Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

To his credit, the ticket agent behind the first class counter at British Airways kept a straight face. I’m willing to bet he’s seen any number of Louis Vuitton monogrammed suitcases, but this was probably the first time he had to check in a market-stall-bought hammock inexpertly covered in black bin bags and duct tape. With my usual flair for dimensions, I had thought the little hammock I had bought at the Aztec Floating Gardens tour at Parque Xochimilco would fit in my suitcase. It didn’t. But, I couldn’t be bothered to roam Mexico City to find a large enough suitcase even if I wanted to spend more money transporting a hammock that had barely cost $15.  We were only flying first class to use up airline miles that were on the verge of expiring anyway.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

Mexico City with kids and a Xochimilco Tour

Parque Xochimilco

I have to confess we took the Xochimilco tour for a particular set of reasons. My son was tired of traipsing around the city visiting the many cultural attractions of Mexico City, including visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Mexican wrestling. I was looking for an easy option where he could rest his wilting flower self in the shade while sightseeing.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

Our boat was called the Brenda.

The Aztec floating gardens at the Parque Ecologic de Xochimilco seemed ideal for the two of us. The Xochimilco tour involved drifting along on a colorful covered boat (called a trajinera) along the canals of Parque Xochimilco for an afternoon watching the world go by in a colorful blur of party boats and Mariachi singers.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

Some of the barges floating by had both snacks as well as entire meals that could be prepared for you.

A Sunday Tradition in Mexico City

We joined a Sunday tradition as dear to the heart of locals as Sunday Brunch in New York City and Sunday dim sum in London. The thing to do on a Sunday in Mexico City is to have a  long, leisurely lunch on a trajinera with you friends and family.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

Lots of barges were out celebrating family events, such as this birthday barge.

There were lots of local families out on the boats. An entire industry of Mariachi bands, souvenir sellers and food vendors tour catered to their needs. I always assume that Mariachi bands were a tourist trap but not so much here.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

A band serenade barges passing by to try and entice them to the canal side restaurant for lunch.

So long as everyone was doing it, I figured why not? I paid to have Guantanamera played for our boat so that my son and I could bop along.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

Floating mariachi bands will serenade you for a fairly low price.

The History of the Aztec Floating Gardens

The Parque Ecologico de Xochimilco was set up in 1993 a few years after Xochimilco was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It’s a wetland area with wildlife and nature reserves.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

We thought the Xochimilco canals were crowded but our guide assured us it wasn’t.

The 6000 acres of Xochimilco of all that is left of the five lakes and interconnecting canals that covered the area before Mexico City emerged from the dried out lake beds. The renowned Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was founded on an island in one of these lakes. Why would the Aztecs build on a lake when there was plenty of dry land elsewhere? They were following a legend.

So, in honour of this legend, they achieved feats of engineering that created an amazing mighty city surrounded by lakes with canals and floating gardens which enabled agriculture to flourish. Today there is still some farming of the floating gardens, things like corn and flowers.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

Flower head gear for those who want to indulge their inner Dora the Explorer.

The Spanish put an end to most of the Aztec achievements – draining the canals etc. Nowadays, pollution and nature have combined to finish off what the Spanish started. In as little as 15 years, it’s feared that Xochimilco may be as gone as Aztec human sacrifices.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

The tourist souvenir touts will follow along with their barges.

The Island of the Floating Dolls

My son was fascinated as well as creeped out by the dolls hanging from the trees at the famous Island of the Floating Dolls.  According to folklore, some one hung up a doll belonging to a girl who drowned and next thing you know everyone was hanging up dolls  around the same area.

The whole thing got so creepy, the place got its own name and haunting story. Of course it did.  Dolls can be creepy even at the best of times, never mind nailed naked to a tree.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

It was only the foreigners who were interested in the Island of the Dolls

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

No, not creepy at all.

The Traditional Market at Xochimilco

I bought my little hammock at the traditional market at Xochimilco. There were so many wonderful and colorful things to buy, from snacks to baskets and, yes, hammocks, of course I wound up getting something that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. It was just an accident in perspective waiting to happen as far as I was concerned.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

I couldn’t decide which colorful straw bag I liked best.

Why You Should Visit The Aztec Floating Gardens at Parque Xochimilco in Mexico City

A snack vendor at the Xochimilco market

Xoximilco: Separate and Not Equal

Some bright spark decided Xochimilco was so nice that it should appear twice in Mexico.  A fun-filled version of Xochimilco has been built for the tourist hordes that visit Mexico’s premier party city, Cancun, and the Mayan Riviera. This theme park, named Xoximilco (not the spelling difference), is billed as a floating fiesta.  All the tacos and tequila without any of the history.

