It’s South American, it’s French. You’d think it would be a tantalizing tourist target, sizzling with Latin flare and French sophistication. Truthfully, French Guiana isn’t quivering in anticipation of your arrival. But if you’ve got a passion for penal colonies, French Guiana does hold an area of special interest.
The notorious Devil’s Island, a.k.a. the Green Hell, was one of the three Iles du Salut, prison islands in the waters off the coast. Conditions here were abominable. Prisoners died toiling in the oppressive heat, or from untreated diseases, or while attempting to escape. The ordeal of one prisoner, Henri Charrière, was recounted in his book (and later the film) Papillon. Another prisoner, Alfred Dreyfus, was notoriously framed, then released, on charges of treason in a case that has gone down in history as The Dreyfus Affaire. The prisons closed in 1951, and now a Space Center occupies the island, offering tours of its ultra modern facilities in Kourou. There are ecotourism parks, and the capital, Cayenne, has colonial architecture and Creole cuisine. Tourist amenities are sparse, attractions rudimentary and everything’s expensive. But if you’re curious and crave the road less traveled, give French Guiana a whirl.