the movie was not made on this island, but in Jamaica instead !
Take a walk on Devils Island and you will get a good feeling for what it was like to be in prison on that island. The path around Devils island is done after maybe 30 minutes and here or there you will have a good view of the beach and some tiny islands closeby, but what does this help, when you know that there are hundreds of hungry sharks waiting for food, so even swimming close to the beach was totally impossible.
Well, a perfect place for a prison-island and also a place with an extremely hot and humid climate, that adds some punishment to the people there !
DEVIL ISLAND - TEUFELSINSEL - ILES DU SALUT
These 3 different names stand for the same island that was used as a prison island for almost 100 years, between 1852 and 1946. The most prominent prisoner was Alfred Dreyfus, who was imprisoned here from 1895 till 1899.
Another famous prisoner there was "Papillon", who obviously was able to escape the island in 1940 - at least that is the story that you can read in the famous book "Papillon" by the author Henri Charrière. You might also remember a movie, starring Dustin Hoffmann as Papillon.
There is not much left over from the prison, just some ruins like shown in my pictures !
La pancarte dit : "circuit de 3,5km". Comptez le double ! Les distances sont toujours très approximatives en Guyane.
Jardin botanique créé par les élèves du collège de Kourou qui ont repéré les essences et mis des pancartes. C'st un tour en forêt impressionnant. Ne surtout pas sortir du chemin (attention : le chemin de grande randonnée n'a strictement rien à voir avec ce que nous connaissons en métropole). Prévoir : de l'eau, d'être couvert (on traverse des nuages de moustiques), une lampe de poche si vous partez tard dans l'après midi. A partir de 17h45, la nuit tombe et lorsqu'elle est tombée, il fait vraiment noir ! La frondaison masque les étoiles. Une seule solution : le 18 qui vous met en relation avec la gendarmerie de Cayenne à laquelle vous annoncez que vous êtes le 18500° imbécile qui s'est fait surprendre par la nuit. Ils transmettent à la gendarmerie de Kourou qui veut bien venir vous chercher mais armez vous de patience et surtout, prenez des points de repère sur le trajet.
Its probably one of the reasons you want to come here.
From taking a Pirogue down the Maroni to the Sacred Mountain, or going off into the jungle on an expedition, to watching the scarlet Ibis at the mouth of the Sinnamary river or looking for Caimans at night at Kaw nature reserve, the wildlife in French Guyana is stunning and unique.
You don't have to look hard to find wild animals here, book yourself on a tour to go out into the forest and see it, at the rate we're going, there won't be much left of it in the future......
Camp de Transportation
At about 1848, it was decided that penal settlements in Guiana would reduce the cost of prisons in France and contribute to the development of the colony.
Some 70,000 prisoners - including Alfred Dreyfus and Henri Papillon Charriere - arrived between 1852 and 1939.
It was formerly the arrival point for these prisoners, who arrived at the Camp de Transportation (established 1857) for transfer to various penal camps throughout the country; like Ile du Diable (Devils Island).
Those who survived their initial sentence were forced to remain in Guiana as exiles for an equal period of time, but as 90% of them died of malaria or yellow fever, the policy did little for population growth.
In 1951 the French closed the penal settlements.
Saint Laurent du Maroni
It is a border town in north-west French Guiana.
It is located on the Maroni River (Marowijne), opposite the town of Albina in Suriname which can be reached by ferry.
It has many colonial buildings, a church, town hall and a rainforets information centre.
The space center conducts launches for the Europeans, and there is a visitor center. Call for reservations since part of the trip, for which there is a charge, takes place within a bus which goes to the launch pads.
The boat departs from Kourou and goest to the only island which can be visisted. Some of the buildings have been converted into a lodge and cafe. The former cells can be visited and a good tour, in Frnch, was available.
Visit Laotian-Thai Refugee Village at Cacao
This is an Asian transplant, with food and market, to South America. The drive from Cayenne to Cacao goes through true jungle and provides an opportunity to see undistrubed rain forest.
This is a collection of geological exhibits, original prisoner art work from the prison days, wildlife exhibits, and a very large buterfly collection, which is the only part of the exhibit which is in airconditoned space.
