Floating Gardens of Xochimilco

A complex network of serpentine waterways built upon the ruins of Aztec Technotitlan, the maze of canals now comprising the World Heritage Site of Xochimilco are one of the few reminders of pre-conquest Ciudad de Mexico. Located on the Southern fringe of Distrito Federal, Xochimilco lies just 28 km from the Centro Historico proper, yet arguably features a richer proliferation of diverse historical structures, than even the heart of this cosmopolitan metropolis. Decorated by brightly colored trajineras (flat boats) and gondolas, the canals now represent a modern day riviera – a weekend retreat luring city dwellers in their thousands, to enjoy the beauty of stunning Aztec ruins and the odd chinampa (tropical agricultural plot).

Encompassing an area in excess of 80 km, the labyrinth of canals making up Xochimilco are among the largest in the world. Lined by sophisticated restaurants, taco and souvenir outlets, the “historic center is by far the most visited area, brought to life every weekend by mariachi bands, commercial markets and indigenous craft fairs. Colorful trajineras decorated with distinct Aztec symbols line up at Los Embarcaderos near Nativitas, awaiting the throngs of visitors eager to view the famous floating gardens. Trips vary greatly according to departure point, with average tours lasting 30-45 minutes. Floating along at a leisurely pace, you'll essentially complete a small circular tour, taking in the Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco and botanical islands dotted with juniper trees (former man-made floating chinampas), for which the area is famed.

A flourishing eco-system of endemic birds and fish, Xochimilco's Floating Gardens play host to a vibrant array of colorful wildlife. Often confused with the marsh dwelling frog, the blueish axolotl is a curious amphibian, best described as half frog, half gecko. Revered by the Aztecs as the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl's brother – Xolotl, it is the only amphibian capable of limb regeneration and procreation from birth. Foreign fish, such as the tilapia are a common sight, as are migrating birds – herons, pelicans and hummingbirds. Some sights are a little more peculiar, such as the increasingly popular “Island of Dolls” - a small chinampa of juniper trees, almost entirely decorated with porcelain figurines of varying size. Sixteenth Century parroquias such as San Bernardino de Siena and El Templo de Diana are also well worth visiting, featuring exquisite artifacts and paintings that date back as far as the 14th Century.

Wind up your trip with an evening of fine food and entertainment at Madero, where an entire promenade has been dedicated to the provision of authentic Mexican fayre and lively marimba bands for your listening pleasure. Less than an hour's drive from the heart of Mexico City, the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco is a whole new world of cultural discovery.

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