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Current Search Destination:Xochimilco, Distrito Federal, Distrito Federal
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Xochimilco (soh-chee-MEEL-coh) is about 24 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of downtown Mexico City, within the Federal District but outside the city limits. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, the “place where the flowers grow” was once a Chichimec Indian stronghold.
The best way to reach Xochimilco is to take Mexico City's Metro (line 2) to the Taxqueña station, then board a light rail train (tren ligero) and get off at the Xochimilco stop. Peseros (minibuses) also make the trip from the Taxqueña Metro station to Xochimilco, as do buses that travel down Avenida Insurgentes Sur and Calzada de Tlalpan to the Anillo Periférico.
By car, Xochimilco can be reached via the Periférico, exiting at Jardines del Sur. The tourist-oriented “floating gardens” area is busiest on Sunday, when Mexican families come on their traditional day off. It's much less crowded in the middle of the week.
Xochimilco is threaded by numerous waterways, the last remains of a once-extensive lake. Chinampas, rafts woven from twigs, were covered with earth and planted with flowers or vegetables. The rafts often carried a small hut and were propelled about the lake with oars. The roots of willows planted around the perimeter of some rafts gradually attached to the lake bottom, and the so-called “floating gardens” became islands threaded by canals.
For a real taste of Mexican merrymaking visit on Sunday, when Xochimilco is thronged by families and a freewheeling carnival atmosphere prevails. Signs marked “Embarcadero” point the way to the boat launches. The rental rate is per boat rather than per person, so it's cheaper—and more fun—to join a group.
Restaurants and souvenir stands line the canals. Everywhere there are hawkers, ashore and afloat in canoes, peddling tacos, beer, drinks, trinkets, balloons, flowers and fruit. Music is an integral part of the fun, and some boats are occupied by mariachi bands or guitar trios, in full costume and of varying degrees of polish, who paddle up to prospective customers and serenade them for a fee.
The government sets authorized rates for the boats, called trajineras. If an operator tries to charge more, complain to the police, who usually patrol the principal pier. If a police officer is not available, you must resort to bargaining, at which the boat operators are uncannily skillful; many have learned some English for just this purpose. Be sure to agree on the price and the length of the ride before embarking. Most rides will cost around 350 pesos per hour.
North of the town center is a more recently developed area of canals and chinampas where produce is raised, most of it bound for Mexico City markets. Boats can be hired to cruise these canals as well, although the area is kept separate from the tourist-targeted floating gardens. Picnicking is permitted along the banks of a man-made lake, where there also is a visitor center.
Although the floating gardens are the reason most people come here, Xochimilco has other attractions. Facing the main square is the early 16th-century Franciscan Convent and Church of San Bernardino, one of the first in New Spain. Stone carvings of angels and flowers adorn the church's exterior. Inside are several chapels and a main altar resplendent with gold gilt, sculptures and paintings. Also in the central part of town are garden centers and the market, liveliest on Saturdays when Indians come from miles around to sell their wares.
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Current Location: Xochimilco, Distrito Federal, Distrito Federal