Mexico’s Isla Marias: From Prison to Tourist Destination

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One of Mexico’s most notorious prisons opened a new chapter this weekend as a Pacific resort, revamped to bring tourists back to the former penal colony.

On Friday night, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador opened the Marias Islands Tourism Center in an effort to bring dozens Year-old federal prison turned into an ambient attraction and venue for history buffs.

“It’s excursions, exploration, tourism with nature,” Lopez Obrador said this week. “To recreate history, it’s an extraordinary thing to do.”

As well as villas for entertaining guests, a restaurant, a café and the beach, the revamped grounds also include an arch named after Nelson Mandela, who served about 18 years in prison on South Africa’s Robben Island before being elected president .

The Mexican government said in a promotional video that Mandela was “an example that even behind prison walls, ideals and change can live on for those who want to change history”.

Exterior of the new Islas Marias Cultural Center.

Exterior of the new Islas Marias Cultural Center.

Raquel Cunha/Reuters

Marias Island, about 62 miles from the western state of Nayarit, became a prison under dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1905 and was used almost continuously until it was seized by Lopez in 2019 · Lopez Obrador closed.

The prison has housed many political prisoners, including Jose Revueltas, an influential Mexican writer who was jailed multiple times for his left-wing activism.

The government has announced tour packages to the islands, with a ferry to the main settlement of Puerto Pareto next week. The center will be operated by the Mexican Navy and is part of a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Mexico has experienced a post-pandemic tourism boom, with international arrivals to the country in the first 10 months of 2022 up 56.4% compared to the same period last year and 7.3% compared to 2019.

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