In this post we share photos from Xochimilco, Mexico City’s famous canal system that dates to Mesoamerica’s PostClassic period (A.D. 950-1521). This area is significant for its ingenuity in agriculture that enabled pre-Hispanic people, and later the Aztecs, to create a food surplus.
In present day, this UNESCO Heritage site continues to be used as a source of food and vegetation, with visitors enjoying rides on the flower-garlanded boats through the canals.
- Address: Laguna del Toro, San Juan, Xochimilco, 16038 Mexico City, Mexico
- Arrive by metro (approximately 1.5 hours): Metro from Station: Centro Historico to Station: Tasqueña. Switch to the TL-1 train to Xochimilco.
- Arrive by private car: takes about an hour if departing from the Historic Center
- Xochimilco means “where the flowers grow”
- Rides on the trajineras (flower-garlanded boats) for an hour are on offer for approximately 500 pesos.
- When to go: if you want a quieter, less touristy experience, visit during the week. If you are looking to see the canals filled with people, go on the weekend.
UNESCO Heritage: Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco
In 1987, the Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its cultural value.
“The lacustrine landscape of Xochimilco, located 28 km south of the city, constitutes the only reminder of traditional Pre-Hispanic land-use in the lagoons of the Mexico City basin. In the midst of a network of small canals, on the edge of the residual lake of Xochimilco (the southern arm of the great drained lake of Texcoco), some chinampas or ‘floating’ gardens can still be found. Parts of this half-natural, half-artificial landscape are now an ‘ecological reserve’.”
“Having become vulnerable under the impact of environmental changes, the lacustrine landscape of Xochimilco constitutes the only reminder of traditional ground occupation in the lagoons of the Mexico City basin before the Spanish conquest.”
Citations: UNESCO World Heritage Center, 2022.
If you haven’t already, check out why you should incorporate UNESCO World Heritage sites into your travel plans.
- Mexico City in 3, 4 & 5 Days — City Itinerary & Activity Recommendations
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- What To Do in Polanco, Mexico City: Our Guide & Recommended Walking Path
History of the Chinampas
Around 800 CE pre-Hispanic people invented the chinampas, a technique in Mesoamerican agriculture that uses fertile land to grow crops on shallow lake beds, lake wetlands and freshwater swamp.
“After sounding the bottom for an appropriate spot, chinamperos … pile up mud dredged from the lake on top of a lattice structure of reeds. Although they appear to rest on the surface of the water, earning them the nickname “floating gardens,” chinampas were actually built up from the bottom of the lake” (History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2022).
For this reason, while the guides of the trajineras (canal boats) may discuss the history of Xochimilco and the glory of the “floating gardens”, this is a “tall tale” that dates to the 1590s (Coe, Scientific American Vol. 211, No. 1 (July 1964), pp. 90-99 (10 pages): The Chianmpas of Mexico).
Through the use of chinampas, people were no longer solely reliant upon rain or conquering additional land for food production. The chinampas produced two-to-three yields a year which enabled the pre-Hispanic people, and later the Aztecs, to create a surplus of food.
- The Archaeologist: “Chinampas”: The Ancient Aztec Floating Gardens That Hold Promise for Future Urban Agriculture (2021)
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