The Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish) is a series of colored gorges located in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in Northwestern Mexico. The canyon’s entire area is often compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States, but Copper Canyon in Mexico is 5 times bigger. The train to Copper Canyon crosses these mountain range in an exciting tour of at least 5 days and it is one of the most wonderful train trips in the world.
The trip to cross Copper Canyon runs from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, with the historic Copper Canyon railway – Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacfico, or El Chepe – connecting the two. This magnificent railway winds through breathtaking scenery from 8,000 feet to sea level, with 87 tunnels and 36 bridges, providing the ideal environment for a thrilling Copper Canyon train trip.
Copper Canyon Train Ride Itinerary starting from Chihuahua
Copper Canyon can be travelled in either direction, from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, or vice versa. Creel and El Fuerte are little towns further along the railway towards the canyon from each end, are alternative starting sites. This article is based on the Copper Canyon tour starting in Chihuahua and ending in Los Mochis.
It is recommended spending at least a full day in Chihuahua. This city in the Mexican desert is known for its historic importance and it is an interesting city to visit. Cowboy boots, hats, and shirts are sold in a variety of colors and styles in every corner. There’s also a good chance you’ll see cowboys strolling down the street on horseback. Chihuahua’s revolutionary roots and delicious burritos will surely enchant you.
If you prefer to travel in the opposite direction it is possible. You can check all current available itineraries by clicking in the Tours section in the top of this page.
Chihuahua to Creel
Normally your tour will start one day before in Chihuahua. You will need to fly form a mayor airport in the US and probably will do a stop in Mexico City. We will not talk a lot about Chihuahua and we will concentrate on the train to Copper Canyon.
Arrive into Creel
To arrive to Creel with the train to Copper Canyon you will need to take the Chepe Regional. There are two trains that run through Copper Canyon:
- Chepe Express – Specially for tourists
- Chepe Regional – More for commuters.
We have a fantastic article explaining the main differences between these two trains to Copper Canyon that you can read here: Chepe Express vs Chepe Regional Train
The main difference is that Chepe Express is a newer and more luxurious train thought for tourists and that Chepe Regional is an older train thought for commuters. Chepe Regional Runs from Chihuahua to Los Mochis and Chepe Express only runs from Los Mochis to Creel.
Explore Creel and surroundings
Stroll through Creel’s modest town center. Begin your journey in the charming main plaza or square, where Tarahumara women sell colorful fabrics hung over low fences. The Tarahumara are a tribe of ancient people who live in caves and wood houses throughout the Copper Canyon and are still partially nomadic. They are known in the area as Rarámuri and are noted for their long-distance running abilities. Christopher McDougall’s famous book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen tells more about them.
After leaving the square, go down Creel’s colorful main street, which runs parallel to the railway. The street is lined with hotels, restaurants, cafes, and shops, as well as a few of tour companies that offer excursions of the canyon and its environs. Note that normally all the tours to Copper Canyon that we offer include excursions and free time (depending of the itinerary).
Although Creel itself does not have much to offer in terms of attractions, the surrounding area does. There are several options nearby that are ideal for a single full day in Creel.
A circle in the forested hills and slopes of San Ignacio Arareko overlooking Creel is one possibility. This 20,000-hectare plot of land is managed by a Rarámuri village as a community initiative.
Hike the loop without a guide because you only have one day and prefer to do things on your own whenever possible. To do so, purchase tickets from one of the booths set up around the project’s perimeter. It costs 20 pesos (£0.80) per person and goes towards supporting the Rarámuri community and maintaining the region. Many of the adjacent major locations can be found using the hand-drawn, photocopied map they provide, as well as Google Maps or Maps.me.
To perform the same loop without trekking, rent a bicycle or arrange a guided horse ride from town. If you prefer to go with a local guide, your lodging should be able to connect you with one.
The Caves of the Tarahumaras
There are many caves of Tarahumaras that you can visit such as “La Casa de Petra” and “La Cueva de San Sebastian”. These are examples of the classic Rarámuri cave homes that may be found on the Copper Canyon train route. You can explore the cave and possibly purchase handicrafts manufactured inside. Throughout your journey, you will come across several Rarámuri families, all of whom were really welcoming.
Valle de las Ranas and Valle de los Hongos
Valle de las Ranas (Valley of the Frogs) and Valle de los Hongos are a few kilometres further along the trail, around 5 kilometres outside of Creel (Valley of the Mushrooms). These are groups of organic rock formations that [vaguely] resemble frogs and mushrooms, as the names suggest. Rarámuri women and children set up camp for the day on the lowest level surfaces of the rocks to sell their handicrafts and supplement their livelihood.
San Ignacio Mision
The 18th century San Ignacio Misson is located to the left of the frog and mushroom rocks. This little church, built by Jesuits, is still used by Rarámuri people to worship. Take a short peek inside, but beware of the small children who will try to sell you items by saying “compras, compras” (“you purchase, you buy”).
A tiny shop behind the Mission sells drinks and snacks from a friendly Rarámuri lady. Take them to a nearby basketball court to get some shade and get out of the sun. You might even get to see some local kids shooting hoops — a wonderful glimpse into valley life.
Proceed to Lake Arareko after some rest and refreshment. It’s another 5 kilometres (10 kilometres total) from Creel, so bring plenty of water and avoid going off-piste.
The peaceful u-shaped Arareko Lake is nestled among aromatic woods and makes for a lovely picnic place. It isn’t particularly impressive in terms of lakes, but it is tranquil and makes for a pleasant area to rest after your hike. For 60 pesos, you can rent a rowing boat to paddle around the core island’s rock formations after lunch.
