Warning!!! This post contains pretty graphic photos of really creepy dolls. Read on at your own risk.
We often have people ask us to tell them the favorite place we’ve ever visited. Or which place we liked the least. But I think the places that fall somewhere else on the spectrum are the ones with the best stories and the quirkiest memories. And it’s October, my favorite month for celebrations (like my birthday) and creepy things (even though I’m a huge scaredy cat). So, for the next several weeks, we’ll be celebrating some of the creepier spots we’ve visited on our travels. This week, it’s La Isla de Las Muñecas – the island of the dolls – located in the chinampas of Xochimilco, just outside Mexico City.
First off, the island of the dolls isn’t really an island. It’s a chinampa, a floating garden/buildup of soil originally created by the Aztecs as a way to create places for agriculture along the lake there. They used frames made of cane to create what are essentially buildups of soil along the canals of the lake in order to grow their crops.
Visiting the island involves a 2 hour trip (each way) in a trajinera – a flat bottomed boat that a man poles through the canals. And it’s not the usual trip. People typically go out to Xochimilco to rent a trajinera for an afternoon of floating and partying, complete with food, bands, and bars on other trajineras that float along with you. Our trip was a bit more sinister and a lot further than your usual afternoon fiesta. We quickly left the other trajineras behind and ended up the only boat that we saw for a very long time, as our trajinera began to get bogged down amongst the water lillies and our guy worked hard to keep us from getting trapped. Perfect scenario for me to freak myself out.
We hopped off the boat, excited to explore.
The Island of the Dolls is the former home of Julian Santana Barrera, a recluse who moved here after his fiancee left him for another man, breaking his heart. He grew flowers and vegetables, which he sold in the closest town, but never spoke to anyone.
Legend has it that, not long after he arrived, he found a local girl drowned in the canal. He was haunted by the fact that he couldn’t save her. Several weeks later, he found a doll floating in the canal not far from where he had found the girl. He believed it belonged to her and hung it on a tree in tribute to, and with respect for, the dead girl.
Julian became obsessed and was convinced that the spirit of the dead girl had possessed the doll, and that she was haunting him. So he began to hang up more and more dolls to appease her. But he began to hear whispers in the woods at night. Footsteps. And the anguished cries of a woman, even though he lived far away from anyone. He hung up even more dolls as a way to protect himself from the girl’s ghost.
For decades, he hung up dolls, convinced he was haunted by the girl who drowned.
In 2001, his nephew discovered him drowned in almost the same spot where he had found the girl all those years ago.
The island was left to the elements for a while. Insects and moss moved in. It was never supposed to become a tourist attraction, but people started to make the trek out there to experience the creepiness. So the family now runs it as a tourist attraction and charges a small fee for you to visit. And it is creepy quirky. Dolls hang everywhere, strapped to trees and walls, and hiding in the grass.
Some people claim they can hear the dolls whispering, but we didn’t hear a thing while we were there. I did have trouble sleeping later that night.
Many visitors to the island bring dolls or other offerings to leave behind.
Would we go back again? Probably not. It took us 7 hours roundtrip (on public transportation from Mexico City and then the boat trip) for a 30 minute visit on the island. Plus, it was super creepy and I already don’t sleep all that much. But, we’re super glad that we did get to see this crazy product of one man’s delusions.
Next week in our Creeptober series: the Mummies of Guanajuato! muahahahaha…..