The island that has gone from being a harsh and isolated prison to an ecological paradise

ABC Travel



The Marias Islands, one of the most paradisiacal and biodiverse archipelagos in Mexico located in the Pacific Ocean, will go from housing one of the most feared and isolated prisons in Mexico to becoming a natural reserve that will receive daily visitors starting this summer in a landmark project in ecotourism.

Mexico has announced that the archipelago of the Marías Islands, four islands located 60 miles off the coast of San Blas, in the Riviera Nayarit, will be open to visitors for the first time from July and will promote sustainable travel experiences. The Mexican government is working on updating the regulations that will allow sustainable tourism activities on the islands, which will respect the indigenous ecosystem and empower the local community.

The Marías Islands, which were declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2010, they offer great biological diversity, due to the isolation of the area and minimal human interference for decades. The heavenly archipelago was mostly uninhabited, except for María Madre Island, which has hosted a federal prison from 1905 to 2019, year in which it was closed. Since its closure, the building has undergone extensive renovations to become an educational center that promotes the conservation of biodiversity. The Center for Environmental and Cultural Education ‘Muros de Agua – José Revueltas’ is a project that seeks to promote understanding, respect and protection of biodiversity and the natural, social and cultural heritage of the country.

The largest island in the archipelago and the only inhabited one is María Madre

The largest island in the archipelago is María Madre, followed by María Magdalena, María Cleofas and the islet of San Juanito. Besides being the largest, Mary Mother is the only one that is inhabited and houses the Islas Marías Federal Prison. For more than a century it had several famous inmates, such as the writer and political activist José Revueltas.

Paradise for bird watchers, the Marías Islands are home to the Amazona de las Tres Marías, an endemic parrot that is not found anywhere else in the world. Other birds that we can find there are the famous blue-footed boobies, the blue mockingbirds, the broad-billed hummingbirds and other migratory birds such as the hook-billed kite, the Caspian tern and the blue-winged teal.

Divers and general snorkelers will appreciate the diversity of marine life, with Coral reefs, abundance of colored mollusks, more than 21 species of sharks and ten different varieties of stripes. The islands are the ideal starting or stopping point for whale watching expeditions. These islands are also perfect for surfing and other water sports. Hammerhead Beach, on María Cleofas Island, is ideal for surfing, and San Juanito Island has one of the longest waves in Latin America.

The Riviera Nayarit is full of impressive natural landscapes. From its vast coasts to its extraordinary mountains and lush forests, the region manages to stand out as one of the most spectacular places to visit in Mexico.

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