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This island in Mexico is home to hundreds of haunted dolls

La Isla de las Muñecas, or the Island of the Dolls, is nothing short of terrifying.

It’s an island in the canals of Xochimilco, to the south of Mexico City, that is inhabited by hundreds of decomposing dolls. But making it even more nightmare-inducing is the haunting origin story of the site.

In the 1950s, local man Julian Santana left his wife and child to go and live as a hermit on the tiny island. As the story goes, he found the body of a young girl floating in the canal near the island, and hung a doll near the spot to honour her.

#isladelasmunecas #mindstreamworld

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As time went on, however, he became haunted by the memory, and he started collecting more dolls from the trash in the canals to hang around his island home. It is said he believed the dolls were possessed by the spirit of the young girl and he had to continue to hang them to appease her.

Because many of the dolls were ones he had found discarded, they were often creepily missing limbs or eyeballs, or were covered in dirt. But even when he purchased newer dolls, the weather soon took its toll and left them damaged and distorted.

So long, Mexico, and thanks for all the creepy haunted dolls. #isladelasmunecas

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Eventually, the whole island was covered in decaying dolls. Even his little hut, where he slept on a mat on the floor, was filled with dolls of all kinds to watch him while he slept.

We literally can’t think of anything more terrifying.

Xochimilco, a southern suburb of Mexico City, is best known for its canals, which have earned it the nickname of “the Venice of Mexico.” With over 50 miles of waterways, the area — named a World Heritage site in 1987 — is filled with festive, brightly painted boats, called trajineras, that ferry visitors throughout the shallow lake beds. But there’s a dark side to Xochimilco, too. Sail deep enough into the borough and you’ll find the Isla de la Munecas, or, the Island of Dolls. It’s as creepy as its name suggests. The remote wooded area is chock-full of dirty, decaying, and occasionally mutilated dolls hanging from trees and clothing lines. They’ve been there for at least 50 years, ever since a man named Julian Santana Barrera moved there to live out the rest of his life as a recluse. When he arrived, he found the drowned corpse of a young girl — and the toy doll she left behind — floating in a nearby canal. At night, Barrera heard footsteps and crying, and, believing it was the ghost of the dead woman, decided to hang the doll she left behind from a tree to placate the spirit. It worked. The footsteps stopped and so did the crying. To further appease the ghost, Barrera continued hanging dolls from the trees, stringing up thousands over the decades. Barrera died, rather mysteriously, in 2001, and was found drowned in the same spot where the young girl’s body was found. His family has since taken over and turned the area into a tourist attraction where visitors can hang their own dolls from the trees. In 2015, photographer Cindy Vasko visited the area, and captured these cryptic portraits of the spooky remote island.✨ • • • #islandofdolls #isladelasmunecas #xochimilco #chinampa #mexico #mexicocity #mexicotouristattraction #mexicothingstodo #creepy #creepytouristattraction #haunteddolls #creepydolls #cindyvasko #floatinggardens #okwhatever #whatever #strangenews #weirdnews #news #alternativenews #travelnews #altjournalism #journalism #readthis #hauntedplaces #ghoststories #paranormalactivity

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In a tragically circular ending to his story, in 2001 Julian was found drowned in the same spot he claimed to have found the girl.

But, in an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist, many of Julian’s family say that the girl never existed, and that the whole time he had been haunted only by his own mind.

" Okiku & Robert " 👹💀 #isladelasmunecas #isladelasmuñecas #isladelasmuńecas #mexico🇲🇽 #mexico #mexicocabrones #misterio#islamuñecas #fotografiadeterror#muñecasabandonadas #forgottendolls #scarydolls#fotografias #mexicodf #xochimilco #xochimilco#xochimilcos #igerscolombia #loves_paisa #muñecosposeidos #dollskill #enchanteddoll #fotografíablancoynegro #blackandwhitephotos #gopr #goprofotos #gopro📷

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Today, Julian’s ageing nephew runs tours on Las Isla de las Muñecas. You can reach the small island by going to the suburb of Xochimilco and hiring a canal boat and gondolier for a few hours to steer you over there.

Some visitors add their own dolls, often inscribed with names and dates, and La Isla de las Muñecas becomes ever more terrifying.

#muñeca #littledoll #muñecabonita #isladelasmuñecas #isladelasmunecas #Xochimilco

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Would you add this place to your travel bucket list?

About the author

Hannah is a freelance copywriter, journalist and editor living in Sydney and almost always thinking about being somewhere else. She puts some of the things she writes on hannahwarrencreative.com, and shares photos of her adventures on Instagram @hannahboots.