Published on June 9th, 2012 | by Mark Chesnut

Palo Seco: Following the Trail of Leprosy “Colonies” around the Americas

“Palo Seco: Life Lessons from Leprosy” is a new book that explores U.S.-operated leprosy settlements, through photos and interviews with residents and former patients who’ve been forced to live there for decades. 


Until about ten years ago, I had always thought of leprosy as an affliction from centuries past. But my work as a travel writer gradually made me aware of a far-flung network of leprosy settlements operated by the U.S. government — in places as diverse as Panama, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Louisiana. In many cases, these are places that you can actually visit, and in some cases, where long-time residents still live. 

I began interviewing and photographing residents in some of these locations, to document their life stories. The result is my new book: “Palo Seco: Life Lessons from Leprosy.”

“Palo Seco” takes you inside the legendary places once called “leper colonies” (that term is now considered highly offensive), with exclusive photos and interviews made with leprosy patients who still live in historic settlements. These are personal stories of challenge and survival. 

The book is available in print format and also as a specially-priced e-book for iPad and iPhone, priced at just $5.99. I don’t usually hawk my own creations on this blog, but the people I’ve interviewed over the years have stories that deserve to be heard (travelers take note: facilities in both Hawaii and Louisiana — as well as the ruins of the site in Puerto Rico — can be visited by the public). 

To see more sample shots from the book and order the print or e-book, click here.

Once referred to with the politically incorrect term “leper colonies,” facilities like Palo Seco still exist today.

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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