Riding the Technicolor Gondolas in Xochimilco, Mexico City

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…

Xochimilco 1

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.

My experience: the bad.

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. My group got off on the wrong foot by letting our cab driver take us to the wrong embarcadero. He made some kind of excuse that the main 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!

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Xochimilco 2

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 group of Germans to make new friends and have a nice full boat, but they weren’t interested so our boat contained just the four of us. The gondola rides are 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!

Xochimilco 4

My experience: the good!

The most enjoyable part of the ride is the smaller boats that hook themselves onto your boat, trying 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.

Xochimilco 3

Getting there:

Take the metro to Tasqueña Station and then take Tren Ligero to its terminus (tips on riding an unfamiliar metro here). When you get to Tasqueña, it’s fine to grab a taxi instead. Just keep my experience with the taxi in mind and be strong. This was fine because we split the cost three ways.

Summary:

  1. Price: Varies due to length and how many extras you buy while riding. $10–40 USD?
  2. 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.
  3. Must-do: Maybe? If you’re traveling with your squad, then yes!

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All photos by Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.

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17 thoughts on “Riding the Technicolor Gondolas in Xochimilco, Mexico City

  1. This looks like so much fun! I think you are right though you need a crew. I love that you can do shopping and buy food while on the boat. And the boats are so colorful, I guess that should be expected in Mexico. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  2. This was a stop we fit into our itinerary, and it also happened to be a really slow day. We ended up walking down several alleys that lead us to different privately-owned businesses. Seeing that there really weren’t many boats out, and the overall activity in the canals was pretty dead, we decided against a ride. There was a lot of pressure to ride, and it became kind of annoying after a while insisting that we were just walking around. With that said, it looks like a fun trip, and I agree that it would be fun if you went with a good group of people 🙂 Perhaps another visit on a better day.

    1. The pressure does become annoying. I’d recommend the boats to anyone in a bigger group, but a busy day would be best because the noise, hustle and bustle was my favorite part 🙂

  3. I have been to Mexico City twice and I haven’t been to Xochimilco yet. The trajineras are beautiful and I have heard the area has a great market. Hope to visit in the future. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  4. This looks like such a great experience and a great, leisurely way to spend the day. Sorry to hear about your price gouging experience. I love how colorful they look and it must have been cool to see what others were doing on their boats. I would like to visit Mexico City one day soon.

  5. Wow! I’ve never heard of this, but it looks very colorful and like a true experience… and depending on the day, which could be good, or could be bad, but still neat to be able to say you tried it! I don’t like the feeling of being pressured by tour operators when traveling, but unfortunately it is commonplace isn’t it… #theweeklypostcard

    1. They are just trying to make money as we all are 🙂 I was bummed but not mad. Must remember to stay strong when bartering!

  6. Yeah, it’s certainly more fun with a group. I’m a solo traveller most of the time, so activities like this would have been out of the question, lol! Having said that, it’s an experience 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Being a solo traveler has so many great benefits, like not conforming to anyone else’s timetable, but unless you found a random group to hook up with, something like this wouldn’t be the same. Thanks for stopping by, Kat!

  7. What a fun excursion! I cannot believe that this is the first I’ve heard of it. I like how colorful the gondolas are and that smaller boats will hook up to them. This really sounds like something that I would enjoy. Considering that I live in Texas, I don’t get down to Mexico enough.

    1. Thanks for visiting! I live in San Diego, right by the border, and have been making a big effort to get to know our southerly neighbor 🙂

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