Valle de Los Monjes
Because of its phallic rock formations, the Rarámuri dubbed it Valle de Bisabirachi (Valley of the Erect Penises). The Spanish dubbed it Valley of the Monks because they thought it was more suitable. This is the most impressive valley of all.
Creel to Divisadero/ Posada Barrancas
The time to start your tour will be determined by which El Chepe train you take from Creel. But from this point you will most probably take the Chepe Express that departs from Creel at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
This section of your Copper Canyon train excursion will be the shortest. From Creel, it takes roughly 1.5 hours to go to Divisadero, and another ten minutes to get to Posada Barrancas.
For the first hour, there isn’t much to see because it’s mostly just a continuation of the pine-covered hilly countryside from Chihuahua to Creel.
After about an hour, the view begins to change as the country becomes more rough and the valleys become deeper. The train will then arrive at Divisadero station, from where you will enter Copper Canyon.
This is the most important stop of the train to Copper Canyon. All tours stop in this place and here you will find two of the most amazing attactions of all the tours to Copper Canyon:
- Hotel Mirador
- Copper Canyon Adventure Park
Hotel Mirador is a hotel that is build in the edge of a cliff. All the rooms of this hotell have a private terrace from where you can see the sunset and the views of the Copper Canyon.
Copper Canyon Adventure Park is the place where the largest ziplines of all latin america are. The Zip Ridder is a 2.5 kilometer zipline that crosses from canyon to canyon. There are also other adventure experiences such as hanging bridges and the “via ferrata”.
The main activities are a zip line course, a high ropes course with rapelling and rock climbing, a cable car, a tree-top walk with ten suspension bridges, cycling, horseback riding, trekking, and children’s activities are among the other activities available. There’s a glass-walled café or various seats along the pathways where you may relax and take in your surroundings.
Divisadero and Posada Barrancas View
When you initially arrive at Divisadero station, you won’t notice it, but this is where you’ll find one of the greatest views of the train to Copper Canyon. Every Chepe train, regardless of class, makes a 20-minute stop in Divisadero. This allows travelers who aren’t staying the night to take in the breathtaking scenery.
Posada Barrancas to Basaseachi
From Posada Barrancas or Divisadero you will be heading to Basaseachi. This stop is also an amazing place to spend at least a night. Near Basaseachi is a little town called Cerocahui.
In our tours we offer our clients lodging at Mision Cerocahui, this hotel is in the middle of the mountains and has a small vineyard. All the meals are included and it is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the peace of nature.
Near Cerocahui is a place called “Cerro del Gallego” translated in english is “Hill of Gallego”. From this place you will enjoy one of the most beautiful views of the train to Copper Canyon and of your life. From Cerro del Gallego you will see the Urique Canyon, which is one of the most impressive canyons of all the Copper Canyon train route.
Copper Canyon Train from Basaseachi to El Fuerte
The train to El Fuerte will take roughly 4 hours 30 minutes. El Fuerte is a fantastic place to spend at least one night after a Copper Canyon excursion.
This is the part of the train to Copper Canyon with the most beautiful views. Because of this part the American Society of Travel Writters declared the Copper Canyon train as the “World’s most exciting train ride.”
Pick up your camara and enjoy the views of the mountains and canyons from your seat. We highly advise to book the first class of the Chepe Express. Most of the clients that do not book this class regret it.
Prepare to be wowed once more by breathtaking scenery. See the canyons in all its splendour, with the most stunning and mind-blowing views. A large, blue alpine lake will appear as you depart Septentrion Canyon. Have your camera ready because the views of the mountains and lake from the train as it passes over Chinipas bridge are once again breathtaking.
As you leave the canyon and Chihuahua state to enter Sinaloa, the terrain changes once more. Massive cacti, the kind seen in old Western pictures, begin to sprout on the hills and fields.
Arrive into El Fuerte
You should arrive at El Fuerte station in the early afternoon if you take the Chepe Express. El Fuerte is the famed Zorro’s birthplace, and the final spot worth visiting in the train to Copper Canyon route.
Explore Historic Downtown of El Fuerte
Take your time to stroll through El Fuerte’s old downtown. The majority of the ancient colonial structures have been renovated and painted in vibrant colors and pastels. It’s like stepping back in time with the large oak front doors that are frequently thrown open to expose lovely courtyards.
El Fuerte’s main square is in the heart of it all, and it has to be one of the most beautiful we’ve seen in Mexico. Benches, fountains, and bronze statues circle a central gazebo shaded by tall palm palms. What better spot to grab a coffee from one of the neighboring cafés or an ice cream from the shaded square?
Historic structures line the main square on the opposite side of the road; be sure to check out the Palacio Municipal. This magnificent salmon-colored rectangular building takes nearly an entire block and features a classic open-air centre courtyard with a splashing fountain. Two levels of arches are adorned with trailing bougainvillaeas, and the stairs leading to the second level features a colourful artwork.
El Fuerte Museum
El Fuerte is a Spanish word that means “fort” and refers to the city’s past as a fort. Although the old fort has long since vanished, a copy has been constructed on the hill where it once stood. This replica is also a museum with exhibits about the city’s and surrounding area’s history, as well as excellent views of the town and river from the top. It costs 20 pesos and is well worth your time if you have the opportunity.
Other Fun Activities in El Fuerte
There are a few other things to see and do in El Fuerte if you have more time it is recommended to at-least stay here for two nights.
A short trip to the Hill of the Mask, which is home to over 200 petroglyphs carved into the rocks, sounds intriguing. I’m sure you could do it on your own, or you could book a guided trip through your lodging. Some companies combine this with a birdwatching or river excursion.