Xochimilco is one of Mexico City’s most popular destinations, principally for the miles of waterways that run through the centre of the barrio, which have led to it being dubbed the Venice of Mexico. Known as chinampas, these floating gardens make for a pretty unique (and photogenic) experience while in the Mexican capital. Here are eight great reasons to visit them.
Easily the biggest reason for visiting this neighbourhood, trajineras are the colourful canal boats that you’ve undoubtedly seen in pretty much every guide to Mexico City. Adorned with women’s names, from the traditional favourites like María and Guadalupe, to some more modern additions like Beyonce (yes, really), these boats are the biggest draw of the floating gardens of Xochimilco and can be rented out by the hour.
Another reason you need to get yourself down to Mexico’s Venice is the unsettling Isla de las Muñecas (a.k.a. The Island of the Dolls). This small slice of Xochimilco was never supposed to draw tourist attention, instead being an homage to a young girl who died in tragic circumstances. Found drowned in the canals, a local man started hanging up dolls on the island to appease her memory and since then the reputation of the island has grown and grown, becoming a key sight for visitors to the area.
There’s more to this area than trajineras and the canals, even though they are undoubtedly the biggest draw of the place. This massive urban sprawl in the south of the capital has a wealth of history, and is home to a handful of Mexico City’s pueblos originarios (some of the city’s oldest areas). Visit this area to gain an insight into this historic city’s fascinating past, beyond the relatively recent wealthy enclaves of Roma and Condesa.
Pulque is a Mesoamerican beverage with a relatively mild alcoholic content, oddly frothy appearance and sometimes unpleasantly viscose texture, but also a strangely impressive nutritional content. It’s also a must-try drink when in Mexico, especially as it can’t be exported due to its temperamental nature. One of the best spots to grab a quick glass of pulque (or, to be more specific, curado) is in Xochimilco as numerous vendors float by and will sell you a cup for around MXN$20.
As well as the floating pulque vendors, Xochimilco is also home to plenty of waterbound musicians too, predominantly mariachis. If you fancy hearing a track or two you’ll first have to negotiate a price, before they hook up their trajinera to the side of yours and start to play. If you want to add some Mexican authenticity to the experience, this is an easy way to do it, but if you’re on a budget you’re probably better off just catching snippets of their songs as you float past other groups who’ve contracted them!
We’ve already mentioned the unsettling Island of the Dolls with it’s tragic past, but if you’d prefer a less disturbing destination then how about the massive greenhouse that’s right in the centre? This beautiful invernadero can’t (as far as we know) be accessed on foot, so you have to visit the floating gardens to get a peek inside and it’s definitely worth it. Just ask your boat driver to hitch up at the side and you can get out to explore the flowers, turtles and, if you’re very lucky, the endangered Mexican axolotls.
Feeling brave? If you pay a visit to the chinampas of Xochimilco, you might catch a glimpse of one of Mexico’s most famous urban legends – La Llorona. Rumour has it that this is a woman whose children drowned in the canals and ever since then she’s being haunting the area, hunting for her lost offspring. La Llorona, which literally means The Weeping Woman, supposedly brings you misfortune if you catch sight or sound of her. However, she’s not the only urban legend of Xochimilco, as many locals claim there are also naugales (shapeshifters) roaming the chinampas.
As we’ve seen recently with the destruction of Malta’s iconic Azure Window, not all our favourite tourist spots and natural wonders are destined to survive and Xochimilco is no exception. That’s why our final, and perhaps most important, reason you should visit the chinampas is because they might not be around forever. However, this is quite the catch-22 situation as many believe it’s the excess of unrestricted tourism in the area that is causing the erosion of these historic waterways, so, if you want to help, consider donating to a restoration fund before you visit.