Lonely Planet review for Canals
Xochimilco (Náhuatl for 'Place where Flowers Grow') was an early target of Aztec hegemony, probably due to its inhabitants' farming skills. The Xochimilcas piled up vegetation and mud in the shallow waters of Lake Xochimilco, a southern offshoot of Lago de Texcoco, to make fertile gardens called chinampas, which later became an economic base of the Aztec empire. As the chinampas proliferated, much of the lake was transformed into a series of canals.
Approximately 180km of these waterways remain today and provide a favorite weekend destination for defeños. The chinampas are still under cultivation, mainly for garden plants and flowers such as poinsettias and marigolds. Owing to its cultural and historical significance, Xochimilco was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987.On weekends a fiesta atmosphere takes over as the waterways become jammed with boats carrying large groups of families and friends. Local vendors and musicians hover alongside the partygoers serving food and drink, playing marimbas and taking photos with old box cameras. (Midweek, the mood is far more mellow.)
Hundreds of colorful trajineras await passengers at the village's nine embarcaderos. Nearest to the center are Salitre and San Cristóbal, both 400m east of the plaza, and Fernando Celada, 400m west on Guadalupe Ramírez. Boats seat 14 to 20 persons; official cruise prices (around $140 to around $160 per hour) are posted at the embarcaderos. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, 60-person lanchas colectivos (collective boat taxis) run between the Salitre, Caltongo and Nativitas embarcaderos, charging around $20 per passenger round-trip.
Fixed prices for food, drink and even music on the waterways are also posted at the embarcaderos - one tune costs around $25 on marimbas, around $50 norteño style, and around $70 by mariachis! You can arrange for your trajinera to stop at Nativitas embarcadero for some shopping at its large artesanías (handicrafts) market.
While it is possible to get a taste of Xochimilco in an hour, it's worth going for longer; you'll see more and get a proper chance to relax.