Mexico City #7: Xochimilco

Years ago, when I lived by 36th Avenue in Astoria, there was a restaurant down there called Xochimilco. It was slightly upscale Mexican (which I now realize is just normal Mexican), and even though I couldn’t pronounce the name, I did know it was this beautiful network of canals in Mexico City.

It didn’t seem to go with the restaurant, exactly, as it sat under the rumbling N-train tracks, but it seemed even more improbable to me that there was this lush area of gardens and canals in Mexico City, which in my mind was nothing but concrete and traffic and smog.

But now I’ve been there, and I can tell you it’s true. But it still seems like a dream.

We took the metro and then the nifty little tram. Here’s the boss’s office at the tram terminal:

That looks so calm and normal, right? No indication of what lay ahead… On the tram, Peter and I are the only non-Mexicans, and then I see a guy with stubble and a Sonic Youth shirt get on, and he comes walking toward us. Sigh–must Brooklynites follow us wherever we go?

He and his girlfriend stand near us, and proceed to start speaking…in Greek. So Peter joins in, and it turns out they live in Belgium and a very cool and nice. And good thing we meet them, as once we get to the boat docks, a short walk from the tram stop, it’s clear that we would’ve been a little sad and lonely, just me and Peter on a boat. Because these boats are big, built for giant family outings.

Nothing’s really going on at the dock, and we feel a bit sad, as we’d thought we could maybe share a boat with some Mexicans, and now we feel like we’ll be missing out, on our lonely, only-four-people boat.

Our captain says, No, don’t worry–there will be plenty of party for us. And he gets us a cooler full of giant beers, and we set off. Slowly. These boats have no motors–they’re just punted, gondola-style.

After a little bit, we turn out and onto a canal, and I think we all privately must’ve laughed to ourselves about feeling lonesome and like we were missing out. Because this is what we see.

xochimilco boats

Soon we’re up in the fray, which miraculously never turns into total gridlock, and our boat just glides between parties.

dancing on boats

What’s great is that the boats are so big, and the families so big, is that there’s enough room for kids to split off on their own. I saw one boat with sullen teens flopped on one end, texting, while their grandmothers gossiped on the chairs nearby. These kids were taking a breather:

kids on boat

And we’d also stupidly worried we should’ve brought food. What was I thinking? You never have to bring your own food in Mexico. Of course there was someone–on a boat–ready to make us lunch:

boat kitchen

Lunch service, on our own boat, included the festive checked tablecloth:

lunch on boat

We glided around a bit more, got off and walked through a greenhouse, and spied this odd guy:


All this time, I haven’t mentioned the music. Boats full of freelance mariachis glided through, latching on to host boats to sing a few songs, then carrying on. We’d been mooching off of everyone else’s ambience, so near the end of our two-hour tour, we flagged down our own guys.

“Sing us songs that will make us cry!” we said. Not that we needed to specify–they could be singing about rainbows and kittens, and all we have to hear is those trumpets and that full-throated voice, and we’d be weeping.


That’s our Greek fellow passenger in the foreground. Thumbs up for Xochimilco. I think I want to go back and have my birthday there. Or your birthday. Or anyone’s, really.

See previous posts:
Mexico City #1: End of the Line
Mexico City #2: Things Organized Neatly
Mexico City #3: Street Food Tour
Mexico City #4: Union Power
Mexico City #5: Color Me Impressed
Mexico City #6: Simply Signage


  1. Zora this is a really lovely sequence of posts about the quirks and details of DF. Great little collection.

    Your Xochimilco experience sounds a lot like my own… turning up in a small group, not knowing what to expect etc. One thing you didn’t mention: did you get fleeced by the food vendors? They wanted to charge us more than 100 pesos per plate!

  2. Zora says:

    Barbara, I was tempted too!

    And thanks, Jessica–glad you liked them!

    Philip: Oh yeah–totally fleeced. It’s a little irresponsible I didn’t bring this up, as a guidebook writer (and in the one guide I looked it, it’s strange they don’t mention it–I’ve heard this from other people, and I’m not surprised it happens, as you’re basically a sitting duck).

    But I’ve been fleeced so rarely in Mexico (b/c I spend all my time in the Yucatan, probably) and we were having such a nice time and in the grand scheme, it wasn’t something we couldn’t afford, so we didn’t make a fuss. I feel a little bad about not defending the rights of slightly drunk travelers everywhere, but basically, they picked the right suckers. We kind of just wanted to keep our rose-tinted glasses _locked_ on our heads.

  3. Well I think you can be forgiven for not mentioning it. It is a wonderful place regardless, but by the end I was kind of tired of going through the haggling process for every single thing. I geuss the other boats got it right; bring a lot of people and even more food, and just relax….

  4. Zora, I have been to Mexico City many times and never knew this was there. Great photos, great info and what a lot of fun. I love the way you really captured Mexico in all its wonderful glory instead of the fear-mongering from the media in the states. Bravo!

  5. Johnabbotsford says:

    Are the boats and food available every day of the week?
    And same question re the market?
    Have enjoyed reading all your Mexico posts as we will be there later in the year doing a short side trip from Cuba.

  6. zora says:

    Johnabbotsford, I do believe the boats and everything are there every day, as is the market. The biggest day for the boats is Sunday, because that’s the big family day out.

    Glad you’ve enjoyed the posts–have a great time on your Mexico trip!

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