Known in English as the Salvation Islands, this archipelago was anything but that for prisoners sent here from the French mainland by Emperor Napoleon III and subsequent French governments. The three tiny islands, 15km north of Kourou over choppy, shark-infested waters, were considered escape-proof and particularly appropriate for political prisoners. These included Alfred Dreyfus, the French military officer convicted of treason for espionage, whose notorious trial and harsh sentencing became a cause célèbre for antisemitism. From 1852 to 1947, some 80,000 prisoners died from disease, inhumane conditions and the guillotine on these sad isles.
In the elapsing seven decades, the islands have become a relaxing delight – a place to escape to. Île Royale, once the administrative headquarters of the penal settlement, has several restored prison buildings, including a restaurant and guesthouse, while the smaller Île St Joseph and Île du Diable are both overgrown with coconut palms.