Īles du Salut
A few miles off the coast of French Guiana are three small islands known as the Īles du Salut (Healthy Islands). They were named by French colonists of the 1760s, who took to the islands to escape the malarial swamps and jungles of the mainland.
There are three islands: Īle St. Joseph to the west, Īle Royale in the center, and Īle du Diable (Devil's Island) to the east. Īle du Diable got its name because it is separated from Īle Royale by a narrow channel having a strong current, making it very dangerous to get on (or off) the island.
Beginning in the mid 1800s, French Guiana became a notorious penal colony, where France sent its political prisoners and its most dangerous and desperate criminals. Although the worst prison labor camps were on the mainland, the Īles du Salut were all occupied by prisons, and Devil's Island, practically escape proof as it was, became the symbol of the entire prison system.
Over the years some 80,000 prisoners were sent to French Guiana, and less than half of them ever returned. The prisons were closed after World War II. Today the Īles du Salut are a tourist attraction, accessible by catamaran from Cayenne, the capital of the colony.
Best known for the notoriously brutal penal colony on Devil's Island, the Īles du Salut (Salvation Islands) are 15km (9mi) north of Kourou in choppy, shark-infested waters. Ironically, in the 18th century, colonists from the fever-decimated mainland regarded the breezy mosquito-free islands as a haven from disease. Later, the infamous islands supported a convict population of almost 2000. Īle Royale, the largest of the three islands, was the administrative headquarters for the prison settlement. Nearby Īle St Joseph was reserved for solitary confinement. Īle du Diable (Devil's Island), a tiny islet now covered with coconut palms, was home to the bulk of the prisoners. Today, the atmospheric ruins are the islands' main attraction, but their abundant wildlife - including macaws, agoutis and sea turtles - provides another fine reason to visit. The Īles du Salut are accessible by boat from Kourou