The Perfect Mexican Afternoon on the Xochimilco River Boats

The Perfect Mexican Afternoon on the Xochimilco River Boats

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We spent an afternoon on a Xochimilco River tour in Mexico City. I didn’t want to go, but it turned out to be amazing.

This afternoon we walked and walked and walked and walked. And walked. By 1:00 pm I was exhausted both mentally and figuratively from figuring out where we were, where we wanted to go, and how to appreciate what we were doing. Traveling is not for the faint of heart, Ladies and Gentlemen. So we found ourselves numbly sitting on a metal park bench watching Whit play (how do kids have So. Much. Energy?) on a playground near our AirBnB rental. I admit it had taken lots of subtle manipulation to steer Whit and Ben in this direction and convince them that an afternoon siesta would do everyone some good.

Oh, so close.

Little did I know that as I sat with my head on my knees on that bench Ben was on his phone researching even more to do in Mexico City! I heard about the Xochimilco River Boats Tours about 6 minutes before the Uber arrived to take us in that direction.

After a 30 minute cat nap in the Uber I perked right up as I saw where we had gone: a river with many colorful gondolas docked at a market of restaurant and snack stalls.

If anyone is keeping track, this makes the third documented time that Ben was right.

I love water activities. I love things that are peaceful. I love bright colors. I don’t think Ben was specifically thinking about how to make me extremely happy when he chose to go to on a Xochimilco river boat, but that’s what happened!

Booking a Xochimilco River Boat Tour

The first hurdle was just making sense of the people and boats around us. We figured that the men walking up and down the line of boats with manly (yeah, right) shoulder bags must be the ones organizing the boat tours. We approached two before getting it across that we were interested in renting one for an hour.

In the amount of time it took to secure our tour we saw huge groups of people load food trays, drinks (of various levels of alcohol), stereos, etc. onto different boats. The price is dependent on the length of your tour (starting a 500MX for 1 hour), not number of passengers, so the locals are sure to really pack ’em in.

Most seemed to be there as a celebration: We saw lots of cakes and party supplies. Doesn’t that sound like so much fun? To just call up 20 of your closest friends and ask them to join you on a boat ride?


many colorful gondolas on the xochimilco river boat tour


For 500MX we were shown to a particular boat and our non-English-speaking driver nonchalantly took us out. I couldn’t help but wonder what thought about us: a group of 3 Americans with no snacks just lounging on this giant party boat taking tons of pictures and videos.

Actually, I don’t have to wonder. It was probably: “Tourists.”

Not that he’s wrong- I’m learning that Americans have more trouble letting go and giving in to fun than other cultures. Hopefully we can learn how to let go of inhibitions and enjoy life like Mexicans!

Related: All about Xocimilco, Mexico City


How it feels on the Xochimilco River

The tour was absolutely beautiful. The river was calm and peaceful but afloat with party boats full of excited passengers. We heard laughter and Mexican music up and down the river, saw plenty of birds and ducks bob around for leftovers, and passed multiple smaller boats offering ready-made snacks to us.

I loved being surrounded by so much culture. We were practically on a floating Mexican restaurant table set, surrounded by the sounds and colors of this vibrant climate. It felt very special and even surreal, like the locals had somehow allowed us Gringos to their party.


three colorful gondolas on the xochimilco river boat tour


Ben and Whit caught some of the thrill in the air and asked our driver to let them have a turn with the giant mud stick. Ben had some trouble keeping our boat straight, but he and Whit did a great job!

I love the experiences we’re able to have just by being brave enough to ask.


father and son steer a colorful gondola on the xochimilco river boat tour


Boy steers a colorful gondola on the xochimilco river boat tour


Some lucky partygoers even invited a Mariachi band along on their Xochimilco River Tour. Is this not the most Mexican thing you’ve ever seen? Sorry if that sounds insulting, but when you come across scenes like this you realize that stereotypes are true sometimes.

We enjoyed their music, a tune we’ve frequently heard on Mariachi Thursdays at our favorite Mexican dive, and were eagerly flashed the peace sign as we passed. I guess some stereotypes for Americans live on, too!

Touche, Mexico.


Mariachi band performs on a colorful gondola on the Xochimilco River boat Tour



Colorful gondolas on the xochimilco river boat tour


The boat ride was smooth, our guide knew exactly how to maneuver around the many other boats, and he had no problem with us sitting on either end of the boat or moving around the middle. It was a fun, relaxing, colorful afternoon, and probably one of my favorite singular activities in Mexico!  Depending on the length of the tour you choose, you can see floating gardens and even an island. I say stay out all day!

All for around $25 USD. Gotta love it down south.

Xochimilco River Boats Tour Details:

Getting to the Xochimilco River:

  • Call a taxi or Uber to take you to the river
  • Address: El Rosario, 16070 Ciudad de México, CDMX
  • At first it will seem like you’re driving in the middle of nowhere, and you may start to wonder if the driver misunderstood where you wanted to go. You’re in the right place when you see food stalls beside the boats at the end of the road with a small parking lot.

Booking a Xochimilco River Tour:

  • This can be difficult if you don’t speak Spanish. Find someone with a money belt walking up and down the sidewalk and point to the boats. He’ll show you to a map where you can point to indicate which tour length you want.
  • Look out for other small groups trying to rent a boat. It will be cheaper to share the cost of a boat and much more fun with other people!
  • Once you’ve rented the boat you will be shown to the right boat. You can enter and then make yourself at home!

What to Bring:

  • Food
  • Beverages
  • Sunscreen or hat
  • Camera
  • Cash (no credit cards accepted)


A Canon 60D camera was used for most photos and videos. Consider getting your own by clicking here!

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