Even if we think science has our planet figured out, truth is we live in a world teeming with mysteries. From oceanic abyssal depths to impenetrable jungles, it’s inevitable to wonder at the fact that there are so many locations filled with riddles waiting to be solved. As the French poet Paul Eluard eloquently pointed out in 1968, “there is another world…but it’s in this one”.

Latin America, of course, is no exception. Hispanic nations are filled with odd places where historians and archeologists struggle to provide plausible explanations to situations that escape reason. Abandoned kingdoms, haunted islands, UFO havens, cursed seas. Explorers of the unknown and audacious tourists alike have in these latitudes the perfect grounds to fulfill their search for the unexpected. Are you ready to join them on a trip through the most mysterious places in Latin America?

Xochimilco’s Island of Dolls, Mexico

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0 – Derek Simeone

Considered “The Venice of Mexico”, Xochimilco’s navigable canals are a popular tourist attraction. Hundreds of visitors hop aboard colorful trajineras (Mexico’s very own gondolas) to cross the waters every year while sipping margaritas and joining fiestas surrounded by Mariachis. Not surprisingly, it’s a sought after location to celebrate family gatherings such as quinceañeras. But don’t let this festive atmosphere fool you. Under its touristy facade, Xochimilco hides one of the creepiest places in the whole country: the hands-down sinister Isla de las Muñecas (Spanish for Island of Dolls). Now dim the lights, because we have a pretty scary ghost story for you…

Legend has it, Don Julián Santana Barrera lived a quiet and isolated life as the sole guardian of the isle when he witnessed a truly terrifying event: the drowning of a little girl on the shore. Unable to do anything to save her, Julián was so traumatized by this experience that he decided to hang a doll from a nearby tree as a token of respect and sorrow for the child’s soul. A heartfelt tribute that, turns out, got quickly out of hand in a most disturbing way. Imbued by unbearable guilt, the warden decided to expand his collection filling every nook and cranny of the island with hundreds of rusty, broken, and disfigured dolls in a macabre and unsettling display. According to paranormal enthusiasts, poor Julián’s actions were driven by the pernicious influence of those same dolls, which were haunted by the spirit of the deceased child. The end of this tale could’ve hardly been more tragic, with a demented Julián drowning at the same spot where his madness began…

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0 – FlyingCrimsonPig

The Island of Dolls is a popular destination for fearless adventurers, and some guided tours will actually take you close enough to take a good glimpse at this spooky place. It’s not complicated to get to Xochimilco from Mexico City using public transport, so if you feel brave enough to face the empty, frightening looks of these decomposing toys, go for it!

Nazca Lines, Peru

About 250 miles south of Lima lies one of the most astonishing works of art ever conceived: the Nazca Lines. These gigantic geoglyphs etched into the landscape have been baffling archeologists since the 1920s as one of the — quite literally — biggest enigmas on the planet. The almost 1,000 designs (up to 50 new lines were discovered in 2018) are incredibly varied, from 30-mile long geometrical shapes and animals (such as a monkey, a humming bee, an ant, and a condor) to plants, humanoid figures, mythical beasts, and even a decapitation scene.

According to historians, the lines were crafted by the Nazca culture (with some help from the Paracas and Chavin tribes) 2,000 years ago by patiently removing layers of rock from the desert plains next to the Peruvian coast. This hypothesis has been frequently questioned by conspiracy theorists and UFO believers, who argue that the geoglyphs might’ve been the work of an extraterrestrial intelligence. Outlandish? Maybe, but here’s the thing: the Nazca Lines can only be fully appreciated from a really elevated viewpoint. To put it in simpler terms, you NEED to fly over the region on a plane to actually see them. That’s how massive they are! As you can imagine, none of the ancient civilizations that inhabited the area (or any other area on the planet, for that matter) had anything similar to an aircraft from where to not just admire, but also oversee the creation of such a titanic endeavor.

The intriguing Nazca “Astronaut”

So, if it’s impossible to keep track of the humongous designs from the ground, then how were they done? Were there truly out-of-this-world beings involved in their creation, guiding the natives from the sky? And an inevitable follow-up question: what was the purpose of the Nazca Lines in the first place? Some ancient astronaut theorists (people open to the possibility that humankind was mentored by alien visitors in the remote past) suggest that they might be cryptic messages that would allow the Nazca people to communicate with their space overlords. As bizarre as it may sound, many scholars also point to astronomical rituals intended to appease god-like figures (begging for much-needed rain, for example) as a possible explanation.

If you are booking flights to Peru anytime soon and want to see them yourself, you can either do it from a 42-foot observation tower located at the Panamericana Sur highway or, even better, contact one of the local airlines that will take you in a 30-minute flight above these magnificent masterpieces. Just bring some anti-nausea tablets with you for the bumpy ride and prepare to be wowed!

Tikal Ruins, Guatemala

It’s one of history’s most puzzling mysteries: why did the mighty Mayans, heirs of an empire that ruled from southern Mexico through most of Central America for many centuries, abruptly disappear? A highly advanced civilization, responsible for groundbreaking architectural and astronomical feats, that for some reason decided to just abandon their monumental cities and not look back. Although it didn’t exactly happen overnight (the Mayan collapse took place around the 9th century), it’s still shocking that almost 20 million people left everything behind. Droughts, overpopulation, uncontrolled deforestation, famine, or foreign invasions are some of the possible causes scholars usually postulate when trying to come to terms with this swift downfall. Even if their descendants managed to survive in Mesoamerica, all that remains of their glorious, Classic period has been swallowed by the jungle. And of all the Mayan vestiges scattered through the Yucatan Peninsula, few are as iconic as the abandoned city of Tikal.

