Mysterious tales behind La Llorona, Island of the Dolls in Mexico City

Origins, haunted stories can be traced to Xochimilco

There are several origin stories for "La Llorona" and the Island of the Dolls in Mexico City. Some of those stories can be traced to Xochimilco. 

MEXICO CITY – This month, we’ve been telling you about the history and origins of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. KSAT sent a crew to Mexico City to learn more about the holiday. 

Part of the trip included a voyage to Xochimilco, a Mexico City borough that is known for its historic canals.

The Aztecs used the historic waterway system to trade and barter, and it connected settlements in the Valley of Mexico.


Today, the canals are a popular tourist destination best-known for their bright and colorful gondola-like boats called trajineras. But there are also a few murky tales to come out of these waters. 

The first is La Llorona. The story is one of the most famous legends in Latin America and tells the story of a woman who was abandoned by her husband and drowned their two sons.

Legend says she is condemned to wander throughout eternity, searching for her children while also causing harm to those around her.

Some theories behind La Llorona’s origin story can be traced to Xochimilco.

Scholars have compared the story of La Llorona to that of an Aztec snake goddess called Cihuacōātl.

The goddess represents motherhood and fertility.

One of the most popular Dia de los Muertos events in Mexico is the annual "la Cihuacoatle, Leyenda de la Llorona" festival in Xochimilco. 

Spectators watch a mystical performance to honor the dead from boats on the water and docks.

Another popular legend to come out of the canals in Xochimilco is the origin of the Island of the Dolls. 

The island can be found about an hour into the canal ride from the main pier. 

Several broken or worn-down dolls are displayed, hung on trees or fences on the small island.

The island originally belonged to a man named Don Julián Santana Barrera.

The legend goes that Barrera pulled a girl out of the water, but she had already drowned.

He found a doll nearby and, believing it was hers, placed it on a tree as a sign of respect.

However, Barrera claimed he started to hear whispers and footsteps on his property.

Out of the fear, he placed dolls on the fence to appease the girl’s soul for the next 50 years.

In an odd turn of events, Barrera died of a heart attack in 2001 and his body was reportedly found in the same area where he found the girl. 

There are tales of the dolls whispering to visitors and coming to life at night, but locals do not necessarily believe the island or dolls are haunted.

Features and stories on the island have been done for the Amazon Prime show "Lore" and the Travel Channel show "Ghost Adventures."

Read more about Day of the Dead on 

7 questions you were too embarrassed to ask about Dia de Muertos

KSAT's coverage of Day of the Dead in Mexico City

Meet artists behind San Antonio's life-sized sugar skulls

About the Author:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.