Xochimilco, Mexico City: What to know before you go
Welcome to Xochimilco in Mexico City! This vibrant district of canals, beautiful floating gardens and colorful boats has been attracting tourists for years. From the surreal ambiance created by evening parties on trajineras (the local name for the flat-bottomed gondola boats) to a range of delicious regional snacks – there are so many reasons why Xochimilco is a must-visit destination. Whether you’re looking to experience traditional Mexican culture or just searching for a unique day trip from the city center, this area will certainly not disappoint. In this travel guide, we're sharing some valuable tips about visiting Xochimilco–from where to eat and what sights to explore, all the way down to which hotels offer great views of this picturesque corner of Mexico City.
Where is Xochimilco?
Xochimilco is located in the southeastern part of Mexico City, Mexico. Renowned for its extensive system of canals — remnants of the ancient Lake Xochimilco — it serves as a significant reminder of the city's pre-Hispanic past. The area is particularly famous for its vibrantly colored "trajineras," or traditional flat-bottomed boats, which visitors can hire for a leisurely trip along the canals. In 1987, Xochimilco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its cultural and historical significance.
How far is Xochimilco from Mexico City?
Xochimilco is located within the city limits of Mexico City, and the distance from the city center largely depends on the mode of transportation chosen and the current traffic conditions. By car, it typically takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get there. However, using public transportation can take considerably longer. So, while Xochimilco is part of Mexico City, it feels like a different world, a peaceful escape from the bustling city life. We were staying in the popular neighborhood of La Condesa in Mexico City and on a Sunday morning it took us about 45 minutes by Uber to get to the Xochimilco docks.
How do I get to Xochimilco, Mexico City?
There are several ways to reach Xochimilco from Mexico City's city center, depending on your preference for convenience or cost. A straightforward method is to take a taxi or use a ridesharing service like Uber. This offers the advantage of door-to-door service but can be expensive depending on the distance and traffic. Alternatively, you may opt for public transportation. The Mexico City Metro operates a comprehensive network of trains and buses throughout the city that will get you to Xochimilco.
If you prefer to drive, Xochimilco is easily accessible by road. Street parking in Xochimilco can be challenging to find, especially during the weekend, so it's advisable to park your car at a paid parking lot. Regardless of your mode of travel, make sure to plan your route in advance and allow extra time for unexpected delays, as traffic in Mexico City can be heavy, particularly during peak hours.
What is the cost of a Xochimilco tour in Mexico City?
The cost of a Xochimilco tour varies depending on the length of the tour and the number of people in your group. A private tour for two people typically costs around $50 USD for two (2) hours. However, you're paying for the boat, not by people. I believe the boats hold around 15-20 people so if you bring a whole wrong and split the cost, it becomes a lot more affordable!
Find a boat guide that is okay with you taking the boat privately. Sometimes they'll get pushy and keep squeezing people onto the boat to make more money because they won't have strangers split the cost. We had a great boat driver who was more than okay with it being just the two of us plus our dog.
Food, drinks, and souveneiers are not included in the cost so be sure to bring extra cash pesos with you to purchase fun snacks and drinks from the local vendors on the river. For a few dollars you can even pay a mariachi band to serenade you!
What is so special about the Xochimilco boat tours?
The Xochimilco boat tours offer a unique and immersive experience that encapsulates the rich cultural heritage and vibrant atmosphere of Mexico City. As you traverse the ancient canals on a brightly painted trajinera, you're not just on a boat ride, you're embarking on a journey through history. The canals are all that remain of the extensive water transport system built by the city's pre-Hispanic inhabitants, the Aztecs. You will also witness the chinampas or "floating gardens," another ingenious innovation of the Aztecs, where they cultivated crops on man-made islands, a technique still used today.
Beyond history, the boat tours at Xochimilco are a feast for the senses. The colorful trajineras, each named after a woman, are a sight to behold against the green backdrop of the canals and gardens. The air is filled with the sound of mariachi bands playing on passing boats, offering to serenade you for a small fee. Vendors on smaller boats paddle up to your trajinera, selling everything from delicious local street food to handmade souvenirs. It's not just a tour; it's a floating fiesta, a celebration of Mexico's traditions, gastronomy, and music, making it a truly special experience.
What should I wear for the boat tour?
You should dress comfortably for a Xochimilco tour. The weather in Mexico City can be warm and very sunny so we recommend wearing light, breathable clothing, preferably clothing that has sun protection. We also recommend wearing sunscreen and bringing a hat to protect yourself from the sun. I made the mistake of not wearing a sun shirt and wish I had! We did bring sunscreen but even that didn't feel like quite enough on the bright, clear day we took the boat tour in Mexico City.
What should I bring on a Xochimilco tour?
We recommend bringing sunscreen, hats, comfortable clothing, and drinks and snacks for the ride. You can also bring a speaker to play music while you cruise down the canals. While you're welcome to bring your own food and drinks, there are plenty of vendors floating and selling food and drinks along the way. We recommend bringing plenty of water but splurging and trying some of the local foods along the way.
If you happen to be traveling with a dog like we were, be sure to bring a water bowl and plenty of water for them, too. It can be loud and hot so keeping your four legged friend comfortable is important.
How long should you plan to spend on a boat tour in Xochimilco?
At least two (2) hours, but longer if you want to go all the way to Doll Island (not our thing, but some people really want to experience) or if you're in a group and you want to keep the party going! With a group of people you could spend hours out there partying, eating, and having a good time with your closest friends.
Can I bring my dog on a boat tour in Xochimilco, Mexico City?
YES! The boat tours are beloved by both locals and tourists alike and in Mexico City dogs are practically members of the family in Mexico. We took our dog on the boat tour and he loved it. We also saw lots of other locals with their dogs on the boats, too. Just be sure to bring water and a bowl for your dog because it can get hot.
While dogs are welcome on the boats, keep in mind that there is a lot happening during the tour! Loud noises, lots of people, rocking boats, etc. If your dog doesn't do well in unpredictable situations, I'd recommend leaving him or her at home.
Have you been to Xochimilco before? If so, what did you think of the experience? Were there any parts of our guide that were especially useful or interesting to you? Let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear your thoughts! And if you haven’t visited yet, be sure to check out our complete guide – it covers everything from where to go and what to bring, to how to get around and what not to miss. We hope it helps make your experience as amazing as possible. Enjoy!
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!