Salvation Islands (Îles du Salut) 

“Rester, c’est exister; mais voyager, c’est vivre”

Gustave Nadaud

“To stay is to exist; to travel is to live”

The Salvation Islands. located 11 km off mainland French Guiana, were used by the french as a penal colony between 1852 – 1953.  The islands were named the Salvation Islands as they offered missionaries an escape from the plague on the mainland, this would have been a contradiction for the 80 000 prisoners, many of whom died from diseases like yellow fever and malaria or prison violence during the 100 years the prison operated.  Today the islands are a peaceful retreat for tourists to visit, a far cry from their violent and often bloody past. There are three islands that make up the group, but you are only able to visit two of them.

Île Royale was used for the general criminals and they had relative freedom because it was so difficult to escape an island. We anchored just off this island, which was very beautiful, it was also the first one we visited.  Along with prisoners, the island also housed the prison guards, administration and their families.  There are no signs or brochure in English there are free two hour tours in French otherwise you will need to do your research before you go.  The island does have an abundance of wildlife roaming the grounds which fascinated the kids and adults alike in our family.

My personal favourite of the wildlife we saw was definitely the Capuchin monkeys.  They are quite timid to start with but once Ava and I lagged behind they came quite close to us and the males became territorial.

The agoutis is an unusual creature that we haven’t seen before, looks a bit like a miniature deer/rat and yes it is a rodent.  There were peacocks around and they walked freely around the restaurant where we ate one day.

The photo on the right is of the prison hospital, where no doubt many spent their last days.  The photo on the right is of prison employee housing, not bad.

Devil’s island (Île du Diable) was used for political prisoners, the most famous being Alfred Dreyfus and is no long accessible. To look at the photo, taken from Île Royale below, its hard to believe the islands past history when it looks like an idyllic paradise.

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Île Saint-Joseph was the harshest of the islands where criminals were sent for solitary confinement and for extra punishment they would be kept in the dark. We did go for a visit to the island and had a walk around, past a cemetery and remnants of ruined buildings.  We should have spent more time wandering the island.

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