Copper Canyon

Overview

Introduction

A system of very deep canyons (deeper than the Grand Canyon in the U.S.), Copper Canyon is carved into the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental mountains in northwestern Mexico, about 300 mi/485 km southwest of El Paso, Texas. Although some of the area (also known as Sierra Tarahumara) can be reached by bus or car, the best way to see most of it is via the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad, a truly spectacular train journey.

If you take the train east to west, the route begins in the desert (at Chihuahua), cuts through the mountains and ends at the sea. The train not only passes through amazing scenery but also stops at small mountain towns where you can overnight to get a better look at the mountains and the canyon. (If you go straight through, the trip takes one long day.)

It's possible to descend into the steep canyons, but you'll have to arrange a hike or other transportation (horseback, van or Jeep).

A journey through the canyon can be done independently or on a tour, but we highly recommend a tour. Tours usually incorporate stays at hotels along the way and may also provide opportunities for hiking, car tours and horseback riding.

Most rail itineraries follow this basic route: The train leaves Chihuahua very early in the morning, and the first stopover is at Creel, where you can take a long hike or a car or horseback ride to several destinations, including a local mission, cave dwellings and some hot springs.

From Creel, you can also travel to the town of Batopilas, which lies at the bottom of one of the canyons at the end of an incredibly steep and unpaved road (plan on at least five hours of driving in each direction). You can usually line up a driver and a vehicle in Creel's main square to take you there. Some of the trucks have seats welded to the roof for an excellent view of the precipitous valley below, but they're not for those with weak stomachs.

The next day's train takes you to Divisadero, where you'll get some of the best views of the canyon. Several upscale rimside hotels are in the tiny town if you decide to overnight there. Or you can continue on to Bahuichivo (about an hour's ride south of Divisadero) and transfer to a hotel in Cerocahui. Hotels can pick you up by prior arrangement.

The final ride on the rails is to Los Mochis, near the Gulf of California. The gulf is an hour away, at Topolobampo, which has beautiful beaches but is not really prepared to offer sanctuary to tourists. (From Los Mochis, many people go on to Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta.)

You can also start the trip from the Los Mochis end, where the train leaves just as early in the morning. In either direction, reservations are essential, so make them well in advance.

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