Helpful Tips for Visiting Xochimilco, Mexico Without a Tour
This post was updated in December 2018 after our second visit to Xochimilco, Mexico.
There is no shortage of things to do in Mexico City. From parks to museums, restaurants and historical monuments, the largest city in Mexico can easily keep you occupied for weeks on end. If you’re looking for a memorable and local travel experience, a retreat to the “Venice of Mexico” known as Xochimilco will not disappoint.
Like many popular tourist attractions in Mexico, visitors taking a day trip to Xochimilco run the risk of getting ripped off. This is especially true for those who aren’t able to communicate well in Spanish but this post is here to help. We’ve put together everything we’ve learned from two visits to Xochimilco (March 2016 and December 2018) so that you can enjoy a festive and stress-free day trip on the canals.
The Colourful Canals of Xochimilco, Mexico
Xochimilco is a borough south of Mexico City mostly known for the colourful gondola style boats called trajineras. These wooden boats are hand-painted in bright colours and float along an intricate system of canals. There is an undeniable festive atmosphere at Xochimilco so this activity is best enjoyed with a group of others who are ready to drink, dance and join the fiesta. Each trajinera fits up to 20 people and visitors can enjoy live mariachi performances while buying traditional drinks, snacks and souvenirs from local vendors on smaller boats.
I would say Xochimilco is a cross between the gondolas of Venice and the floating markets of Thailand but with a Mexican twist. Before our first visit in 2016, we had read some unfavourable reviews online and weren’t sure if it would be worth it. It’s the type of place some people will love and others will hate. Luckily, we decided to see it for ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed this Mexican experience. The unique region of Xochimilco was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is one of the most popular day trips among visitors to Mexico City. Yes, it’s touristy but it can also be a lot of fun. Locals head to Xochimilco to celebrate everything from birthdays to bachelorettes and even quinceañeras.
Xochimilco Day Trip from Mexico City
Xochimilco lies about 30 kilometres south of Mexico City and is a day trip that can easily be done without having to book an expensive tour. If you don’t have a full day to spare, you can combine this with a visit to Coyoacan which is about halfway between the city centre and Xochimilco.
GETTING TO XOCHIMILCO WITH PUBLIC TRANSIT
Start at the Tasqueña Metro Station which is the last southbound stop on the blue line 2 of the metro. Fares are $5 pesos per person and we would recommended using a reloadable CDMX card when getting around Mexico City. From Tasqueña, follow signs to the 'Tren Ligero' which is the light rail train that takes you to Xochimilco for all of $3 pesos. Try your best to get a seat because it’s 17 stops to Terminal Xochimilco which is your stop. Once you get off, you can explore the surroundings and make your way to the Nuevo Nativitas Embarcadero which is roughly 30 minutes on foot or a 10 minute taxi ride away.
GETTING TO XOCHIMILCO WITH UBER
If you’re pressed for time, you can easily take an Uber to Xochimilco and avoid the hassle of public transit. Though it does come at a cost and prices can fluctuate heavily depending on the sometimes unpredictable traffic of Mexico City. We recently took an Uber from Mercado Jamaica to Nuevo Nativitas for $200 pesos at 11:00 am on a weekday. Keep in mind that the roads will likely be busier on your way back to Mexico City and our ride back was nearly double the price. If you’re new to Uber, our signup link will help you save on your trip to Xochimilco.
Current Prices of A Trajinera in Xochimilco
There are 11 official docks in Xochimilco known as embarcaderos and the most recommended one is Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas which is where we’d suggest you go too. To avoid getting ripped off, it’s important to note that rates for trajiineras are per hour, per boat. Walk away from anyone who is quoting you a price per person because that is just not true. When we first visited Xochimilco in 2016, the going rate was $450 pesos per hour but this has since increased to $500 pesos per hour for your entire trajinera (December 2018). If you’re looking to join another group to split the cost, make sure you arrange to do so away from a vendor because they’re quick to tell who’s actually travelling together and who’s just trying to save money.
Whichever embarcadero you choose, you will likely be hassled by several vendors trying to get your business and some of them are relentless. A cyclist even tried to convince our Uber driver that the road to Nuevo Nativitas was closed and wanted us to follow him to another embarcadero. We insisted with our driver since we knew this likely wasn’t true and we were right. Once we made it to the main entrance, we found that the folks at Nuevo Nativitas were a lot more friendly and less pushy than our previous experience at Embarcadero Belem. Another reason I would recommended starting here is because there is more action at this embarcadero and the liveliness adds to your overall experience. We found that some of the quieter canals are less festive and not as well-maintained.
Things to Know Before You Go to Xochimilco, Mexico
The basic tour is 1 hour long taking you through the main canal. If you’d like to explore the famed Island of the Dolls or learn about the nearby ecological reserves, you should opt for a longer excursion (3+ hours).
A day trip to Xochimilco is best enjoyed in a group with friends/family ready to have a good time. We’ve been twice now as a couple and would love to return with a bigger group next time instead of being a lonesome couple on a boat that seats 20.
Feel free to pack a cooler full of beer, a bag of snacks and even speakers. Xochimilco is a great place to celebrate and you can DIY your own boat party if you wish to. Buying drinks and snacks ahead of time will also save money since vendors charge slightly more from their boats.
Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days of the week to visit but are also the most lively meaning you’ll get to share the experience with many local families.
Holy Week (Semana Santa) is the busiest time of the year at Xochimilco.
If you’re a solo traveller, consider putting a group together either at your hostel or discreetly join a group once you arrive at Xochimilco.
It is likely that the person steering your trajinera doesn’t speak English so don’t expect a guided tour.
The canals are the main draw for visitors to Xochimilco but there’s enough to do in the area to make a full day out of it. Both the Dolores Olmedo Museum and the Cuemanco flower market have been highly recommended and are on our list for next time.
For an inside look at the trajinera experience, you can watch our 2016 travel vlog in Xochimilco, Mexico on YouTube.