The Island of the Dolls (Spanish: La Isla de la Munecas) is located among a grid-like network of canals near Xochimico, roughly 13 miles south from the heart of Mexico City. This small dark and harrowing island is considered by many to be one of the most haunting tourist destinations in the world.
Among the scores of dead and twisted trees found on the island are hundreds of visually disturbing dolls. The dolls are dirty, dry-rotted, sun-bleached, and largely dismembered, and they can be found suspended from trees, strung along fences or affixed to the sides of ramshackle wooden structures. Many of the dolls' faces bear the effects of the natural elements by displaying strange patterns of mold or patchy colors due to exposure to the wind, rain and intense sunlight. Their hollow heads and bodies are often inhabited by spiders or exotic insects. Some dolls have mismatched or missing body parts, and others feature patchy tufts of hair and blank eyes. Even during the daytime the dolls carry a menacing appearance, but at nighttime the "creepiness factor" definitely gets bumped up a few notches.
So how did this bizarre memorial come into existence in the first place? According to the local folklore a recluse by the name of Don Julian Santana Barrera lived on the island as its sole inhabitant, even though he had a wife and children. Roughly 50 years ago, Santana found the body of a drowned little girl in the canal. Being deeply troubled by his discovery, he began to fear that he was being haunted by the little girl's ghost. He later found a discarded doll floating in the canal, which he then hung from a tree in an attempt to appease the girl's tortured soul and hopefully ward off evil spirits as well.
Santana then began regularly scavenging for dolls and parts among the canals, fishing them out and adding them to his collection, which had developed into somewhat of a shrine in honor of the girl's death. As time went on, Santana's troubled mind would prompt him to begin rummaging through trash heaps on his rare trips off the island, searching for any dolls (whole or otherwise) to bring back home and add to the haunting memorial. Rumor has it that later in his life, Santana would even begin trading his own homegrown produce for dolls. Some speculate that Santana may have even suffered from a delusional disorder, where he believed that he was actually rescuing real children with his efforts.
The story took a tragically ironic turn in 2001 when Santana drowned in the same area of the canal that claimed the little girl's life. Although Santana lived in relative obscurity during his lifetime, the news of his death prompted a renewed interest in his story, as well as the history of the doll memorial. Some people have claimed that the dolls were possessed by evil spirits, and that they plotted to murder Santana. Others speculate that Santana's death was purely an accident, and that now the dolls have assumed the role of being caretakers of the island in his stead.
The Island of Dolls has since become an unconventional tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world. Many visitors bring dilapidated dolls of their own to add to the island's collection. Several television crews have filmed at the location, including one show that searched for (and allegedly found) proof that the island is actually haunted. Some visitors have claimed that you can hear eerie whispers as you walk among the dolls. Others don't ascribe as many paranormal qualities to the site, but they consider it to be a morbidly intriguing memorial nonetheless. The site is now operated by Santana's family, who insist that he was motivated by nothing more than his eagerness to appease the spirit of a girl who met her fate too soon. Although Santana's intention behind constructing the memorial was no doubt a sincere expression of grief and sympathy for the poor little girl who lost her life, it is hard to deny that this graveyard of dolls is slightly unsettling. If you enjoy the more bizarre side of tourism, making a pilgrimage to the Island of Dolls will surely not disappoint.