Kourou and Devils Island

Kourou Travel Blog

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Hotel: Hotel Ballahou, Kourou, French Guiana, 55 Euro (triple)
This morning we woke up early to examine our options for getting to Kourou, the launch point for visiting the Space Center Guyanais and the Iles du Salut. Having re-read our guidebook only to find out the bus for Cayenne had already left at 7 that morning and the next one wouldn't leave until nearly 2PM! We went down to the dock anyway where the minibuses departed, as we were arriving some boys started running towards us, one losing a shoe in the process! They were the touts for the pirogues but they left dejected when they realized we weren't going back across the river. We found a minibus that almost had a full load, but it was going to Cayenne only and they would charge us the full fee (35 Euro) to go to Kourou. They only needed a few pople so we hopped in and he drove around for 20 minutes looking for passengers before setting off around 8:30. The roads in French Guiana are in top-rate condition, much better than Suriname. They even have center lines, unlike Guyana 

We arrived in Kourou around 11 AM, and stopped at McDonalds for a bite.. the Euro stings even here. We walked to the nearby Hotel Ballahou, but their reception was only open from 12 PM till 2 PM and 6 PM till 8 PM! There were some workers there though who must have called the manager as she showed up about 10 minutes later. We then went to walk through town. Kourou is an ugly town, quickly built in the 60's and 70s when the nearby launch center was constructed. There's no real center, no public transport, no taxis and it is very spread out. It was also raining, that annoying kind of drizzle that doesn't really get you wet but still is unpleasant. We walked by a large military base where there were French soldiers doing exercises wearing camoflauge hotpants! The book warns that Kourou can be dangerous, there are higher paying jobs with the space center, and there has been a lot of illegal immigration, mainly from Brazil. We saw lots of young men standing around smoking weed. We found a good Brazilian place for lunch, then found a tour office where we booked our trip to the Iles du Salut for tomorrow (40EUR). Walked yet another hour to the Vieux Bourg, but everything here was closed as well. Finally late in the afternoon we were so exhausted from walking, we found a gas station and were able to call a taxi, we kept his number for use later.

Hotel: Hotel Ballahou, Kourou, French Guiana, 55 Euro (triple)
Today was our trip out to Iles du Salut, site of the infamous Devils Island penal colony. Our taxi driver picked us up at 7:30 and took us down to the dock; we checked in and had to wait until 8:15 catamaran departure. There were quite a few other tourists (all French) along for the ride today. Our catamaran was the Royal Ti'Punch, owned by the Auberge on the islands and the trip took a little over an hour. There was a tidal bore about halfway to the islands, and the going was pretty rough for awhile. The Iles du Salut is actually a group of three islands, Ile Royale, Ile St. Joseph, and Ile Diable. There were prison facilities on all three islands, Ile Diable (Devils Island) iwasthe one used for political prisoners. It was the French Alcatraz, supposedly inescapable via sea, with strong currents and sharks as deterrents. It is still off limits to this day as it's illegal to land there, you can only see it from the other islands across the narrow channel. Why I don't know.

Ile Royale was our first stop, we had almost 6 hrs to spend on the island. It's not very large, but housed the guards quarters, death row inmates, and prison administration. It currently houses the Auberge hotel, where it is possible to spend the night. Quite pricey though for food, we had brought our own baguette and salami again for lunch. The islands are quite lush (unlike in the movie Papillon, which wasn't filmed here) with coconut palms and rainforest vegetation. Only a few of the prison buildings have been restored, most have been left to decay and have slowly been reclaimed by the jungle for the past 50 years. The Auberge is up on top of the hill and had a good view out over Devils Island. We wandered down to the condemned cells, where prisoners awaited execution. The cells were tiny, dank and dark. Not all prisoners were on death row, but their sentences were still harsh. If a prisoners sentence was 8 years or less, they had to remain in French Guiana for the same number of years once they had served their time; this was to help build up the population of the colony. Those who were sentenced to more than 8 years had to remain in French Guiana.. not that many prisoners even served their full time as most died from yellow fever or malaria. They weren't even given the decency of a burial, their corpses were simply tossed into the sea for the sharks! We went by the guard's childrens cemetery, creepy setting in the trees. There was another tourist family a short distance away who asked if we had any bread; there was a troop of monkeys nearby! We joined them and as soon as we had broken off a chunk of bread we were swarmed! They were climbing all over us and trying to get into my bag. There were several different kinds of monkey, smaller ones and big ones who soon started dropping coconuts from above! We escaped before being conked and went and had lunch, then walked around the island (not very large). The catamaran then took us over to Ile St. Joseph, another prison site. The prison here, Camp Reclusion, has been reclaimed by the jungle, it's a modern day Angkor Thom with strangler figs and trees growing through the cell bars, very scenic! It was also raining which added to the gloom. The rain soon stopped though (we'd been lucky, on our way out this morning the sky was an ominous grey but we'd avoided most of the rain so far). It was soon time to leave the islands for the trip back to Kourou. We'd hoped to arrive back before 6, we wanted to rent a car for the next few days to explore the area around Cayenne. Our taxi driver took us by the Sixt and Hertz locations, neither of which had cars! Most are in use by scientists on long assignments working at the space center. The LP guide says a rental car is recommended for French Guiana, it's more like a requirement! Limited public transportation (and expensive), few taxis and non-walkable cities makes having a rental car a must, if there is even one available! So 29 Euro in taxi fare later, we had to go back to our hotel without a car.

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Kourou Hotels & Accommodations review
Ok hotel in Kourou
Their reception was only open from 12 PM till 2 PM and 6 PM till 8 PM! There were some workers there though who must have called the manager as she sh… read entire review
photo by: jakublb