Welcome To Mexico's Island Of Mutilated Dolls

Photo of Nikki Vargas
Travel Editor10 May 2018

It’s evening on Mexico’s Isla de las Muñecas and the silhouettes of hanging dolls begin to contrast with the sunset. Some dolls have merged with the surrounding jungle — their porcelain skin mutilated by vines, their eyes perforated by insects. Others dolls are new, likely offerings of recent visitors seeking connection with the paranormal. The island is silent, with the exception of the occasional snap of a twig and creak of a swaying doll in the wind. Some believe the island is cursed, that the dolls are possessed by the spirit of a young girl who drowned in the murky waters some 50 years ago.

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As you explore the island, the eyes of each doll seem to follow you. Their heads, according to locals, move ever so slightly. Mexico’s ‘island of nightmares’ is so creepy – so downright spooky – that it could have come straight from the imagination of Stephen King.

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Isla del las Muñecas (Spanish for “Island of the Dolls”) wasn’t always a sinister place. In fact, the island – just 18 miles south of Mexico City in Xochimilco – was largely overlooked until a native recluse, Julian Santana Barrera, moved in. According to legend, three young girls from nearby villages were playing in the waters of Isla de las Muñecas. In their merriment, one of the girls accidentally drowned before Barrera could save her.

Guilt-ridden, Barrera hung a single doll near the spot the young girl had died to honor her life. The makeshift memorial seemed to haunt Barrera who claimed to hear screams, footsteps and other nightly disturbances on the island. Out of desperation, Barrera began to hang more and more dolls in the trees, becoming maniacal in his efforts to appease the girl’s restless spirit.

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Whether driven mad by guilt or pushed by the paranormal, the body of Julian Santana Barrera was found in 2001 drowned in the exact same spot where the young girl had died years prior. His nephew, Don Julian, says Barrera complained of voices luring him to the water each night — a siren’s call, it would seem, he could no longer resist.

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Today, Isla de las Muñecas has become the ultimate Halloween destination for the curious to venture into the unknown. Don Julian now oversees the island, although from a distance, choosing to remain safely in the rural countryside of Mexico. Whether you believe in ghosts or thrill at the prospect of something unexplained, Isla de las Muñecas is a place that defies logic and sidesteps rationality leaving one thing for certain: something strange did happen there.

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