When Xochimilco was first suggested as a day trip from my new home in Mexico City, I definitely wasn’t convinced.
Ride a non-motorized boat down a canal while drinking tequila or beer? Sounds like a boozed-up version of Venice, and more than a little awkward. Tack that on to an hour’s cab ride outside of Mexico City (I definitely don’t enjoy wasting my weekend hours in the hideous DF traffic),
Luckily, I let myself be convinced. I have since used every single friend visiting me as an excuse to visit Xochimilco.
So – what IS Xochimilco and what makes it so great?
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Xochimilco means “place of flowers” in Nahuatl. The name still fits, as beautiful flowers line the riverside. Much more prominent than the flora these days, though, are the hundreds of big, colorful wooden boats (called trajineras). They’re almost all of the boats are prominently emblazoned with a woman’s name, as tradition dictates that the boat be named after the owner’s daughter or other close female relative.
Before transitioning into a favorite local excursion, the man-made canal was once important for trade routes. Now it’s a serious tourist hot spot. Some Chilangos (people who live in Mexico City) now complain that it is too touristy, but others still consider it a worthwhile day trip.
What did I think?
While I had pictured sitting in a canoe with a few friends while an unhappy paddler pushed us down the man-made canal, that image couldn’t be further from the truth.
While canoes do navigate the canal, their purpose is to sell refreshments (typically of the alcoholic variety), snacks, and souvenirs.
The boats transporting Xochimilco visitors are quite a bit bigger (with room for 20 people or more), brightly painted, and very stable.
The gondolier (not sure what else to call him) is typically cheerful and fun, and more than willing to join in when offered his own beer and snacks.
As far as my traffic concerns, the trip does take around an hour in the car but is only about $10-20 in Uber. To reach it by public transport, it takes about 90 minutes by public transport (take Metro Line 2 to Tasquena, and from there take Tren Ligero to station Xochimilco which is about a ten minute walk to the boat starting point).
I also enjoyed that care is taken to protect visitors from inflated prices. Especially as compared to places like Thailand where “foreigner price” inflation runs rampant, Xochimilco enforces set pricing. Posters state the price per boat (350MXP per hour), along with current rates for items like beer and snacks.
If you want to experience Xochimilco at the peak of its festivities, make sure to plan your trip for a Sunday (rain or shine!). Hundreds of couples, families, and big groups of college students will be sure to join you, bumping boats in the crowded canal while celebrating, drinking, and singing.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back boating experience, Monday is much calmer, as is any weekday. You’ll have much of the canal to yourself, and will be able to appreciate the beautiful flowers and serenity of the still waters.
Regardless of the day you visit, you’ll be able to take in the vibrant singing of Mariachi and Marimba bands floating down in their own boat (and more than willing to jump on yours and serenade your group for a small fee). Flower and plant markets, animal attractions, and restaurants with bathrooms (necessary if you’ve been taking advantage of the Corona canoe), dot the shoreline. If you’re too busy soaking up the experience of relaxing (or reveling) in your boat, vendors selling souvenirs and photo opps will float by you, and just need to be gestured over for you to take a look at their wares.
I’m glad I took a chance on Xochimilco – let me know if you try it too!