St Laurent was founded in 1857 by the French government as a penal colony modelled on Britain's use of Australia. In just under 90 years, some 70,000 prisoners were transported here from mainland France and then sent to prison camps along the Maroni basin. The camps finally closed in 1946, but the town's entire history has been informed by its brutal and sad past.

Today, St Laurent houses the country's finest colonial architecture and remains dominated by penal buildings and the ghosts of its prisoners. Along the banks of the Fleuve Maroni (Marowijne River), bordering Suriname, St Laurent is also a place to take a river trip to Maroon and Amerindian settlements. It's set up better for tourism than any other town in the country including Cayenne and, if you've been getting frustrated by the difficulty of travel in French Guiana, you'll find it refreshingly easy to organize activities here.