Ever since Mexico’s Federal Government announced the opening of the Islas Marías as an educational tourist attraction last March, what was once the last island-prison on the American continent has been on everyone’s lips and promises to become a new Riviera Nayarit landmark.

The Islas Marías are an archipelago of four islands: Cleofas, María Magdalena, San Juanito and María Madre, located about 120 km off the coast of San Blas, Nayarit. As of July 2021, María Madre—the main and most developed island—will open for visitors as part of an inclusive and environmentally responsible program.

According to the Ministry of Tourism (SECTUR), the area known as Puerto Balleto will be accessible to national and international visitors traveling as day-trippers, that is, those who do not sleep on the site and stay less than 24 hours, since there are no hotels in the area and camping will not be allowed.

Departure Points

Day-trippers may depart for Islas Marías from San Blas, Nayarit; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco; and Mazatlán, Sinaloa. Travel time will depend on the type of boat and could be between four and six hours.

The Secretary of the Navy, in charge of managing the site, informed that the ferries would anchor 870 meters southeast of Puerto Balleto. From there, small tender-type boats will line up alongside to be boarded by visitors bound for the dock.

Once on the island, visitors can access various attractions and activities, including visits to the Site Museum, where they will learn about the prison history. There will also be stops in Balleto’s downtown to visit the traditional market, the handicrafts store, the souvenir shop, the Henequen Museum, and the Plaza Benito Juárez.

Bike rides are planned for the more adventurous to explore the island on the other side of Puerto Balleto, where the old airport is located. You can also hike to the monumental Christ, which is, as its name suggests, a giant sculpture visible from the sea. The return is through the pier to the ship and from there back to the departure point.

The Islas Marías were declared a Natural Protected Area in 2000, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2010.