The Island of the Dolls, Mexico

Island of the Dolls

The Island of the Dolls (“La Isla de las Muñecas”) is an area located on the banks of the famous canals of Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City, where “dead” and mangled dolls swing eerily from the tree branches.

The so-called, Dead Dolls Island, located in the canals of Xochimilco, south of the center of Mexico City, very close to the Estadio Azteca, is the chinampa of Laguna de Teshuilo and one of the main attractions of the canals.

If you have a fascination for scary places, urban legends, and spine-chilling stories about ghosts, and the paranormal, then you absolutely can’t afford to miss a thrilling excursion to the scary and mystic Island of the Dolls.

What makes the Island of the Dolls unique?

There are hundreds of dolls, many of which have had their limbs torn off, beheaded, or otherwise mutilated. The effect of these lifeless figures swaying in the wind is understandably eerie, and disturbing stories abound.

Broken and worn-out dolls can be found throughout the scary Island of Dolls. Locals believe that these waters are haunted by ghosts and nahual, people who take the form of animals, often perform magic or cause harm.

The island’s former owner, Julian Santana Barrera, was the first person to hang broken dolls on trees. Julian Santana believed that the dolls helped drive away the spirit of a young woman who drowned there many years ago.

What is the story of the Island of Dolls?

The Island of the Dolls is full of dolls hanging from trees and buildings covered in cobwebs and insects. The place got its name in the 1950s when Julian Santana Barrera began hanging them as protection against spirits.

Santana was a neighbor of the Barrio de la Asunción (in the east of Mexico City), where he used to drink pulque after selling vegetables until superstition led him to preach the Bible and he was driven out of the area.

There are many myths about the Island of the Dolls. According to legend, a young woman (girl) drowned after becoming entangled among the lilies of the canal, and her body was found on the banks of the chinampas.

Julian Santana began to encounter inexplicable situations, so in horror, he put down the dolls that he found in the trash heap or in the canals, with the thought that they would frighten the soul of the young woman.

Julian Santana also found a doll floating nearby and, assuming it belonged to the deceased girl, hung it from a tree as a sign of respect. Later, he began to hear whispers, footsteps, and anguished wails in the darkness.

His hut was hidden deep inside the woods of Xochimilco, away from civilization.

Driven by fear, Julian Santana spent the next 50 years hanging more and more dolls, some missing body parts, around the Island of Dolls in an attempt to appease what he believed to be the spirit of the drowned girl.

In 1987, during a rescue mission by eco-tourists, the Dolls Island was discovered.

Since then, this island has become a place of curious eyes.

The island first became known after 1943 when Mexican director Emilio Fernandez filmed his famous “Maria Candelaria” (also known as “Xochimilco”), a romantic drama that stars Dolores del Río and Pedro Armendáriz.

The fact that this island was included in the film further increased its fame.

After Julian Santana’s death in 2001, his body was reportedly found in the exact spot where he found the girl’s body 50 years earlier, the site has become a popular tourist attraction, with visitors bringing more dolls.

Locals describe the Island of the Dolls as “enchanted” rather than “haunted”, although travelers claim the dolls whisper to them.

How to get to the Island of the Dolls

Embarcadero Cuemanco is an embarkation point where visitors can access trajineras.

Trajineras are traditional Mexican boats used for navigating the canals of Xochimilco. These vibrant-colored boats are a popular way to explore the scenic canals of Xochimilco and visit attractions like the Island of the Dolls.

It takes about 40 minutes by car from Mexico City.

It can take about 1 hour to reach Embarcadero Cuemanco by the metro. The nearest metro station to Embarcadero Cuemanco is the “Olivar del Conde”, which is part of Line 12 of the Mexico City Metro system.

Then take a taxi or “collectivo” to reach Embarcadero Cuemanco.

Where is the Island of the Dolls?

The Dolls Island is a 1.5-hour drive from Embarcadero Cuemanco. The only access is via trajinera. Most rowers are ready to transport visitors to the island, but there are also those who refuse due to superstition.

The excursion begins along maze-like canals. The trajinera journey lasts about 1 hour and includes a tour of the Ecological Area, the Ajolote Museum, the Apatlaco Canal, the Teshuilo Lagoon, and the Llorona Island.

From the start, the canals are surrounded by lush greenery and birdsong, but soon the boat is slowed by a swarm of water lilies and the canal falls into an eerie silence. It looks so surreal with hanging dolls around.

The Island of the Dolls, Mexico

Hundreds, maybe thousands of dolls hanging from trees on a tiny island.

The island also has a small museum with articles from local newspapers about the island and the previous owner – Julian Santana. There is a store and 3 rooms, one of which appears to have been used as a bedroom.

This bedroom contains the first doll the island’s former owner, Julian Santana, collected, as well as Agustinita, his favorite doll. Some visitors place offerings around this doll in exchange for miracles and blessings.

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