Voyage to historic canals of Xochimilco, search for Marigold flower used on Day of the Dead

KSAT visits historic site that was once used as waterway system for Aztecs

MEXICO CITY – On the second day of KSAT's journey to Mexico City, our crew traveled south to Xochimilco. The area is one of 16 boroughs within Mexico City and is known for its historic canals.

It was established on the shores of Lake Xochimilco before the Spanish conquest and is designated as a World Heritage Site.

Here are more interesting facts about Xochimilco and its connection to Dia de los Muertos. 

Special Section: Day of the Dead


The canals are extensive and centuries old.

They used to work as a waterway system that connected settlements in the Valley of Mexico.

Tourists who visit Xochimilco can ride on colorful gondola-like boats called "trajineras."

In Spanish, traer means to bring or take. These boats are symbolic of the way the indigenous people of Mexico traveled to take goods and items to other areas to trade or barter. 

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These boats do not use a gas-powered engines because it would pollute the canals.

Instead, the men or women who steer the boat use traditional methods such as long wooden oar made out of a tree called an Abies religiosa, known in Spanish as Oyamel. 

It is sacred fir native to the mountains of central and southern Mexico.

It is a preferred tree for the monarch butterfly and its foliage is used for religious festivals in Mexico, mostly during Christmas.


The flower most associated with Dia de los Muertos is the cempasputchil or marigold.

The flowers are native to Central Mexico and have been cultivated since the pre-Hispanic era. 

The Aztecs used chinampas or "floating gardens" to grow the flower in Xochimilco.

The chinampas are essentially artificial islands that were invented by the Aztecs.


One of the more interesting things you can see during a canal voyage in Xochimilco is the famed Island of the Dolls.

Several broken or worn down dolls are displayed and hung on trees or fences in that particular chinampa.

Don Julián Santana Barrera originally owned the artificial island and believed the dolls helped chase away the spirit of a girl drowned years ago.

In an odd turn of events, Barrera died of a heart attack in 2001 close to the same area where the girl reportedly drowned.

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.