Islas Marías: This summer’s tourism boom for the Riviera Nayarit

  • The islands, located some 120 km off the coast of San Blas, will be open to tourists for one-day excursions starting in July 2021.

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 the Riviera Nayarit’s summer tourism boom.

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. As of July 2021, Maria Madre—the main and most developed island—will open for tourists as part of an inclusive and environmentally responsible program.

The “Muros de Agua—José Revueltas Environmental and Cultural Education Center,” part of the Islas Marías / Isla María Madre Integral Project, was presented by Mexico’s Federal Government and is headed by the Ministry of the Navy. The Environmental Ministry, the Ministry of Tourism, and the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas are also involved, as is as a support council made up of the Federation and the state governments of Nayarit and Sinaloa.

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.


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.

In charge of managing the site, the Secretary of the Navy 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 central Balleto 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. You can also hike to the monumental Christ, which, as its name suggests, is 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 Riviera Nayarit’s tourist offer grows

Regarding this new attraction, the managing director of the Riviera Nayarit Visitors and Convention Bureau, Marc Murphy, said that although at one time there were thousands of people inhabiting the islands, they now have to be careful to keep visitors to a minimum.

“We’re excited about this new development that will enhance the Riviera Nayarit’s tourism offerings and continue to reinforce our commitment to providing responsible and sustainable travel experiences,” he said.

Notably, 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. According to the Integral Project of the Islas Marías Biosphere Reserve, they are a paradise for birdwatchers given that they are home to the Amazonas Tres Marías, a parrot endemic to the islands. Other endemic birds include blue-footed boobies, blue mockingbirds, broad-billed hummingbirds, and migratory birds such as the hook-billed kite, Caspian tern, and blue-winged teal.

The Riviera Nayarit is a safe destination. Hotels, restaurants, and tourist establishments follow all the health protocols established by the Federal Government’s Ministry of Health and operate at the allowed capacities. Access to the beaches is limited. Be a responsible tourist: wear your mask and keep your distance.

We’re ready!


The Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the Bahía de Banderas Hotel and Motel Association (AHMBB) work tirelessly to jointly promote the region with the support of the Government of the State of Nayarit through its Tourism Promotion Trust (Fiprotur).