Visiting Xochimilco

You should definitely take a Xochimilco tour if you have the chance to visit Mexico City. It’s hard to believe this canals are 500+ years old! They are as important to the pre-Spanish history of the Mexican indigenous peoples as the pyramids of Teotihuacan. Unfortunately, despite all the good intentions, the Aztec Floating Gardens may become extinct in the next couple of decades. According to people I met who have seen both, Xoximilco may be fun but it can’t hold a candle to Xochimilco.

Xochimilco Tour Options

Xochimilco is an easy place to visit from the centre of Mexico city. There are also tours that will take you from your hotel and back in half day tours of Xochimilco. If you want to do the full-day version of the Xochimilco Tour, these tours will throw in a visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum.

Our guide told us the Frida Kahlo Museum was small and does not have many of her works. Of course, our guide, like most locals, was enamoured with Diego Rivera and thought Frida Kahlo was nothing special. He really didn’t understand why the world outside of Mexico thought she was a big deal. He said many people in Mexico think her biggest claim to fame was that she was married to Diego Rivera.  So take that as you will.

Accommodation in Mexico City

We stayed at the beautiful boutique Hotel Villa Condesa in the trendy Condesa neighbourhood of Mexico City. The hotel  had excellent service, food and facilities. My son’s only gripe was that it did not have a pool. Of course, I chose it specifically because it didn’t have a pool so I wouldn’t have a problem getting him out of the water!

My other option was the Hotel Condesa DF, another boutique hotel around the corner from the Hotel Villa Condesa. It is a Design Hotel which is a brand that now have now teamed up with SPG to get points. I missed a trick on this one because you may know that I love SPG hotels and always pick one when I can.

We did not drive in Mexico City. We also did not take taxis off the street which are a known hazard. One of our compatriots on the tour we took said she met someone who had gotten mugged in a taxi and went to complain to the police. The police told her she was the 200+ person that day to file a taxi mugging story.  Reputable hotels like the Hotel Villa Condesa will have taxis and drivers they trust.

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All You Need To Know To Watch Lucha Libre in Mexico City

All You Need To Know To Watch Lucha Libre in Mexico City

I grew up with a younger brother who was obsessed with World Wrestling Entertainment (or World Wrestling Federation (WWF) as it was known back then) and GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). So it was no real surprise to me that my son at the same age would think wrestling was cool. Of course now you have John Cena who is infinitely better than Hulk Hogan and his ilk from the 1980’s. My son first encountered Mexican wrestling (aka Lucha Libre) at a Day of the Dead festival in London. After that debut to Lucha Libre, he really wanted to watch Lucha Libre in Mexico City as well. With colorful masks, oversized personalities and crazy Mexican wrestler names, the whole event promised theatrics if not actually any sporting entertainment.

All You Need To Know To Watch Lucha Libre in Mexico City with kids

My son got the obligatory mask that they were selling in front of the stadium.

The Basics of Mexican Wrestling

When the French tried their ill-fated intervention into Mexico in the mid-19th century, they brought with them French cuisine and Greco-Roman wrestling. The French left, but the food and the wrestling became their own Mexican versions.

Several decades later, Mexican wrestling really came into its own with the advent of televised matches and the popularity of the first superstar of Lucha Libre, El Santo.

All You Need To Know To Watch Lucha Libre in Mexico City

It’s a colorful spectacle with more acrobatics than wrestling.

First things first, what does lucha libra mean?

The words ‘lucha libre’ is technically translated as a free fight. It’s a form of wrestling developed in Mexico where the wrestlers wear masks and inject theatricality and acrobatics into their style. I can truthfully say it’s like nothing you’ve seen. They seem to get away with more than even the WWE/WWF wrestlers.

About The Wrestlers

In Lucha Libre, El Santo is the grand daddy of wrestling. In 1942 he won a match against 8 men and became a folk hero.  He was the common man fighting for justice that many people could identify with. He appeared in movies and comic books too.

In Mexican wrestling, you have the goodies versus the baddies. It’s a clear-cut universe that people understand.

I was told Lucha Libre is popular with the working classes. I can imagine it’s like the telenovelas that are so popular in Latin America. In a confusing world, a bit of melodrama and clear cut heroes and villains provided entertaining escapism.

Mexico City Lucha Libre Match

A luchador whips the crowd into a frenzy.

Establishing Dynasties

When they get their family members involved in the sport, Mexican wrestlers create a mystique that lives past them. For example, El Hijo del Santo (the Son of the Saint) is also a luchador and wears a similar outfit to El Santo.  There was a mini-family crises when one of El Santo’s grandchildren wanted to be El Niete del Santo (the Grandson of the Saint). El Hijo took El Niete to court and put a stop to that branding infringement presumably because he wants one of his own kids to have the title.

Other famous Mexican wrestlers include Gory Guerrero who invented some of the famous wrestling moves you still see today. He took set up a dynasty and his relatives became Los Guerreros who took Mexican wrestling techniques to the USA and the WWE/WWF.