Located in Petén state, Tikal is one of the biggest archaeological sites in Guatemala and a popular tourist destination. It served as a major ceremonial, cultural, and commercial metropolis populated by at least 120,000 inhabitants. With more than 3,000 buildings across 575 square kilometers, Tikal was discovered in 1848 and hailed as a true quintessential Mayan site due to its imposing pyramids. The Temple of the Grand Jaguar, located at the eastern side of the Grand Plaza, rises almost 165 feet through nine tiers of stairs that represent the levels of the Mayan underworld Xibalba. Among the treasures found in its interior is the tomb of Ah Cacau (Lord Chocolate!), one of the city’s most distinguished rulers. The Temple of the Masks, on the other hand, features two ceremonial and residential complexes (or acropolis). Both temples’ top floors were used to perform astonishingly precise astronomical calculations by tracking the movements of the planets (you heard about the Mayan calendar before, right?) and…yes, bloody human sacrifices as nourishment offerings to their gods. On a much lighter note, the buildings were momentarily transformed into the Rebel Alliance secret base during some of the final scenes of the original Star Wars movie!

It would be unforgivable to travel to Guatemala and not visiting Tikal. Entrance to the massive National Park costs about $20, and it’s free for kids under 12. Many tour guide companies operate from the nearby Flores airport, taking you to the magnificent ruins in a 90-minute bus trip. The jungle’s no joke though: be sure to bring plenty of bottled water, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent, and always travel in groups to avoid getting lost!

You may also like: 10 Lost Cities That You Have to Visit

Puma Punku, Bolivia

Another superb example of a deserted ancient city, Puma Punku stands as one of Bolivia’s biggest enigmas. The settlement was part of Tiwanacu (Tiahuanaco), a settlement right next to the Andes and the Titicaca Lake that was incorporated into the Incan Empire around 1470. Although it’s believed that roughly 400,000 people lived in Puma Punku, the Incans found the place completely abandoned. The site held a holy significance to Incans since they believed it was here where the god Viracocha created humankind. Folklore aside, Puma Punku is remarkably interesting due to the flawless precision used by its architects to cut, smooth, and assemble its mastodontic structures — interlocking stones weighing up to 100 tons — with no trace of tool marks and using perfect 90-degree angles impossible to achieve without modern technology. Some of them even have geometrical drill holes, something absolutely inconceivable for people with no possible access to electric equipment. The best example of this impeccable building technique can be seen in its now-famous “H” blocks, whose true function is still hotly debated nowadays. It should be noted that, although radiocarbon analysis dates Puma Punku to somewhere between 500 and 600 AD, some experts claim that its foundation can be traced some thousands of years earlier.

How did they make it? We just don’t know. Again, the hypothesis of extraterrestrial assistance makes this enclave a true mecca to rogue archeologists and ancient astronaut theorists. Given its archeological appeal, it’s surprising that Puma Punku is not one of Bolivia’s main tourist attractions. Be sure to ask your guide to take you there when visiting Tiwanaku, or you’ll miss it!

Bermuda Triangle, Puerto Rico/Florida/Bermuda

Let’s wrap it up with a timeless classic. The legend of the infamous Bermuda Triangle knows no bounds, unleashing the worst fears of air and sea travelers throughout generations with tales of doomed aircraft vanishing into thin air and ships sinking into the ocean. Bounded by Puerto Rico, Miami, and Bermuda, this vast area of the Atlantic Ocean covers 500,000 square miles of open sea where, allegedly, more than 50 planes and 20 ships have mysteriously disappeared. Author Vincent Gaddis coined the catchy nickname in 1964, elevating the popularity of a myth that might predate the times when the Spaniards first arrived in America. It’s said that Christopher Columbus was the first sailor to report that something funny was going on, with odd compass readings and a big ball of fire falling from the sky which, some speculate, might’ve been a meteor. Others even contend that William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is based on a real Bermuda Triangle shipwreck. Anyhow, the stories we all know took place during the 20th century. From the disappearance of the cargo ship USS Cyclops on March 1918 with over 300 men on board to 5 Navy bombers that malfunctioned and got lost (along with their rescue team) after leaving Fort Lauderdale in December 1945, the “Devil’s Triangle” is to many a cursed place to be avoided.

What’s behind these electronic glitches and unexplained disappearances? Many rational explanations have been suggested over the years, from magnetic anomalies, nasty thunderstorms and gigantic waves able to engulf everything in their way to underwater gas eruptions. Some others provide more far-fetched and bizarre theories, such as sea monsters, time portals, and — yeah, you saw that one coming –alien abductors from outer space. The truth may be less spectacular though, given how many planes and ships transit the area every day without incidents of any sort. Most experts even point out that it’s not particularly dangerous navigation-wise, being actually safer than other less publicized maritime routes. So, if your tropical vacation takes you to this fabled location, you shouldn’t worry too much. Of course, booking your cruise or flight with a trustworthy company never hurts. Just saying.

This is our list of the most mysterious places in Latin America, but there are many, many more! If you have been to any other enigmatic location, share your experiences with us in the comments!

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About The Author

Javier Peinado
Content Writer

Born in Barcelona. Raised in Madrid. New Yorker at heart. When he is not geeking out at a comic book convention or binge-watching superhero shows, this bilingual journalist loves to discover secret venues and hidden places around the world to fill his insatiable wanderlust. He also digs into ghost-busting, Bigfoot-hunting, and UFO-sighting. The truth is out there.