Located about two hours by canal boat from Mexico City lies an island that seems as though it was created for the sole purpose of horrifying and shocking visitors. Known as the Island of the Dolls (Isla de las Munecas), it is adorned with hundreds of dolls in varying states of disrepair due to exposure to the elements. They are hung from trees and clotheslines, or their disembodied heads are impaled on branches all over the island. Though it looks like the set of a scary movie, in this case truth is stranger than fiction.
The island was never meant to be the tourist attraction that it is today. It all began when a man named Don Julian Santana Barrera left society to live as a recluse on the island after his girlfriend left him. Shortly after his move, he reportedly discovered the body of a small girl who had drowned in the canals. He tried to save her, but his efforts proved futile.
Not long after finding the child, he found a doll floating nearby. Believing it to be the possession of the dead girl, he hung the doll in a tree to appease the girl’s spirit. This one doll was not enough to placate the child, according to Barrera, who claimed that he heard the girl’s screams and footsteps at night. He began to string up dolls and dolls parts all over the island, which he fished out of the canals as they floated past. He would even trade his home-grown produce for more dolls to decorate his island.
The story of the Island of the Dolls took a tragic turn in 2001, when Barreras was found dead by his nephew, drowned in the same area where he had discovered the dead child years earlier. His death was ruled an accident, but superstitious people claim the dolls played a role in his demise.
Some people question the existence of the drowned girl, and claim that Barreras was simply a disturbed individual. Others claim that his guilt over being unable to save the child drove him mad and compelled him to create the doll island. Whatever the case, Isla de las Munecas has become a popular tourist attraction, run by members of Barrera’s’ family. Visitors can see photos of Barreras and view his cabin, which also contains his remaining few possessions. And of course, they can tour the island and see its roughly 1500 dolls, many of which are covered in mold and inhabited by insects. For tourists interested in the macabre, this is a fascinating stop when visiting Mexico City.