On Friday morning, squads in protective suits wound through the canals of Mexico City’s Xochimilco neighborhood. Armed with disinfectant, the borough workers sprayed down the docks, as well as the colorful boats decorated with flowers, just before the popular “floating gardens” attraction reopened to visitors following a five-month shutdown because of coronavirus concerns.
Despite Mexico currently being the world’s seventh-highest in COVID-19, with 560,164 cases and 60,480 deaths, including 92,096 cases and 8,138 deaths in Mexico City, according to the New York Times, tourism has been crucial to Xochimilco. In 2015, about two million visitors enjoyed the chinampas, or floating islands, which the Aztecs built using reed mats covered by dirt and then planting trees so the roots would keep them in place in the shallow waters.
Operators at the UNESCO World Heritage site are now required to wear face masks and shields, and the boats, which can usually hold up to 20 passengers, are limited to 12.
The tradition of multiple boats — called trajineras — being tied up together for larger groups to eat and drink on the water while listening to mariachi music has also been scaled back. Boats, which can only run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., must remain on their own and only every other vendor can operate each day.
Since bars and nightclubs in Mexico City are still shut down, the hope is that the daytime activity will attract locals as the only public place to drink, especially the local specialty michelada, made of beer, salt, sauce, and lime. But some worry that the pandemic’s economic toll may prevent visitors from enjoying the revelry.
Tourism makes up 8.7 percent of the North American country’s annual gross domestic product. Currently, the U.S. State Department has a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” restriction, advising Americans not to visit Mexico.
Rachel Chang is travel and pop culture journalist who grew up in the California Bay Area and lives in New York City (well, Hoboken, NJ). She’s a solo travel advocate, dumpling addict, and reluctant runner — who managed to finish the NYC marathon twice. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelChang and Instagram at @RachelSChang.