Just when you think things can’t get any stranger in Mexico City, they usually do. In fact, the sprawling capital offers so many unusual sights that you can plan a whole trip around visiting oddball places. Here are 10 experiences sure to make a lasting impression.

Island of the Dolls

Creepy dolls welcome you to their island home. Image by John Hecht / Lonely Planet

Slasher doll Chucky would feel right at home on spooky Isla de las Muñecas. Hundreds of weathered dolls – some missing heads and limbs – hang from trees and clotheslines on a chinampa (raised garden) deep in the heart of the Xochimilco canals. An island caretaker dredged the dolls from surrounding canals to appease the spirit of a girl who had drowned nearby.

Make it happen
Recommended visiting hours are 8am-4pm. The island is only accessible by boat so take a ‘Tláhuac Paradero’ bus from metro General Anaya to the Embarcadero Cuemanco entrance, walk a kilometer to the docks and take a 4hr trajinera (gondola) boat ride for M$1400.

Munch on bugs at Mercado San Juan

Insects for lunch? Anyone? Anyone? Image by John Hecht / Lonely Planet

Feeling peckish? How about some escamoles (ant larvae), jumiles (stink bugs), gusanos de maguey (maguey worms), or perhaps some crunchy chapulines (grasshoppers)? Many folks are pleasantly surprised when sampling insects for the first time at this gourmet food market (that is, if they don’t mind getting grasshopper legs wedged between their teeth). Mexico’s love for bugs dates back to the pre-Hispanic era – today insects are seen as a delicacy in upscale restaurants, and they’re highly nutritious to boot. Still peckish?

Make it happen
Mercado San Juan is at Pugibet 21, Colonia Centro, metro San Juan de Letrán, and is open 8am-5:30pm.

Santa Muerte patiently awaits

Once revolving around a small cult, Santa Muerte, or Our Lady of Death, now draws millions of followers who have left behind Catholicism and turned to worshipping the popular skeleton saint instead. Throughout the city you’ll find numerous Santa Muerte altars, but the mother of all shrines is in the working-class neighborhood of Colonia Morelos, where the faithful kneel before a grim reaper figure wearing a sequined gown and wig of long dark tresses.

Make it happen
Enter Colonia Morelos at your own risk – it’s relatively safe by day, but don’t visit this crime-ridden area after dark. The Santa Muerte altar can be found at number 12 Calle Alfarería, between Mineros and Panderos streets, metro Tepito.

Go underground at El Chopo

El Chopo market. Image by John Hecht / Lonely Planet

Every Saturday afternoon, thousands of people flock to tianguis (open street market) El Chopo, a weekly gathering of black-clad punks, die-hard head bangers and just about every other youth subculture imaginable. Vendors hawk random band T-shirts, indie music, cult videos and all kinds of quirky stuff, while at the market’s north end, young-and-hungry bands grind out garage punk, metal and rockabilly. After the market closes, Chopo regulars unwind in the raucous neighborhood bars.

Make it happen
Tianguis Cultural del Chopo is on Calle Aldama in Colonia Guerrero, metro Buenavista, and is open 10am-5pm Sat.

Mercado Sonora – for all your witchcraft needs

Sonora Market is the place to stock up on potions. Image by John Hecht / Lonely Planet

Ward off evil spirits or rid yourself of a curse at Mercado Sonora, aka ‘the witches’ market’. Aisles are lined with stalls offering black magic items, strange potions and limpias, a pre-Hispanic cleansing ritual involving clouds of incense and a herbal brushing. Amulets and talismans abound – some stands even sell ceramic figures of Jesus Malverde, a narco folk saint who brings good luck to drug traffickers.

Make it happen
Mercado Sonora is on Avenida Fray Servando Teresa de Mier 419, Colonia Merced Balbuena, metro Merced, and is open 10am-7pm.

A shrine to Mexico’s masked marvels

Take on an eating challenge at this shrine to wrestling. Image by John Hecht / Lonely Planet

Former pro wrestler Super Astro has turned his downtown sandwich shop, El Cuadrilatero (The Ring), into a lucha libre (wrestling) shrine. Colorful masks encased in glass boxes pay tribute to Mexican wrestling greats such as Blue Demon and El Santo. Hungry? If in 15 minutes you can devour the 1.3kg/2.9lb torta gladiador (an artery-choking sub stacked with various meats, egg and cheese), it’s free. Chewing is optional.

Make it happen
El Cuadrilatero can be found at Luis Moya 73, Colonia Centro, metrobus Plaza San Juan. Tortas cost M$65-95, the gladiador costs M$270, and it’s open 7am-8pm Mon-Sat.

Get your freak on at Disco Patrick Miller

People-watching is downright fascinating at Disco Patrick Miller, a throbbing nightclub known for its ‘Hi-NRG’ music (up-tempo disco). The venue draws a highly diverse clientele, ranging from ‘80s throwbacks and working-class regulars to cross dressers and break dancers. The real fun begins when circles open up on the floor and locals pull off moves that would have made Michael Jackson proud.

Make it happen
You can dance every Friday night away (10.30pm-4am) at Mérida 17, Colonia Roma, metro Insurgentes; cover M$30.

Marvel at mummies in a crypt

If the creepy dolls didn't freak you out, these mummified monks will. Image by John Hecht / Lonely Planet

Shortly after occupying this convent during the Mexican Revolution, Zapatista soldiers came across a surprising find while digging for buried gold – a dozen mummified corpses. The unidentified bodies, now on display in a muraled museum crypt, are believed to be 17th-century benefactors and friars of the Carmelite order. The mummies’ horrific facial expressions have been remarkably well preserved for your morbid viewing pleasure.

Make it happen
El Museo de El Carmen is at Av Revolución 4, Colonia San Ángel, metrobus La Bombilla, and is open 10am-5pm Tue-Sun. Admission is M$52, Sun free.

Find your inner kid in a funky toy museum

All toys great and small can be found at this museum. Image by John Hecht / Lonely Planet

Japanese-Mexican Roberto Shimizu claims to have amassed the world’s largest collection of antique toys. His Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico is a hoarder’s paradise with a collection of more than one million items, of which around 60,000 are on permanent display in unique cases Shimizu himself designed from recycled objects. Exhibits across the three cluttered floors come in all sizes, from tiny action figures to life-size robots.

Make it happen
The museum is at Dr. Olvera 15, Colonia Doctores, metro Obrera. Admission is M$75, and it’s open 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat, 10am-4pm Sun.

The sinking city phenomenon

Downtown Mexico City is sinking fast. The vast valley of present-day D.F. sits atop a lake bed that was drained by the Spanish at the beginning of the colonial era meaning that many weighty old buildings in the Historic Center continue to sink into the sloshy soil. Nowhere is this more evident than inside cultural center Ex Teresa Arte Actual, a teetering 17th-century former convent. From the moment you walk into the slanted edifice, it feels like you’re walking around a funhouse, but instead of mirrors you get trippy experimental art on display.

Make it happen
The Ex Teresa Arte Actual center is at Licenciado Verdad 8, Colonia Centro, metro Zócalo. Admission is free and it’s open 10am-6pm.

This article was originally published in January 2015 and updated in February 2017.

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