Floating Around Xochimilco

Filed Under: Travel

The floating gardens of Xochimilco were one of the best parts of our trip to Mexico City. Maybe even the best part — my husband claims he would plan an entire trip around going to Xochimilco with a group of friends.

Boarding the boats

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Xochimilco is one of the municipalities that makes up the Federal District of Mexico. What makes Xochimilco especially noteworthy today is the preservation of the canals and artificial islands that provided transportation and irrigation during Aztec times. At one point these waterways were spread throughout the Valley of Mexico, but from the time of the Spanish onwards the canals have been drained, paved over, etc.

As one of the last examples of the pre-Hispanic waterways, Xochimilco has been preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From what I can gather, even with the UNESCO designation the canals have had a rough time of it (check out the litany of problems reported on Wikipedia).

We visited on a Saturday morning. If you can time your visit for a weekend I highly recommend it! The waterways were filled with families having picnics, celebrating special occasions, and generally enjoying the water.

All the boats have different names, or can be renamed for special occasions

Apparently if you visit during the week you’ll see more tourists, but the canals are less crowded.

All that land started as artificial islands built by the Aztecs

Floating down a quieter section of the canal

The islands were originally used for agriculture, and many still are

I thought the crowding was one of the best parts, personally.

So many boats!

Trajinera traffic jam

The boats have a long table running down the center, with about two dozen chairs.

Plenty of seating

Have more people attending the party? Tie two boats together!

Helpful boat captains link trajineras together as needed

And what’s a party without music? For a small fee, a mariachi band would tie their boat to yours, and serenade you down the river.

Mariachi on the river

More mariachi!

A four-boat party, plus mariachi

Taking a break

For those that didn’t bring a picnic, various vendors floated along the canals selling fruit, corn, micheladas, and many other things I couldn’t name.

Peeling purchased fruit

Sure, the water was a little dirty, and yeah, there were the requisite folks trying to sell me jewelry, but it was so fun. I highly, highly, recommend a visit!

Logistics of visiting Xochimilco

Like Teotihuacan, there are myriad tour companies that will take you to Xochimilco. I don’t think that’s necessary.

We hired a driver for the day, as we had a lot of ground we wanted to cover, but public transit is a great alternative (and probably the better option, actually).

  • Take the blue line Metro to the end at Tasqueña
  • Follow the signs to the light rail, then take that to the end
  • The embarcadero is a short walk away (maybe ten minutes)
  • The round-trip ride will be less than $2 USD

The standard rates for the trajineras are $350 MXN per hour. That’s for the entire boat, not per passenger (which is apparently a common “tourist” rate). There are big posters, so you shouldn’t pay more than that, though you could potentially pay less.

Plenty of boats if you arrive in the morning

Feel free to bring lunch, drinks, snacks — whatever. We saw families with multiple boats (and multiple coolers). You can always buy food from the various boat vendors as well, in which you’ll want to break any larger bills before the visit.

Bottom line

This was such a fun day. I always love being out on the water, but this was particularly fun. I loved the bright colors, the music, and the laughter.

Canals of Xochimilco

Hopefully the local population will rally around Xochimilco so as to preserve the space. It’s a special and unique experience, and I’m so glad we made time for it!

Have you been to Xochimilco? Any other tips?

  1. This sounds awesome – I love being on the water, too. I’ve just mentally added it to my “next time in Mexico City” list. Thanks, Tiffany, I’d never heard of Xochimilco.

  2. There is a second, natural zone of Xochimilco. You can reach it from one of the six embarcaderos at the end of the tren ligero. It’s the Embarcadero Celada, three blocks west of the main central park and the cathedral. The park and cathedral and the market that leads you to them are all interesting as are the neighborhood streets that can lead you straight there if you’re using Google maps. You should arrive before noon to see the market; this isn’t big city life anymore out in Xochimilco.

    The natural zone of Xochimilco is very different; you’ll see more traditional life, some agriculture, and more tranquility instead of the frenzy of partying on the water.

    If you want to try your hand at canoeing in Xochimilco and meeting the endangered native axolotl and the people working to restore it, you can visit the Michmani ecotourist center. Don’t expect an American style publicly funded well staffed science center; it’s all on a shoestring. Bring two people to paddle and ask a cab driver at Taxqueña station to take you to Embarcadero Cuemanco, then walk 100m past the far southern end of the parking lot down the narrow canal road. Walk all the way in and ask for kayaks. Arrive early, by ten am. It’s open almost every day but the operation packs up by 2pm and you want to have some time to canoe.

    There are hundreds of miles of canals with very traditional lifestyles and nature, just a few miles from dead center of the world’s second largest city.

  3. Before this series of posts I was only interested in going to Mexico City to see Teotihuacan, and probably one or two of the museums. But as you continue the series I’m finding a lot more to do there. Thanks for all of this….

    I’m glad you mentioned the cost of the trajineras. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been wondering how much things are going to cost. For instance the cost of a Uber ride in the city proper, and with this post the cost of a car and driver for a day.

  4. Xochimilco is easily reached by public transport and is better on weekends with local families. While you are down there I would also recommend visiting the nearby Dolores Olmedo museum – It is houses the private collection of Dolores Olmedo in her hacienda. Most of collection is diego and frida, plus contemporaries thrown in. But the grounds and the house are beautiful to walk around in.

  5. @ Robert Hanson — Hah, I’m getting excited for your trip for you! In general things were very inexpensive. The Metro was 25¢ one-way in town. An Uber across town was $15 for almost an hour in the car. We booked the car and driver through the hotel for about $25 an hour, so I’m sure you could do that for much less with a bit of time investment.

  6. i need to add Xochimilco to my next MEX visit itinerary! Thanks for sharing this. Would you say 2 hours is enough time to budget to get a good experience (time on-site, not including getting to and from the site)?

  7. @ Pushslice — It depends what you’re after, I think. That’s definitely enough time to enjoy a picnic and get a sense of it all, if you want to go out in the more agricultural areas you need about twice as much time.

  8. There is a natural park Xochimilco and a neighborhood and so many embarcaderos. Which one is the best to take for a boat ride and seeing the Isla de las Munecas? Thanks for your reply!

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