Nacho Libre, the Fighting Monk

You may have seen the 2006 Hollywood Lucha Libre movie, Nacho Libre starring Jack Black.

via GIPHY

Nacho: Chancho. When you are a man, sometimes you wear stretchy pants in your room. It’s for fun.

– from Nacho Libre (2006)

It’s based on a real fighting priest, Sergio Gutierrez Benitez, who fought as Fray Tormenta (Friar Storm). Benitez was born to a poor family and became a druggie before he found salvation as a Catholic priest. In order to support his Catholic orphanage financially, he fought for 23 years as a luchador.

You would think that Fray Tormenta couldn’t establish a dynasty, right? Wrong. It’s Mexican wrestling where the rules are flexible. One of Benitez’ orphans fights as Fray Tormenta, Jr.

Non-PC Mexican Wrestling

There’s also Mexican midget wrestling. I kid you not. At one of the tag team matches we saw, some of the fighting combinations included wrestlers of small stature. Apparently having a normative size wrestler and his ‘mini’ buddy is a popular combination. Neither do all midget wrestlers have to be subject to dwarfism. You can just have a short guy.

Midget wrestling is still popular in Mexico despite criticism.  Political correctness has not reached Mexico. But, hey it’s a job in a country where 46% of the population lives in poverty.

via GIPHY

You also get luchadores who wrestle in drag – the so-called exoticos. They may or may not be gay but are definitely campy fun poking at traditional male social norms. We didn’t see any exoticos but we definitely saw lots of flouncing, hair pulling, hair tossing and face slapping.

Lucha Libre Costumes

Lucha Libre costumes are intricate and are supposed to represent a wrestler’s persona. Mexican wrestling costumes include lots of assorted gear that get removed before the wrestler gets into the ring.

Lucha Libre Costumes at Arena Mexico in Mexico City

An assortment of Lucha Libre costumes. The only one I could make out was The Pharaoh.

The basic luchador costume seems to be tight lycra pants. with or without a mask. Luchador masks are not compulsory. For example, Gory Guerrero didnt wear one. It’s those flexible rules, again.

Mexico has a long history of using ceremonial masks going back to pre-colonial times. The Luchadores masks are fantastic representations of animals, mythical beings, and other larger than life characters.

Lucha Libre in Mexico City

In Mexico City Lucha Libre is a sport widely attended by the whole family. The woman who sat behind us was holding an infant while her toddler sons were cheering away with her husband. Next to us, there was a young couple on a date. Everyone was perfectly nice – guzzling beer, chomping on popcorn or Mexican sweets and cheering at the top of their lungs.

Mexico City Lucha Libre Match

Lots of greased hard bodies in skimpy outfits. And that’s just the men.

Getting Tickets

There are two arenas in Mexico City that have Lucha Libre matches – the Arena Mexico and the Arena Coliseo. The Lucha Libre Mexico City schedule is varied. Check online because they have events on set days.

You can buy your tickets ahead of time on the internet or you can rock up and buy them at the event. Tickets are not particularly expensive so you should spring for good seats.  There are three tiers – you should try and get into the bottom tier which are closest to the ring.

You can also get tickets through a tour company such as TuriLuchas. These tickets though include beer and tequila and are not available for people under 18 years old. We saw the TuriLuchas bus pull up outside the Arena and everyone get off.

Get your Lucha Libre tour tickets here through Get Your Guide.

Having said that there are tours available, we did not find that many tourists in the audience. Most people attending the Lucha Libre seemed to be locals.

Ringside Seats

We had good seats in the floor arena near the stage where performers appear. I thought we would be far away from any mayhem. I was wrong. At one point the wrestlers started fighting as they were leaving the stage and spilled into our row. My son freaked out but the Mexican audience loved it.

We didn’t see any arena girls wrestling but we did see them gyrate a fair bit. Every match required a costume change into matching bikinis that left little to the imagination.

Tips for watching Mexico City Lucha Libre

  • Mexico City wrestling also has slot at noon on Sundays which is promoted as a family-friendly show.
  • Neither arena is in a particularly good area of Mexico City. Our hotel arranged for us to have a taxi to drop us off and to pick us up. You can also arrange for an Uber which are popular in Mexico City.
  • You are NOT allowed to bring in cameras into the venue. You can, however, bring your mobile phone. There is a security check where you can leave your camera which is what I did.
  • Be warned though that action can spill out from the wrestling ring into nearby seats.
  • Do not expect a quiet scene. There are horns blaring and people yelling throughout the event.

Where To Stay

We stayed at Hotel Villa Condesa in the cool neighbourhood of Condesa in Mexico City. This boutique hotel was great and had excellent service, food and facilities.

The Villa Condesa arranged for our taxi and tickets to the Lucha Libre match at the Arena Mexico. Although the arena is only a couple of neighbourhoods away from Condesa, the vibe is completely different.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

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