Mexico: Xochimilco around Mexico DF


I haven’t had many chances to visit places starting with X in my short 49ish years on Earth.

A visit to Xochimilco, located around Mexico City (also known as Mexico DF or just ‘Mexico’) with my my wife and extended Mexican family rectified this. Xochimilco is an immersion in the noise, fun, chaos and colour, that is Mexican culture.


First I feel inclined to give you a bit of history. I like history. The the traffic jam of colourful barges has a modern retro feel. Further back, Xochimilco has a scent of really old school charm that harks back some centuries before some guerros from Spain arrived to the civilisation of the indigenous Mexica (pronounced mee-shee-ka oft better known as the Aztecs). The Mexica, some centuries before were pushed into a que chafa (pretty crappy) swampy area by more dominant indigenous people’s of modern day central Mexico. The Mexican flag you an idea of their settlement story. The eagle with holding the snake on a cactus was prophesied by the Mexica as the place they’d build their home, and later the magnificent city of Tenochtitlan. In that city they developed an innovative series of floating islands that included highly productive farmlands, known as Chinampas. These fed Tenochtitlan’s residents. in what is now the centre of modern-day Mexico City. The centre of Mexico City no longer has the huge lake city, and Chinampas, it once had.  Xochimilco, just a short trip away, have remnants of what used to be.

xochimilco barges boats

I like to mention this history as I had been first drawn to going to Xochimilco because I thought It’d be like going back a few hundred years and seeing the Mexica in their heyday.

You can do some sort of historic tours of the area to get a sense of what it was like back in the 1500s. Most Mexicans hire one of Xochimilco’s many colouful barges and head out for a 2-hour cruise with a bunch of your friends and acquaintances, or people you’ve just met on the shore. Either way you’ll still imagine the world the Mexica once dominated. If you have an imagination like mine.


So how can I visit this magical place? you’re asking yourself.

Let’s assume your starting point is somewhere in Mexico City, firstly you must travel to Xochimilco by bus or car. Then you make your way down to the canals and organise your hire of one of Xochimilco’s barge (trajineras). You will almost certainly just visit the place from Mexico City as Xochimilco is not much of a place to stay, so I’ve been told by my wife, and also from what I’ve seen from Mexican films set in the non-touristy areas. In short, in parts, it’s a little highly dangerous.


The barge hire system is fairly well organised and there’s a set rate and sort of taxi rank system there where you pay your money, wait in the queue and go out cruising the canals. It’s not quite a wait in line for your turn type of queuing scenario, but close enough to it for Mexico. Don’t get screwed over if you’re a foreigner and go for anything but the ‘official’ rate, just pay the set rate like everyone else, you should though give them a good tip as you are a foreigner and they are trying to make a living. It’s around 500 MXN pesos per hour, but you can fit around 8-10 people on board, so not too much per head. If you’re alone, you could probably ask around if there’s a boat that’s not quite full so you can share the costs. Unless you want to splurge and just get yourself a boat, but you’re also going to have to cover the entire cost yourself and you would have as much fun. Do not entertain any illusion you’ll somehow be alone in the canals anyway. If you’re not sharing a boat with people you certainly share the waterways for the whole way. Occasionally you’ll get a few seconds to yourself as your turn a corner, otherwise it is boat-traffic jam colourful chaos. With mariachi.

xochimilco mariachi

So, once you’re over step one, locating your boat, you should quickly go to step two and load up on beer and snacks for your trip. You might actually want to do that step first (and therefore renumber it step one) so you’re not rushed when you do find a boat and you can just jump on board once its ready. We had about 30 minutes between getting our boat and having it ready for boarding so we did a quick rush around fro refreshments for the trip.

There’s plenty of food and drink options around – it is Mexico, if you’re not stuck out in the middle of the jungle you won’t be far from food and drink. Even then I would be surprised if someone’s set up a little cantina or taqueria. So don’t be too worried about snacks sustenance, though the area around the boats is a bit congested and if you want things a bit cheaper you might want to walk a few blocks and not buy things just at the boats themselves. You can also buy super tacky nick knacks around the place. The sort of thing that’s so ugly you may need to buy it.

To stock up for your trip: I recommend buying what we call a slab of beer in Australia, which is 24 cans (latas in Spanish). You can get the standard cheap local beers like Tecate, Caronas, and Victoria in the local stores. There’s probably an Oxxo store around which is generally fairly good value. You might also want some taquitos and the like, totopos (tortilla corn chips), something to dip them in, and maybe some cacahuates (peanuts), sodas and whatever you fancy. Be warned though, there’s not really much in the way of toilets around, but I think if you’re desperate there were a couple on one of the islands around the canals. Also you have to balance the lack of baños with maintaining your hydration.

xochmilco Victoria beer

In the canals you’ll be joined by hundreds of other Mexicans and tourists with the same idea. So while you can imagine the glory days at the height of the Mexica empire, the reality will be much like the hustle, bustle and noise of modern Mexico City itself, with the colourful barges filling the canals, boats full of mariachi trying to serenade you, and other boats selling wonderful Mexican food delights and drinks – I should have mentioned that before you went and bought all that stuff, but the selection on the canals is not as extensive as not he land and I didn’t see beer. Just keep your arms inside the boat as if you’re not paying attention, they will be squashed/crushed/mangled in between other boats, and probably infected/permanently damaged by the charming, but possibly toxic waters of the canals.

The journey itself involves your guide pushing you around with a barge pole, expertly guiding you through the sea of boats. On occasions, you’ll have the canals clogged with boats from shore to shore. It’s an experience not to be missed. Occasionally your guide will ask for assistance, giving you the chance to be a real-life Xochimilco boatie.

The islands, while not like they were back a few hundred years ago, will give you a good sense of what it was like back then. Enough to satisfy your inner historian.

What else can I say? I don’t know really. It’s a morning, afternoon, or early evening relaxed adventure. A relaxed drinking occasion, a great family and friend activity, or a way to share some moments with some fellow travellers.

It’s certainly not just a touristy thing. In fact locals mainly rule the waters of Xoclhimiclo, just as they did in the 1500s, but they are welcoming of us foreigners – just as they originally were in Cortez’s time until they found out what a tramposo (lying cheating bastard) he was.

After your cruise, you might want to make your way for a proper meal at a nearby restaurant, and have yourself some proper food to soak up the beer, or just head back into more colourful and chaotic scenes of modern Mexico City. Or you can visit the Museum of the Templo Mayor Museum where you’ll get a sense of what the Mexica city of Tenochtitlan used to be like before the Spanish tore it down. As the museum is big though, I’d say you might want to pace yourself and go there another day.

There you go, go to Xochimilco, it’s easy, good value and above all fun!