How to spend 5 days in Mexico City

Xochimilco: How to get there and take a boat tour

Famous for colorful, flower-decked boats floating down the narrow waterways, Xochimilco has become one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico City with many foreign and national tourists making a stop here. 

While Xochimilco’s Trajineras (the official name of these boats) grace many tourist guides and booklets, not many tourists know that Xochimilco is also the name of the surrounding area. In this article, I’m going to tell you all the reasons why Xochimilco should be on oust too! 

Spending a few days in Mexico City? Read my complete guide to best hotels in Mexico City to help you choose your accommodations.

Why visit Xochimilco 

Xochimilco (aka the Venice of Mexico City) is as touristy as it gets, there’s just no way around it. 

While some tourists describe Xochimilco as “cheesy” and even “overrated,” I think Xochimilco is worth a stop on your Mexico City itinerary. The colorful boats are a lot of fun and many of them are adorned with female names and flags of different countries. 

While Xochimilco can be busy, especially on weekends, it has a very fun and festive atmosphere, and speaking from my personal experience, I have never seen anything like it 🙂 

This guide will cover all aspects of visiting Xochimilco, including how to get to Xochimilco from Mexico City, the best-guided tours of Xochimilco, and what mistakes to avoid when visiting Xochimilco. 

Xochimilco Hours

The Xochimilco trajineras start operating at 9 a.m. and finish around 6 p.m. Boat rides can last from one hour to all day (but that typically happens only when you have a big party). Most visitors spend about 2-3 hours in Xochimilco touring the canals and stopping at various points of interest along the way. 

Plan 2-4 hours for your trip to Xochimilco, plus the time you spend on the commute to get there and back. 

How to get to Xochimilco from Mexico City

A brief history of Xochimilco 

Xochimilco is a rural area south of Mexico City, that has become a major tourist magnet thanks to the colorful boats, called “Trajineras.” In 1987, Xochimilco became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, because of its cultural contribution to the heritage of Mexico. 

The name Xochimilco means “flower field” in Nahuatl, and refers to the crops and flowers that were grown by the Aztecs here before the colonization. The canals that you see today were used by Aztecs for commercial purposes. The artificial floating gardens “chinampas” rooted to the lake bed provided crops to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. 

Chinampas are a good example of the Aztec ingenuity, as the produce grown here sustained a big population in the capital. 

Today, you can still find floating gardens “or chinampas,” and they are mostly utilized to grow flowers and fruits. Xochimilco is the last remnant of the vast network of canals and manmade islands in the lake system before the Spanish built Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlan. 

Aside from being a tourist magnet, Xochimilco is a popular place for events and festivals throughout the year. 

Xochimilco is one of the best day trips from Mexico City

How to get to Xochimilco from Mexico City 

Xochimilco is about 28 kilometers south of Mexico City and is a classic stop on a Mexico City itinerary.

While Xochimilco is known as the place for partying as you can buy food and drinks and even hire a Mariachi band to perform a mini-concert for you, it is also a wonderful cultural experience. Regardless of what you heard, Xochimilco is not just about partying and drinking

Xochimilco is located south of Centro Historico and is often combined with a stop at Coyoacan, one of the most popular neighborhoods of Mexico City that is home to the famous Museo Frida Kahlo (Casa Azul), colorful markets, and a wonderful food scene.

By Metro 

Getting to Xochimilco from Mexico City by public transport is very easy. All you need to do is go to the nearest Metro station and figure out how to get to Xochimilco. A one-way Metro ticket costs only 5 pesos, so it’s extremely convenient, especially if you are traveling on a budget.

PRO TIP: If you are taking the metro from Mexico City to Xochimilco, avoid pica hora (or rush hour) early morning on weekdays when everybody goes to work and from 4 p.m. until about 6 p.m. when everybody goes back home. This is the busiest time and it’s common to have pickpockets on trains during this time.

How to visit Xochimilco from Mexico City

How to get to Xochimilco from Mexico City by metro 

Find your way to Tasquena station which is the final station on the Blue Line.

From Tasquena, take an overground metro line Train Ligero which begins in Tasquena and takes you to Xochimilco, a final stop on this line. To do that, you will need to get a rechargeable metro card, that you can pick up any train station in Mexico City. It can be used for your future trips on Metro as well. 

