Mexico converts its own Alcatraz into tourist attraction

Mexico converts its own Alcatraz into tourist attraction

December 19, 2022

Mexico converts its own Alcatraz into tourist attraction: Feared Pacific coast prison island housed murderers, drug traffickers and thieves for 108 years

  • The Pacific Ocean archipelago Islas Marías will open as a tourist attraction Wednesday
  • The island is located 62 miles off the coast of the Mexican state of Nayarit 
  • It’s infamously known for being the site of the federal government’s penal colony that opened in 1905 and was shut down in 2019
  • The island has undergone a transformation and its prison dorm rooms have been converted into villas for tourists
  • It also features a museum, restaurant, café, and beaches

The Mexican government is hoping that a century-old, notorious prison camp island that once housed killers, drug traffickers, and thieves will become its next top tourist attraction in the Pacific.

On Friday night, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador celebrated the opening of the Islas Marías Tourist Center as part of a plan to draw history buffs to Islas Marías, the Pacific Ocean archipelago located about 62 miles off the coast of the state of Nayarit.

‘Imagine the enormous joy of resting, sleeping, waking up in this paradise that before became like hell, but now, once again, it is glory,’ the leftist leader said.

The revamped Islas Marías has villas that will lodge international and mainland tourists and features a museum, restaurant, café, and beaches.

The government is banking on it becoming a tourist draw like Alcatraz, the infamous prison located on an island in the San Francisco Bay. 

For 103 years, Mexico’s Islas Marías functioned as a penal colony that housed drug traffickers, murderers and crooks. It was shut down by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and has been revamped into a tourist attraction with villas, restaurants, beaches and a cultural and environmental learning center. The first visitors are expected to arrive at the Pacific Ocean archipelago Wednesday

The Mexican government removed inmates from the Islas Marías prison camp in 2019

Its entrance includes an arch that is named after Nelson Mandela, who spent nearly 18 years in prison on South Africa’s Robben Island before he was elected president of the country.

As part of a promotional video, the Mexican government hailed Mandela ‘as an example that even behind prison walls, ideals and change can live on for those who want to change history.’

Islas Marías was converted into a penal colony of the federal government by dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1905.

The prison camp eventually grew to nine holding facilities, which held infamous convicts like Spanish communist Ramón Mercader, the Soviet agent who murdered Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in August 1940.

The Mexican government hopes that Islas Marías, an archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean and about 62 miles off the coast of the western state of Nayarit, will spark an interest in lovers of nature and history

The Islas Marías penal colony featured at least nine facilities that housed drug traffickers, murders and other criminals

The prison system was renovated under the government of former President Ernesto Zedellio and in 2003 his administration declared the island a biosphere, but still continued to house inmates.

Prisoners on the island harvested salt and farmed shrimp. They tried to make a little money brewing their own alcohol from fermented fruits, illegally trading exotic birds or killing boa constrictors to make belts.

In later years, it was known as a “prison without walls” where some prisoners lived with their families in semi-freedom and relatively good conditions.

That changed when President Felipe Calderon launched the war against the drug cartels in 2006 and hundreds of new prisoners were sent there. In 2013, the inmate population reached 8,000.

López Obrador shut down the Marías in 2019 and converted it a place where visitors can watch birds, sunbathe in the beaches and take in some history lessons.

A bedroom is part of a house of the infamous Islas Marias prison colony in Islas Mari­as, Mexico

The cemetery of the former infamous Islas Marías prison colony located in the Pacific Ocean, 62 miles off the coast of the western Mexico state of Nayarit

 The Guadalupe capilla is pictured during a media tour at the Islas Marías Tourist Center 

Business on the island is being administered by the Mexican Secretary of the Navy.

‘This is tourism for excursions, to explore, to live with nature,’ López Obrador said. ‘To recreate history, it’s something exceptional, extraordinary.’

The first visitors will depart from Mazatlán, Sinaloa, in a ferry on Wednesday and arrive at the main settlement of Puerto Balleto.

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

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