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Here’s The Story Of The Island Of The Dolls, And Why People Go To Mexico Just To Visit

By Kathia Bello 12-16 minutes 11/5/2021

For those that love to haunt haunted places, or maybe just very avid Buzzfeed Unsolved fans, there is no juicier or scarier spot to visit than the Isla de las Muñecas, or Island of the Dolls, in the most famous chinampa - a type floating garden built by the Aztecs - of the canals of Xochimilco, just in the outskirts of Ciudad de Mexico.

The little island is the home of thousands and thousands of dolls, reportedly brought there to appease the tragic cries of a child’s spirit.

The Heartbreaking And Eerie Story Behind The Island Of The Dolls

The Island of the Dolls was previously owned by a local man, Julián Santana Barrera, before his mysterious death in 2001.

The story goes that over 50 years ago Santana Barrera saw a little girl and her sisters swimming along the bank of the river when the strong current carried one of them away. Julián dived in after her, but couldn’t reach her in time; the little girl drowned before he could save her. Reportedly Julián blamed himself for her death and was overcome with grief for the rest of his life.

He found the girl's toy doll floating nearby and hung it in the tree; versions of the legend vary as to his reasoning, some saying it was a sign of respect for the dead girl, other saying it was to protect himself from her and appease her spirit, others yet claiming it to protect the girls' spirit from other demons in the water.

Afterward, Santana Barrera started to collect even more dolls, to the point that people traded dolls with him for the produce of the island, and he hung them almost compulsively for the rest of his life. Eventually, the entire island was populated with abandoned and broken dolls.

According to some, he could hear footsteps, crying, and wails near his home...despite the fact he was a recluse, whose house was deep into the woods, without any neighbors for miles and miles. His family claims he procured the dolls “as if moved by an unseen force”, and many speculated that Santana Barrera himself could be possessed by the spirit of the little girl.

In 2001, Julián himself died mysteriously on his isolated island. His nephew, Anastasio Velasco, found Santana Barrera’s body floating in the water one day when he was helping his uncle plant pumpkins. It was reportedly in the exact same spot the little girl had drowned 50 years before.

Anastasio claims that at night it’s possible to hear both the girls crying and his uncles’ cane thumping on the ground.

A Creepy Landscape

The island is accessed through the maze of Xochimilco canals, and from the shore, you can see its eerie silhouette. The dolls hang in trees all around, broken, rotten, missing limbs, severed heads, ripped dresses, making a nightmarish landscape. Passersby and local folk alike swear that the dolls blink, move, and turn their heads to watch visitors as they walk around the island and that they can hear whispers and footsteps from within the dense woods.

The original first doll, alongside a few other of Santana Barrera’s “favorite” dolls, are all placed together on a shrine in a shed in the Island of the Dolls.

A Thrill-Seeking Tourist Haunt

Despite the fact it was never built to be so, today the Island of the Dolls is a popular tourist attraction, bringing ghost hunters, adventurers, macabre lovers, and particularly courageous visitors from all over the world.

In 1987, Xochimilco was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, which significantly upped the tourism in the area.

After Julián Santana Barrera’s death in the early 2000s, his family took care of the island and made it a tourist attraction. Visitors often leave offerings, like coins, trinkets, and their own dolls on the island.

Visiting The Island Of The Dolls

If the haunted dolls and uneasy spirits didn’t make it clear, it's worth noting that the Island of the Dolls is not exactly a tranquil visit.

Beyond the (maybe possessed?) dolls, feral cats, and many, many spiders make up the ecosystem of the Island of the Dolls, so those interested in visiting the eerie island better prepare themselves (and wear thick shoes).

The only way to reach the island is by trajinera, a colorful ferry from Embarcadero Cuemanco or Embarcadero Fernando Celeda.

• Directly from the Embarcaderos to the Island of the Dolls. Around 2 hours.• Taking a full tour of the surrounding Xochimilco canals. 3 to 4 hours.

The other islands in Xochimilco are beautiful and worth visiting even on their own.

Many of the boats won’t have the Island of the Dolls in their itinerary, so thrill-seeking visitors will need to ask to be taken there; some drivers still refuse to go near it because of the weird energy they get there, claiming that the dolls have tried to lure and even possess them.

A virtual tour is also available.

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