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Haunted Island on Lake Xochimilco Mexico

Updated on April 16, 2017
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Paranormal activity is of great interest to Phyllis. She has visited a few places where she actually saw spirits of the past.

Haunted Island

The haunted island on Lake Xochimilco is one of the weirdest places to be found. If one happens to embark onto the island without knowing its history, it can be a frightening, chilling experience.

The Haunted Island Attracts Tourists

Colourful trajineras (rafts) on Lake Xochimilco
Colourful trajineras (rafts) on Lake Xochimilco | Source

Lake Xochimilco

Lake Xochimilco lies in a beautiful Valley of Mexico. Although the valley is surrounded by volcanic mountains and the area is very prone to earthquakes, the mild climate, great agricultural land, and abundant wildlife for hunting, has attracted human habitation for over 12,000 years.

Civilizations long before Columbus ever stepped foot in that part of the world, thrived and grew to become strong empires. The Teotihuacan, the Toltec, and the Aztec were just a few of the several peoples who lived there. The Aztec called the valley "Anahuac", which means Land Between the Waters. There were five lakes in the valley that were created from precipitation. Since there is no outlet for water to flow out of the valley, it gathered in the basins. These lakes are now extinct, with only the ancient beds showing where they once filled with water.

Lake Xochimilco still exists where the Aztecs built islands for agricultural purposes. There is possibly more than just the islands that the Aztecs left on this lake, for unexplained sounds of spirits are sometimes heard whispering and floating around the island where a man in this century lived by himself, alone with his own tormented mind that was full of voices. Were sacrificed restless Aztec souls also making their voices heard?

Ancient Aztec Rituals Involved Sacrifices

Human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano
Human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano | Source

Just Like all the Others

He looked down at her broken body, caked in mud, lying there half in, half out of the muddy canal.

Tying a thin rope around her, he raised her up to the nearest tree limb and secured her there. In time, she would be like the rest, decayed, unrecognizable, with vacant, staring eyes or, like some, just empty sockets. The wind will whistle through the eye sockets and open mouth, making eerie sounds -- just like all the others he had tied or nailed up all around the island on Lake Xochimilco. All of them haunted his nightly dreams and mocked his tormented days.

This was his life, his chosen existence of an outcast and hermit, living on one of the strange chinampas (islands) that the ancient Aztec people had first created.

Julian Barrera

Don Julian Santana Barrera was once a successful farmer and a very religious man. He was married and had a family. All the good he had in his life did not save him from an addiction to alcohol, which eventually controlled and ruined his life.

He became a joke and an outcast to the villagers and he retreated from society. He even left his family and found a secluded island where he could be alone, away from all he knew and away from people. He could not face them, nor could he face himself.

The island that Julian lived on was inhabited by spirits of the past. One of them, the most recent to die, was the spirit of a little girl who had drowned in the 1920s. According to the local lore, the spirit of the girl had remained on the island and refused to leave. People were hesitant and feared to go onto the island, or even pass by it, especially at night when strange voices could be heard there. It was also believed that the ancient spirits of evil ones from ancient times still lingered on the island.

Since no one else would go there, this was the place for Julian to take himself and become a hermit. Not long after he made his home on the island, the spirit of the little girl appeared and would talk with him. She told him how she had died and what would help her find peace - dolls, she wanted dolls. The dolls, she told him would be for her and to also appease the spirits of the evil ones. This gave Julian a quest to fulfill. He began his search for dolls. In dumps, murky canals, junk piles, everywhere he could think of, even digging on his island, he searched for dolls for the girl.

The condition did not matter, any doll, any size, any condition it was in, would be found and placed all over the island, nailed to or hanging from trees - all for the little girl.

Dolls Hung on Julian Barrera's Island

Dolls for the little girl.
Dolls for the little girl. | Source


For many years Julian and the island were forgotten by the people he once knew. He began farming again and produced wonderful crops of fruits, vegetables, and many other useful plants.

In time, people began to remember Julian. Eventually, people began to realize that Julian was not insane or dangerous. They saw him for who he was, a lonely and harmless old man who was eccentric. They started visiting to buy his wonderful fresh produce - and often, they would trade a new or used doll or two for some fresh fruits or vegetables. At the end of the business day, Julian would take the dolls and place them wherever he thought they belonged. This gave Julian a new purpose in life. The locals began to call his island "La Isla de las Munecas", The Island of Dolls.

Every doll Julian found or was given ended up somewhere in the trees, tied or nailed where he thought would be the best spot for each one. Broken and caked with mud or brand new, it did not matter. He continued to honor the little girl's wish so she could appease the bad spirits.

More Dolls Hung on Julian Barrera's Island

Dolls to appease the evil spirits.
Dolls to appease the evil spirits. | Source

Death Takes Julian

On April 21, 2001, Julian spent the day with his nephew, preparing land for a pumpkin patch he wanted to plant.

He related to his nephew that he had been hearing calls from mermaids, that they beckoned to him. Julian would sing so he could not hear the calls of the mermaids.

The nephew left to run some errands and when he returned, he found Julian's body floating in the canal, near the pier where the little girl had drowned in the 1920s. The coroner determined and listed the cause of death to be heart failure.

Gone was the "eccentric old man" who had collected dolls. They are still there, the dolls, right where Julian had placed them. A reminder that once a kind man had helped the troubled spirit of a little girl.

Did Julian die of natural causes, failure of the heart? Or, was he called to the waters by evil spirits who said they were mermaids? Does his spirit now wander the island? Hopefully, Julian is now at peace.

Do you think Julian died of natural causes?

