Devil's Island, Iles du Salut
UPDATE: I've meanwhile been to this place, and you can soon expect an all-new, expanded, updated and richly illustrated chapter to replace the old one below!
The prison island made famous through the "Papillion" book by Henri Charriere and the 1973 movie (starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman). It was based (loosely) on a true story and the place is quite real: From the mid 19th century until about the 1940s, France
maintained penal colonies in its Latin American colony of French Guyana
, esp. on the group of islands known as Iles du Salut, or Salvation Islands, about eight miles off the coast near Kourou (where today's space centre is).
Devil's Island is just one of the three islands, but it’s the one that Papillion was mainly set on – and, come on, with a name as dark as this, it had to be covered here …
The prison complex was used to incarcerate not only notorious criminals (esp. the "hard cases") but also political prisoners. In successive phases, the penal colony was discontinued from 1939, and finally shut down altogether in 1952 (remaining prisoners were either repatriated to France or chose to stay in French Guyana).
The place was a tropical green hell, disease rife and treatment of the prisoners brutal. Escape was near impossible (though there were a few notable exceptions), thanks to the strong currents and shark infested waters around the islands.
Devil's Island (Iles du Diable) was not actually the main part of the penal colony, that was on neighbouring Ile Royale (and most of the solitary confinement cells on the third island, Ile Saint Joseph). But the name Devil's Island kind of stands for the entire penal colony on all three islands
In the 1960s the islands were taken over by the new space centre, which for instance installed tracking equipment here.
But the enduring dark fame of the islands ensured that they became a tourist destination too.
Of the former prison facilities only ruins can still be seen – but with a bit of imagination you can picture the gruesome living conditions of the inmates here …
to help imagination along, there's also a small museum.
It's a remote, exotic and very dark destination indeed.