Visiting Xochimilco for the first time can leave an indelible impression on your senses and your memories. People call it the “Venice of Mexico”, but that almost feels like a disservice to this wonderful location; it’s simply the Xochimilco of the world.

Located on the southern outskirts of Mexico City, the area of Xochimilco is a system of canals that are navigated by colorful, hand-painted, wooden gondolas called trajineras. These vessels might be additionally decorated with stunning floral arrangements spelling out your name, like in the case of local quinceañeras celebrating with their families.

Floating down the canals of Xochimilco in these colorful trajineras is a day trip that’s definitely festive in nature. Locals use these little outdoor excursions to celebrate birthdays and any special occasion. Food and beverage vendors float by on their own trajineras selling their yummy local snacks to visitors, and even the (inescapable) mariachi bands look to captivate your ears by traveling on “gondolas” of their own. If this all sounds surreal, that’s because it is; “Mexico is more surreal than my paintings”, once quipped Salvador Dalí, and Xochimilco’s unique and peculiar attraction is a testament to that.

Festive is the motif and you can find this atmosphere especially on the weekends, people usually go in groups and in a celebratory mood. But if you’re looking for a more laid-back experience, without the hustle and bustle of the weekends, a weekday excursion through the canals might be best suited for your taste. You can rent a trajinera for your own crew starting at around $400 pesos the hour, or hop on a communal trajinera for the small amount of $60 pesos per hour just for your personal access. The wharves for the trajineras, or embarcaderos (there are several of them in the area of Xochimilco) hosts a variety of local food like tacos and sopes, and have beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) for you to purchase and bring on board your own trajinera, bringing along your own ice chest is a good idea for large groups.

In 1987 the canals of Xochimilco were named a Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO for their intangible cultural value to the human race. It is also home to the axolotl, a peculiar creature that’s endemic to the area and is in danger of going extinct. The axolotl is a salamander that mostly looks like a “walking fish”, as many people describe it. Surreal, indeed.

The islands, or chinampas, between the canals, were actually built by hand by the Aztecs at around the same time they built the capital of Tenochtitlan in the middle of the Lake of Texcoco. These man-made parcels surrounded by water were used to cultivate crops and legumes, and the canals served as a means to ferry these goods to the main capital. But even then, the place began to be used as a location for leisure, as Aztec emperors visited Xochimilco to unwind from the daily stress of ancient politics.

One particular chinampa might be of special interest for those with a taste for ghostly and mysterious adventures. It’s called the Isla de las Muñecas and is littered with many sinister looking dolls and doll parts hanging around the location, legend has it a girl drowned when she found herself tangled up in the water lilies of the adjoining canal; Don Julián, who lived in this particular chinampa, was visited by her spirit constantly, so he started placing the dolls to distract it. If you’re interested in this ghastly experience, be sure to ask your “trajinero” about it, access is cheap at around $60 pesos. This island is particularly lively during the days of Halloween and Día de Los Muertos, and there are several guided tours to this location around these dates.

A visit to the canals of Xochimilco is almost an obligatory experience for anybody visiting Mexico City, there are tour guides available online and even getting there and finding a guide on the spot is not the hardest thing in the world; a truly surreal excursion that completely envelops the senses, it has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime


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