Xochimilco Mexico City is one of the best things you can do when you visit this mega city.
Xochimilco is the Venice of Mexico.
It’s a huge network of canals and one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve been to in this part of the country.
It’s also a peek back at the former glory of Mexico City. Before the Spanish arrived, much of Mexico City was made up of canals. It was filled in by the colonists, and Xochimilco is all that remains as a reminder.It’s also one seriously awesome party. Xochimilco is where Mexico City dwellers head on the weekends to unwind, have a few beers, dance on a boat with their pals, and eat tons of delicious street food.
As a first time visitor to Xochimilco, it’s important to know what the deal is. It’s a massive tourist trap and you don’t want to end up paying through the nose only to hang out in an empty canal.
The History of Xochimilco
The Xochimilecos or the people who come from Xochimilco, have been here longer than the Aztecs. In fact, when the Aztecs showed up in the Valley of Mexico, they came to the Xochimilecos to learn how to build their city.
You see, the downtown area of Mexico City used to be a lake. An enormous Lake called Lake Taxco. That’s why when you go into the Mexico City Cathedral and walk to the middle of the church, you’ll see a big pendulum hanging from the ceiling.
This pendulum shows you how much the city is sinking every year (roughly 2cm per year!).
Xochimilco is also built on a lake. So while it looks like canals, it’s actually land masses that have been built on top of a lake. And every year, the locals need to continue to maintain their islands. If they don’t they slowly erode back into the lake.
How to get to Xochimilco Mexico City
Getting to Xochimilco from Mexico City is SUPER simple. Take the metro to Tasqueña. It’s the end of the blue line (line 2).
From that same station follow the signs for the Tren Ligero – the train line that will take you straight to Xochimilco. It’s the last stop on that line.
Once you get to the station in Xochimilco you can either walk or take a quick taxi ride to Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas. Make sure you ask for this specific spot – this is where the main parking lot and boat launch is.
There are tons of signs that will try to lead you from the station to a different entrance. There are people on bicycles touting for your business, but these smaller embarcaderos are much more expensive (and much quieter).
Nuevo Nativitas has tons of food stalls and in my experience, it is one of the cheapest places to get a boat from. It’s where all the locals head, so it’s busy (in a good way). This is where the party starts.
There is one other embarcadero that is worth checking out. Embarcadero Cuemanco is a good option, especially on the weekends. This doesn’t tend to get as busy with the party boats as Nuevo Nativas.
This is one of the best embarcaderos to come to during Day of the Dead. There are tours that leave from here. You’ll see Day of the Dead-themed boats. This is also where the famous La Llorona show takes place in October.
How Much Does a Trajinera Cost at Xochimilco Mexico City?
There are two types of boats in Xochimilco. Tons of signs that say 20 Pesos per person. This is for a TAXI boat.
It will drop you off at a different location. If you’ve come to experience the canals, I don’t recommend taking this one. You can pay 40 pesos for a return trip, but it will simply go up and down the canal without any stops.
The other option is to hire your own boat. These boats have tables and chairs (the other taxi boat only has benches). If you’ve come to Xochimilco to party with your pals, this is definitely the best option.
You will pay 350 pesos (about $17) for one hour for the entire boat, regardless of how many people are on the boat.
So the more people you bring, the cheaper is will be. We stayed on the boat for two hours (it went by SO quickly) and we paid 600 pesos. That was for four of us to ride up and around the canals for two whole hours.
What Can I Bring on a Trajinera at Xochimilco in Mexico City?
Bring everything. Bring waters, bring beers, bring bottles of wine, bring snacks, pack a whole damn cooler full of goodies.
I always thought that there were tons of vendors selling food from their boats, and there are, but it is WAY overpriced. Stop at one of the convenience stores along the way and pick up beers and snacks before you go on the boat.
Just outside of the entrance there are a few shops that sell beers and snacks. If you come early enough then there will be plenty, but if you don’t arrive until around 5 or 6pm, then they may have sold out of most things, so plan accordingly.
When you get to Nuevo Nativitas, you’ll be able to have a few beers and plenty of street food – tacos, gorditas, tlacoyos, quesadillas, for really cheap. Definitely get yourself some cecina while you’re there (salted/dried beef in a taco).
