<p>Mexico’s president hopes that the Islas Marias will become a tourist destination like Robben Island and Alcatraz</p>

Mexico’s president hopes that the Islas Marias will become a tourist destination like Robben Island and Alcatraz

Mexican prison island to be transformed from ‘hell’ to idyllic holiday spot

’What was a hell is becoming a paradise,’ says Mexico’s president

Lucy Thackray
Monday 11 April 2022 12:11
Comments

A former island prison complex in Mexico is hoping to reinvent itself as a tourism destination, three years after prison operations were shut down.

The Islas Marias - known as “Mexico’s Alcatraz” - are a four-hour boat ride from Mexico’s Pacific Coast, in the Nayarit region, which is home to popular surfer towns and whale watching.

The islands were registered as a Natural Protected Area (ANP) and official biosphere reserve, and later made a Unesco World Heritage Site.

However, they served as a penal colony for over 100 years, from 1905 to when the facility was finally closed down in 2019.

Now the Mexican government wants to reinvent the four-island archipelago into a tourism hotspot, with an ecotourism focus.

In February 2019, president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador first signed a declaration to confirm the transformation of the penal colony into a museum and cultural centre; on Saturday 9 April, he announced that the Mexican navy will be in charge of managing tours, as well as unveiling new plans for two ferries to the islands and improvements to their airport.

Ferries will also shorten the transfer time from the coast to 2.5 hours to increase accessibility.

“What was a hell is becoming a paradise,” said the president.

It is thought that authorities hope it will become a tourist attraction, like San Francisco’s Alcatraz island or South Africa’s Robben Island - made famous by former inmate Nelson Mandela - but Mr Lopez Obrador has also suggested the destination will have an ecotourism slant.

Some of the former penal colony buildings have already been converted into an education environmental centre, while the president said at the weekend that visitors would be able to stay in them, to avoid any additional construction work that could affect the ecosystem and wildlife.

He added that everything could be ready for tourists in three months’ time - but critics say this may be hampered by Mexico’s hurricane season, which begins in June.

The risk of the islands being buffeted by hurricanes was one of several reasons why the prison complex was shut down.

“We lived in a chicken coop,” former inmate Beatriz Maldonado told Bloomberg on Sunday, recalling how 500 female prisoners shared just five bathrooms.

Maldonaldo spent a year on the islands after being charged with possession of drugs and a weapon.

“They didn’t pay attention to us when someone got sick,” says the 55-year-old. “My friend’s gallbladder ruptured.”

She says that some tried to escape and drowned in the process.

“I lost my smile, my happiness.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in