From the Metro station, it’s a quick walk toward the Embarcadero or the pier from where Xochimilco tours depart. As you keep walking you will be greeted and approached by many people trying to give you directions or even sell you Xochimilco tours.

Be polite, but don’t feel obligated to buy anything, just say gracias (thank you), and keep walking. 

GOOD TO KNOW: If you visit Xochimilco on your own, be prepared to negotiate a price with your boat driver. Xochimilco boats can fit in up to 10-12 people, and all the passengers typically split the price of the boat ride. If your boat is not full (or if you would like an individual ride), you will need to pay the full amount to your boat driver. Still, the price can be negotiated, but you will need some good Spanish skills to do that.

Visiting Xochimilco with a guided tour

A guided tour of Xochimilco is the best option if you are visiting Mexico City for the first time, and are not confident in your Spanish skills. When you take a guided tour, you will not have to negotiate prices and ask for directions to the boats. 

Many Xochimilco tours combine a boat ride on the famous canals and Coyoacan where you can get a tour of the neighborhood and see some of the most famous landmarks such as the Museum of Frida Kahlo. 

PRO TIP: Coyoacan is one of the most important areas of Mexico City that has its own identity and a wonderful charm, that’s why I recommend a tour that combines Xochimilco and Coyoacan

Best tours of Xochimilco 

Taking Uber to Xochimilco

If you don’t want to take public transportation from Mexico City to Xochimilco, Uber is a great option. Uber in Mexico City is much cheaper than anywhere in the United States and Europe, and will typically cost around 200 Pesos for a one way trip (although prices can fluctuate depending on the time and day).

Also, keep in mind that there could be traffic, so leave some extra time for your journey. 

Renting a car for your trip to Xochimilco

If you have a car rental, you can take a drive to Xochimilco. Keep in mind that you will have to find a parking space and pay a fee if it’s private parking with security. The upside is that you can spend as much time as you want in Xochimilco without relying on public transportation. 

How to get to Xochimilco from Mexico City

Prices of Xochimilco tours

Xochimilco has become very popular, and today most tourists who come to Mexico City make a stop here. This leads me to my next point, which is prices in Xochimilco have increased a lot in recent years.

This means you need to have some pretty good haggling and negotiation skills, and at least a basic level of Spanish, otherwise your ride can be expensive, especially if you are visiting Xochimilco on a weekend when there are a ton of tourists and boat drivers know that they can get a ride any time. 

GOOD TO KNOW: The price you pay in Xochimilco covers the boat, not the number of people on it. Your ride will be cheaper if you take it with a group of other travelers because you will all split the price. If you have friends or anybody who wants to come with you, bring them over on your trip to Xochimilco!

Most boats can fit up to a dozen of people, so if you are traveling by yourself or in a couple, join up with other travelers to split the cost. 

Taking a boat ride of Xochimilco: everything you need to know

When you get on a boat, all your need to do is relax and enjoy this festive cultural experience with hundreds of boats crowding the area.

You can buy food while taking a boat ride in Xochimilco

As you float down the canals, you will pass by many other Trajineras with tourists, as well as vendors trying to sell you food, drinks, arts and crafts like woven blankets and toys. It looks a bit like a floating market where you can buy food and trinkets as you enjoy your ride. 

There are also boat vendors who sell nieve, an equivalent of shaved ice that comes in a variety of exotic flavors. 

… Or hire a Mariachi band

There are also boats with Mariachi bands, xylophone players and singers, and various other bands, who will approach you asking if you want to buy their music performance. If you decide to do so, they will attach their boat to yours, and play music as you float down the canal.

These boats will approach you and offer their services/goods, and you can get them right on the spot. 

Ask your driver to take you to more remote canals

If you have more time, ask your boat driver, to take you to more remote canals where you can enjoy peaceful scenery away from the noise and crowds. 

Best things to do in Xochimilco

Tips on negotiating a boat price in Xochimilco 

The hourly maximum for a boat ride in Xochimilco is currently 500 Pesos, which covers the whole boat. Although there’s no specific time for a boat ride, most of them tend to be around 2 hours. Make sure to negotiate the rate ahead of your tour. 