One cannot go to Guyane without understanding the history of Devil's Island, the maximum security of the three Islands utilized by the French as a penal colony.
Isn't island living supposed to be wonderful?
Read the book or see the movie. PAPILLON
If your are up to it, try to tie a trip like this in to an ecotourism package or get to know some of the locals and create one of your own. Just as a matter of personal opinion, I think that many travelers are just plain too lazy to use their own heads. Self reliance is becoming a lost art in an ever increasing dependence upon others to make things easy.
We never leave home without our copy of LONELY PLANET and while there are numerous travel guides and granted, LP is outdated on the very day that it is printed, especially prices, it is still a handy tool which should be studied before you get out there into the jungle.
In the mid-19th century, the French government set out to reduce prison costs at home by sloughing off undesirables by way of their colonies. Searching for their most forsaken frontier outpost to drop the luckless cons, they came up with Guiana. Though its last penal colony closed in 1953, this tropical pocket of ooh-la-la now takes prisoners of another variety. Budget travelers beware: French Guiana is among South America's costliest destinations.
Modern French Guiana is a land of idiosyncrasies, where European Space Agency satellite launches rattle the market gardens of displaced Hmong farmers from Laos and thinly populated rainforests swallow nearly all but the country's coastline. Highly subsidized by Mother France, it boasts the highest standard of living of any 'country' in South America, but look beyond the capital city and you'll still find backwoods settlements of Maroons and Amerindians barely eking out a living. Traveling in French Guiana isn't easy, but it is part of the adventure. And if you have Francophile leanings, live in the Americas and enjoy roughing it in the rainforest, it's one place where you can have your canapée under the canopy without crossing the pond to Charles de Gaulle.
Full country name: Guyane Française
Area: 91,250 sq km (56,575 sq mi)
Capital city: Cayenne (pop 40,000)
People: 70% Creole (African/Afro-European descent), 10% European, 8% Asian, 8% Brazilian, 4% Amerindian
Language: French, French Guianese creole, Amerindian languages
Religion: Predominantly Catholic
Government: Overseas department of France
GDP: US$1 billion
GDP per head: US$6000
Major industries: Shrimp, forest products, mining, satellite launching
Major trading partners: EU (esp. France, Germany)
Facts for the Traveler
Visas: All visitors except EU nationals and citizens of Switzerland and the USA require a visa.
Cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, typhoid, yellow fever
Time: GMT/UTC minus 3 hours
Electricity: 220/127V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
French Guiana is a tropical country with a serious rainy season. While the July to December 'dry' period may be the most comfortable time to go, Carnaval - usually held in late February - is French Guiana's greatest cultural attraction. August to November is the best time for jaunts into the jungle. The leatherback turtles come out near Mana between April and September.
Festive Carnaval is the highlight of the calendar, as outrageous Caribbean-style parades and parties are fused with a certain French savoir faire. Usually held in late February, Carnaval features festivities every weekend from Epiphany and for four days solid before Ash Wednesday. The best place to experience the events of Carnaval is Cayenne.
Money & Costs
Currency: French franc (FF)
Top-end: US$20 and upwards
Top-end: US$100 and upwards
French Guiana is expensive, with costs comparable to those in France; even diehard budget travelers will have a tough time getting by on less than US$45 per day. If restaurant meals and the occasional warm shower fit into your plan, count on spending close to US$100 per day. Transportation, especially to Guiana's interior, is very expensive.
It's easy to change US dollars cash or travelers' checks in Cayenne, but the rates are about 5% lower than official published rates, so bring some francs with you. Major credit cards are widely accepted, and cash advances are easy to get at an ATM (guichet automatique) - the ATMs at post offices are on the Plus and Cirrus networks.
French Guiana's capital has a relaxed tropical ambiance. It's located at the western end of a small, hilly peninsula between the Cayenne and Mahury rivers on the Atlantic coast and is the country's major port. The liveliest area is the Place de Palmistes at the northwest end of town, where there are many cafes and outdoor food stalls; the oldest area is the Place Grenoble, to the west, which is home to most of the town's public buildings. Avenue du Général de Gaulle is the main commercial street.
