Xochimilco (So-Chi-Mil-Co) is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site Xochimilco 20km south of Mexico City. A network of canals and man-made islands these Chinampas were created by the pre-Hispanic peoples of the region around 1,000 year ago as a way to increase agricultural production.
Variously translated from the Aztec’s Nahuatl language as “garden of flowers” or “place where flowers grow”. These days one of the capital’s most cherished Sunday traditions is spending an afternoon floating through the canals on brightly painted, covered wooden pole boats called trajineras, having a long lunch and enjoying mariachis (a traditional Mexican band playing on passing barges. It is now well and truly on the tourist map, which while good for local businesses, means the sedate nature of the area has been somewhat tarnished.
I was fortunate enough to meet some locals who took me there in their car. However Xochimilco can be also reached by public transport and takes between an hour and 90 minutes to reach. Start at the Tasqueña Metro Station which is the last southbound stop on the blue line 2 of the metro, fares are $5 pesos per person. From Tasqueña, follow signs to the ‘Tren Ligero’ which is the light rail train that takes you to Xochimilco for all of $3 pesos. Try your best to get a seat because it’s 17 stops to Terminal Xochimilco which is your stop. Once you get off, you can explore the surroundings and make your way to the Nuevo Nativitas Embarcadero which is roughly 30 minutes on foot or a 10 minute taxi ride away. Of course there is also the option to get an taxi or Uber from Mexico City itself, this may be more cost-effective depending on the size of the group. It should cost approximately 250 Pesos or £9 each way in good traffic but could easily be double that if you hit rush-hour. Organised tours are available but these are more structured so what you can see and how much time you have is restricted. For that reason I would recommend you see Xochimilco independently.
In recent years water pollution and overcrowding on the canals has threatened its UNESCO status. It was this very award that may have caused such overcrowding in the first place, perhaps losing its status on the UNESCO list may help to restore Xochimilco to its previous standard. For now midweek and early mornings are your best chance to have a more peaceful time, although this means there will consequently more hassle from the vendors.
After going out for a few hours our group headed back to the Embarcadero (wharf) area where there are hundreds more vendors selling all types of Mexican food such as the ubiquitous tacos and quesadillas as well as chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and elotes (grilled corn slathered in a creamy chili and lime sauce with cheese). To drink there is of course Tequila, Corona and for the more adventurous Micheladas (a beer Bloody Mary). All these food and drink options are available on the water as well so trust me you will not go hungry or thirsty in Xochimilco!
As day turned into night me and my new Mexican friends headed back out onto the canals. Most of the tourists had left by now and the atmosphere turned a little more raucous with loud music being pumped from speakers and boats bumping into each other. It was a more authentic experience than earlier, if by authentic I mean drunk Mexicans bombing off the roofs of the boats into the murky waters and dancing to Reggaeton!
Despite the crowds, especially at the weekend, Xochimilco is still a great place to visit. If possible go independently and in the middle of the week where it will be somewhat quieter. The trajineras are engine-less and powered by a gondelero who pushes the boats smoothly along using a long wooden stick, similar to the Venice gondola or punting in Cambridge. Prices start at roughly 500 Pesos per hour for a medium-sized vessel and like much of South America bartering is not uncommon here. When on the water if you want something to eat or drink just ask your gondolera for help or simply wait for one of the many vendors to come to you. Knowing a few basic Spanish words will make things easier and help ingratiate you to the locals too.