What’s There to See and Do at Xochimilco in Mexico City?
It’s all about the boat ride at Xochimilco. We went just before sunset and as you head down the narrow passages you’ll be surrounded by greenery.
It feels miles away from the skyscrapers of downtown Mexico City. You can see the mountains and even a few stars after dark.
There are tons of greenhouses around Xochimilco’s canals. You can ask the driver to stop and check out the different plants, and even buy one if you fancy it.
The other strange thing in Xochimilco is Isla de las Muñecas, or doll island.
While the original doll island is a few hours away (you can go for about 1500 pesos), there is a replica doll island a few minutes from Nueva Nativitas. Legend has it that a young girl drowned in the canal near the island.
The owner of the island wanted to keep her company, wanted to help her ghost which he claimed to have both seen and heard.
Some say that now, the dolls house her spirit. It’s become widely known as a haunted spot. Whichever way you slice it, it’s kind of creepy and also quite fascinating.
One of the best things to do is to simply enjoy riding past all the colorfully decorated trajineras (boats). Bring a speaker for your music (or you can rent one while you’re here) and say salud to all the people that pass by.
Mariachi bands will come onto your boat as you move through the canals and serenade you with Mexican classics. Of course, you’ll have to pay for it, but it’s really fun and the guys have a great sense of humor.
What’s Xochimilco Like Once You’re on the Boat?
Once you’re out on the water, you’ll be slowly moving through the canal.
The person who is steering your boat is using only one very thick, very long stick. Ask nicely and he’ll let you give it a try. Just don’t drop it, something that many a tourist has done in the past.
The canal is usually very busy with boats, especially on weekends.
Don’t come to Xochimilco expecting to take a tour of all of the canal networks. The two hours that most people spend on the boat takes you less than a mile away from the port because you’re moving so slowly.
If you didn’t bring your own music, you’ll be able to listen to everyone else’s. Or invite the mariachis onboard.
There are a few boats with mariachi bands on them and if you want them to play you a few songs, they’ll pull up, climb onto your boat and serenade away. Just remember that you have to actually pay them for this, they’re not doing it for free.
There are also women who push small boats around with beers and snacks. Some have full-on barbecues on their boats where they’ll heat you up a fresh quesadilla or some tacos. Others just have buckets of chapulines (crickets) and salted peanuts to purchase.
Be sure to have small coins for the bathroom.
There are plenty of places for the boat to pull over where you can use the toilet. Most of the houses along the canal in Xochimilco have bathrooms, but you’ll have to pay 5 Pesos per person. If you have a bit more cash you can also buy some cute plants from them.
Take a Tour of Xochimilco, Mexico City
If you don’t feel totally comfortable navigating the metro and train systems, you can take a tour of Xochimilco from Mexico City.
I highly recommend Ubish from Mexico Underground (he was recently featured on the Netflix show Taco Chronicles!). He is a fantastic tour guide and knows this area of the city very well. His tours are private, so you’ll be going with just your group.
I also love the Xochimilco tours offered by Devoured. This company is not only Mexican-run but also completely female-run. They do a wonderful food and cultural tour that takes you beyond the party-boat scene and out into the real side of Xochimilco.
There’s music playing, you can drink beers and micheladas and eat tacos and chapulines. It’s not something you want to do by yourself since there is no boat sharing. You would be coming and booking your own boat and it may not be the most fun.
There are so many things to do in Xochimilco beyond the party scene (although the party scene is pretty fun, too).
See Another Side of Xochimilco Mexico City
While the touristy side with the colorful boats is definitely worth a visit, there’s another side to Xochimilco that I think people should also see. This is the side that started it all – the farmers, the families, the axolotl.
I recently took a tour with Ubish from Mexico Underground, watch the full video here to get a taste of what it’s all about. I also took a similar tour with Devoured during Day of the Dead which you can watch here.
We explored a very quiet side of the canal.
We learned all about what this small group of farmers is doing to help clean the city’s air, to bring local Mexican produce to restaurants around the city, and how they are trying to save the little ancient salamander that is older than the Aztecs.
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