Prison tourism is a growing trend offering unique travel experiences, hence we’re sharing the most famous prisons to visit on your travels.
Visiting prisons while traveling is a fascinating experience. You can witness locations filled with history and countless individual stories of renowned convicts. Some prisons are ancient, retaining even their architecture.
If you plan to visit some famous historic prisons worldwide while traveling, here are the top 5 best prisons to visit and why they are worth it!
Most famous prisons in the world
The Devil’s Island, French Guiana, was a hellish prison for anyone who ended up there. Constructed under the order of Napoleon III in the 1850s, the colony, which expanded on three islands, housed tens of thousands of inmates for over a century.
They all served their sentence by hard labor, including constructing their own cells. They would also build roads, clear the jungle, and escape was almost impossible. This is because sharks surround the islands, the terrain is unforgivable, tropical diseases run rampant, and the strong cross water currents swept any hope of an escape.
The most famous prisoner that escaped from here, Henri Charriere, accomplished this by building a raft out of coconuts. Leaving behind an autobiography of his deeds, he inspired the 1973 movie Papillon.
To visit the islands, visitors can take an hour-long bus from the capital city Cayenne to Kourou town, and from the docks there, boat companies offer daylong tours of Devil’s Island.
Alcatraz is among the most famous and notorious U.S. prisons in San Francisco. Even the name sounds threatening. However, Isla de Los Alcatraces means Isle of the Pelicans. Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala named it.
But don’t let the name fool you, as this prison hosted some famous names such as Al Capone, George Machine Gun Kelly, or Robert Stroud. Inmates were treated inhumanely, and escape was thwarted due to the area’s seclusion and the cold waters of San Francisco Bay.
The maximum-security prison functioned from the 1850s to 1963. In 1962, three prisoners escaped by using a raft made out of raincoats. However, their fate remains unknown. To visit the island, you have to contact Alcatraz Cruises in advance to visit the island as tickets sell out quickly.
A two-hour tour is more than enough to fully explore the island. Both day and night tours are available, just go to Pier 33 in San Francisco and get your ride!
Situated off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, Robben Island acted as a military base, leper hospital, and a maximum-security prison. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, where famous people such as Nelson Mandela served 18 years, apart from other political prisoners.
Now, the island is home to a colony of endangered African penguins. To visit the island by boat, travellers must go to Cape Town and catch one of the three daily rides.
Old Melbourne Gaol
The Old Melbourne Gaol, Australia, is another interesting prison to visit. From 1842 to 1929, the prison hosted some of Australia’s most notorious criminals, such as Ned Kelly and Frederick Bailey Deeming.
Around 133 prisoners were executed here and buried in unmarked graves while the prison was active. Executed prisoners had their heads shaved and plaster applied to their faces to create death masks. Before 1864, women, children, and men were housed together.
To visit this macabre prison, you can take public transit. You should plan a trip for around two hours to explore the location in its entirety.
Elmina Castle, Ghana, is among the oldest still standing European buildings outside Europe. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in 1482 by the Portuguese on the Gulf of Guinea.
Many believe this site to be the first location where Europeans first met with sub-Saharan Africans. It was a major stop in the transatlantic slave trade where many Africans were detained and then loaded onto slave ships.
To visit this historical place, you need to take a taxi from the city of Cape Coast in central Ghana. The museum there is open from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Tips for visiting prisons
Even if these prisons worth visiting aren’t hosting any dangerous inmates anymore, you should still be careful while traveling. Here are some safety tips that you should consider before going anywhere!
Research the Area Beforehand
There is no guarantee that the country you want to visit is stable on your current vacation time. Thus, you have to do some online research about the places you wish to visit beforehand. Check for any political unrest that might affect the country.
See which are the most common crimes there, and read the reviews of other travelers who’ve been there before. Watching some videos about your intended destination might better prepare you for what’s about to come.
Use a VPN Service
Though you have to be mindful of your belongings while traveling, digital threats are perhaps even more dangerous in our era. Public WiFis are generally unsafe since your information can be stolen without you even knowing it.
To avoid this, consider using a VPN service. A VPN will encrypt your online information regardless of whether you connect to a trusted or untrusted network. It will also allow you to do some research since you can switch your geo-location.
By doing this, you can read the news from other countries that might not be available to you while you are at home. Censored information becomes available at one click away with a proper VPN provider.
Have a Backup Plan
You should use a cheaper phone while traveling, especially in poorer countries. This way, you won’t attract too much attention. Use your smartphone only when you are by yourself or with people you trust.
Let other people always know where you are and where you want to go next if you go with a group. Don’t take all your money with you, as you might lose it. Store some cash away, or leave it readily available on your credit card.
What to pack
- No matter where we travel to, I always take these trusty hand sanitizer’s and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these, over backpack and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.
- We LOVE this camera for our travel photography.
- For a cheap, easy and compact camera, we use this to vlog and take photographs.
- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
- This is our favourite travel Insurance because it covers so many activities and travel situations that could arise on longer trips but also offers year coverage.