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At the south end of the city you find a living vestige of what was the great Tenochtitlán, with its canals and chinampas, its green plots of land, full of vegetation and fresh air. Xochimilco was named a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site in 1987, and its neighborhoods still breathe tradition and respect for nature.
Its Náhuatl name couldn’t be more apt, Xochimilco means “place of fertile earth of flowers.” These days it has four marks which specialize in the sale of all kinds of plants and flowers: Cuemanco, Madre Selva, San Luis Tlaxialtemalco and Palacio de la Flor.
Spending time in Xochimilco is an experience, and one of the most important tourist destinations in the city. It’s almost obligatory to take a trajinera ride and enjoy the region’s typical cuisine and snacks, like elotes, esquites, quesadillas, pambazos, gorditas and tacos. As you pass through the canals, you’ll be met by boats full of mariachis, trios performing ranchero music and marimba players that’ll offer to play a few songs to liven up your afternoon (for a fee, of course).
There are nine dock areas where you can board a trajinera: Cuemanco, Caltongo, Fernando Celada, Salitre, Belém, San Cristóbal, Zacapa, Las Flores, Nuevo Nativitas and Belem de las Flores. In Cuemanco, there’s even a special training area for the art of canoeing.
Another obligatory visit is the Museo Arqueológico de Xochimilco, a building from the days of Porfirio Díaz, surrounded by wonderful gardens. Its collection consists of more than 2,000 pieces of clay and stone. One highlight is the stone of Tetitla, that represents the dance of spring and the Xoloxóchitl, or magnolia, the flower of beauty. Beyond the sculptures, the museum houses many prehistoric artifacts as well as a weaving that tells the story of Xochimilco, found in 1978 in the codex department at the Museo de Antropología e Historia.
Xochimilco has four sites dedicated to the safekeeping and protection of its environment, the Centro Acuexcomatl – where they offer classes on environmental education -, the Bosques de San Luis Tlaxialtemalco and of Nativitas, and the Parque Ecoturístico Chinampero Michmani, that houses open-air zones that offers camping and diverse activities, like canoeing or kayaking, visiting a temascal or fishing in the canals.
Xochimilco is also famous for its traditions and myths. During your chinampa tour, ask to visit the Isla de las Muñecas, a slightly sinister piece of land where dolls hang from the trees. The work is attributed to Xochimilco local Julián Santana Barrera, who said he used the dolls to scare away the spirit of a girl who had drowned nearby.