November 30, 2023 | Mathew Burke

The Island of the Dolls

The Island of the Dolls

Creepy dolls and tourist split image

Nestled deep within the picturesque Xochimilco canals of Mexico City, there lies an island shrouded in an eerie and mystifying atmosphere.

This is the Island of the Dolls, or "Isla de las Muñecas" in Spanish.

This peculiar place has gained international fame for its chilling yet intriguing collection of dolls that hang from trees and structures, each one with a unique story to tell.

Location of the Island

Creepy dollWikimedia Commons

The Island of the Dolls is situated in the Teshuilo Lake, a part of the expansive Xochimilco canals system in the southern outskirts of Mexico City.

Xochimilco itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its network of canals and artificial floating gardens, or "chinampas," which date back to pre-Hispanic times.

Julian Santana Barrera

Shrine to Don JulianPx-lga, Wikimedia Commons

The legend of the Island of the Dolls centers around a man named Julian Santana Barrera, also known as "Don Julian," who inhabited the island for several decades. He was born in 1921 and lived on the island until his death in 2001.

According to local folklore, Julian discovered the island in the 1950s when he moved to Xochimilco to live in isolation.

The island was uninhabited and filled with a variety of wildlife, but Julian soon claimed to have experienced supernatural occurrences.

The Legend of the Dolls

Creepy DollsPx-lga, Wikimedia Commons

Legend has it that Julian found the body of a young girl drowned in the canal near the island. Shortly thereafter, he discovered a doll floating in the same water. Believing that these events were connected and that the girl's spirit still lingered, Julian started collecting discarded and damaged dolls from the canals and garbage dumps.

He began hanging them from the trees on the island as a way to appease the spirit of the girl and protect himself from evil forces.

Over time, Julian's collection grew into thousands of dolls, each with missing limbs, broken faces, or decaying bodies. The eerie sight of these dolls hanging from trees with lifeless eyes and disheveled appearances created a haunting and unsettling atmosphere on the island.


The Dolls Became an Obsession

Broken dolls Psagency1990, Wikimedia Commons

Don Julian's obsession with the dolls led him to hang them not only from trees but also on the structures he built on the island, such as a small hut and a makeshift shrine. He believed that the dolls protected him from the wicked spirit of the drowned girl and the other restless spirits that he claimed inhabited the island.

Julian rarely left the island and had limited contact with the outside world. He would occasionally trade vegetables and fruits grown on the island for supplies with passing visitors.

The dolls became his sole companions, and he would often talk to them as if they were alive.

Cultural Significance

Tourist with broken dollsRevistaenigmas-1995, Wikimedia Commons

After Don Julian's death in 2001, the Island of the Dolls became a tourist attraction, drawing people from around the world. The dolls that he had collected and hung on the island remain there, continuing to intrigue and fascinate visitors.

The island's eerie ambiance has led to its inclusion in numerous paranormal and supernatural television shows and documentaries, further adding to its mystique. Some visitors claim to have experienced unsettling encounters, such as hearing whispers or seeing the dolls move on their own.

Visiting the Island

Boat at the island of the dollsPx-lga, Wikimedia Commons

Tourists can visit the Island of the Dolls. It has become a popular tourist destination over the years. Visitors can take a trajinera, a colorful and flat-bottomed boat, from the Xochimilco docks to reach the island.

The journey through the canals is as fascinating as the island itself, offering picturesque views of the lush flora and traditional Mexican culture.

Final Thoughts

Creepy dollsEmmanuel Eslava, Wikimedia Commons

The Island of the Dolls stands as a unique and mysterious destination, blending elements of folklore, tragedy, and eccentricity. It serves as a testament to the human capacity for both creativity and the need to cope with life's uncertainties through various forms of expression.

Whether you're a thrill-seeker drawn to its eerie charm or a curious traveler interested in folklore and cultural oddities, the Island of the Dolls offers an unforgettable experience that continues to captivate and mystify visitors to this day.

Don Julian's haunting vision lives on, ensuring that this eerie island remains a place where legends and dolls come to life, if only in the imagination.