Creepy Road Trips
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Mexico City to Coatzintla, Mexico
Dearly departed: Mexico's dark arts go far beyond tequila chugging and body shots in Cancún. Start your journey in the Mercado de Sonora in Mexico City, an outdoor warren of booths that equip practitioners of brujería, Mexican witchcraft, with live snakes, amulets, and potions.
Spooky stops: Before you head out of town, hire a boat to ferry you to Isla de las Muñecas (the Island of Dolls). Legend has it that after a young girl drowned in the surrounding canals, the island's reclusive inhabitant found a doll in the water, then another, and another. He hung his collection from trees to keep the girl's spirit company until he drowned, too. Hundreds of tiny bodies remain, like demonic plastic guardians lashed to the trees. Terrified? We don't blame you. Seek salvation from the island's curse by hightailing it five hours east on Highway 179 to Catemaco, the center of Mexican witchcraft. Here, multigenerational practitioners of brujería cleanse auras, cast spells, and remove hexes.
Final resting place: Hug the Gulf of Mexico on the five-hour drive north on Route 180 to Coatzintla, home of El Tajín, a complex of ruins, dating from A.D. 300–600, that thrums with the memory of gory human sacrifices. One altar depicts a victim with his entrails draped over his frame, another gives directions for a sport that ended with a beheading, and a third shows a god self-sacrificing by driving a spike through his, er, man parts. Flee the madness and try to get some sleep in Poza Rica, the closest town with hotels.