What remains is part of the original canal and “floating” flower & vegetable garden system, around the town of Xochimilco – pronounced HOCKEY-MILKO.
I wonder if the Aztec ancestors of this place could ever have imagined the riot of colour and chaos that takes over the canals every weekend as tourists and locals turn up to sit around on flower-decked trajineras (long punt boats), drink beer and be pushed along by eager pole bearing boatmen.
It then took us no time at all to settle into the spirit of the adventure, ordering our first round of micheladas, the famous Mexican drink of lime juice, beer and a dusting of salt and chilli powder around the rim of the glass. There are good and bad variations of this drink so beware, it can be hit & miss. Ours on the day were exemplary, if maybe just a little heavy on the chilli.
It was a bit like a floating market with vendors selling all kinds of trinkets and traditional Mexican arts & crafts as they worked their way along the waterways. Sarah and I managed to haggle for some really nice floor rugs at only 400 pesos each (I only bought on the promise of Sarah taking mine back to Australia for me)
Xochimilco has a mixed reputation, and according to various reviews some people absolutely love it and others despise it with a passion. I’ve seen it described as the Mexican Venice, and cultural booze cruise.
And you know how everyone waves to each other when passing another boat, well the same happens here on the Xochimilco canal, and we would call out SALUD
Something for certain that the ancient Aztecs would be devastated by is the imminent death of this unique canal system. In fact it is believed the canals have been dying since the Spanish arrived and started draining and filling the broad lake system.
The canals are dying due to serious neglect, massive pollution including sewerage and pesticides, and the introduction of exotic fish species such as carp. Back in the 1970’s the government dumped huge numbers of carp into the canals in an effort to help feed more people during a starvation crises. Of course that became a disaster as well, with little hope of ever eradicating those universally destructive fish.
Did our visit to the UN World Heritage listed area have a negative impact on the canals? Maybe. I don’t know, and the canals’ predicament was not something I was aware of before we visited that day. But I would hope that current and future authorities can recognise the ecological, commercial and lifestyle value these canals provide to the eco system, to locals and visitors alike, clean it up and prevent future degradation.
- Read here about the devastating impact of carp to the population of native axolotis in the canals
- Read here about the degradation of the canal
- We caught an Uber from our Airbnb to Xochimilco for around 200 pesos ($15AUD), but you can also get a train from Tasquena for way less money and perhaps a more interesting experience
- Different tours operate from Mexico City for those not comfortable navigating the whole outing on their own
- There is also a boat taxi service on the canal that provides point to point transport with various stops along the way. It’s not the same as the trajineras so be aware if that’s not what you want
- You can buy all your food and drink supplies from market stalls before getting on the boat. It is cheaper than buying from the vendors on the canal, though maybe not as much fun
- I’ve read that it is really nice to be on the canals around sunset, maybe we’ll do that next time
- The cost for taking a trajinera is for the whole boat, so it works out cheaper (and more fun) to have other people on the boat to share the expense