Riding the rainbow colored trajineras in Xochimilco was something I knew nothing about until my friend built it into our 4-day Mexico City itinerary. First, in case you’re not familiar with Spanish and are scratching your head at the name of the place we visited, it is pronounced kinda like so-chi-milk-oh. With that distraction out of the way, let’s check out this one-of-a-kind experience…
About Xochimilco and the trajineras:
Xochimilco, a UNESCO world heritage site, has an interesting history. In Aztec times, it used to be a lake! In an extraordinary feat of human ingenuity, fertile land was created by dredging the bottom of the lake and building up the mud in areas to create little islands called chinampas and the canals you can enjoy today. There are people living on the chinampas who can only get to and from their property by small boat. They call it the “floating city.” So cool that this is only about 20 miles from Mexico City center!
The trajineras are a major economy in this small city-within-a-city. They are all named after women and are painted with flowers and bright colors. Some people spend many years as gondoliers, using a long stick to propel the flat boats through the canals.
I had a good time but must write an honest, mixed review. I think it is easy to have an amazing time on the gondolas, but it is also easy to have a bad time. Like most things in life, and especially while traveling, experiences are what you make of them. Experiences will vary as you have many different companies operating boats and many different trajinera drivers/operators. I would say my group got off on the wrong foot by letting our cab driver take us to a embarcadero other than the one we originally requested. He made some kind of excuse that the other one was closed due to a religious holiday. We believed him but ought to have been more skeptical.
The silver lining to this was that we had the most incredible brunch. Right where the taxi let us out we stopped into the tiniest cafe ran by a couple. Made-to-order chilaquiles, fresh fruit, and hot tea? Yes, please!
Since we were driven to a smaller and less significant embarcadero, we didn’t have choices between boating companies and the boat we ended up on was pretty shabby. My friend who is fluent in Spanish did her best to barter down the price of our hour-long ride, but without immediate local competition, the “boat boss” held all of the cards. He ended up charging us much more than we were expecting: 800 pesos for an hour, in other areas it would have been half that. When you convert it, the price isn’t that high (about $20), so it makes sense that they pad their bottom line by dealing toughly with American tourists. I feel a little “ripped off” but I’m not mad about it. If this is the worst scam that’s happened to me in a foreign country, I count myself very lucky.
We tried to join up with a small group of Germans to make new friends and have a nice full boat, but they weren’t interested so our group consisted of just the four of us. The gondola rides are really like floating parties so I would’ve liked to have had a bigger group—I love my friends but a huge group would have been so much more lively!
The most enjoyable part of the ride is the smaller boats that come and hook themselves onto your boat and try to sell you things. They’ll try to sell you tacos, elote, Coronas, candy, Cokes, toys, and more. some are floating Mariachi bands that will play music for a fee and tips. When we were out on the water, we saw lots of local Mexican families celebrating birthdays and such.
The best part is when the trajineras got into a traffic jam. Sometimes they bump into each other with a mighty crack and everyone exclaims good naturedly. Sometimes multiple Mariachi bands will be playing at the same time, in the same area, in different keys, which creates a joyful cacophony of sound and color.
Take the metro to Tasqueña Station and then take Tren Ligero to its terminus (tips on riding an unfamiliar metro here). When my group got to Tasqueña, there was construction on the light rail or something so we ended up grabbing a taxi instead. This was fine because we split the cost three ways.
- Price: Varies due to length and how many extras you buy while riding. $10–40?
- Time: Again, varies; one to two hours is enough. This excludes getting there and back from Mexico City center. If you want to do this, plan for a half day.
- Must-do: Maybe? If you’re traveling with your squad, then yes!
All photos by Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.