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French Guiana: Visit the Iles du Salut

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Visit the Iles du Salut

Slowly decaying in the corrosive heat and humidity of the jungle, the eerie remnants of a controversial French penal colony guard their brutal secrets beneath the sweltering equatorial sun.

The deceptively named Îles du Salut ('Isles of Salvation') were the dumping ground for France's criminal class between the mid 19th and 20th centuries, during which time they gained a reputation as one of the most hellish and inhuman prison facilities in existence. Effectively banished to the ends of the Earth and surrounded on all sides by hopelessly treacherous, shark-infested waters, many of the unfortunate captives fell victim to tropical disease or met violent deaths at the hands of wardens or other prisoners.

The most notorious of all the islands was the Île du Diable, or Devil's Island, where political prisoners including Alfred Dreyfus were held captive. Its rocky boundary and rough waters make it so naturally impregnable that even now it is completely inaccessible to visitors.

However, it is possible to take a tour of the other two isles, where you can wander amongst abandoned prison buildings clawed back by the jungle, visit the cemetery, guardhouse and museum, and stare out across the cruel sea to the unreachable island beyond.

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Iles du Salut, French Guiana

Coq of the Rock: Trailblazing the Guianas

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