The remains of the 17th-century Fort Cépérou may not look like much, but the views of the town, the port and the Cayenne River make a visit worthwhile. The Musée Départemental has interesting exhibits on indigenous peoples, colonial history and the penal colony.
Cayenne's main vegetable market is on Place Victor Schoelcher, named after the man most responsible for ending slavery in French Guiana. The misleadingly named Village Chinois (Chinatown) has a fish market and Asian (mainly Javanese) food stalls.
Some of the best music is in small clubs in Village Chinois, nicknamed 'Chicago.'
Cayenne's best beach is at Rémire-Montjoly, 10km (6mi) southeast of town, where you'll also find the historical ruins of Fort Diamant and an early colonial sugar mill.
Situated on the west bank of the Kourou River, 65km (40mi) west of Cayenne, Kourou used to be little more than a moribund penal settlement. These days, thanks to the influence of the European space program, it has rocketed from the 19th century straight into the 21st. It's worth visiting the town and touring the Centre Spatial Guyanais to witness this collision of worlds.
Currently, three separate organizations operate here - the Agence Spatiale Européenne (European Space Agency), the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (French Space Agency) and Arianespace (a private commercial enterprise developing the Ariane rocket). Between them, they comprise about 15% of the country's economic activity, employ about 1000 people and conduct eight or nine launches per year.
Îles du Salut
Best known for the notoriously brutal penal colony on Devil's Island, the Îles du Salut (Salvation Islands) are 15km (9mi) north of Kourou in choppy, shark-infested waters. Ironically, in the 18th century, colonists from the fever-decimated mainland regarded the breezy mosquito-free islands as a haven from disease. Later, the infamous islands supported a convict population of almost 2000. Île Royale, the largest of the three islands, was the administrative headquarters for the prison settlement. Nearby Île St Joseph was reserved for solitary confinement. Île du Diable (Devil's Island), a tiny islet now covered with coconut palms, was home to the bulk of the prisoners. Today, the atmospheric ruins are the islands' main attraction, but their abundant wildlife - including macaws, agoutis and sea turtles - provides another fine reason to visit. The Îles du Salut are accessible by boat from Kourou.
St Laurent du Maroni
Once a reception camp for newly arrived convicts, St Laurent retains some picturesque colonial buildings and a certain backwater charm. The Camp de la Transportation has grim reminders of the harshness of life in the penal colony, including cells and shackles.
St Laurent is on the east bank of the Maroni (Marowijne) River, which forms the border with Suriname. You can arrange boat trips up the river to visit the area's Maron and Amerindian settlements.
Off the Beaten Track
This village of Hmong refugees, transplanted from Laos to the American tropics in the 1970s, lies some 75km (50mi) west of the Cayenne-Régina paved highway. The fascinating Sunday market held here features Hmong embroidery and weaving and delicious local noodle soups.
This is one of French Guiana's most accessible wildlife areas, but it's still well off the beaten track. Some 65km (40mi) southeast of Cayenne, Kaw is reached by paved and dirt highway, then by launch across the Kaw River, or by catching a launch downstream from Régina. The abundant marshes in the area are home to a variety of bird life as well as plenty of caimans, a smaller relative of the American alligator. Basic lodging is available.
Surfing, windsurfing and sailing are possible on the beaches near Cayenne and Kourou, but there are few facilities of any kind, so try to befriend a local. Canoe trips on Gabrielle Creek can be arranged at Dacca, a Laotian village near Roura. River trips on the Maroni River can be arranged from St Laurent du Maroni. Kaw is a good place for bird watching, and you can see leatherback turtles near Mana between April and September. There is a hiking trail from Rémire-Montjoly to the top of Montagne du Mahury. There are great ecotourism opportunities in the forested interior, though trips are expensive.
The original inhabitants of French Guiana were Carib and Arawak Indians. By the mid-17th century, the Dutch, British and French had all established colonies in the region. Though territorial and commercial arrangements shifted frequently, France consolidated control of the region in 1817. Sugar and rainforest timber became the colony's economic mainstays. Slaves brought from Africa worked the sugar plantations, though their success was limited by tropical diseases and the hostility of the local Indians. The plantations' output never matched that of other French Caribbean colonies, and after the abolition of slavery in 1848, the local industry virtually collapsed.
