What is Xoximilco?
Written by: Amanda Bailey on November 03, 2015
Our boat captain, Richard, grabbed my hand and pulled me to the front of the boat to tango.
I thought, “ok, I’ll go along with this for a second.”
Three hours and four courses of authentic Mexican cuisine later, and I was still on my feet, doing the Macarena. Yes, the Macarena.
That is Xoximilco. Pronunciation: So-chee-meel-koh. The experience is difficult to put into words, but it’s basically a floating dinner theater that gradually transforms into a dance marathon. While you sail, your captain shares bits of Mexico’s culture and history, interspersed with jokes about the consequences of tequila.
The inspiration for Xoximilco in Cancun is based on the original Xochimilco (notice the spelling difference) district, a system of canals and artificial islands built by the Aztec civilization, located just south of modern-day Mexico City.
The boats that cruise the canals in Xochimilco and in the newer Cancun version are known as trajineras, and although I heard many refer to them as “Mexican gondolas,” to me they seemed more like large, buoyant covered picnic tables.
Xochimilco, in the Aztec language, means “field of flowers” and each trajinera is colorfully painted and decked out with lights and artificial blooms. Each of the boats is named for a different Mexican borough, and ours happened to be Xochimilco!
The 20 of us passengers — all with the The Mark Travel Corporation Summit, and all female — were arranged in wooden seats on either side of a long table running down the middle of the trajinera. Beverage compartments inside the table held pop, beer, tequila, and in our boat’s case, not quite enough bottled water for an extremely humid evening.
Our captain’s goals were threefold. First, he encouraged us to be the loudest, most spirited crew on the canals.
This began right after we set sail, with introductions involving either telling a joke, doing a dance, or emitting one of those high-pitched “ay ay ay” calls you usually associate with Mariachi bands.
Whenever we approached another boat, we did our team cheer: bang on the table for a few seconds and then shout “Xochimilco!” in unison.
Richard’s second purpose was to steer us to the floating kitchens along the canal, each one serving a different course of Mexican cuisine.
The food is authentic, so be prepared for more traditional Mexican dishes here, not the Americanized food you’ll find at your neighborhood Mexican restaurant back home.
Our appetizer course included a variety of dips: squash blossom, Mayan pumpkin seed and guacamole. And yes, there were crickets. For posterity, and for bragging rights, you have to try a cricket. It was crunchy, and salty.
The first course included a few more smaller bites, like cactus salad, some sort of ceviche, and a Mexican cheese ball. The entree course featured a selection of six proteins, surrounding a serving of Mexican rice. My favorites were the chicken tamale and the pork, which was in a green, herby sauce. During dessert, we tried flan, and a selection of sugary cookies and candies.
Richard’s final task was to get us acquainted with Mexican culture. This he did through storytelling, and through impromptu dance lessons between food courses. We’d hitch our trajinera to a boat with a band. They are like mini floating concerts venues, each one playing a different variety of traditional music (although it felt like we stopped at the Mariachi boat two or three times.)
There were two stops over the course of our cruise in which we disembarked to use the restroom and stretch our legs. We also enjoyed Vegas-themed entertainment on solid ground, as the evening’s activities were sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
It was essentially a non-stop fiesta after our second break, with faster-paced music flowing from each band. It turned into a larger party, because there’d be five or six boats surrounding one band at at a time!
With a little help from Corona (or tequila, in some cases), inhibitions gradually faded over the course of the evening, but even our high-spirited group had gotten our fill of La Bamba by the night’s end.
The Xoximilco Cancun experience depends heavily on your shipmates and on your captain. Our boat had a lot of energy – it was one of the most memorable parts of the TMTC Summit for me, but I imagine (and heard) some would be uncomfortable with the food, noise and with the length of the excursion.
Xoximilco is a unique way to spend a night off-resort, if you are interested in getting a taste of traditional Mexican culture and cuisine. It’d be especially fun with a group for a special occasion, like a bachelorette party or milestone birthday. Just make sure to wear your dancing shoes!