The canals of Xochimilco are remnants of the famed ancient Lake Xochimilco in Mexico Valley. The endorheic lake was part of a series that included Lake Zumpango, Lake Xaltocan, Lake Texcoco and Lake Chalco.Â Xochimilco is the only remnant of the lake system as the others were drained over time to protect against flooding.
Today Xochimilco is a magnet for tourists looking for a trip down the magical canal. The trajineras, special boats, are stunning with a brilliant rainbow of colors. Each is individualized with themes and names. The canals can become quite crowded, especially on the weekends and holidays.
The name, Xochimilco, is Nahuatl for flower field place and it’s not surprising with the brilliant display of floating gardens. Some locals continue the ancient gardening traditions and you may purchase flowers, like those above, or even plants from the floating florists.
This area is home to the critically endangered axolotl, a type of mole salamander that also inhabited Lake Chalco until it was drained. Because of the destruction of its natural habitat, water pollution and introduction of foreign species of fish, the species is in grave danger. This amazing creature is able to regenerate almost all of its body parts and is often found as a pet throughout the United States. However, in the wild, it has a very grim future.
Xochimilco is located in a borough of the Mexican Federal District. While rooftop gardens are all the ecological rage today, 500 years ago residents of the area were working rooftop gardens with flowers lining the streets. Today the locals live on the income from boat tours which cost anywhere from 130 pesos to 200, depending on the size of boat. Since the modest 130 pesos is for a full boatload, families enjoy holding parties complete with food and entertainment on the boats.
There is somewhat of a saddness that comes from learning about the ancient lakes and then seeing all that is left. However, there is a bright light in the hope that many people are becoming more ecologically minded. UNESCO granted Xochimilco as a Culture Heritage Site honoring the rich history that has survived since long before the conquests of Cortez. With the help of future generations, it is hoped that the canals can survive and continue to enchant visitors with the mystical magic dating to Aztec rule.