When trying to negotiate a boat ride, start with a low-ball offer and go from there. Do NOT start with a high amount like 2,000 Pesos, because it will be very difficult to get a competitive rate from that point. Begin with something like 700-800 Pesos for two hours and go from there. 

Things to do in Xochimilco 

Of course, everyone knows Xochimilco as the home of the famous canals and colorful Trajineras. But it’s not the only thing that you can do here.

Let’s take a look at other things that you can do in Xochimilco, after taking a tour of the canals. 

Isla De Las Munecas 

One of the most unusual (and creepy) spots in Xochimilco is Isla De Las Munecas (The Doll Island) which was supposed to be a tribute to a girl who drowned in the Xochimilco canal, but turned into a tourist attraction after a local man started decorating it with thousands of dolls. Today, Isla De Las Munecas is one of the top stops in Xochimilco, and as the hanging dolls deteriorate, they get creepier by the day. 

Greenhouse 

If you want to visit a less unsettling place, ask your boat driver to stop at a big greenhouse (or invernadero in Spanish) located in the middle of the canals. This place can’t be accessed on foot and you can step inside and explore the beautiful garden, as well as animals, and, if you get lucky, even, axolotl, the endangered amphibian. 

Trying pulque 

Pulque is an ancient Mesoamerican drink that has a pretty low alcoholic content and good nutritional value. Pulque is sold by many vendors floating down Xochimilco canals, and although it has an unappealing look and gooey texture to it, it’s one of those must-try drinks in Mexico. A cup of pulque goes for about 20 Pesos (1 USD), and since this drink can’t be exported, Xochimilco is a perfect place to try it. 

Mistakes to avoid when visiting Xochimilco 

Wearing jewelry and expensive clothing 

Leave your expensive clothing and jewelry at home. As a foreign tourist, you will also be thought of as a cash cow, because people working in the tourism industry will think that you are loaded with money and try to sell your stuff.

Avoid wearing expensive brands and jewelry when visiting Xochimilco and other popular places in Mexico City. This will help you to get better prices and when haggling.

Keep an eye on your belongings 

Xochimilco can get busy. Always keep an eye on your belongings when you are on a boat and when you are walking the streets of pueblo from the train station. 

Learn some Spanish 

Even if you are taking a guided tour of Xochimilco, learning some basic Spanish is a great idea. Locals will always treat you better if you can communicate with them in their language and show gratitude and courtesy.

Leave a tip for your boat driver 

Xochimilco boat drivers make low wages and typically depend on tips. Make sure to leave a gratuity at the end of your trip to help them out. Check my tips for Mexico travel if you want to know how much you need to leave in tips every time you go to a restaurant or take a guided tour.

Come on a weekday 

Weekends can be crazy busy in Xochimilco, that’s why I recommend visiting on a weekday.

If you have time constraints and have to visit on a weekend, come early morning. Some visitors come to Xochimilco specifically for its loud and festive atmosphere, so if you are one of them, then the weekend is the best time for your trip to Xochimilco from Mexico City. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Sunday is the best day to experience Xochimilco like a local and party Mexican style with many families making their way down here from Mexico City for a fun afternoon. 

Final thoughts on visiting Xochimilco from Mexico City

Xochimilco is a wonderful cultural experience and one of the best stops on your Mexico City itinerary. While it can be crowded and chaotic at times, it’s well worth your time and money as it has a festive atmosphere and the friendliest people. 

As a traveler, you should also be aware that the increased tourism activity has been causing the deterioration of the canals of Xochimilco. The area is also threatened by unsustainable urban growth, pollution, and over-pumping of water which has led to a decline in levels of water in the canals over years. 

Consider donating some money to the Xochimilco restoration fund before your trip there.

Where to stay in Mexico City

Mexico City is huge and depending on where you plan, you should choose hotels based on your travel. Here are a couple of options for your stay in Mexico City:

BudgetHotel Templo Mayor – a great budget hotel in the heart of Mexico City 

Mid-rangeDomingo Santo Boutique Hotel – a beautiful boutique stay near Templo Mayor and Zocalo

LuxuryLa Valise Mexico City – one of the most beautiful hotels in Mexico City in a quiet walkable neighborhood

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article.

 

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