Part of a small archipelago of three islands, nine miles offshore, the Islands of Salvation represent one of history's most macabre enterprises. When Napoleon III announced the intention to make 'forced labour more effective, more moralising, less expensive and more humane' in 1850, France began cramming its most despised prisoners aboard La Martiniere - a ship of the damned, which would set sail for Devil's Island. The islands were believed to be inescapable, although the best selling Papillion book and film, memorably details Henri Charrière apparently successful escape, on floating sacks of coconuts.
Top Sights and Activities
Royal Island was the administrative centre of the island, and was something like a small town, with amenities, a chapel and a hospital. You'll notice that security was minimal - guards knew full well that the shark-infested waters and vicious riptides meant any escape attempt was ultimately doomed.
Take a walk around Royale Island, which is the largest of the three, to discover crumbling buildings, partially reclaimed by nature's creeping vines, which have attempted to mask the horrible history here. The tiny cells where prisoners were entombed in darkness, to suffer years of solitary confinement, is perhaps the island's most harrowing sight.
Nature has a firm grip now - and as you walk the prisoner-built paths, you'll see streams of ants carrying oversized leaves above them like ship-sails, monkeys swinging playfully, and colourful parrots flashing overhead. Head to the island's highest point to look across at Devil's Island itself, which is closed to visitors due to the treacherous waters around it.
Royal Island's museum is the place to discover unsettling details about the horrors of the past - like the story of Route Zero, a darkly pointless road building exercise, devised as endless, futile hard labour.
Hotels & Restaurants
Despite the grisly history, the beauty of these islands still shines through, and it's hard to resist the chance to stay overnight at the island's only hotel, Auberge Iles du Salut. With stunning views of the Atlantic waves collapsing from your window, upgrading to a hammock room, so you can lie back and enjoy this unique location's unquestionable beauty, is always a tempting option.
There's also a shop on the island, where you can pick up your Devil’s Island souvenirs before getting back onto the ship, with an all new appreciation of the freedom you have to sail away from these gorgeous islands, which have been tainted by humanity.