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Island of the Dolls (Isla de las Muñecas)

About seventeen miles outside of Mexico City, deep in the Xochimilco canals, you will find the Isla de las Muñecas, or Island of the Dolls. This small island is home to hundreds of old, decaying dolls. Most of them hang from trees, but some are nailed to walls or other furniture. While it was formerly only known to locals in the Mexico City area, over the last decade the Isla has become an international tourist destination of the macabre.

By the end of the 1950s, the island was already well established as an oddity, and its infamy has only grown since then. The original inhabitant of this small island, Julián Santana, lived there much like a hermit. He tended a crop of corn, vegetables, and a garden of flowers which made up his income, until one day when he found the body of a little girl that had drowned in the canals and washed up on his island. After that, he began to be tormented by the spirit of the little girl. A lone doll also drifted upon his shores very shortly after the little girl, and he assumed the doll must have belonged to her. From there the collection grew; each time he found a lost or discarded doll, Santana would bring it home to live in the trees of his isle.

The reason for the dolls is somewhat uncertain. Some say that the dolls were to appease the spirit of the drowned girl, whose existence has never been verified, while others say that the dolls actually ward off demons that pursue the girl’s spirit. Despite the creepiness of the dolls, Santana did not view them as sinister, but rather as companions. He cared for them and may have even traded his produce for more dolls from visitors.

Over the years the reputation of the island grew, and university students from Mexico City would make pilgrimages out to see the bizarre island of dolls. They would bring with them dolls to give to Santana as a gift or as an offering to the spirits of the island.

Local legend states that at night you can hear the dolls murmuring to each other, and that they occasionally move their arms, legs, and even blink on their own. Such legends are quite understandable, considering how eerie the island must be at night (or even in the day.) According to Sebastian Flores, the chronicler of Xochimilco, Santana stated that he spoke with the dolls and that they even lulled him to sleep.

The Moneca
Santana’s favorite doll, known as The Moneca, is said to grant wishes if given an offering of coins, bracelets or other small gifts. The Moneca washed up on the island on August 28, the day of Saint Augustine, which Santana believed to be an auspicious sign. He got good vibes from the doll and said the she warded off evil. The Moneca is also the only doll on the island with a name. The doll still lives on the island in a hut with some other dolls.

After the death of Santana, the locals invented stories that his death in April, 2001, was caused by the dolls. This could easily be written off as superstition if it weren’t for the manner in which Santana died—he drowned in the same channel that he said he found the little girl in so many years before. He was 80 years old.

The island was inherited by Santana’s nephew, Anastasio Santana Velásquez, who continues to care for the island. For the brave tourist, you can still visit the island, but it is recommended that you bring the dolls a gift—preferably another doll and some hard candy for the drowned girl’s spirit.

All photos are courtesy of Please visit their site for more info on visiting the island.


  1. Interesting, and so fitting of the thematic concerns of your blog. The doll and automata seem to have such a wide ranging scope in folk-lore and esoteric art. Also adds a whole new dimension for me from now whenever encountering the name of Santana (the latin-rock band)


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