The system of canals and chinampas (cultivated artificial islands fashioned from the area’s swampy soils) that has survived in the far-south neighborhood known as Xochilmilco once stretched all the way to the Centro. To this day, the community is known for its plant nurseries and vegetable gardens. These ancient landscapes now contribute to what has become one of the most singular pleasure gardens in the world, where visitors hire “gondoliers” to propel boats known as trajineras as they sail these channels in the company of floating mariachis and food vendors, partying teens, and extended families out for a picnic lunch. Since a tour is usually a four-hour-plus investment (it flies by), ask your oarsman to take you to Xochimilco’s more-rural precincts, where you’ll enjoy marvelous quiet, far from the madding crowd, in the company of cranes, curs, and picturesque cornfields.
Spend a Sunday on the Canals
There’s no better way to spend a sunny Sunday in Mexico City than by joining local families in a beloved chilango tradition: riding along the canals of Xochimilco in a trajinera (boat). Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located in the southern part of the city, and it’s famed for its Technicolor boats that have floated back and forth on the canals since at least the mid-19th-century. Originally, the boats were decorated with fresh flowers and juniper branches; today, they have elaborate painted frames. Though you can take a trajinera ride any day, Sunday is best if you want to have the true experience of Xochimilco like a local. Families flock to the canal for a boat ride. As you float back and forth, you’ll pass other boats loaded with food (corn on the cob, chayote flecked with chile), drinks (beer, Micheladas), souvenirs (woven blankets, handmade toys), and mariachis. If you want any of their wares or services, the boat simply pulls up alongside the one you’ve rented and the transaction is made. It’s a lovely, picturesque way to spend an afternoon.
Sundays on the Canal Call for Cool Sweet Treats
There’s no shortage of savory and sweet treats to tempt you when you float along the canal on a trajinera (gondola-like boat) in Xochimilco. There’s fresh fruit doused in lime juice and dashed with chile powder, fresh-roasted nuts, crisp candy apples, and juicy corn on the cob. There are also nieves, shaved ice served in a range of exotic flavors, from mamey to guanabana (soursop) and unusual tastes for shaved ice, like cheese and Nescafe. If you want to have your nieve like a local, ask for a good splash of hot sauce to top it off.
Mexico's City's Colorful Mercado Xochimilco
The past is still present at Mercado Xochimilco, a bustling, sprawling market that lines Mexico City‘s canals. Take a ride on one of the colorful trajinera boats, but don’t skip a walk through the narrow aisles. Representative fare includes acociles—tiny crayfish with lime and chili—and chileatole: a hot green drink made with masa and spiced with epazote and fresh chili. The Oaxacan cheese quesadillas at Puesto No. 200 are not to be missed. Situated slightly south of central Mexico City, the Xochimilco neighborhood can be reached on public transportation. Take the Metro Line 2 (blue line) to Tasqueña, switch there (with a separate ticket) to the Tren Ligero (light rail), and ride to the last station on the line.
Party Mexican Style on the Canals
Mexico City is dotted with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but we want to tell you about Xochimilco, (Say zoccy milko) one of the last remaining remnants from when Mexico City was an island. This district of canals is a popular place for locals to hang out and party on weekends and, naturally, the way to see the canals of Xochimilco is by boat. These canals turn into an all out party mexican style, a fun relaxing afternoon with beer and mariachi far away from the 20 million souls in the city. Traveller Tip - If you are a ‘tourist’ you fall into the “Donation Category” - so take extra care with pricing when negotiating with your boatie. There’s a few opportunist mariachis and food vendors too!
The Party Trajineras
Just an hour away from Condesa, you will find yourself in a magical land of fun. Easy to reach by subway, yet fast and more costly by taxi, Xochimilco is definitely on the top of my list of things to do to escape the city. If you are staying At the Red Tree House they sometimes arrange large trips for the day. Before you get on the water, buy yourself and friends a few beers or purchase micheladas and corn while making your way through the congested canal. The driver of the boat will give you some good recommendations and hopefully you’ll pay for mariachis to play for you as well.
Xochimilco was originally on a lake with a causeway to the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. Now a day trip outside Mexico City, it is known for its flower market. Climb aboard one of these lovely trajineras and spend the afternoon floating among the canals. Mariachis and floating food vendors will complete your afternoon.
Experiencing Aztec Life in Modern Day Mexico City
Five hundred years ago, Mexico City looked a little different. Instead of crowded roads, there was water. The honking red and gold taxis were preceded by boats. In place of today’s bars, restaurants and cathedrals sat piles of mud, reeds and tree roots. Back then Mexico City was Tenochtitlán, capital of the Aztec empire. The city stretched over a series of man-made islands called chinampas. For years, these piles of earth gave the Aztecs easy access to Lake Texcoco’s fertile shores and ample fish supply. And then the Spanish came along. Xochimilco is the only place where you can experience the original Mexico City. It’s about a 45 minute cab ride from the city. Sundays are the best day to go.
A Breather in Xochimilco
At the south end of Mexico City lie the floating gardens of Xochimilco. These waterways date from the time of the Aztecs and are great if you suddenly feel overwhelmed by craziness of a big city. To avoid the crowds, gather a couple of friends and head to the Cuemanco canal, where the rides on the flat bottomed boats called trajineras are a bit more tranquil than in Nativitas or San Blas.