The canals of Xochimilco always pop up when looking for recommendations for things to do in Mexico City. Located in a busy working-class barrio of Southern Mexico City, Xochimilco promises a relaxing and jovial ride down its famous canals. Vendors and Mariachi bands approach your boat giving you the chance to buy food, alcohol and sombreros, as well as being serenaded. We spotted tours to Xochimilco throughout Mexico City priced between $500-$700 (20 – 30 euro) per person, but we decided to do this on our own as we are on a tight backpackers budget. Below is our Xochimilco Travel Guide on how we managed to do it.
Aoife and the other few boats that joined us on the canal
Xochimilco Travel Guide: Getting to Xochimilco
Getting to Xochimilco seems way more complicated then it actually is. We were quite worried that it was going to be a stressful experience, but instead it went smoothly. First thing you need to do is to get the infamous Mexico City Metro. Yes, the metro can be crowded and overwhelming at times, but the key to getting it right is going outside of ‘rush hour’. Early morning rush hour in Mexico City is from 7am – 9am so try and avoid these times. You need to get the blue line all the way to its final stop, Tasqueña. Our nearest metro station was Zocalo, which is on the blue line, so we didnt need to make any changes, but if you do these are extremely straightforward. Just find a map of the subway and download it to your phone. The best part about the metro is that it costs $5 (20 cent) one way, follow the signs that say Taquilla to buy your ticket.
When you get to Tasqueña the next thing you need to do is get the light rail, or tren ligero to Xochimilco. Xochimilco is the last stop, so again, there is no need to change trains. One way to Xochimilco is $3 (13 cent) but you have to use a card in order to board the train. To get the rechargable card, go to the machines near the entrance to the tren ligero and purchase one for $10 (40 cent). Then top up your card as necessary ($3 per journey) and away you go!
When you arrive at Xochimilco you need to walk to the Embarcaderos, where the boats are docked. There are numerous embarcederos in Xochimilco so if there is a specific one you want to go to, plan your trip in advance! We had no preference and so followed the signs from the train station through town until we eventually came across the Belem Embarcadero.
Xochimilco: The Venice of Mexico City
We arrived on a Monday and it was very quiet around the area. It is advised that if you want to go when there is crowds and a more party atmosphere, then go at the weekend. We had hoped to bump into other tourists along the way as the price you pay is for the boat per hour, regardless of the number of people. Unfortunately we didnt meet any other tourists on our way down but we went for the fun anyway! After buying some cervezas in a nearby shop we met one of the guides in charge of the trajineras (boats). Be advised that the cost of the boat per hour is, as of the time of writing, $500 (22 euro). You will not see this price anywhere and so the guide will do his best to get more out of you. This is where being able to speak some Spanish comes in handy. The guide initially quoted us a price of $1,000 (44 euro) for 60 minutes, before we negotiated him down to $700 (31 euro) for 90 minutes.
The Doll’s Island Replica
The ride down the canals itself was peaceful, if a little touristy. As we went on a weekday there was not many other people on the canals, and one of the main attractions to doing Xochimilco is the party atmosphere We got to see a replica of the infamous Doll’s island, and also visited one of the floating gardens. It was interesting to see how people went about their lives in this unique environment.
After the 90 minute sojourn down the canals we returned to our hostel in Centro Historico, reversing what we did above to get there.
The Floating Gardens
Return Metro Tickets: $10 per person
Return Tren Ligero Tickets: $6 per person
One off Tren Ligero Card: $10
Xochimilco 90 Minute Trajinera Tour: $700
4 beers: $60
Total Price: $802 (35 euro) for 2 people
Xochimilco Travel Guide: Our Top Tips
So we ended up spending nearly half of what a tour would of cost us, and we got the freedom to be able to plan our day ourselves. There are still some ways to save even more money, like try and go with a bigger group or go on a Sunday and take the lancha boat which costs only $20 per person! Here are some recommendations to make your trip to Xochimilco memorable:
- Do it yourself! Taking the metro in Mexico City is an experience in itself, its so much fun traveling like a local!
- If you dont mind crowds and want to have a party on the water then go on the weekends, particularly Sundays.
- Bring plenty of spare cash, small bills in particular if you want buy some stuff from the vendors, or hire a mariachi band for some music.
- Bring your own food and drink, it costs nearly 3 times the price on the canals as it does in the shop.
- If you are short on days in Mexico City you can combine your trip to Xochimilco with a trip to the Coyacan neighbourhood.