Top Ten Prisons to Visit

Devil's Island, French Guiana
Devil's Island, French Guiana
Housing of the more famous prisoner, French Army Officer Alfred Dreyfus who was unjustly accused of treason (Wikipedia)

1. Devil's Island
Three lushly tropical islands off the coast of French Guiana were once the site of perhaps the most infamous penal colony of all time, Devil's Island. From the years of 1884 to 1946, Devil's Island held an estimated 56,000 prisoners, with approximately only one-fourth ever eventually departing the island. The majority of the ones who gained freedom and cheated death did so by escaping the jungle prison and swimming the piranha-infested waters of the Moroni River. The majority of escapees never survived the piranhas, nor the jungle army ants—there are even reports of several cannibalizations by fellow escapees who found the jungle to be getting the best of them.

Tales are told that Devil's Island received its name due to the hordes of black birds that welcomed prisoners to the island, commonly referred to as the Green Hell—perhaps because of the profuse surrounding greenery and the manual labor the prisoners were forced to do in timber camps.

With some historical sites rebuilt and tourism facilities in place, the island now welcomes visitors to its tropical paradise year-round. Imagination is key here, as most of the remains of the actual prison have deteriorated or been taken down, save a few prison cells and barracks. Marked paths litter the island containing words of history laying out the who's and what's of your surroundings. During the humid summer months, visitors quickly get a glimpse into the pure torture the prisoners endured solely from the extreme heat. Forget jumping in for a cooling dip here, sharks swarm the island's borders. No organized tours are offered here; you must go at the island alone and on foot.

Cruise back into to mainland French Guiana for a tour around the surrounding two countries, Suriname and British Guyana. Walk the dense, narrow streets and take in the wooden houses of Paramaribo, Suriname's capital city. Visit adjacent mosques, synagogues, and Fort Zeelandia, the famous wooden Cathedral, before bellying up with a beer to the Dutch-speaking Creoles.


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