At about the same time, it was decided that penal settlements in Guiana would reduce the cost of prisons in France and contribute to the development of the colony. Some 70,000 prisoners - including Alfred Dreyfus and Henri 'Papillon' Charrière - arrived between 1852 and 1939. Those who survived their initial sentence were forced to remain in Guiana as exiles for an equal period of time, but as 90% of them died of malaria or yellow fever, the policy did little for population growth.
Guiana remained a penal colony until after WWII, becoming a department of France in 1946. Since then, many natives have called for increased autonomy, though only around 5% favor independence from France, partly due to the vast subsidies the French government supplies. The European Space Centre at Kourou has brought a corner of French Guiana into the modern world and attracted a sizable expatriate work force.
French Guiana is predominantly Roman Catholic, and French is the official language. Nearly everyone also speaks the native creole, French Guianese, while Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who established villages in the interior) and Amerindians maintain their own religions and speak Arawak, Carib, Emerillon, Oyapi, Palicur and Wayana. Tokens of the country's French connection - francs, gendarmes and sidewalk cafes - mingle with local influences - Carnaval, Maroon woodcarving and Caribbean music and dance - to give Guiana its decidedly non-Latin air.
Located on the northeast coast of South America, French Guiana is roughly the same size as Ireland or the US state of Indiana. It borders Brazil in the east and south, the Atlantic in the north and Suriname to the west, where the Maroni (Marowijne) and Litani rivers encompass a disputed border area.
Approximately 90% of the country is blanketed by scarcely populated equatorial forest, which rises gradually from the coastal strip toward the modest Tumac-Humac Mountains on the Brazilian frontier. Most Guianais live along the Atlantic coast, and the area contains most of the country's limited road network. The coast comprises mainly mangrove swamp with a few sandy beaches. Fauna includes monkeys, caimans, tapirs, ocelots and anteaters.
French Guiana is a wet country: even when it's not raining, the air hangs heavy with humidity. The country's tropical rainforests top out at around 30°C (85°F) and receive over 250cm (100in) of rain per annum. The rain falls heaviest from January to June, with May seeing the worst of it. Cayenne, the capital, and Guiana's other Atlantic coast settlements are less muggy than inland areas, but that's not saying much.
Getting There & Away
Not surprisingly, French Guiana has decent air links with Europe, especially France. Within South America, there are flights to Brazil, Ecuador, Suriname and Venezuela. Flights to the US are mostly to Miami via Guadeloupe and Martinique. International departure tax is about US$20, except for flights to France, which are regarded as domestic and have no departure tax.
It's possible to cross over to Suriname from St Laurent du Maroni by taking the passenger ferry to Albina. From there, there are road connections to Suriname's capital, Paramaribo. There are also launches from Guiana's St Georges to Oiapoque in Brazil, but first you'll have to fly from Cayenne to St Georges.
Air Guyane has scheduled flights to St Georges, Saül and Maripasoula from Cayenne. There's daily bus service from Cayenne to St Laurent du Maroni via Kourou, Sinnamary and Iracoubo. Taxis colectifs (minibuses), which are faster, much more comfortable and only slightly more expensive, run along the same route. Cars and motorcycles can be rented in Cayenne, Kourou and St Laurent. River transport into the interior is possible, but unless you take an expensive tour it requires patience and good timing.
Because private cars are numerous and roads are fairly good, hitching is a realistic - though never entirely safe - alternative. Competition is fierce in certain areas, such as the highway to Kourou on the outskirts of Cayenne.
In Cayenne, local buses service the beach areas of Rémire-Montjoly, but general public transport is limited, so you may need a taxi. Buses don't run on Sundays.
Cayenne-Rochambeau international airport is 16km (10mi) southwest of Cayenne. Taxis to/from the airport are available. If you're leaving French Guiana and have light luggage, a far-cheaper option is to take a taxi colectif to Matoury and walk the remaining 5km (3mi).
All text and images © 2000 Lonely Planet Publications. All rights reserved.
Avenue de St. Exupery, Kourou, 97310, French Guiana
Good for: Families
Route de Montabo, Chemin Hilaire, Cayenne, 97300, French Guiana
Good for: Solo
Lac Bois Diable, , KOUROU 97310
Good for: Families