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Visit the Island of the Dolls in Mexico: a Strange and Popular Tourist Attraction.

Updated on April 25, 2018
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ReadMikeNow is a freelance writer who loves to travel. He likes to find unique stories about interesting places.

Island of the Dolls
Island of the Dolls

In Mexico, there is a place called Isla de las Munecas. It is an island located a short distance from Mexico City. It is known around the world as a very large and strange place that attracts hundreds of visitors every month. Isla de las Munecas translates into English as Island of the Dolls. It is a place where people can see hundreds of dolls that have been placed all over the island. They are on buildings, in trees and more.

Julian Santana Barrera
Julian Santana Barrera


The tourist attraction got started after a very tragic event. A little girl died in a local canal. A local man named Julian Santana Barrera noticed that a was doll floating down the canal after this happened. He decided to put the doll in a tree as a way to honor the spirit of the child who had died. Santana believed this would protect the island from experiencing any more tragedies of this type. It is estimated that there are over 1,500 doll and doll parts placed in many different locations on the island.

Tourist taking pictures on Island of the Dolls
Tourist taking pictures on Island of the Dolls


Julian Santana Barrera found the little girl who had died in the canal. He told people he blamed himself for the child's death. After this had happened, Barrera started collecting dolls by the hundreds and putting them on the island. He did this for decades. This includes baby dolls as well as Barbie dolls and more. Some of the dolls were obtained by him as they sometimes floated down the canal to the island. Others he would get from garbage. He would even purchase some of them. The condition of the dolls didn't matter to Barrera. Should he find a doll that was missing its head or limbs, Barrera would simply take a spare limb or head he had collected and attach it to the doll's torso to make a completely new doll. In many cases, the dolls became strange looking and a bit bizarre to see when placed in trees and other places around the island. Putting dolls on the island soon became an obsession for him. Barrera would spend his time putting toy dolls in trees and other areas of the island for more than 50 years. He felt this would appease the ghost of the little girl who had died in the canal. Another bizarre aspect of this story is the death of Juan Santana Barrera. In 2001, he drowned in the same canal where the little girl had died approximately half a century earlier. Since that time, several visitors have claimed they hear whispering in the night. Others claim the eyes of the dolls will follow them as they move among the trees.

Building on island of the Dolls
Building on island of the Dolls


Barrera had the woman he loved leave him for another man. This is when he went to the island and started to live the life of a hermit. During this time, he would grow vegetables and flower and sell them at local towns. Local residents claimed Barrera would not talk to anyone when he was selling his items. He lived in a small cabin located on the island. It is currently available for people to see when they visit there. It contains his photos and the other few things he owned. There have been some who doubt there actually was a dead girl as Barrera claimed. Some have suggested he may have created the story after the woman he loved left him. After living on the island for a long time, Barrera started complaining to friends and family that he could hear voices from the water calling out to him. He said it was becoming too difficult to resist their requests. Friends and relatives who were close to Julian Santana Barrera believe he had been driven mad by an unseen force that took total control of his life.

Trees with dolls on Island of the Dolls
Trees with dolls on Island of the Dolls

Unintended Tourist Attraction

The behavior of Barrera and the dolls began to be a popular topic among local residents. Many wanted to come to the island and see if what they had heard about him and the dolls was true. Barrera was often offered a small amount of money when visitors came to the island, and he always accepted. Many believe he used the money to purchase more dolls. Barrera never intended for the island to become a tourist attraction.



The area around the island is beautiful. It was created approximately 1,000 years ago by pre-Hispanic people on the region. It was done to improve the agriculture of the area. During this time rafts were used that were made from juniper branches. The rafts would be filled with mud and soil from the lake bed as well as planted crops. These filled rafts would be attached to juniper trees. They would sink. Once this was done, another one would be constructed to replace it. After a period of time, these sunken rafts began to become islands. As these type of islands began to increase in number and size, they became an essential part of the Aztec Empire. There are currently over 4,500 chinampas covering the area.

Boats to Island of the Dolls
Boats to Island of the Dolls

Traveling to the Island

The local residents refer to the islands in the canal area as chinampas. The journey to Isla de las Munecas begins on a boat that travels through the local maze of canals. Visitors are able to see beautiful greenery as well as colorful songbirds and more. When the boat gets closer to the island, it crosses a section covered with lily pads. Some visitors report this is when things get quiet. When going past the island to where the boat will dock, it's possible to see hundreds of dolls covering large portions of the island. To make the round trip takes an average of four hours.

World Heritage Site

People may see dolls that have insects living within them. They can see insects moving in and out of the doll's mouth and eye sockets. It is common for people who visit the island to leave coins at one of the many doll shrines located in buildings located at different areas of the island. In 1987, the area around the island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This caused the level of international tourism to increase significantly.

Boat dock at Island of the Dolls
Boat dock at Island of the Dolls

Visiting Island of the Dolls

The journey to see the Island of the Dolls begins at the Xochimilco canals. They are located approximately 17 miles from Mexico City. It is recommended visitors take a ferry from Embarcadero Fernando Celada or Embaracadero Cuemanco. Prior to boarding any boat, it is important to make certain the boat is going to the Island of the Dolls. Not all of the boats stop there. People who don't like crowds may want to visit it during the week. On the weekends, the island and areas around the canal can become overcrowded. The cost of the boat trip to the island is based on an hourly rate. Prices can vary between boats. It's recommended that visitors ask the cost in advance before taking any boat to the island.




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    • Travel-Wise profile image


      3 years ago

      This is the first I've heard of the Island of the Dolls; it seems like such a bizarre but very intriguing tourist spot! Thank you for writing about it :)

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      LR Thanks. It seems like a place you'd have to experience to understand.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting, almost cryptic destination.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks. I know someone who went there and they told me it's quite a trip.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      I agree. The doll island may add to the attraction of the area.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      3 years ago from Brazil

      This shows the impact one person can have on the world. It seems an eerie place, I'm not sure I would want to go to see the dolls but the history of the agriculture in the area, is fascinating.

    • simplehappylife profile image


      3 years ago

      I loved this. Thank You for writing it. Fascinating and definitely going on my list of places I want to visit. This is the first time I've heard of Isla de las Munecas!

      Someone should make a great movie about his life.


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