XOCHIMILCO – A Mexican Boat Party!
Ain’t no party like a Xochimilco party cuz a Xochimilco party don’t stop!
One thing you really shouldn’t miss when visiting CDMX is floating down the canals of Xochimilco (pronounced so-chee-milko). Visiting Xochimilco is a festive, colorful, crazy good time. It offers a fascinating glimpse into Mexico City’s pre-Hispanic past.
Hop on a brightly painted boat (trajinera) and make your way past food vendors, local artisans, and live bands. Popular with both Chilangos and international visitors alike, this is your chance to experience an important UNESCO World Heritage Site.
WHAT IS XOCHIMILCO?
The Xochimilca people were one of the seven Nahua tribes that migrated into the Valley of Mexico. They settled over a thousand years ago on the southern shores of Lake Texcoco. Before Mexico City became the largest city in North America, it was a giant lake connected by a vast system of waterways, sprinkled with islands, that covered the Valley of Mexico.
Most of the water has disappeared, but the canals of Xochimilco represent what is left. The channels were the main method of transportation for indigenous people long ago.
Xochimilco is a combo of the Nahuatl words xochitl and milli and means “where the flowers grow”. It refers to all the crops that were grown in this area on artificial islands known as chinampas. These islands were built by weaving together reeds to form rafts that were then tied to Juniper trees. Mud and soil were packed on top of the barriers until they sank underwater. New rafts were built and stacked on top of the others until they eventually reached the surface. What you end up with is a small fertile island. Pretty nifty right?
These “floating gardens” became an important part of the agricultural economy for the Aztec Empire. They still stand today as a testament to the ancient history of Mexico City before colonization. After the Spanish conquest, water was drained to control flooding and to make way for development, transforming the region forever.
We went with a great group of friends and had a memorable afternoon! Some people complain online about how Xochimilco is boring or that it isn’t super beautiful. They also say it’s too touristy, that argument has some validity, but it’s still worth doing in our opinion. It’s important to set proper expectations and go for the right reasons. Xochimilco is where locals go to enjoy time with their families, unwind, and sip cervezas. You either go to party with friends or relax with your family.
If you just sit there and watch everyone else having a good time, it’s probably gonna be lame. Just like the rest of your life, it’s a lot more enjoyable if you go with fun people! We took turns blasting our favorite tunes, waving at other boats passing by, dancing, and letting the tequila flow.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Get those bargaining skills ready friends, ’cause you’re gonna have to use ’em. Renting a trajinera should cost between 350-400 pesos per hour, but some will try to convince you it’s much higher. Start with a lower offer and work your way up. Bring a big group or link up with people when you get there to reduce the cost. Remember to clarify that the price is per boat and not per person!
We paid an extra 250 pesos for a Bluetooth speaker (ask your boatman), which we have to say made a HUGE difference. Who wants to cruise in silence? We also highly recommend hiring a mariachi band to hop on your boat and play songs. It should cost around 50 pesos per song. It’s like a private concert and really adds to the whole experience!
Our group decided to bring party favors to cut costs. Buy a cheap cooler from Oxxo and fill it with ice, water, beer, tequila, and a few limes. Snacks are also a very smart choice. If not, you’ll find several boats passing by selling snacks and souvenirs, as well as restaurants on some of the islands. Remember to ask vendors about the cost of something before buying!
There are stops almost every five minutes if you need to use the bathroom (which, if you’re like me, will be about every five minutes). Baños usually cost 5 to 6 pesos.
ISLA DE LAS MUÑECAS
This is the perfect site for all you dark tourists out there. Isla de las Muñecas, or “Island of the Dolls”, is exactly what it sounds like, an island filled with creepy dolls, mostly hanging from trees. Why you ask?
Well, sometime in the 1950s, a man named Don Julián Santana began to be haunted by the spirit of a girl who tragically drowned in the canals. He spent the next 50 years of his life hanging dolls in trees as a way to protect himself from the girl’s ghost. To make the story even creepier, when Santana died in 2001 his body was found floating near the same location the girl was found fifty years earlier…
It’s not particularly easy to get to. Because it’s further out of the way you should expect a longer trip and a higher cost. Ask your rower beforehand if you have any interest in going. Keep in mind that there are fake doll islands and scams too. The trip should be around two hours by boat each way and cost around 1k-1,400 pesos. Be sure to negotiate! You’ll also have to pay a fee to enter the island. The safest bet is to take a ferry from Embarcadero Cuemanco or from Embarcadero Fernando Celada. Good luck!
USEFUL TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, or whatever you use to protect yourself from the sun.
- Bring water! Booze + sun = dehydration
- Tip your boatman!
- Weekdays are quieter and weekends are much busier!
- Go with a group! It’s more fun and you can split the cost of the boat and music.
- Three hours is typically enough time. You could easily stay longer if you’re not too drunk. Pace yourself! See the image below of us not following our own advice.
HOW DO YOU GET TO XOCHIMILCO?
Xochimilco is about 27 km (16.7 miles) from the Zocalo. There are a few ways you can get there.
An Uber or Didi ride from the city center will take around an hour and cost 220 pesos (depending on demand and traffic). We recommend arriving at Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas because there are fewer crowds and the touts are less pushy. This is where we went and it was pretty straightforward.
Take the Metro
Taking the metro is the cheaper option and will take around 90 minutes. Hop on Metro Line 2 (the blue line) to the last station, Tasqueña. Exit the train platform and head to the Tren Ligero (light rail).
The light rail only accepts the CDMX reloadable card which you can purchase for 10 pesos and use for multiple people. It costs 3 pesos per person each way. Take the light rail to the last station, Xochimilco. From there, the embarcaderos (ports) are only a 10-minute walk through the village. Just follow the small blue signs on the street with arrows that point to the water.
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