Island of the DollsMexico 2017
Over fifty years ago, Don Julian Santana left his wife and child and moved onto an island on Teshuilo Lake in the Xochimilco canals. According to some, a young girl actually drowned in the lake, while most others, including his relatives, say Don Julian Santana merely imagined the drowned girl. Regardless, Don Julian Santana devoted his life to honoring this lost soul in a unique, fascinating, and—for some—unnerving way: he collected and hung up dolls by the hundreds.
Eventually, Don Julian transformed the entire island into a kind of bizarre, (for some) horrifying, doll-infested wonderland. Don Julian Santana began collecting lost dolls from the canals and the trash near his island home. He is also said to have traded produce he grew to locals for more dolls. Santana did not clean up the dolls or attempt to fix them, but rather put them up with missing eyes and limbs, covered in dirt, and generally in whatever ramshackle state he found them in. Even when dolls arrived in good shape, the wind and weather turned them into cracked and distorted versions of themselves. Don Julian also kept his cabin filled with the dolls, which he dressed in headdresses, sunglasses, and other accoutrement.
Despite the fact that most people found the isle frightening, Don Julian saw the dolls as beautiful protectors, and he welcomed visitors, whom he would show around, charging a small fee for taking photos. In 2001 Don Julian Santana was found drowned in the same area in which he believed the little girl had died.
How to get to the Island of the Dolls
Your ultimate destination will be the Embarcadero Cuemanco Xomichilco. This is relatively accessible through a series of trains and buses (use Google maps or your favorite CDMX public transportation app to see which combination is your best bet), but you can also take an Uber there, which we highly recommend (get money off your first ride by signing up here). You may find it easier than communicating exactly where you want to be dropped off, and for sure it’s cheaper than a taxi. From the middle of central historic CDMX, we paid $10-12 each way (which took 45-60 minutes).
How much does the boat cost?
We went on a very quiet Monday morning, but if you go on the weekends it is a party with floating bars and mariachi bands! There are set prices PER BOAT to take you to different areas of the Xochimilco canal system. Here is a photo of the prices as of November 2017.
You’ll see that the cost for a boat to go out to the Island of the Dolls (for a roundtrip total of about 4 hours) is 2000 Mexican Pesos (around $100 USD). However, you can also fit 20 people on this boat, so if you have a group, it’s a deal. I don’t really know about sharing boats with other groups of folks, but if you are willing to wait around, I’m sure it’s something that happens.
Please be aware that there is a secondary area that someone has strung up some dolls, obviously to capitalize on the popularity of the original site. I can’t imagine any boat operators faking a trip there, but I have read about it online. If you are using Google maps (which you can pre-load while you are on wifi and still use afterwards), the “fake” is here. We stopped there, too, and in all honesty, it’s got some pretty photogenic dolls, as well. And at the end of the day, is it “fake”? Maybe they are super haunted, too ;)
How much does the Island of the Dolls cost?
It’ll cost you 40 pesos per person (~$2 USD) to get on the island, and a little tip (10-20 pesos) may earn you an explanation (or to be left alone, whichever is more appealing to you!)
When should I visit?
If you want the place to yourself, early morning is best. We arrived on the island around 11 AM and had the place to ourselves for an hour. On the ride back to the embarcadero we started encountering more tourists (presumably) headed that way. If you want a more festive atmosphere, late afternoons are probably where it’s at.