This secluded section of Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City is one of the world’s creepiest spots. Dozens of vacant-eyed plastic dolls dangle from the island’s trees; many are tinged brown or green, some have missing limbs, and one has its eyes painted blood red. This nightmarish destination was formerly the home of a hermit called Don Julian Santana. According to local legend, Santana found the drowned body of a little girl in the lake. Haunted by the memory, he began to collect discarded dolls from the lake and hang them from the trees. AFter Santana’s death in 2001, the island became a tourist attraction, with some visitors claiming to have seen the dolls open their eyes or move their arms or legs.
Isla de las Muñecas, Xochimilco, San Lorenzo, Mexico City, +52 5555558257
One of the most surreal sights in Mexico City is the game of toques, where people on a night out clutch two metal bars and are electrocuted for fun. The idea of the popular drinking game is to endure as much electricity as possible while the current is gradually increased up to a maximum of 120 volts. The game typically costs MXN$20 (US$1) and is popular in the nightlife hubs of Roma, Condesa, and around the Plaza Garibaldi.
The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived his last years in exile in Mexico City until Ramón Mercader, a Stalinist agent, killed him by plunging an ice pick into his skull in 1940. The house where Trotsky lived is now open to the public as a museum and its walls are still riddled with the bullet holes left by a first unsuccessful assassination attempt, led by the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
When Trotsky arrived in Mexico in 1936, he at first stayed with the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo at their house down the road, but Rivera expelled Trotsky when he found out about the Russian’s affair with Kahlo, and he moved to this house. With rooms preserved as they were the day of Trotsky’s death, and a tomb in the garden containing his ashes, the museum now offers a fascinating glimpse into one of the most bizarre moments in 20th-century Mexican history.
Leon Trotsky Museum, Rio Churubusco 410, Coyoacan, Mexico City, +52 5556588732
Mexican pro wrestling, or lucha libre, is a must-see spectacle for visitors to Mexico City. With a capacity of 16,500, the Arena Mexico is the largest lucha venue in the world and is unmatched for pure, unadulterated weirdness. Every weekend, devoted wrestling fans flock to the stadium to catch fights featuring superstars such as Blue Panther Jr. and Loco Max. While lucha libre fights are staged, and the winners usually predetermined, the acrobatics on display are impressive in their own right. A lucha libre event will typically feature three or four wrestling bouts and a sublime carnival atmosphere.
Arena Mexico, Dr. Lavista No. 197, Doctores, Mexico City, +52 5555881561
The divine skeleton Santa Muerte, or “Saint Death,” is a Mexican folk saint that is typically depicted in a bridal dress, holding a scythe in one hand and a globe in the other. The cult of its worship has been described by religion expert Andrew Chesnut as the fastest-growing devotion in the Americas, and has taken particularly hold among the country’s poor and marginalized citizens. Although altars are typically confined to the homes of devotees, Mexico City authorities have permitted the construction of a church dedicated to the saint, the Santuario Nacional de la Santa Muerte. Masses are celebrated in the Santuario six days a week, despite the fact that the devotion has been condemned as satanic by the Catholic Church. Baptisms, confirmations, first communions, and even weddings are also held here.