Xochimilco, Mexico City
Xochimilco is a neighborhood located on the southern end of Mexico City. It is best known for its canals, which are left from what was once an extensive lake and canal system that connected individual settlements in the Valley of Mexico.
Xochimilco is very popular with locals and tourists alike because of the colorful gondola boats called "trajineras" that leisurely cruise the canals and wind around the "chinampas", or artificial islands. Each boat holds about 20 people and you can rent them by the hour or for the full day (a driver, or more accurately a paddler, is included to get you around).
The trajineras were originally used to transport goods but today are purely for tourism. Most of them are painted with bright, colorful female names such as "Lupita" or "Maria", although they can be personalized and adorned with fresh flowers if you call in advance.
During our wedding in Mexico, we brought our guests to Xochimilco on Christmas Day for a cruise. We had ordered two boats named "Tony" and "Sara" to be created out of fresh flowers. After we were finished for the day, the boaters took the panels with our names off the boats and gave them to us. We ended up bringing them all the way to Cuernavaca for the wedding day and had them on display in various locations throughout Las Mananitas, our venue.
There are over 200 trajineras split between nine docks. We usually embark from Cuemanco, which is located on the Periferico Sur next to the old Olympic rowing course.
You can order buckets of beer to bring with you on the trip, but you will have no problems getting refueled along the way: boats continuously pull up next to yours selling food, drinks and even plants, and there are also boats filled with mariachis and other Mexican musical groups that will attach their boat to yours and entertain.
At one point on the wedding trip, we ended up attaching all three boats we had rented and hung out in the middle of a canal surrounded by mariachis and vendors supplying drinks. I think there was even some dancing on the prows of the boats.
A trip to Xochimilco can be a fun party or it can be a little more low-key. Besides the trajineras, it is also possible to rent kayaks at several locations. Xochimilco actually happens to be a World Heritage Site, and although it suffers from serious pollution and environmental degradation, it is still possible to enjoy some interesting wildlife (pelicans and storks) and peaceful scenery.
On one kayak trip, we stopped with our guide at what was some kind of ecological sanctuary "zoo". We saw all types of water snakes and other creatures, including a huge spider that the guide claimed had just recently been discovered and could kill a human in eight seconds. It really made us not want to tip over......ever.
Interesting tidbit: As you cruise the canals, you might pass a chinampa where you see what appears to be large rag dolls hanging from the trees. The story goes that a man named Julian Santana Barrera used to live alone on the island and took to collecting old dolls that he found floating in the canals. He then began to hang them in the trees to keep away evil spirits. Eventually the dolls began to attract the attention of the press and became popular with tourists. When Barerra died in 2001, there were rumors that he had drowned himself after becoming insane, or that he had been killed by his dolls that had come alive. But most likely he just died from old age.........
Xochimilco is a unique destination in many ways, and definitely a "must see" for those traveling to Mexico City.