See results


Chinampas are artificial islands. On Lake Xochimilco, they were built for agricultural plots . The plots were constructed, like rafts, by tying juniper trees together. Soil was piled on the rafts which became floating islands, and crops were planted.

The first such plots were constructed by the ancient Aztec people over 1,000 years ago. Eventually an island would sink and a new one would be constructed over it. These islands created canals between them. Over time, the rafts anchored naturally to the lake bottom and eventually became real islands.

A Farmer's Agricultural Plots

Farmer weeding crops on his Chinampa
Farmer weeding crops on his Chinampa | Source

Xochimilco Tourist Map

Tourist map of the island.
Tourist map of the island. | Source
Xochimilco Island:
Privada Cuauhtémoc, Santa María Tepepan, Xochimilco, 16020 Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico

get directions

Xochimilco, Mexico City

© 2015 Phyllis Doyle Burns


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    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Yes, I know that. Thanks for stopping by, Mateo.

    • profile image

      Mateo Garcia 

      4 years ago

      It's called the island of dolls

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Besarien. It is an unique, interesting island for sure. The Aztecs were very intelligent people and it is interesting how they created the chinampas - also that they are still in use today.

      I love dolls and have quite a few. Most of them are cloth dolls I made myself. I can understand how they can be a bit spooky for some people. My brother was once asked to go into his neighbor's house when she was in the hospital to check on something. He said her home was so full of dolls that he had to find his way to the kitchen by passing through narrow isles, like a maze - there were at least 1,000 dolls, he said, all antique. He felt as if he was being observed by them.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. If you do visit Lake Xochimilco and the Island of Dolls, I would love to hear about your experience and thoughts on it.

    • Besarien profile image


      5 years ago from South Florida

      Great hub! Fun topic! I learned about La Isla de las Munecas researching the Aztecs. I have always been a bit wary of dolls anyway. A great aunt of mine kept a collection - she had a doll to represent everyone in the family. Not saying she used them for anything nefarious because I don't think she did. But they were porcelain and some of the old ones had human hair- brrr. If I get the chance I am taking this tour to see the island and the rest of the chinampas that remain from Aztec times.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, Marie. It is for sure an eerie place with those dolls. Thanks for the visit and vote.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      6 years ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      I finally got around to reading this, Phyllis. This certainly is an unusual place. If I had to be stuck on the island like Juan, I'd certainly be doing Violet Flame!

      The dolls are eerie. They almost remind me of the human sacrifice by the Aztecs, but that's what the little spirit girl wanted. So it is.

      The death of Juan isn't that long ago, really. My father died that same year in March.

      Voted interesting.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      6 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      You are most welcome, Phyllis.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Suhail. You seem a lot like me - I love to walk in Nature and look for unusual signs of other realms past or present. I also feel great sorrow for Don Juan and the little girl. I hope the girl and Juan find peace. Yes, your dog will know before you what is really there.

      I will be writing more about "unusual and unheard of travel places." That is a major interest of mine and I need to get busy and do it.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I enjoyed reading your comment and am glad you enjoyed my hub. My son has been to that island and confirms it is a very unusual yet interesting place with its own unique beauty. Thanks again, Suhail.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      6 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      What a beautiful article and a well written one! I had deep sympathy for the little girl who died in early 1900s and for Julian.

      I am interested in hiking with my dog and taking pictures of nature. I mostly read non-fiction adventure, but have an interest in ghosts, spirits, and extra-terrestrials, because I am always expecting something unusual and the unknown confronting me (bears, wolves or a spirit) when I am all alone with my dog in dark and lonely places. I keep a close eye on the body language of my dog in those situations.

      Please do write more on unusual and unheard of travel places.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Genna. It sure does have an eccentric history. I thought I had found a really big secret when I saw the island in my research. I told my son about it and he said, "Oh, yeah, I have been there and it is every bit as haunting as they say it is."

      The fact that the Mayans originally started building the Chinampas the way they did is incredible. Such an ingenious idea.

      I agree with you on Julian following the mermaid's voices. May he rest in peace.

      I have given serious thought to writing a book in that genre. I have a lot of thoughts stirring round and round.

      Thanks a lot, Genna, for your generous and very kind praise on my writing. Thanks for the votes and share also. I appreciate it very much.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Phyllis, this is a fascinating article, and superbly written. My goodness, “Just Like All the Others,” made me think I was reading Stephen King – it is that incredibly compelling. Have you ever thought about writing in this genre? I had no idea this strange island existed – or Chinampas - and with such an eccentric history. I suspect that Julian tried to follow the mermaids’ calls, and that this had something to do with his passing. Voted up ++ and shared.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Vellur. The dolls are all over the island, in every tree and anyplace one can be nailed or hung. My personal opinion is that Julian really believed the "mermaids" were calling to him, he went in the water and drowned. Sad story.

      Thanks for the visit, reading and commenting - and the votes.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      Interesting and spooky! Wonder what actually happened to Julian, it will always be a mystery. It must be quite spooky just seeing the tree with all the hanging dolls. Voted up.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Gypsy. Yes, it is a spooky place. I would love to tour the island, though. You are welcome, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the votes.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      Voted up and awesome. Fascinating though spooky place and exactly up my alley. Thanks for sharing and passing this on.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Jodah. You are welcome. Thank you! Some of those dolls are really creepy. You can see a lot more pics of them at Bing images - Island of the Dolls. Don Julian's story is sad. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Gondwana Land

      This was so interesting Phyllis and those dolls are creepy. The island would be a spooky place I'm sure, though the sort of place I would love to visit. Thanks for sharing this. I still have to watch the video when I have better Internet connection. Voted up.


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