If you’re looking for a unique experience that really embodies the spirit of Mexico, may we suggest Xochimilco? A visit to these canals makes for a great day trip from Mexico City and can be done on the cheap without a tour. But like most major tourist attractions in Mexico, you run the risk of getting ripped off. To help with that, here’s everything we learned after visiting Xochimilco without a tour.
The Canals of Xochimilco
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Venice of Mexico’, the canals of Xochimilco are a unique site near Mexico City. Visitors can tour the area on traditional wooden boats called ‘trajineras’ while a local steers the boat much like the gondolas in Venice. It’s a great place to take in the festive atmosphere where you’ll hear mariachi music playing, see local food and drinks for sale and enjoy an overall ‘fiesta’ mood.
We spent a month in Mexico City and, after reading some of the negative TripAdvisor reviews, we almost didn’t go to Xochimilco. My advice? If you have the time, go. See the canals for yourself because you just might enjoy them as much as we did.
Cheapest Way to Get to Xochimilco
For anyone looking to save money by visiting Xochimilco without a tour, there is local transportation available and it is CHEAP! Start at the Tasqueña metro station which is the last southbound stop on Line 2 of the metro. From there, transfer to the ‘Tren Ligero’ which is the light rail train. We used our prepaid metro cards to pay for this train and couldn’t believe that it was only $3 pesos to board! Try your best to get a seat because there are several stops and the ride is quite long. Once you get off at the Xochimilco stop, the neighbourhood streets can be a bit confusing but there are several signs that read ‘Embarcadero’ and you can follow those to one of the many loading docks in town.
A quicker option would be to take an Uber right from Mexico City. If you’re new to Uber and looking to save some money, sign up here and get your first ride on us!
Cost of a Boat Ride
It’s important to know that guides at each of the loading docks should be quoting you a price PER HOUR, PER BOAT. We visited when the standard fare was apparently $450 pesos per hour per boat (March 2016). This rate applies to the long trajineras but there are also smaller boats available for those looking to tour the more narrow canals in the area. Despite knowing this, the first guide we approached tried to quote us $450 per person. Don’t be fooled!
Long trajineras can fit up to 18 people and the hourly rate of $450 pesos makes it a very affordable day trip if you’re travelling in a group. If you’re alone (like us) try joining another group of tourists to help break down the cost per person. But guides will be watching you and when we tried to team up with two French ladies, they caught on and wouldn’t allow it. If you see others on the subway or walking towards the canals, try asking to join a group before you approach the loading docks.
If you find that you’re quoted too much, walk away. There are several different loading docks in town and your persistence is sure to pay off if you keep asking until you get a fare rate. One of our biggest frustrations while travelling in Mexico was the fact that we were constantly being ripped off by companies and guides that assumed we were travelling with loads of money. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that’s not the case so we persisted at Xochimilco until a guide agreed to charge us $500 pesos for a 2 hour tour.
Food & Drink
Once you’re on your very own trajinera, you’ll pass vendors selling food and drinks all along the canals. It’s almost like a floating market and you’ll find everything from beer to tamales for sale but expect to pay slightly more than you would in town. Many large groups and families bring their own food while some have full blown cookouts right on their boat! We brought our own sandwiches and beer with us and then bought more drinks since the festive mood was contagious.
Your guide might also ask if you prefer to stop at an actual restaurant to eat, in which case they usually have some sort of deal with one of the locals that own sit-down restaurants nearby. Our guide also stopped halfway through for a washroom break.
The Doll Island
The original island of the dolls is in Xochimilco but requires a 3+ hour tour. It is decorated with old toys meant to honour the spirit of little girl found dead by the owner of the island. We weren’t that crazy about the extra time and money required to visit the island but noticed a couple of stops along the canal with creepy dolls set up as well. I’ve heard that there are guides that take you to fake doll sites so if you’re set on visiting the original one, be sure to ask and make sure you’re getting your moneys worth.
Our experience visiting Xochimilco without a tour was so much fun and I can’t believe we almost missed out by letting the negative reviews get to us. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon with good company in a great environment.
- We noticed that we were some of the very few foreign tourists at Xochimilco and the majority were tourists visiting from other parts of Mexico. Many guides did not speak English and bargaining in Spanish would definitely help in this neighbourhood.
- During our visit, there was a festival at the town square by the church so we also got to see other parts of the neighbourhood and browse the local market.
- If you have a full day, you may decide to combine this with a trip to the Coyoacan neighbourhood which is also south of Mexico City.
Travelling to Mexico City? Check out our Top Things to do in Mexico City post as well as our video here where we share our favourite things.
Have you been to the canals of Xochimilco without a tour? We’d love to hear your experiences below!