Active + Adventure

Controversial Tourist Attractions

by Bob Payne

Devil's Island
French Guiana

The infamy: For almost a century, until 1946, a notorious prison camp occupied a group of three small islands in the Atlantic Ocean and a swath of mainland coast in French Guiana. Considered France's Guantanamo Bay, it was a place where inmates lived in fear not of waterboarding but of being eaten alive by piranhas or having their heads lopped off by fellow prisoners for the amusement of the guards.

Tasteless tourism? Once hell on earth, except with more mosquitoes, the largest and most accessible isle is now being promoted as a pleasant place for cruise ship passengers to stretch their legs among the weathered stone walls and palm trees, while mentally adding another check mark to their life list of exotic destinations bagged. For those who want to stay overnight, there's a small hotel, L'Auberge des Îles du Salut, with air-conditioned rooms and a gift shop stocked with knickknacks not unlike those found in Miami's airport (amenities the inmates would no doubt have enjoyed). And for those who see marriage as a life sentence, you can even have your wedding here.

Why go? A useful lesson in hubris is to get a sense of how, in times other than ours, the mightiest and professedly most loftily virtuous nation on earth treated fellow human beings. And since over 60 years has passed, it's probably time to let this place reinvent its image from penitentiary to exotic paradise.

L'Auberge des Îles du Salut, rooms from $80 (without air conditioning) or $224 (with AC). Cruises from $52.

Next: Going underground >

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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