Islas Marías: From Prison to a New Vallarta · Nayarit Landmark
On December 21st, 2022, one of Mexico’s most notorious prisons will start a new chapter as a Pacific Ocean getaway.
Last Friday, president López Obrador opened the Islas Marías Tourist Center, bidding to turn the decades-old federal prison in the Islas Marías archipelago into a new environmental attraction and place for history lovers.
Alongside villas to lodge guests, a restaurant, a cafe and beaches, the revamped site includes an arch named after Nelson Mandela, who spent some 18 years behind bars on South Africa’s Robben Island before being elected president of the country.
Located about 62 miles off the western state of Nayarit, the Islas Marías became a prison in 1905 under Porfirio Díaz government and was in almost constant use until it was closed by López Obrador in 2019.
The penitentiary once housed many political prisoners, including José Revueltas, an influential Mexican writer imprisoned several times for his left-wing activism.
The current government has announced tourist packages to the islands, with ferries to the main settlement of Puerto Balleto starting this week. The center will be run by the Mexican Navy and is part of a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Mexico has enjoyed a post-pandemic tourist boom, with international arrivals to the country rising by 56.4 % percent during the first 10 months of 2022, compared with the same period last year, and up 7.3 percent in comparison to 2019.