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Islas Marías: hidden paradise in the Pacific Ocean

Just 110 kilometers from San Blas’ Port in Nayarit, you can find Islas Marías archipelago. They are conformed by the María Madre island, María Magdalenda island, and María Cleofás island, and also the islet of San Juanito.

María Madre is the largest and most populated island. In fact a prisoners colony has been there since 1905. It is the only island in our country that is used as prison, and the prisoners’ families live there.

Islas Marías, famous prision in Mexico
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Freedom in a paradise that’s still prison

This community of Islas Marías is full of stories and myths as a Social Re-adaptation Center. It is guarded by 80 navy elements and 49 custodians, but the real safety is the sea and the 21 shark species that surround them.

People are organized in camps and the largest community is Puerto Balleto. Their living consists on agriculture, carpentry, livestock, pig farming, aquaculture, beekeeping, manual activities and fishing.

The history begins in 1905 when Porfirio Diaz bought the archipelago for the price of 150 thousand pesos. That same year, on May 12, he decided to turn this islands into a colonial jail.

Islas Marías were a prision
El Financiero

President Álvaro Obregón used this location to imprison criminals and politicians who opposed to his regime. Also, Plutarco Elías Calles sent many prisoners from the Cristero rebellion.

It was by the end of December 1939 that president Lázaro Cárdenas authorized prisoners to live with their families under the responsibility of the Ministry, in the official gazette.

A cycle that comes to an end

Back in the day, prisoners where admitted according to how dangerous they were. Later, those who where against the state. And it was on the eighties when only low risk criminals were accepted to inhabit the community.

They certainly must meet some requirements to be there. Such as: having a sentence of minimus 2 years, not being under juridic authority, not belonging to organized criminal groups, being between 20 and 50 years old, being physically and mentally healthy and having low income.

Islas Marías, María Madre
Quadratín

This site has been relevant up to these days because it will now become a cultural and touristic center, instead of being a prison. This was one of the promises our current president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, made during his campaign.

It may be called ‘Muros de Agua-José Revueltas’ in honor to the Mexican writer and activist who was imprisoned on these islands in 1932 and 1934.

Visiting Islas Marías?

It has a wide variety of ecosystems. From mangroves, jungles, beaches, reeds, and forests in which a large number of endemic species live.

It has an area of 641 thousand and 284 acres. It has been a Protected Natural Area since 2000 within the category of a Biosphere Reserve. Also, in 2005, it was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Marias Islands are home to 158 species of birds, most of them endemic, like the yellow-headed parrot, broad-billed hummingbird, golden pigeon, tropical Padilla of the islands and blue mulatto. It is part of the program Important Bird Conservation Areas of CONABIO.

Islas Marías, hidden paradise
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The marine life is not left behind. There are 21 species of sharks, and 10 of rays, from which the hammerhead shark stands out. Also, because of its location, they are part of the migration route of the humpback whale, gray whale, killer, whales, sea lines, and dolphins.

Hopefully, we will soon witness all the nature and wonders these Pacific Ocean islands have had hidden throughout the years.

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Yure Pérez

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