La Isla de las munecas (The Island of the Dolls) might be the world’s strangest and scariest tourist attraction ever. However, this sad island was never meant to be a stop on tourists’ holiday itineraries. The Island of the Dolls was dedicated to the lost soul of a poor little girl who met her fate too soon.
Roughly fifty years ago, three young girls were playing on the island near the canal. One of the girls fell in the water and drowned. The island’s only permanent inhabitant was a recluse named Don Julián Santana Barrera. Soon after the girl’s death Barrera fished an old doll out of the water. The next day he fished out another. And then another. Barrera was convinced that this was a sign from the netherworld, and he started collecting the old dolls and hanging them around the island. These dolls, he believed, formed vessels for spirits that kept the deceased girl company and prevented further evil from descending upon the island. The dolls, tied to trees, in addition to a special alter he constructed for the child, became known by locals. What was also learned was that Barrera had a wonderful garden of fresh produce. Locals began bringing old dolls in trade for fresh vegetables. The trade increased the collection so much that the island now has an amazing collection of thousands of dolls in various stages of disintegration.
The story took a particularly sinister turn in 2001 when Don Julian Santana was found dead by his nephew in the same canal in which the little girl had drowned. Many people said that the dolls, inhabited by tortured spirits, conspired to murder the old man. Others believe that Santana’s death was an accident and that since his passing, the dolls have taken over his role as the island’s caretaker.
The island did not receive much tourist attention during Don Julian’s lifetime,but it has become a well-known attraction since then. International television crews have filmed there several times, including one show that claimed to find proof the island is haunted.
Although Don Julian’s sentiment was innocent and admirable, the doll graveyard he created is undeniably creepy. Soulless eyes follow visitors as they move around the small island (which is actually a chinampa, or artificial floating garden), and many swear that they can hear the dolls whispering to them. This labor of love (or fear, as it were) has resulted in an accidental sensation amongst those who admire the bizarre and twisted side of tourism.