Xochimilco, meaning 'flower field', is the third largest borough in Mexico City and sits to the south of the historic centre and has a culture all of its own. Traditionally it was separate from the main area and as a result, unique traditions were built over time which later merged with those of the city.
These traditions are typified by a huge network of canals and artificial islands, known as 'chinampas'. The waterways are all that is left from a vast lake that used to stretch across the Valley of Mexico. The ancient Aztecs who originally occupied the land used the canals for trade and farming methods and they are still vitally important today. But for a different purpose, namely tourism.
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Brightly coloured and decorated boats,or 'trajineras' line the banks, with hourly or day trips available. As you relax and drift along the canals musical boats float by with mariachi trios, a form of Mexican folk music, as well as marimba players. They provide an excellent soundtrack as you appreciate the backdrop of the town. It is a very popular past time for tourists and used to be much more authentic but the days of Mexican locals joining in seems to be a thing of the past. Despite the area being named a World Heritage Site in 1987 with the aim to preserve the remaining canals that are under threat due to human expansion and their importance to tourism, pollution remains a problem. The experience is still an excellent and worthwhile one, especially due to the fact the canals might not be around to be enjoyed for too much longer.
But the canals are not the only sights to visit in Xochimilco. There are many 'chinampas' and floating gardens that remain. Many have been turned into residences, but there are plenty that feature beautiful and carefully manicured gardens with an array of natural plants and wildlife. The most famous 'chinampas' is that of Santana Barrera. It was thought no-one lived on his island, but after excessive water lilies were removed he was discovered, having lived with no services or contact with the outside world. He had collected the broken bodies of old dolls from the canals and hung them in the trees, to ward off evil spirits. The ghostly looking figures can still be visited today.
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In down town Xochimilco there is a handicrafts and food market near to where you can board the boats. Be sure to have a little browse as it offers plenty of products that you will struggle to find in other areas of the city. Restaurants including several pizzerias and a fare of mouthwatering Mexican dishes are in prime location along the waterway so you can relax in a superb setting.
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