Around 20 km to the southeast of the city centre, Xochimilco has many attractions, not least the fact that it lies in an unpolluted area.
Meaning ‘the place where flowers grow’, Xochimilco was an advanced settlement long before the arrival of the Spaniards. Built on a lake, it developed a form of agriculture using chinampas (‘floating gardens’) where mud was dredged from the lake bed and onto floating rafts. The chimpanas soon evolved into highly fertile canal banks and the area is still a major supplier of fruit and vegetables to the city. After the Conquest, the Spaniards recognized the importance of the region and the need to convert the indigenous population, evidenced by a considerable number of 16th- and 17th-century religious buildings in Xochimilco and the other 13 pueblos that make up the present-day delegación, or municipality. Easiest access is by bus, colectivo or metro to Metro Taxqueña, then tren ligero (about 20 minutes). Get off at the last stop.
Xochimilco’s peaceful canals are the town’s principal attraction, traversed by colourful trajineras (punt-like boats), which bear girls’ names. There are seven embarcaderos (landing stages), the largest of which are Fernando Celada and Nuevo Nativitas (the latter is a large craft market where most coach-loads of tourists are set down). All are busy at weekends, especially Sunday afternoon, when a feisty carnival atmosphere predominates. Official tariffs operate, although prices are sometimes negotiable. Private boats cost around US$10 per hour (a trip of at least 1½ hours is desirable); floating Mariachi bands will charge US$3.50 per song, marimba groups US$1.50. It should be mentioned that besides the expensive trajineras there are colectivo-boats operating for US$1-2 for a trip around the canals starting from embarcadero San Cristóbal. There are reasonably priced tourist menus (lunch US$2) from passing boats or, even better, stock up with a picnic and beers before setting off.
The indisputable architectural jewel of Xochimilco’s modest town centre is the church of San Bernardino de Siena and its neighbouring convent, begun in 1535, completed 1595, and housing a magnificent Renaissance-style altarpiece. Nearby, the oldest Spanish-built religious edifice is the tiny Capilla de San Pedro (1530). Also worthy of mention are Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Xaltocán with a 17th-century facade and 18th- century retable, Santa Crucita Analco and San Juan Tlaltentli. All are within walking distance of the centre of Xochimilco. For those interested in church architecture, the villages to the west, south and east of Xochimilco are worth visiting, all reachable by colectivo or bus from the centre of Xochimilco. In nearby Míxquic, famous for its Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations, the church of San Andrés was built on the site of an earlier temple using some of the original blocks, with traces of pre-Hispanic designs.
Also in Xochimilco is the recommended Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño....