The Island of the Dolls

Coordinates: 19°17′24″N 99°05′47″W / 19.2901°N 99.0965°W / 19.2901; -99.0965
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Barrera's dolls on La Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico City

The Island of the Dolls (Spanish: La Isla de las Muñecas) is a chinampa of the Laguna de Tequila located in the channels of Xochimilco, south of the center of Mexico City, Mexico. It is notable for the multitude of dolls of various styles and colors that can be found throughout the island. Local legends surround the dolls and the island's reclusive former owner, Don Julián Santana Barrera, making the island a popular destination for dark tourism.[1]


Dolls seen from the lake

In the mid-20th century, Barrera began to collect dolls and hang them around the small island. The island gained notoriety in 1943 when Mexican director Emilio Fernández used it as the location of the film María Candelaria.[2]

After Barrera's death in 2001, his family opened the island to the public as a tourist attraction. In addition to the hundreds of dolls,[3] the grounds host three huts, and a small museum with articles from local newspapers about both the island and the previous owner. In the one-room hut Barrera slept in, the first doll Barrera collected is displayed, as well as Agustina, his favorite doll.[4][5][6]

The Island of the Dolls is accessible to the public by gondola-like boats referred to as trajineras.[7] Most rowers are willing to transport people to the island, but there are those who refuse out of superstition.[8] The journey often includes a tour of the Ecological Area, Ajolote Museum, Apatlaco Canal, Teshuilo Lagoon and Llorona Island.[9]


Barrera is said to have either come across the body of a young girl floating in the canals or failed to save her from drowning.[10][11] The next day, Barrera found a doll drifting down the canal; believing it belonged to the girl, he hung the doll from a tree in her memory and as a talisman to ward off evil spirits. It is sometimes claimed that Barrera found a second doll in the canal the next day.[11][6] It is speculated that after her death the young girl's spirit haunted the island, and to appease her Barrera began scouring the trash and trading produce from his garden in exchange for more dolls.[12] Evidence of the girl's existence has yet to be reported.[12]

In 2001, Barrera's nephew came to the island to help his uncle. As they fished in the canal, Barrera, then 80, sang passionately, claiming that mermaids in the water were calling for him. The nephew left briefly, and upon his return found Barrera lifeless, face down in the canal, in the same spot where the girl was said to have drowned.[13][12]

Since the island became open to the public, there have been reports of the dolls moving their heads, arms, and opening their eyes. Visitors also claim to have heard the dolls whispering to each other.[14]

Visitors occasionally place offerings around the dolls in exchange for miracles and blessings. Some change the dolls's clothes and maintain the island as a form of worship.[15]

Oldest doll in the Isla de las Muñecas, in Xochimilco, Mexico City

In media[edit]

The island has been featured on the Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures,[16] and the Amazon Prime show Lore. It was also featured on BuzzFeed Unsolved, where host Shane Madej, a firm skeptic of the paranormal, asserted that he believes the legends about the island.[17] The island was also used for the episode "Estas son Las Mañanitas" (season 1, episode 10) of the Spanish TV comedy Nosotros los guapos for Televisa, where the main characters Vítor and Albertano are left behind on the island by an irritated Doña Cuca, and as night falls, they are rescued by the local emergency crews and end up on the news. In 2020, Josh Gates's researchers, Phil Torres & Jessica Chobot did an episode for the show Expedition X at the location with paranormal investigator Jason Hawes of the show Ghost Hunters [18] The premiere episode (Season 1, Episode 1; December 1, 2023) of The Unbelievable with Dan Aykroyd on the History Channel (U.S.) features the island.


  1. ^ "Tanatoturismo, fascinación por la muerte... y los viajes". El Financiero (in Spanish). 2019-10-31. Archived from the original on 2023-07-03. Retrieved 2023-07-03.
  2. ^ "La "Isla de las Muñecas" causa terror en Xochimilco México". Rincón Abstracto. 15 November 2011. Archived from the original on Sep 19, 2021.
  3. ^ Nicolás, Araceli (2023-05-16). "Una muñeca de Tim Burton y otra marcada por Lady Gaga ahuyentan espíritus en la Isla de las Muñecas". Uno TV (in Mexican Spanish). Archived from the original on 2023-07-03. Retrieved 2023-07-03.
  4. ^ Froelich, Paula (2021-10-30). "Real story behind 'haunted' Island of the Dolls in Mexico". Retrieved 2023-09-17.
  5. ^ "Some Of The World's Most Outrageous Tourist Attractions". Oddee. 2021-07-07. Archived from the original on 2023-07-03. Retrieved 2023-07-03.
  6. ^ a b "Isla De Las Muñecas: Øya med de hviskende dukkene". (in Norwegian). 2020-02-20. Archived from the original on 2023-08-20. Retrieved 2023-07-03.
  7. ^ "Visit Isla de las Munecas – Isla de las Muñecas". Archived from the original on 2023-06-21. Retrieved 2023-07-04.
  8. ^ "Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Mexico". Island of the Dolls. Archived from the original on Feb 15, 2023.
  9. ^ "Los canales de Xochimilco". Piso de Exhibición. February 2009. Archived from the original on Nov 25, 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  10. ^ "Mexico's Horrific Island Of Dolls Will Haunt Your Dreams". HuffPost. 2014-08-14. Archived from the original on 2023-07-02. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
  11. ^ a b Elborough, Travis; Horsfield, Alan (2016). Atlas of Improbable Places: A journey to the world's most unusual corners. Aurium Press. pp. 186–188. ISBN 9781781317631.
  12. ^ a b c Foer, Joshua; Thuras, Dylan; Morton, Ella (2016). Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Inc. p. 414. ISBN 978-0-7611-6908-6.
  13. ^ "Isla de las munecas.- Delegacion Xochimilco". 2011-07-22. Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
  14. ^ "Isla de las Muñecas – The Island of the Dolls". Archived from the original on 2023-06-04. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
  15. ^ "The haunting story of the man who built the Island of Dolls". Guinness World Records. 2022-10-26. Archived from the original on 2023-05-09. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  16. ^ "Island of the Dolls". Travel Channel. Archived from the original on 2018-08-24. Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  17. ^ Flores Farfán, Sebastián (April 17, 2001). "Murió el señor de las Muñecas de Xochimilco" [The man of the Dolls of Xochimilco died] (in Spanish). Xochimilco, Mexico City: Borough of Xochimilco. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  18. ^ Channel, Discovery. "Island of the lost Dolls". discovery channel. discovery channel.

External links[edit]

19°17′24″N 99°05′47″W / 19.2901°N 99.0965°W / 19.2901; -99.0965