From 1852 to 1948, this island, one of three collectively called Les Iles de Salut (Salvation Islands), served as an infamous French prison, housing political prisoners (including Alfred Dreyfuss) and France's most violent criminals. Of 80,000 prisoners sent to the islands, more than 50,000 died. Since the prison was shut down, some of the buildings have been overgrown by the tropical vegetation. Devil's Island is strictly off-limits to visitors, but one can still sense the haunting atmosphere of the prison ruins from a boat tour.
All three of the islands, found 30 mi/48 km northwest of Cayenne, were used as prisons. Ile Royale, the largest (at just under 2 mi/3 km in diameter) allows camping and is the site of the only lodging, the Auberge des Iles de Salut, which was built at the summit of the island around the former guards' quarters and mess hall. It has great views of the surrounding terrain. In addition to the atmosphere and solitude, the islands offer good fishing (charters available).
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