Mexico’s “water walls” become an ecotourism site – French version

Alcatraz and Devil’s Island are legendary, and the Islas Marías may soon be joining their ranks, that is, if the Mexican tourism authorities have a say. The four-island archipelago 60 miles off the coast of Riviera Nayarit has served as Mexico’s federal prison for over a century. Today it is in the spotlight as the latest ecotourism destination in the Mexican Pacific.

It’s an incredible transformation for the chain of islands, made up of Cleofas, María Magdalena, San Juanito and María Madre. María Madre, the site of the prison, has been the only inhabited island over the years. The closure of the prison in 2019 by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marked the end of island penal settlements in the Americas.

Lopez Obrador announced that the prison would become a cultural center, sparking major renovations. The “Muros de Agua-José Revueltas Environmental and Cultural Education Center” (named after a famous political prisoner and his book “Walls of Water”) is now dedicated to biodiversity and conservation. Work is also underway to transform the islands into a sustainable tourist destination. The aim is to offer boat trips that will preserve the ecosystem, as well as help the local economy.

The island’s references are certainly stellar: the Marías Islands were declared a Protected Natural Area in 2000, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005 and a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2010. Its most recent honor came on the 26th August 2021, when the Mexican government declared the Marías Biosphere Reserve fully protected marine area. The new status means that the reserve is now a non-exploitation zone, in which fishing, mining, drilling or other extraction activities are prohibited.

Among the riches of the Islas Marías Biosphere Reserve are healthy reefs and corals. Bird watchers (forgive the pun) will flock to the islands, looking for the endemic Amazonas Tres Marías parrot, blue-footed boobies, blue mockingbirds, broad-billed hummingbirds, and rare migratory colonies.

Since the prison closed, scientists have identified 21 species of sharks, 10 types of rays and three different species of sea turtles in the waters of the islands. Whale sharks are also common. If clients are adventurous, they may be drawn to the islands’ ideal surf conditions; they include consistent breaks and one of the longest waves in the Americas.

Day trips to the Islas Marías are possible from San Blas on Riviera Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. The journey time will vary from three to six hours, depending on the type of boat used. The Office of the Secretary of the Navy, which manages the site, said the ferries would anchor off María Madre. From there, annexes will transport passengers to the pier. The Secretary of Tourism (Sectur) warns that visitors must stay less than 24 hours, as there are no hotels on the islands.

Planned attractions for the island include a museum dedicated to the history of the prison, craft shops and traditional markets. Bike rides are developed for in-depth exploration. Ensuring that the number of visitors to the Marías is properly limited is a priority, according to Marc Murphy, general manager of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Tourism Office.

“We are excited about this new development which will enhance Riviera Nayarit’s eclectic offering and continue to solidify our commitment to providing responsible and sustainable travel experiences,” said Murphy. “The Marías Islands will offer visitors new opportunities to enjoy our unparalleled natural beauty and an exceptional chance to be a part of history in the making, as we transform a penitentiary into an educational center. “

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Last modification: September 4, 2021

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