Visit the Islas Marias and Explore the Legendary Mexican Alcatraz

Would you go on vacation to Las Islas Marias, Mexico? At some point, it was the most feared place by the prisoners.

In 1905, the government of Porfirio Díaz established the Islas Marias Federal Penal Colony in the archipelago of the same name, whose center was located on the largest island called Maria Madre.

However, it later became a“rehab” site for inmates since they were allowed to live with their families until the prison closed for good in 2019.

Since December 2022, these islands have been open for recreation and leisure for people who wish to visit on their next vacation.

Converting this prison into a vacation spot was one of the first tasks of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2019.

Where is Las Isla Marias?

The “Marias” archipelago is located in the Pacific Ocean, 112 kilometers west of the coast of San Blas, in the state of Nayarit.

Las Islas Marias comprises four main islands:

  1. Maria Madre
  2. Maria Magdalena
  3. Maria Cleofas
  4. San Juanito and five islets

Interesting fact: in 2010, the group of islands was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO to protect its more than 1,590 registered species of flora and fauna, many of them endemic or in danger of extinction.

Top things to do in Las Islas Marias

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Maria Madre Island will have several tourist attractions to visit during your next trip.

For example, the site museum tells the story of what this island was like in prison times and what happened there for more than 100 years.

You can visit the Plaza Juarez, the town center, the Guadalupe Temple, and the Muros de Agua Jose Revueltas Auditorium, where you will see murals representative of the islands made by the prisoners.

Hiking and urban or mountain biking will also be available, where you can observe impressive landscapes from the steep hills and monuments such as the Cristo Rey and the lighthouse or along paths and trails that run through the island.

The Camaronera, Calera, and Salinera, former forced labor centers for convicts, will be open to the public. 

On the natural side, visitors can enjoy a photographic safari to see the diversity of flora and fauna, especially several bird species.

And, from the Punta Halcones viewpoint, incredible views are promised.

You may want to read: Top 15 Beaches in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico: Your Guide to Paradise

How to visit Las Islas Marias, Mexico

islas marias mexico travel
The Islas Marias ferry

So far, the only way to get to the Marias Islands (arriving at Puerto Balleto) is sailing from the port of Mazatlan or San Blas via ferry, an approximately five-hour journey (flying to the Islands will be possible by the end of 2023).

The trip will cost around 5,500 pesos (270 USD) per person for two nights.

**For reservations and ticket purchasing, please visit the Marias website.

It includes tourist class seating, buffet meal, single bed, round trip transportation, access to the Natural Protected Area, guided tours, and travel insurance.

Prices may increase depending on ferry class and accommodations.

The most expensive is around 8,000 pesos (400 USD), including transportation in a private cabin, food, drinks, lodging in a two-bedroom house, round trip transportation, access to the Natural Protected Area, guided tours, and travel insurance.

The tours operate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and all the activity is centered on Maria Madre Island since the other three islands and islets don’t have tourist developments.

It is important to mention that there are no ATMs or card payments on the islands.

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