Experience the Chilling Island of the Dolls in Mexico

Island of the Dolls
By Esparta Palma - https://www.flickr.com/photos/esparta/2994076542/sizes/o/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5157591

There’s something really creepy about dolls. Even though they’re given to children, their glassy eyes and vacant stares can also be the stuff of nightmares. As countless horror movies have shown, dolls arouse a peculiar fear in some people. And once you visit this chilling Island of the Dolls in Mexico and hear the tragic story of Don Julian Santana Barrera, you’ll start to understand that fear. You also might get rid of any dolls that still live in your house.

A Guide To Mexico’s Island Of The Dolls

When you travel to Isla de las Munecas, otherwise known as the Island of the Dolls, you have to go by boat. Drifting along the quiet river, the boat pushing aside lily pads, you could almost believe you were in one of the most peaceful places on earth.

The island is a place where animals thrive, and the locals live slow, peaceful lives. And when you visit, you might find yourself falling into that rhythm. That is, until you see the decapitated, decaying dolls and doll parts dangling from trees like they’ve been hanged. It’s a shocking sight, and one that’s drawn in visitors of all kinds who want to take pictures and experience the creepy feeling of being watched by hundreds of dolls’ eyes.

This spooky doll island is located in the Xochimilco canals on Teshuilo Lake, which is about 17 miles south of the center of Mexico City. It’s surrounded by canals and other landmasses that are home to lots of people who are living ordinary lives. But only dolls and the spirits that might inhabit them live on the island itself.

If you want to visit the island of the dolls, it’s best to leave from Embarcadero Cuemanco. Doll island is a popular tourist destination, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding transport for the 4-hour trip. On the way, you’ll be able to see a variety of wildlife from pelicans to water snakes and birds. But the real attraction is the hundreds of broken, mangled dolls hanging from the trees in a bizarre tribute to the dead.

The History Of Doll Island

The history of the doll island is undeniably sad. Over 50 years ago, a man named Don Julian Santana Barrera moved to the island leaving behind his wife and child behind. He was a recluse, and probably planned to live out the rest of his life on the island. While he was there, he claimed to have found a young girl drowned in the canal. As the story goes, he tried to save her but failed. Later, he found a doll floating in one of the canals and believed that it had belonged to the girl. As a gesture of respect and mourning, he hung the doll on a tree.

But it didn’t stop there for Julian, who believed that the girl’s ghost lived on the island and was haunting him. To please her spirit, he continued hanging more dolls. He built up quite a collection, and some say that he soon realized that the dolls themselves were becoming possessed by the spirits of other dead girls. If true, this didn’t stop him. For the rest of his life, he continued to collect dolls and hang them as a macabre memorial to all the lost young lives.

A Sad End To Julian’s Story

Don Julian Santana Barrera died after fifty years on the island of the dolls. There is some confusion about the manner of his death. Some say he had a heart attack and that his death was quite ordinary. But others tell a creepier, circular story. Some people claim that he was found drowned in the spot where he said he’d found the girl.

Julian’s story of the drowned girl has mostly been dismissed. There are no records of the event, and most people believe he made it up, perhaps out of loneliness and mental illness. But whatever the truth, Julian devoted his entire life to honoring the girl and her loss. And his dedication and fidelity have to be respected, even when they’re expressed in such a creepy way.

Why Dolls?

Creepy dolls, woods, haunted
Image by Mac DeStroir from Pixabay

The origin of dolls on the island is varied. Julian collected many of them from the canals and from the trash. He accepted every doll that he was given or could find too. Some of them were old or broken, thrown out by their previous owners. But he didn’t try to fix the dolls or clean them up. Instead, he hung them up in the condition they’d come in. This is why there are dolls heads and limbs strewn all over the island.

Even the dolls that were whole didn’t stay that way. Long years in the sun and rain left them cracked and broken, distorted and strange. This is part of the reason why the island of dolls is so creepy today. But Julian didn’t mean for his collection to be frightening. In fact, he thought of the dolls as the beautiful protectors of the girl and of himself. He found a kind of comfort in their soulless eyes that just doesn’t translate when you step onto the island for yourself.

Julian devoted his life to the island of the dolls. According to the stories, he grew produce on the island and traded it to the nearby villagers for more dolls. He did everything he could to keep honoring the dead girl in his peculiar way. And that dedication created an island that’s a testament to his kindness and the creepiness of deformed dolls.

The Ever-Growing Doll Collection

As time went on, Julian wasn’t the only person who contributed to the island’s doll collection. As the fame of the island grew, tourists and other visitors to the island brought new dolls for the collection and Julian welcomed them all. This was part of the reason why he welcomed visitors, showed them around, and allowed them to take photographs for a small fee.

And even though Julian died years ago, his collection continues to grow. Visitors to the island keep bringing new dolls, keeping Julian’s 50-year dedication alive. And perhaps visitors who bring new dolls to the island are also doing their part to honor the life that dedicated itself so completely to a single purpose.

The Haunting of Doll Island

Don Julian Santana Barrera, island of the dolls
By Amrith Raj – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19021971

While Julian’s motives were admirable and even beautiful, the island of the dolls is more often portrayed as a nightmarish location. Julian claimed that the dolls were possessed by the spirits of dead girls and the idea doesn’t seem so farfetched. It’s now home to hundreds of dolls that are a tangle of twisted, broken limbs and decapitated heads. And when you walk through the trees with those broken, tormented eyes staring at you, it’s not a stretch to think that they might be something more than plastic. It’s really no wonder that the island of dolls is thought of as such a scary location.

Some visitors to the island also believe that there’s more going on. Local legends hold the island in high esteem, some claiming that it’s a charmed or even sacred place. And others claim darker things. Some witnesses report seeing the dolls moving their limbs or heads and even opening their eyes. Others say they’ve heard the dolls whispering to them or each other, a truly nightmarish idea if it’s true. The dolls are even rumored to lure in passers-by, perhaps wanting company on their tiny island.

The Island of the Dolls In The Media

The fame of the island has only grown over the years. For starters, it’s become a popular tourist attraction, bringing in travelers from all around the world to see the hanging dolls. Even the four-hour trip to the island isn’t a barrier to these spook seekers.

But all the stories about haunting and the chilling nature of the island have done more than bring in travelers. It’s also brought the media. The island has been featured in numerous articles and TV shows over the years. The television show Ghost Adventures even dedicated a whole episode to exploring the island and its creepy inhabitants. All these people have tried to learn the truth of the island, but that dolls at least don’t seem to be sharing.

If you have a strong constitution, then make sure the Island of the dolls is on your travel bucket list. It might give you nightmares, but it should also prove to you how kind people can be sometimes.


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